Guest Post: The Joy of Discovering Rufus Sewell – a Birthday Tribute

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Today we celebrate the birthday of a special actor Rufus Sewell. I had a birthday post for him last year, but this time I thought what better way that to invite Mr. Sewell’s number one fan, my good friend Prairiegirl to share her own heartfelt tribute. Read on:
Today Rufus Sewell is 43. Who would have guessed what would happen after I discovered him only two-and-a-half years ago. Since then I have had the distinct pleasure of catching up on all of his work I could get my hands on, from 1992 (Gone to Seed, British TV series, seven episodes) forward. His earliest film work is listed as Twenty-One (1991) on IMDb (just ordered a used VHS copy from Amazon, finally gave in because I can’t find it to rent or to buy on DVD anywhere. It was only $6. If you want a new, unused VHS tape of it be prepared to pay a whopping $47! More about this phenomenon next.) Here’s a very early clip of Rufus as young bus driver Robby Fay in The Man of No Importance (1992), along with middle-aged bus driver Albert Byrne (Albert Finney), in a heartwarming tale of a friendship between colleagues. Here’s a clip of the final scene in the film:

Unfortunately, AMONI is impossible to get on DVD, either for rent or purchase. I gave in and bought this one on VHS also, but it doesn’t play right in my old VCR any more. This Audient blog post laments this sad condition.
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Discovery.
I was half way through watching Tristan and Isolde (2006, recommended by Netflix) in June of 2008. In the middle of the scene with Rufus and James Franco (Tristan) on the bridge where Lord Marke (Rufus) asks if Isolde is faithful to him, I said to myself, “who is this [amazing] guy?!” He spoke with so much emotion, with exceedingly convincing expressions and just so much shear heart that I rewound that scene about fives times and was immediately in love with my first movie boyfriend. When I told “Flixy” (rtm) how excited I was, (now that I had someone comparable to her dear Gerry Butler), she said, rather nonchalantly, oh, yes, Rufus, I like him, he’s in Dangerous Beauty, The Illusionist, The Holiday and knew he was a Brit. Well, imagine my delight, again! So then the relentless hunt began – to see anything I could that mentioned Rufus Sewell, to see if T&I was just a fluke, or if he was always that stunning.
Hunt and Catch.
Very soon after, Flixy and I had a Friday Movie Night and watched Dangerous Beauty (1998), and I totally, completely, fell head-over-heals. I had already seen The Illusionist and The Holiday without realizing at all that Rufus was in either, that’s how much the Bridge scene took me away.

Rufus in Dark City

Turns out many knew him from the 1998 mystery/sci-fi thriller Dark City. Not my usual genre, but understood the praise after watching it. Then came his more well-known parts as vengeful, spurned suitors in A Knight’s Tale (2001, Count Adhemar) and The Illusionist (2006, Crown Prince Leopold), and his downright villainous scoundrel in The Legend of Zorro (2005, Armand). He played rather ordinary men in some rather interesting circumstances in Cold Comfort Farm (1995), The Woodlanders (1997), In a Savage Land (1999), Paris, je t’aime (2006), Amazing Grace (2006) and Downloading Nancy (2008). He is in period-costume glory in Hamlet, Arabian Nights, Helen of Troy and Pillars of the Earth.

He is comfortable either on TV, film or stage. He prefers finite TV series (Gone to Seed, MiddleMarch, The Last King, John Adams, Taming of the Shrew) as opposed to an open-ended series like Eleventh Hour, (which lasted only a year on CBS), but was too long to for him be in one place. According to Rufus… “an interesting experiment” as he calls it, to be polite. And aside from his outstanding acting, in ordinary life the guy is just plain charming, considerate, and friendly… as displayed in Craig Ferguson’s interview… which easily endears me to him even more.

