Article from May/June 1997 Active Life Magazine

Jewel of an Actor

What keeps an actor in the limelight long after the first flush of fame fades? Roz d�Ombraine Hewitt has a quick waltz with Charles Dance to find out

In the fickle world of showbiz, good looks and talent are not always enough. Charles Dance�s secret is to reject second-rate parts, keep himself in first-class shape -- and pursue good work wherever it�s found. But can it really be 10 years since a bare-chested Charles Dance seduced a feckless Gretta Scacchi amid the waves in White Mischief? It�s even longer since the former RSC actor first found fame in the acclaimed series Jewel in the Crown, but when Charles recently stripped off for his role as Maxim de Winter in Carlton TV�s Rebecca, no hint of sag or flab could be detected.

"I go to the gym reasonably regularly, though not as often as I like," says Charles, who stays trim with early morning sessions at his local gym.

"It�s part of my job to stay fit," he explains. "In this business noboby pays sick pay so you can�t afford to be ill. Also if you�ve got to take your shirt off it had better be worth showing."
Charles Dance and Samantha Fox in 'Rebecca'

Dance�s With Dogs

Working in the garden and grounds of his Somerset house and daily walks in the nearby...hills with the family Labradors, Star and Mabel, are his other preferred ways of staying in fine physical and mental shape.

"I love the countryside. I love the fresh air and the space. Filming takes me all over the world. That�s very exciting and I enjoy the buzz. But it�s in the countryside that I relax and unwind."

Although born in Birmingham -- the son of a civil engineer who died when he was four -- Charles is no stranger to the West Country. He grew up near Plymouth and eight years ago he and his wife, Jo, daughter Becky, 16, and son Oliver, 22, left London for a flint-built Somerset manor house that dates back to the 17th century.

"As a young actor, London was the place to be -- you didn�t get much work around Dartmoor -- and, as agents are fond of telling you, availability is one�s greatest asset."

But that was before the success of The Jewel in the Crown established Charles as a major star. Now an international player, he�ll travel anywhere to work on a production that has a really good script.

Siberia was the location for Kabloonak in which he played the cameraman-explorer Robert Flaherty, who made Nanook of the North, a role which won Charles a best actor award.

"Basically, I�ll go anywhere the work is good," he says.

Hollywood Days

Mostly that�s meant Los Angeles. His Hollywood movies include Plenty with Meryl Streep, The Golden Child with Eddie Murphy, Alien III with Sigourney Weaver and most recently Michael Collins with Liam Neeson.

No, Charles hasn�t turned his back on television. "I don�t have a masterplan, I�m not in that position, unfortunately. But I want to do good work. Rebecca was the first tv I'd done for seven years because I don�t like to play types or appear in bland formula productions."

One of the pleasures of Rebecca was working again with his Jewel in the Crown co-star Geraldine James. He�s delighted that the much-praised series is finally getting a second showing in June.

"I never understood the reason it wasn�t repeated before. It was a wonderful television drama. I wish I could do more work like that," he says.

He admits that two offers of his own tv detective series have failed to excite him. "There�s already too much of that sort of thing. I�m sure it�s a mistake the way people who organize television push out the same old stuff. It underestimates the intelligence of the viewing public."

So bored did Charles become of offers of 'the same old stuff' that briefly he pursued more interesting ideas through his own production company.

"Unfortunately it didn�t work out. On two occasions I came up against rather egocentric writers. They wanted to be directors and composers and editors so I gave up. The projects seemed interesting and original, but maybe they weren�t. Or perhaps I�m not particularly good at business. I couldn�t sell water to somebody dying of thirst."

Not that Charles is seeking a new career, though acting wasn�t his first choice. He enjoyed being in school plays, but a teenage stammer ended any acting ambitions. In fact, not until he went to Leicester to take a graphic course did his enthusiasm for acting return. Back in Devon, he took idiosyncratic lessons from an ex-actor, Leonard Bennet, who demanded payment in the shape of two pints of mild beer per hour.

Royal Role

After weekly rep in Colwyn Bay, Wales, Charles joined the RSC in 1975, graduating from minor parts to the title role of Henry V during a tour to New York.

He remains a frequent visitor to the States. "I go when I�m offered work, but so far I have not felt the need to up sticks and go and live there. There�s nothing particular about the lifestyle that attracts me," he says.

Charles Dance

Stateside sitcoms are another matter. "Friends and Frasier are terrific," says Charles. "I would love to do more comedy. Yes -- even a sitcom. I�ve played a number of romantic leading men, but I�m continually trying to change my image. I�d be more than happy to be in a tv series if I felt it was something new and original."

Until that happens, Charles will continue to accept only the very best film scripts -- "unless I desperately need the money!

"I�m off to Mexico next to film a low-budget, but very original script (The Blood Oranges) for not a great deal of money. But it isn�t Hollywood junk and there are no special effects. Just a grown-up story, interestingly told."

Sounds like a jewel of a part?

"Most definitely," he says.

� 1997 Aspen Specialist Media PLC, London

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