TV Times, 2001

Submitted by Pam

They Only Want Soap Stars on TV

Exclusive Interview / CHARLES DANCE
These days, while the same old faces dominate TV, top actors like Charles Dance rarely get a look in. Now our favourite romantic hero of the Eighties is back - with a snarl.

Charles Dance is not what I was expecting. 'Matinee idol looks', 'suave', 'debonair', 'charming': these words describe him injust about every interview he's given. Instead I find him 'interesting'. In other words prickly, argumentative, and bored. After decades of playing romantic leads in series like Jewel in the Crown and Rebecca, Charles has changed tack by playing the manipulative and sexually unattractive Ralph Nickleby in ITV's Nicholas Nickleby.

"There is nothing romantic about Ralph at all," he says. "That's why the role appealed to me. There are only so many ways you can play a romantic lead. 'Oh God,' you think, when you open a new script, 'another one.' Saying that, I'm a bit over-the-hill for romantic leads, any way."

He may be 53 now, but you can still see why he was once described as the 'British Robert Redford'. Best not remind him, though: "All those labels I've been given, 'suave' and 'sophisticated' - c**p! I'm as common as muck; I have to be dragged into a suit and tie. There's a pair of Levi's and a T-shirt in my wardrobe that I live and die in."

It's surprising to hear he's so unconcerned about bis looks, when they've obviously done his career no harm. "Well, there's not much I can do about them, is there?" he says impatiently. "If that's how I'm perceived, fine - but why should I make the effort to be suave and out of work when I'm not?"

Charles, who has been married to his wife Jo for 30 years, has made more films than people tend to remember - Plenty with Meryl Streep, The Golden Child with Eddie Murphy and Last Action Hero with Arnold Schwarzenegger - but he doesn't much care for many of them. "I made a film in the Arctic that never saw the light of day in this country, and I was more proud to be involved in that than a lot of the other stuff I've done," he shrugs. "I don't like everything I do. Not by a long chalk. You try and use good writing as the benchmark, but there are occasions when you're sent something and you say, 'You'd have to pay me lots of money to do this,' and, astonishingly, they agree. So you do it. It's not ideal, but it then enables you to spend the next six months saying No to other stuff. I'm doing a West End play, 'Long Day's Journey into Night', with Jessica Lange right now for £250 a week. There's no way I could do that with a family and a mortgage to support if I hadn't done a lot of high-paying rubbish in my time."

It was the famed 1984 TV saga Jewel in the Crown (definitely not rubbish) that turned Charles into a household name, but his career never really took off in the way people assumed it would. "The truth is, I wasn't offered very much TV work afterwards," he shrugs. "I didn't - rather rashly perhaps - want to be a vet, or a policeman. 'I lost my opportunity' - if an opportunity is what it is. These days, TV is all about familiarity. Unless you've been in Eastenders for 10 years you're not wanted".

Is there a hint of bitterness here that soap stars like Ross Kemp and Sarah Lancashire are getting gold handcuff deals with TV companies? "Well, they've got to make a living. But I think it's shortsighted of everyone concerned. You can burn out very quickly on TV. Besides, so much of it is so unsatisfying", he sighs. "Occasionally things slip through, like Warriors, which was incredible. But I know that was a struggle to get made. And it sticks out like a beautiful thumb.

"In most houses TV is a background. It goes on at 5pm and the last person awake turns the thing off. Fair enough if you keep feeding dross, people will treat it like dross. We deserve programmes that make us forget our knitting and let our TV dinners go cold."

Programmes like Nicholas Nickleby, perchance? "I've seen it and think it's fantastic," he announces. "It looks wonderful, and I've got the same high hopes for it as I had for Jewel in the Crown." Maybe, I ventured bravely, it'll put him back on the map? Lead to him being offered other fabulous TV scripts or even a golden handcuff deal? "Oh, with TV you're literally here today, gone tomorrow," he says, sounding far too flippant to be convincing. He's trying to behave as though he couldn't care less whether it raises his profile or not - yet I suspect that he is. "But, you know,' he shrugs, "I guess it would be nice if it led to other things..."

Let's hope it does. We deserve more of Charles Dance the actor - and besides, I rather like him.

© 2001 Rebecca Fletcher for TV Times

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