Rufus in a scene from Pillars of the Earth

Anticipation
Now that I’ve seen most there is to see of Rufus outstanding work, (except, or course, his stage plays, which include performances in Arcadia, Translations and Rock ‘n’ Roll), the only thing that’s left to do is see it all over again, or look forward to what’s coming up. The Pillars of the Earth (eight-part mini series) debuted in the USA in July, is playing on BBC4 in Britain currently, premiering in Germany this week and has been seen in Italy, Greece and maybe more. I haven’t even seen any episodes yet, but there’s buzz that Emmy nominations can’t be far behind. I don’t have Starz, so am anxiously waiting for the DVD to come out at the end of November here in the USA. To see the extraordinary range that Roof is capable of, watch this compilation of him as Tom Builder in Pillars of the Earth. Even where the music eclipses the dialogue, you can’t miss the depth and range he conveys:

Rufus in a scene in The Tourist

And then we can look forward to seeing him out of 11th Century garb and back in a suit again in the Aurelio Zen series he stars in on PBS sometime in the future and another contemporary role (a “small, but significant” role, according to Ruf) in the major Hollywood film The Tourist opening here December 10.

Real World.
And lastly, I have to give a shout out to all my fan girl friends over at The Rooftop (Everything Rufus, All The Time – made up tagline, but so true). Life would be a little less bright without it. And I would feel a lot crazier as a Ruf fan if not for them, because their fantasies (and “Caps” ;-)) are usually more than I could ever dream up. But some really do come true however, just ask Gloria, aka Dreamer who met Ruf on the set of Zen in Rome this summer.
So, in this second year of FlixChatter, comes the second salute to one of the most endearing, splendid and remarkable actors. Mr. Sewell, if you’re reading this, I wish you a very happy birthday!

Chat-Worthy Actor: Mark Strong

Special thanks to guest blogger Samantha Klein of Banana Oil Movies for her outstanding contribution!


I have a confession to make. I play “Six Degrees of Russell Crowe”. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be Kevin Bacon, but I don’t watch Kevin Bacon stuff, and I’m a huge Crowe fan. I’ve seen over half of his movies so far, which makes it easy to connect him to pretty much anyone within about 3 moves. It helps me fall asleep. Lately, my weapon of choice has been Hollywood’s new It Villain, British-born Mark Strong.

Some of you (probably not regular readers) are scratching your heads in confusion right now, but trust me; you’ve seen the guy. He’s been called Andy Garcia 2.0, Alan Rickman 2.0, and Peter O’Toole 2.0. In interviews, he’s humble, charming, and clearly hard-working, as also evidenced by 14 credits on IMDb in the last two years; those in quite a number of notable films, I might add. In reviews, he’s always deemed a strong supporter.

So who is the guy? He’s the new face of menace, from Stardust to Green Lantern. He’s played villain (or at least semi-antagonist) to some of Hollywood’s most notable actors; Leo DiCaprio, Robert Downey, Jr., and Russell Crowe, to name a few. Still not totally clear? Well, that’s the danger of being a character actor. But here – allow me to enlighten you with a small sampling of notable (to me) Strong performances.

Mark Strong and Helen McCrory

1. The Jury (2002).

This Brit mini-series, recommended to me by rtm, features Strong as a troubled husband. He’s suffered a debilitating injury that has damaged his leg, his self-esteem, and his marriage to Rose (Helen McCrory), one of the jurors on the case. Rose seeks to escape from her stifling life by way of serving on the jury, quickly catching the eye of a fellow juror (Gerard Butler), and embarking upon a reasonably serious flirtation. Strong discovers the would-be affair, and drama ensues. This riveting performance is a true precursor to Strong’s current position in Hollywood. The character of Len is pure menace throughout. What truly impressed me, though, is that despite knowing he’s in the wrong, and being really creeped out by him, I found Len to be a sympathetic character. Yes, he’s scary. He does some bad things. But mostly, he’s a broken, beaten man who’s suffered a serious blow to his own confidence, and is just trying to hang on to something he loves. This, I think, is what Strong does best. He imbues characters of questionable (or sometimes quite obvious) moral and ethical standing with humanity. In the end, I felt nothing but sorry for Len, as someone unable to control his life or his own impulses.

