“Someone’s just told me I’ve come runner-up to Tom Hiddleston in ‘rear of the year’,” he shares, genuinely perplexed (as are we – he should have been number one). “I don’t think, as an actor, you set out to achieve that. Truth be told, I pay no fucking notice.” But surely it meant something, in the heyday of modelling for Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss and Armani, to be labelled ‘The Golden Torso’ by The New York Times? “I never had a big plan to do modelling,” he shrugs. “I got coerced into it. I never fully committed, and my attitude was a bit shit. I was always trying to do the acting thing. But I didn’t get training. Some of my least favourite actors – boring, predictable – went to RADA and shit. Acting is instinctual.” He grins. “Though you’d never see me trying to do Shakespeare anywhere near Stratford because I’m not trained and I’d make a fucking idiot out of myself.”
Relaxed, strikingly down-to-earth and, to put it mildly, garrulous, Dornan delivers such vivid comments damn near every time he opens his mouth. “I didn’t ask Kim Basinger about 9½ Weeks,” he admits when quizzed about teaming up with the ’80s steam queen on supersequel Fifty Shades Darker.
“I didn’t have big enough balls, in the way that maybe someone won’t be able to look me in the eye one day and talk about Fifty Shades.”
Total Film is looking Dornan in the eye, sort of. Today’s chat is happening via Skype. He’s sitting in the living room of his rustic house in south-east England, dressed down in a navy blue t-shirt and trying to maintain equilibrium when his two-year-old daughter wanders into the room naked and starts hammering on the piano.
At TF’s end, events take an alarming turn when the dog humps the beanbag. There is no time for distractions, however: Dornan has a raft of fascinating projects to tell us about.
First up, released within a week of each other at the start of September, are Anthropoid and The 9th Life Of Louis Drax. The former is the true-life tale of the daring WW2 mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, third-in-command of the Third Reich and prime architect of the Final Solution. Sean Ellis’ follow-up to his award-winning 2013 crime-drama Metro Manila, it sees Dornan and Cillian Murphy play, respectively, the Slovakian and Czech soldiers charged with completing the kamikaze mission. The 9th Life Of Louis Drax, meanwhile, is a mystery-thriller based on the bestseller by Liz Jensen and directed by Alexandre Aja (Switchblade Romance, Horns). It gifts Dornan the lead role of a comatose boy’s doctor who’s determined to find out the true circumstances of the child’s ‘accident’ – a quest that takes bizarre turns when reality bleeds into fantasy in a manner not dissimilar to Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
“I’d just seen Metro Manila before I got sent the script, so it felt like this serendipitous thing,” Dornan says of Anthropoid. “I was banging on to my wife about how much I’d love to work with Sean Ellis. To be honest, it could have been a short film about a man waiting for a number 52 bus. But I do like the idea of playing people that actually existed. Fifty Shades is fantasy, fictional, out there…” He laughs, rubs at his jaw. “I feel like I want to do real stuff. The guy I played in Marie Antoinette was real but he died years and years ago.” Another laugh. “I loved this story. I thought it could touch people. Human characters with human flaws. I was very excited to play someone vulnerable. I’m used to playing people who are controlling.”
And Drax? “I’d never read anything like it. Clever and unique. I did think we would have a task on our hands in terms of how to marry the supernatural aspect of it with the straight story. For me, it’s again a total departure from anything I’ve done. And that’s what I want to do – keep playing characters that are different.”
There are exceptions, of course. One of these is Christian Grey, who Dornan last week finished
portraying in sequels Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, shot back-to- back. The other is the role that accelerated his acting career: serial killer Paul Spector in BBC2’s riveting cat-and-mouse crime series The Fall.
“I knew it was great, based on the scripts,” he says. “I had never been up for anything like that. And I’d never had someone see that in me, that I could play menace or darkness. If you come from modelling, you only get offered certain jobs… boyfriend… you know, the usual shit.” He pauses. “I actually auditioned for another part. For a policeman. Whatever I did, I convinced them I was a psychopath.”
For two series now, Spector – counsellor, family man, slayer of young women – has tormented the coolly charismatic DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson). The finale of Season 2 suggested that their dance of death was over (no spoilers here). Then came the announcement that both would return in Season 3…
“There’s a twisty element to it that you will not see coming,” Dornan promises, his words finally slowing as he chooses them carefully. “It’s certainly… a very interesting place to take it. I mean, I couldn’t believe it when Allan Cubitt, who created it, told me what happens with my character. That’s all I can really say.”
Fine – he’s clearly uncomfortable saying even one word more. But let’s just make him really squirm before moving on to the Fifty Shades movies: how does it feel to have so many viewers find the character that he describes as a “sick, sick man” so very, very hot? The biggest laugh yet. “It says more about them, doesn’t it? Fuck, I don’t know what to say about that really. Look, if he has that effect on people, I would hope that comes more from us trying to give him some kind of charm and making him someone who is relatable, fancy-able, who could live next door to you, who could be your bereavement counsellor, which is all in the story. I hope, I hope.” He takes a breath, shudders, and then adds, rather worryingly, “He’s the one character I find hard to shake off.”
Still, Dornan insists you have to be fearless about full- heartedly embracing such challenging or risqué material as The Fall and Fifty Shades. The first Fifty Shades introduced billionaire Christian Grey as he demonstrated his kinks to virginal student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), making her blush at both ends. It failed to satisfy reviewers but went all the way at the box office, taking
$571m. Fifty Shades Darker is set to penetrate deeper. “It opens doors in terms of getting a better understanding of why he is the way he is, and why he feels the need to control. But we also get to see more of what the books would say is a ‘vanilla relationship’. We get to see more of him and Anna having a regular existence, a relationship. But then things happen along the way to test that…”
One of the things that happens is that Christian’s business partner, Elena Lincoln (Basinger), enters the picture – as readers of E.L. James’ trilogy of bestselling books will know, she is the older woman who first introduced Master Grey to the pleasures (and pains) of BDSM. But there are key changes behind the camera, too: James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, Fear) took over the directorial reins from Sam Taylor-Johnson, who didn’t have the smoothest of relationships with E.L. James; and the screenplay was this time penned by James’ husband, Niall Leonard (TV shows Wild At Heart and Wire In The Blood). Is it fair to say that the author, like her male protagonist, is something of a control freak? “These are Erika’s babies,” Dornan says. “She’s very right to have a strong opinion on all things Fifty Shades. But Erika and James Foley have a good relationship. They get on very well. He brings a different energy. He’s going to put his own stamp on it.” With all this work (there’s also Netflix premiere Jadotville, about 155 Irish troops who were besieged by thousands of French, Belgian and Rhodesian mercenaries in the Congo in 1961), you have to wonder if he ever gets a second to himself.
The answer is no, but mainly because he has two young children with his English actress/ musician wife, Amelia Warner. “I have the quietest family life,” he says. “My wife and I were watching a movie last night. We got the kids to bed and I had a glass of red wine in my hand. I was like, ‘Fuck, I don’t even think I can finish this. What’s the time?’ It was 8.30. I was like,‘Is it too early to go to bed?’ She was like, ‘We can’t go to bed before nine.’ We just about scraped it. I was holding my eyelids open.”
Jamie Dornan: sex symbol, leading man, tucked up asleep by 9pm. Like we said – not at all what you’d expect.