Rufus Sewell has a great love affair with Australia. Not only has he now worked here
twice (on Dark City in 1997/8 and In a Savage Land in 1998/9), but also he is descended
from a long line of convicts, of all people, from Joseph Sewell, a roguish English
highwayman deported to Australia in 1830. "Ah, sad but true", he muses. "It
explains why I'm drawn here so often." He might have emerged from a line of crims,
but that would never have rubbed off on Sewell. Well actually--- A rebel from a young age,
his teenage years were nothing if not eventful.
"It was pathetic, and the British press made such a big deal of it. I had stolen
CDs, clothes, food, and when I was finally caught, I was starving at drama school! I got
caught stealing smoked fish and humus. I had enough money to buy the bread rolls and got
caught on the way out. So, I do have a criminal record for stealing a mackerel. I would
much rather pretend that it was highway robbery or something," Sewell responds
"Yeah, I was quite rebellious at school"
His mother was Welsh, his dad an Aussie animator who died when he was 10. "I grew
up in Wales, where my mother still lives, in Dylan Thomas' old town, the Pelican. I grew
up there, and London and Soho, where my dad's animation studio was". Amongst his
father's animation credits was The Beatles' Yellow Submarine. "There was a lot of
mystery about my dad, 'cause he had come over in 1953 in search of Dylan Thomas, it turns
out. He'd been married to an aboriginal woman when he came over. He was an artist at the
time, and always said that he was an only child, but I discovered that he had a sister,
whom I met, my auntie - and four cousins." Sewell recalls that he had a nomadic life
as a teenager, while his main school was "Bog Standard, a comprehensive school, which
is really for people who have no money." It is here that Sewell's rebelliousness
first came into play. "Yeah, I was quite rebellious at school, constantly under
threat of expulsion, dyed my hair blonde when I was 11, and wore makeup and
earrings." He did "all the things one should do if planning an
autobiography," he recalled later.
Yet criminal past or not, they, the British theatre establishment, eventually, let him
set foot on a stage, criminal past and all. "I discovered early on that if you wanted
a job, you could always lie about your qualifications. They tend to believe you, and if
they caught up with you and found out your qualifications weren't genuine, they would only
fire you if you weren't doing the job properly. That is what I did. I would say that I had
eight B-levels and four A-levels and they would believe me, because I was well spoken, and
people like that in England. I would keep the job when they found out."
"For each audition at the London drama school, you had
to pay about 30 pounds."
He went to drama school when he was 18, as a means of providing himself with, as he
later recalled to one interviewer, "sex and free sandwiches," though he dabbled
with acting since the age of 16. "But I then pulled out of it because I loathed all
the people involved in it - pretentious, absolutely fey and shallow. All they were doing
at school were musicals and Noel Coward plays, not even real Noel Coward plays, and I
wanted to be shaking my head, shouting and hitting with sticks. I was watching Marlon
Brando and this didn't seem to bear any relation to his work, so I gave it all up and took
up drumming, going out and being naughty. Then, when I was about 16, I got back into it
again because the girl connection suddenly struck me. I had a teacher at college who
insisted that I audition for drama school and I wasn't going to, because you had to pay
money and I had no money. For each audition at the London drama school, you had to pay
about 30 pounds. I had no money, so she pulled me aside and said that she would loan me
200 pounds if I would do it. So I did. I have paid her back. Those are questions that
people in England ask me, 'cause they have read all this jail stuff. I am still in contact
with her, but if she hadn't done that, I don't know if I would have become an actor."
Following three years of formal training at London's Central School of Speech and
Drama, Sewell made his professional theatrical debut in a production of Shakespeare's As
You Like It, staged at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre. During the next three years while he
was busy with the standard starving-actor routine, his repertoire of odd jobs came to
include (among other things) road sweeper, carpenter's assistant, and rock-and-roll
drummer. That was then. This is now.
"It's such a f…ing stupid title" on
Destiny of Her Own
Stardom for the 30-year old came swiftly once his brooding performance in the dark
comedy Cold Comfort Farm reached the American screens. It wasn't long after that he was
cast opposite Kiefer Sutherland and William Hurt in the film noir sci-fi drama, Dark City,
as an amnesiac on the run who may, or not be, a serial killer. After filming the acclaimed
thriller at the Fox Studios in Sydney, the actor spent an additional few months in town
"catching up on my roots", he told me in a later interview, and looks forward to
returning "to my other home."
Before shooting Dark City, Sewell donned period garb for the haunting period drama, A
Destiny of her Own, a richly decorous outing, in which he plays Marco, a dashing
16th-century Venetian nobleman who chooses love with a beautiful, spirited and brilliant
courtesan, played by Catherine McCormack, over duty with a plain and pious wife (played by
Australian actress and now Hollywood resident, Naomi Watts). The film has had more title
changes than any other film of recent memory, from Courtesan to The Honest Courtesan, and
even the more absurd Dangerous Beauty. Now it's A Destiny of Her Own. It appears that
Hollywood studio bosses didn't understand what a courtesan was, hence the title change.
It's an issue that causes much furore with the usually calm Sewell. "It's such a
f…ing stupid title. When a film executive starts saying 'I've got three degrees,
blah, blah, blah, and even I don't know what a courtesan is' .... I understand that people
might not know what the word is, but I don't think that's a problem. Teach them a word -
what's the crime? I mean its new titles are a strange hybrid mutation of 50 Demi Moore
films without actually meaning anything." But at least he likes the film. "It's
quite beautiful, really, though the final movie could have been a lot darker, which it was
in the original script."
"It's a really sweet little film... contemporary comedy
you don't see a lot of." on The Very Thought of You
Sewell fans can expect to see plenty of the aristocratic-looking young English actor at
the box office in the wake of A Destiny of her Own, not to mention the cross-cultural
romance The Very Thought of You, originally called Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and
Laurence, "It's a really sweet little film, the kind of contemporary comedy you don't
see a lot of."
The film was one of the first, by the way, to feature that other British
hunk-of-the-moment, Joseph Fiennes. Always busy, Sewell has since wrapped roles in the
John Turturro-directed comedy Illuminata, which also features Christopher Walken and Susan
Sarandon, and At Sachem Farm alongside fellow Brits Minnie Driver and Nigel Hawthorne.
Additional pending projects include: Johnny Hit and Run Pauline, a broken-marriage drama
that will team him with ex-love kate Winslet and Sherilyn Fenn; Ruby City, a period drama
that will also feature Gabrielle Anwar and Ione Skye, and veterans Bill Paxton and Daryl
Hannah; and the U.S. adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel Victory alongside Willem Dafoe
and Sam Neill.
Ah yes, life couldn't be better, but he still keeps it all in perspective. "I'm
very, very scared of saying that things are going well. Yes, I've got lots of' things
coming out, but' I've been slapped on the back before and told, 'This is going to be the
big one, sonny.' "