2. Stardust (2007). I would argue that “the new Princess Bride” qualifies as Strong’s star-making turn. The devious, totally evil Prince Septimus is a really great villain. Strong plays him with snarling intensity and cold, callous concern for anyone but himself. This was my introduction to Mark Strong, and I was totally taken in by his performance. I think that probably happened a lot in Hollywood, too, since it is after Stardust that Strong has gone on a major tear. The amazing fight scene in which he is essentially a re-animated corpse was an astonishing piece of work, one which he apparently did himself, and this whole movie is a must for anyone looking to see what Strong can do.

3. RocknRolla (2008). Guy Ritchie’s mob romp is a whole lot of fun, and boasts a really great cast that includes the always-brilliant Tom Wilkinson and rtm/Samantha fave Gerard Butler. In my opinion, though, the movie belongs to Mark Strong. He plays Archy, Wilkinson’s mob boss’s right-hand man. In thinking about it, I would compare this role to that of Len in The Jury, but I think it’s more subtle and well-played. Technically, Archy’s a bad guy. He’s a mobster. He walks on the wrong side of the law. But for all of that, his character exemplifies a clear moral code and a sense of right and wrong within the framework of the world in which he lives. Archy is just doing his job, and he does it well, so you get that wonderful Mark Strong menace (tired of that word yet?), but you also get a sense of ambiguity in the sense that, when Archy believes that he, and other people on his level, have been wronged by the higher-ups, his sense of justice is very clearly defined. This, I think, is at the heart of what makes Strong so good. He’s got that look, and clearly his resume is skewed toward villains, but he’s got something more than that. I don’t think it takes a particularly great actor to stand around and snarl and/or look scary, but it does take a bit more nuance to give one’s character a more complex background than just “being the bad guy,” and this is something at which I think Strong excels.

Mark Strong in Body of Lies

4. Body of Lies (2008).

This, I believe, is Strong’s best performance to date. It takes some hard work to be billed under powerhouses DiCaprio and Crowe and still somehow manage to walk away with the movie. Strong is Hani Salaam, the head of Jordanian intelligence. He works closely, and contentiously, with DiCaprio’s CIA agent in an attempt to bring down a group of terrorists. So, in theory at least, Hani is not a “bad guy”. What he is, though, is an extremely suave, intelligent, and ambiguous figure. There are times when he seems to be playing both sides of the fence, but he’s mostly just playing his own game, in which he allows the CIA to think it’s running the show.

This performance is a marvel of highs and lows, with Hani one second charming and friendly (he calls Leo “my dear” most of the time), and in the next instant, we’re back to a sense of immediate danger that is somehow doubly frightening coming from Strong’s soft-spoken accent and impeccably tailored suit. All in all, the movie is decent but not great, but I would suggest it for the performances and the interplay between the three leads more than anything else.

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So there you have it. A Mark Strong primer. I highly recommend that you check out this talented guy, particularly in these films, although I have heard good things about a number of others. Syriana and The Young Victoria, in particular, are supposed to be very good, and Sherlock Holmes is pretty much a must for Downey fans. AND, you can look forward to Strong in the upcoming Crowe/Scott Robin Hood (yes, I am horribly excited) and in the Ryan Reynolds-starring Green Lantern (as Sinestro!), due out in 2011. Many thanks to rtm for asking me to write this post and giving me the opportunity to gush a little about my new favorite character actor. Enjoy!


So what’s YOUR favorite role of Mark Strong?

Happy Belated Birthday, Timothy Dalton!

Thanks to Andy from Fandango Groovers who reminded me that last Sunday 3/21 was Timothy’s 66th birthday. In honor of the actor, the James Bond enthusiast blogger posted this brilliant idea about a revolutionary James Bond flick starring Mr. Dalton as the older British spy, with Colin Farrell as 006 and Quentin Tarantino at the helm. It’s a crazy and fanciful concept but wow, that’s definitely something I’d watch in a heartbeat!

