From the Daily Express Saturday Magazine, 22 October 2005

Submitted by Karen

Dance Macabre

Rapidly approaching 60, veteran actor Charles Dance is regularly cast as a sinister Victorian antihero - and his latest role in the BBC adaptation of Dickens' Bleak House is no exception, he tells Maureen Paton

Charles Dance and Gillian Anderson in Bleak HouseWith his hooded green eyes, aquiline nose and austere looks, Charles Dance has always been cast as dark, malevolent characters in TV period dramas. He played the Victorian pornographer Christopher Lilly in Fingersmith; the cold-hearted Ralph Nickleby in The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby, and next week he's back on our screens as an amoral lawyer in the BBC's star-studded adaptation of Dickens' Bleak House. The classical actor is somewhat conscious of the typecasting.

"I rather rashly said a few years ago that I didn't want to play a TV detective or a TV vet or doctor," admits Charles, who shot to fame 2l years ago in ITV's classic series The Jewel In The Crown.

"I just thought, 'Enough is enough,' and that kind of limits one's career in television somewhat. In Bleak House, I play an unscrupulous lawyer called Tulkinghorn who is a social climber, a devious snob, and probably a misogynist and a homosexual - so no typecasting there then!

"But I never take characters like this home with me - that way suicide lies."

The 59-year-old actor certainly looks the part of the scheming Dickensian character, who sniffs out the dark past of Lady Dedlock (played by former X-Files star Gillian Anderson), the beautiful but haughty wife of his elderly master, Sir Leicester Dedlock.

"Despite the fact there is absolutely no warmth in the relationship between Tulkinghom and Lady Dedlock, I really bonded with Gillian," Charles says. "She has an extraordinary pre-Raphaelite look about her."

Ever since the tall, sandy-haired actor was dubbed "the British Robert Redford" after his portrayal of glamorous army officer Guy Perron in Jewel In The Crown, he's had a lot to live up to.

"My heart-throb following really took me by surprise. It wasn't very flattering to Robert Redford to call me the British version," he says modestly.

Three years after that series, his highly erotic scenes with Greta Scacchi in White Mischief only served to confirm his status as a screen idol. In one particular scene, Greta emerges from the sea, baring her breast as she walks invitingly towards him. Does he find it difficult to film those kind of scenes?

"It's tough doing sex scenes - oh, awful," he grins, lighting a cigarette. "It was hard not to be stirred, even up to one's waist in cold water, when Greta slipped down the strap of her swimsuit. She's divine."

No stranger to Hollywood, Charles - who was among the stellar cast in the Oscar winning Gosford Park - has worked with some of Tinseltown's greatest leading ladies, including Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Shirley Maclaine and Helen Mirren. He also wrote and directed the 2004 film Ladies In Lavender, starring Maggie Smith and Judi Dench.

He acknowledges that the leading man roles don't last forever, even for someone as well preserved as he is. Indeed, these days the Worcestershire-born actor cares so little about his sex symbol image that, after gamely taking on the part of a cross-dressing Lord Chancellor in 2002's, Ali G Indahouse, he'd like to pursue more comedy roles.

"People see me in these patrician, authority roles and it's nice to let your hair down."

The former comprehensive schoolboy, whose aristocratic looks belie the fact that he was born on what he calls "the wrong side of the tracks", insists he wasn't driven enough to pursue global fame at any price.

"l guess if I was as ambitious as young actors today seem to be today, I'd have headed rapidly for Hollywood on the heels of The Jewel In The Crown. But my kids were really quite young," he explains.

Charles and his then wife Jo moved from North London to Somerset in the late 80s to give their children -- Oliver, now 31, a director's assistant, and Rebecca, 26, who works in publishing -- a country upbringing. However, following his divorce in 2003, after 33 years of marriage, he is back living in London again.

"Starting over again can be scary at this time of life," he admits, clearing his throat nervously. "Divorce is a very painful business. But I have a close relationship with my children - and my ex-wife."

He has no plans to get married again, and reports in June this year alleged that he dumped his actress girlfriend Sophia Myles, who is 34 years his junior, in a caddish manner after their relationship became public.

"It's safe to assume that about 25 per cent of what you've read was true," he says. "I'm not a paragon of virtue but I tend to be quite sensitive - which also makes me aware of other people's sensitivities. I simply could not behave in the callous way that some people have suggested."

He won't say any more about the specifics, though when asked if a significant age gap can be a problem, his reply suggests that he and the 25-year-old Thunderbirds star had different ideas about starting a family.

"Age difference doesn't matter. But one has to consider children. When you get to a certain age, there's more sand in the bottom of the egg-timer than at the top. It's nice to feel you have some guarantee you're going to be around when your kids are in their teens, and the chances are that you might not. I adore my own kids, but I'm not a great lover of children. I don't go 'ooh-aah' at babies."

Ironically, there is a devastating parenthood mystery at the heart of Bleak House that Tulkinghorn unravels without caring about the hurt he may cause. Charles' sense of responsibility would never be shared by such a ruthless old plotter. Nor would the snooty Tulkie buy himself a gleaming new bike, as Charles has recently done, to cycle to the local lido for an early swim most mornings. Although if he spends too much time looking super-fit in the pool, a remake of White Mischief could well be on the cards.

Someone call Greta Scacchi...

© 2005 Maureen Paton for The Daily Express Saturday Magazine

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