All Hail James Purefoy
By Alastair McKay
In some ways, such talk is a continuation of a theme that has bugged Purefoy throughout his career. In the years before Rome, this often manifested itself in speculation that he was in contention to be the next James Bond�a fate he has now been spared with the appointment of the younger, rougher Daniel Craig. But there is something about Purefoy�s looks, and his bearing�slightly posh, very well-mannered�which leads him to be judged for his beauty rather than his talent.
He is, of course, smart enough to know that he won�t get far complaining about being too handsome, but the thought lingers behind much of what he says. �I�m not saying I�m good-looking, but I think I know now, having played this run of parts, that I probably do fit into a stereotype of what people perceive to be good-looking. And it�s not particularly useful.�
He says he felt liberated when playing the pirate Blackbeard from behind a big beard for British television: �You can hide behind that. And also there�s no neurosis about it, because you�re not having to be the sexy one. The worst directors in the world are the ones who come up and say, �Be more sexy.� Well, what does that mean? I have no idea, because that�s an entirely subjective thing, isn�t it? �Be more beautiful�be more sexy.� It�s thick. That�s what it is. When a director says that, I just think, Oh, fuck, you�re thick.�
This logic may have led him to sign up for the Wachowski Brothers� comic book adaptation V For Vendetta, but that film remains the only significant blot on his r�sum�. He quit halfway through filming. �That was a bit of a debacle. I don�t really want to talk about it,� he says. �We all promised that it was best left that we had creative differences. Sadly, some people since have broken that promise. But I�m a gentleman.�
A gentleman, that is, who yearns for longevity: �If your career is based on you looking young and handsome, you�re fucked, aren�t you, when you�re 50?
�Look at me�it�s like a fucking field in Suffolk, my forehead. In winter. You could plant barley in these lines. And I�m 42. This will get worse. Good.
�Look at Samuel Beckett�s face. What a face, what a life! When you look at those old actors�Jason Robards lying on his bed in Magnolia�old faces have so much more life to them. They�re so much more interesting to watch. A young, unlined, clean face has no experience and no life. It�s got no secrets, no bruises.�
Purefoy�s bruises came in the form of reviews of his stage work. His contribution to Noel Coward�s Present Laughter was, he says, hailed as the worst performance one reviewer had ever seen in London�s West End. But he also had a tough time at the exclusive boys� school Sherborne, in Dorset. He says only that the Victorian ethos of the place �gives rise to all kinds of neurosis and problems later in life, but I�m pretty level now. I don�t have much anger about it anymore.�
He left school at 16 and worked as a hospital orderly. He was thinking of applying to become an operating theater assistant when his father persuaded him to go to college and study again for his exams. One of them was drama.