Dalton's gritty Bond was way ahead of his time

After playing iconic characters such as Bond, Jane Eyre’s Rochester, Julius Caesar, now the Welsh thespian will add Mr. Pricklepants to his resume. In my tribute to him late December, I mentioned that he’s going to voice Mr. Pricklepants in Toy Story 3, out June 18th. It’s inspired casting I must say, as you don’t expect such a cuddly stuffed animal to have THAT voice. Not sure what role he’d play amongst Woody, Buzz & the gang, though there are rumors he could be the villain?

Earlier this week, its own character poster was released, along with the toy description:

Mr. Pricklepants is a charming hedgehog and the ideal partner for your favorite forest. This hedgehog with its green leather hose comes from the quality Waldfreunde collection and were directly imported from Germany. He may look like there are prickly, but he is made out of down so you can cuddle a lot. Drag your fingers through his hair to the spines back in order after the wash.

We have yet to hear him utter a word in the latest trailer, but you can hear a bit of his iconic, Welsh-tinged brogue in this clip below. I wish they’d feature more of Mr. Pricklepants in next trailer!

In the comment section of Fandango’s post, I said wishfully that someone should get Dalton out of retirement soon. Talk about wish come true! Just yesterday I read that Dalton has joined the cast of The Tourist, the spy thriller starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp (more elaborate post on this topic forthcoming).

So, here’s wishing Mr. Dalton many happy returns and hope to see more of him in other Hollywood movies!

Happy Birthday Alan Rickman!

Mr. Rickman turns 64 today.

Thought I’d give a short tribute to him as he’s one of my favorite British actors. I first saw him as the captivating villain Hans Grubber in Die Hard, stealing scenes from action hero Bruce Willis. He also plays another memorable villainous role as the tyrannical Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, again nearly outshining the lead actor Kevin Costner. But he’s just as wonderful in his more tender roles, as the romantic ghost in Truly, Madly, Deeply (thanks to my ESL teacher who introduced me to that film) and of course my all-time favorite, as the noble Col. Brandon in Sense & Sensibility. How could Marianne fall for the young, impetuous Willoughby when she’s got such a regal man with silky, smooth voice like Christopher Brandon swooning over her?!

Just the way he looked at Marianne here practically melts the heart of every woman everywhere:

To prove his versatility, Rickman also shines in his comedic roles, most notably in the hilarious sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest. He’s also adept at singing in Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp. Is it any wonder he’s chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history (#34) in 1995? We can see hear him next as the voice of Caterpillar in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

Here’s wishing for a lasting acting career for Mr. Rickman!

Timothy Dalton: most underrated actor of all time?

Dalton – dashing then as Bond & now at 65

Inspired by a recent similar post by Caz from Let’s go to the movies, and the fact that award season looms upon us, I thought I’d bring forward the one actor that I thought deserve far more recognition than he currently gets. Perhaps the title of this post could be construed as a bit of a hyperbole. But I make no apologies that I think Timothy Dalton is a fantastic actor, and for the life of me I cannot fathom why he isn’t as big a star as other equally talented thespians like Daniel Day-Lewis or Michael Caine.

Like most people, I first saw Dalton in his debut as Bond in The Living Daylights (1987). The film itself is entertaining, albeit far from perfect. But the best part of the movie is Dalton, no question about it.

Stuff my orders! I only kill professionals. That girl didn’t know one end of a rifle from the other. Go ahead. Tell M what you want. If he fires me, I’ll thank him for it. – 007, The Living Daylights

Though I grew up with Roger Moore as Bond, seeing Dalton bring out the darker and tougher side of the British spy is so refreshing and captivating to watch. Ok, I’m a woman so naturally I expect Bond to be somewhat of an eye candy too, and Dalton — who at 6’2″ is the tallest Bond ever — is both devastatingly handsome and sexy in that dark & dangerous kind of way. Not to mention that irresistible deep and raspy voice — I could read this guy read a phone book all night long! But looks alone doesn’t make an actor, and Dalton is definitely one whose talent and acting tenacity transcend even that impossibly chiseled looks.

