All Hail James Purefoy
By Alastair McKay
When in Rome, James Purefoy has a rule. He is quite prepared to do as the Romans did, but only if the story demands it. In the first season of the HBO historical drama�which starts its second season this month�this included a scene in which the actor, playing Mark Antony, was toweled down by a slave. By the standards of American television it was explicit, and you don�t have to Google for long to arrive at a screen grab of Purefoy�s meat and two veg. But, says the 42-year-old English actor, it was justified.
�It was really right for the character,� he says. �Somebody who�s naked, talking to somebody who�s clothed, is normally the weaker of the two, normally the more self-conscious. But in that situation it was very clear who had the status�the naked man. And that says a great deal about a man. That you can stand there and be completely confident and talk to a soldier in front of you, naked, and not give a flying fuck. It says a lot about the times and a lot about the man. So I had no qualms about doing it in terms of the character.�
You might, if you examine the nuances of Purefoy�s phrasing, note a qualification�were there any qualms about putting his privates on parade?
�It wasn�t really me, though, was it?� he says. �If you�re a vaguely bright actor, you can justify it in terms of the character. There were directors who were disappointed that I didn�t get buck-naked in [the second] series, because I would just go: �Why? Tell me the reason. What does it add to the character now that we haven�t already got?� One of them said, �Oh, I just want to show he�s relaxed.� We know he�s relaxed! How much more relaxed could I possibly be? No, you just want to see my cock in rehearsal. I�ll show it to you now, shall I? And then we�ll get it out of the way. We don�t have to show it in front of millions of people.�
To which defensiveness we may add a note of mirth. Purefoy laughs explosively when I quote him a section of the Wikipedia summary of his career, in which two decades of treading the boards are reduced to a speculation about the veracity of that scene in episode 4, series 1. �His full-frontal nudity�caused a sensation. However, an interview from a special-effects technician who mentioned �digitally altering� the appearance of penises for actors who �didn�t want to remove their g-strings� casts doubt on the veracity of Purefoy�s nude scene.�
�Hahahah!� He turns tumescent with mirth. �That�s absolutely hilarious! I won�t say whose it was, but there was a penis in the series that may have been slightly enhanced. But it wasn�t mine. Mine�s all mine, I�m afraid. Believe me, I can look at the episode and go, �Yep, that�s me.� �