Fancying Hugh Dancy
By Michael Martin
"So there I am, lying on this bed in East London surrounded by fetish objects, with a leather belt around my neck,' says Hugh Dancy, 'and thinking, The last time I saw you, it was in sub-Saharan Africa.'
Dancy is talking about his role in Basic Instinct 2, which, somewhat comically, shared a crew and a director with his previous film, the Rwandan genocide drama Beyond the Gates. The 32-year-old actor'face of Burberry, star of stage (Journey's End) and screen (Ella Enchanted)'is becoming accustomed to tight spaces and contradictions. This fall he stars in Savage Grace, the long-anticipated Killer Films adaptation of the Barbara Baekeland murder case, which scandalized London in the '70s. It stars Julianne Moore as a plastics heiress who takes a very personal interest in straightening out her gay son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne). Dancy is Sam Green, an art dealer who takes a social interest in Barbara and, more intensely, Tony.
'I'm more attracted to Tony,' summarizes Dancy, 'and Barbara is offended by the notion that her son is gay, so she deals with that in all sorts of bizarre fashions, not least of which is sleeping with him. She's very upset I've arrived to help her and then slept with her son. So she seduces me, and Tony can't handle that, so he climbs into bed,' Dancy says. 'They ended up in what we can only imagine was a crazed m'nage ' trois.'
Sounds fun. 'It was fun,' says Dancy of playing Green, a real-life character who, according to legend, introduced Robert Mapplethorpe to the work of George Platt Lynes and thus a career. 'It was no different than playing a heterosexual character. I considered him to be an everything-to-everybody type, including but not limited to sexuality.'
As was the actor himself for a brief period last winter, when his tall-glass-of-milk image was upended by two tabloid frenzies surrounding the filming of Evening, in which he stars with Danes, Meryl Streep, and Vanessa Redgrave as the alcoholic son of an affluent family. One had him making a love connection with Claire Danes (true); the other, sucking face with Evening screenwriter Michael Cunningham and a gay hotel manager after a night of drunken debauchery. 'I hate talking about it,' says Dancy, 'because I find it to be really lacking in class when you have to stand up and say, 'Look, I'm straight,' or 'I'm this or that.' I don't want to get involved in that. And I'm not hurting anyone by doing it'I just think it's just kind of crass. But, for the record, no. It didn't happen. Until I read that article, I didn't think there was such a thing as smoke without fire. And I've had to reassess.'
The son of a moral philosopher and a publisher, Dancy studied English at Oxford. His next film after Evening is The Jane Austen Book Club, 'a meta Jane Austen project' about six people who get together to read Pride and Prejudice and (wait for it!) find true love. 'It's about why people keep reading and making movies about Austen,' he says. 'It's also fun-a high-end literary chick-flick with a terrific script.'
His career, at least, has swung both ways, from Basic Instinct 2, where 'two of my three days I was dead, and I made more money as a corpse than I ever had for acting,' to his recent Emmy nomination for Elizabeth I. 'It was my first exposure to free shit,' he says of the ceremony. 'In Los
Angeles they rent a house and set up a bunch of stalls to give away all this swag. They give you colored armbands. I got one colored armband, and the person I was with, who wasn't nominated, got a different-colored armband. So it's very divisive. You see their eyes flashing down to your wrist before they decide how effusive to be. It's very strange, this business.'