Dalton_LTKI’m not the only one who share that sentiment in regard to his Bond role. In the September ’09 issue of Total Film, journalist ‘ Richard Matthews wrote Is it just me?… or is Timothy Dalton the best Bond as he reassessed both The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989) in light of their recent DVD re-release.

In that article, Matthews said that Dalton conformed to Ian Fleming’s blueprint for James Bond perfectly: “black hair falling down over the right eyebrow… something cruel in the mouth and the eyes cold”. And in both TLD in 1987 and LTK in 1989, according to Matthews, Dalton “brought Fleming’s fractured, damaged psychology back to Bond”. Even this National Lampoon writer defied the “commonly agreed-upon” Bond ranking in his Apology to Dalton article.

This UK’s Guardian blogger back in 2006 definitely took the words straight out of my mouth:

Ironically, the very characteristics that got Dalton slammed are the very same things that the Bond producers are praising Daniel Craig for. On and on, they have said they want Bond to be closer to the original Ian Fleming character. They want him to be grittier, darker and less jokey. What they really want, it seems, is to have Dalton back.

Some people in various Bond forums argue that Craig lack the sophistication of a British spy, instead behaved more like a thug-ish action star. That’s another topic for another post but I’m definitely in the camp that both Craig and Dalton epitomized that merciless grit and ruthlessness like no other Bond before them. Yet Dalton was clearly way ahead of his time as Craig took all the credit for doing what he had started.

Dalton as Rochester

But Dalton is more than just a James Bond actor. Just a few years ago I came across the 1983 BBC version of Jane Eyre where Dalton played Charlotte Brontë’s ultimate Byronic hero Mr. Rochester. I totally fell in love with his brooding and enigmatic performance, and he makes the poorly-made production of the miniseries entirely worthwhile. He continued to impress me in a variety of things I’ve watched him in: The Lion in Winter (his debut alongside Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn), Framed (a fascinating crime thriller with David Morrissey), as Julius Caesar in Cleopatra, and another Brontë’s adaptation Wuthering Heights. Any one of which warrants some kind of award nomination.

The thing is with Dalton, he’s great at playing both hero and villain, as displayed in his scene-stealing turn in Flash Gordon, The Rocketeer and the Simon Pegg comedy Hot Fuzz. Heck, he even played a comic-strip character believably as Basil St. John in Brenda Starr. He even dared to venture into one of Hollywood’s all-time classic roles of Rhett Butler, in the Gone with the Wind‘s ill-conceived follow-up Scarlett and [gasp!] even silly rom-com in The Beautician & The Beast. Sure, those two are definitely poor role choices, but I don’t think it undermines his talent as an actor.

Dalton_Rocketeer
Dalton as Neville Sinclair in ‘Rocketeer’

The classically-trained thespian is perhaps most comfortable on stage, having toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Prospect Theater Company in England. He’s also keeping busy doing voice work for various audio books, so perhaps the lack of movie roles is his own choosing. Based on this UK’s Metro interview, he strikes me as someone who’s entirely at peace with his career and is unapologetic about his choices, even his decision not to do his third Bond role. Still, I can’t help but wonder why he’s not offered the roles that actors of his stature keep getting? Think Anthony Hopkins (who had his debut in the same film The Lion in Winter), Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and the other two I’ve mentioned above. As I told Marc on his The Rocketeer post, it’d be nice to see Dalton in The Wolfman in Tony Hopkins role, or in Clash of the Titans as Zeus instead of Liam Neeson, or something like Michael Caine’s Is Anybody There?. We all know he has the chops and at sixty-five is still far more dashing — and Botox-free — than even actors ten or fifteen years younger.

Instead, all I can look forward to is his voice-over part in Toy Story 3 as Mr. Pricklepants, a hedgehog toy with thespian tendencies. Ha! For all of you Dr. Who fans, he’s also been reported to guest star in David Tennant’s finale as the titular character. Tennant was quoted praising Dalton to Radio Times, “He was lovely. He had the panache and the skill of a movie star, without any of the alarming eccentricities or peculiar demands.”

I don’t expect anything less from this classy actor. Here’s hoping a starring role, or even a pivotal part in an ensemble flick, pops up in the horizon soon.

P.S. If you haven’t already, check out my fantasy movie pitch Hearts Want, a romantic thriller starring Dalton as a retired MI-5 agent.


So folks, do you have your own analysis of an underrated thespian? If so, let’s hear it.

Happy Belated Birthday, Rufus Sewell!

Last Thursday, the talented and ridiculously handsome British actor turned 42. Most TV watchers know him as Dr. Jacob Hood in the recently canceled CBS show Eleventh Hour — which I personally think wasn’t exactly worthy of his talent. But there’s so much more to this versatile actor, whose compelling performance is always the highlight of any movie he’s in. Whether he’s portraying a villain (The Legend of Zorro, The Illusionist), charming bad boy (Jasper in The Holiday), or historical statesmen (Alexander Hamilton in HBO’s John Adams, Thomas Clarkson in Amazing Grace), it’s hard to take your eyes off him!

The dashing Roof as Lord Marke
The dashing Roof as Lord Marke

Among his diverse body of work, my personal faves are the 1998 period drama set in Venice called Dangerous Beauty, followed by acclaimed sci-fi crime thriller and cult favorite Dark City. There’s also his scene-stealing role as noble Lord Marke in Tristan + Isolde, one that made me wish I had Isolde’s dilemma. With a betrothed subject like that, I definitely wouldn’t be fretting over my long lost lover!

RoofRufus’ versatility also stretches to theater work. He performed as Jan in Tom Stoppard’s Rock and Roll at the Royal Court Theatre in London, which he later reprised on Broadway until March of last year.

My friend — and fellow Roof admirer — Becky also tipped me about this 45-minute harrowing UK documentary as a tribute to the 9/11 tragedy called 9/11: out of the blue, narrated splendidly by Rufus. It’s based on a specially-commissioned poem by award-winning poet Simon Armitage. To call it a narration is a gigantic understatement. Anybody with a decent voice can do a narration, but it takes a special artistry and no less than sheer brilliance to pull off what Rufus did here. It was mesmerizing and heartbreaking at the same time.

Rufus will appear next in a TV miniseries The Pillars of the Earth, based on a historical novel by Ken Follett about the building of a cathedral in Kingsbridge, England. More on that in a separate post.

With special thanks to Becky, here’s the bridge scene in Tristan + Isolde that stole her heart (and I’m sure countless others alike, including yours truly):

And here’s a scene from ShakespeaRe-Told, a BBC four-part adaptation of Shakespeare in contemporary form. Rufus plays Petruchio in the Taming of the Shrew episode. Enjoy!

Here’s wishing Mr. Sewell many happy returns! And of course, a long lasting cinematic career.

Gerard Butler’s hosting SNL this weekend!

I don’t normally watch SNL, but I’ll definitely make an exception this weekend. Check out this promo:

I’m surprised it took so long for SNL to invite Gerry to be the host. He’s downright funny and gregarious. Sure he’s known to play brooding, fiery and ill-tempered guy, even borderline psychopathic in LAC, but he’s such a good humored, goofy kind of guy in real life, well at least that’s his off-screen persona anyway. That’s why I look forward to every time his new flick opens, as that means he’ll be doing the talk-show rounds and delight us with his sense of humor. He never seems to run out of one wacky tale after another. You might not be sold on his movies, but it’s hard not to fall for his undeniable charm or be amused by his crazy stories and the way he’s telling them.

It’s tough to pick the funny GB videos on youtube as there are too many of them, but here’s a compilation of his hilarious moments:

One of my favorites was when he did an interview in Japan to promote Dear Frankie. The girl is hilarious, too, even GB was amused by her!

Anyhoo, TGIF! I’ll be off to Law Abiding Citizen tonight. Stay tuned for my review on Monday.