When Jamie Dornan tells me the appeal of his latest film role was that it was “human and relatable,” it sounds like a classic actorly platitude. But then you consider the parts that catapulted Dornan to stardom: a serial-killing psychopath and a sado-masochistic tycoon, in The Fall and Fifty Shades of Grey, respectively. In both, the Belfast-born 34-year-old has been a twisted embodiment of Men’s Health maledom gone wrong, meterosexual beauty disguising a toxic psychology. So yes, when it came to the role of Czech war hero Jan Kubiš in new Second World War drama Anthropoid, you imagine it must have been nice to be offered a character who is so darned noble for a change – and at least a little closer to the gentle, friendly guy who I meet over coffee in West London.
The film tells the story of the group of Czech resistance fighters who assassinated SS General Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. But far from being a Boy’s Own adventure hero, Dornan’s Kubiš is anxious and terrified; early on, he’s unable to aim his gun because his hands are so shaky. “They’re just regular guys put in an impossible situation,” says Dornan. “For all the bravado and thinking that you’d be manly in these situations, I’d probably be very like [Jan].”
Nevertheless, as the Nazis close in, Kubiš and his comrades are forced into battle; the powerful, draining second half is mostly given over to a brutal extended siege in a cathedral. Dornan describes the shoot as “gruelling” and “claustrophobic” – though he was well-prepared, having just come off filming another war drama, Netflix’s upcoming The Siege of Jadotville. And then there was the pleasure of working with co-lead Cillian Murphy. “I’ve always respected the way he approaches his career [mixing] big blockbuster franchises with great TV – and then he still does amazing theatre in Ireland.”
It’s clear Dornan has remained just as level-headed. Where he could have scouted out a superhero movie by now, later this month he returns to BBC2 for a third and final series of The Fall. “It’s my happy place,” he says – an odd way to describe a show in which you have to enter the mind of a man who stalks and strangles women, perhaps, but indicative of how indebted he feels to Allan Cubitt’s thriller for giving him his big break. Before he landed the part of Paul Spector he had been plugging away at acting for years without great success – at least relative to his success as a top-flight model. “I had a lot more time off, put it that way!” he jokes. The problem being, that in the UK, he found himself burdened with the “model-turned-actor” tag. “There’s a heavier stigma attached than in the States.”
When he first went up for The Fall, it was for a smaller part as a policeman colleague of Spector’s nemesis, Stella Gibson (played by Gillian Anderson). It was only subsequently, when he’d gone to “LA for pilot season, whoring myself around town”, that he was asked to make an audition tape for Spector.
With the producers having whittled the candidates down to three, a six-and-a-half-hour final audition followed: one of the things that clinched it for him was a scene in which Spector comes back from a killing to be greeted by his son. “I just spoke to him like it was my son, but Allan said [the other two] acted it really creepy because he’s just come back from murdering someone… but why would you?” What’s great about the way Dornan plays Spector is how inscrutable he is: notionally, as Dornan suggests, The Fall is a “whydunnit”, and yet to a large extent Spector defies our understanding. “I think I’ll be asking myself questions about Spector for the rest of my life,” Dornan says But as it builds to a finale, can the show shrug off its critics? Since it started in 2013, it’s been at the centre of a heated debate about how TV glamourises violence against women. Dornan is diplomatic about such charges. “I understand where critics are coming from [but] the lead is a very impressive powerful woman; that shouldn’t be ignored. Yes most of the acts of violence are against women… but women remain more common victims in these cases. It’s a horrific fact.”
Talking of, ahem, mixed critical reactions, Dornan has recently wrapped up filming on the final two parts of the adaptation of EL James’ Fifty Shades trilogy. The first one was predictably ridiculed, even as it scored big at the box office: it earned a clutch of Razzies, including Best Actor for Dornan. “I’m going for back-to-back Razzies next year!” he says, clenching his first in mock determination.
The shoot for the original was also dogged by reports of tensions between James and director Sam Taylor Wood, who has been replaced by James Foley; this time, “people were a lot more relaxed”, Dornan notes. Is it a relief to finish a big, endlessly-scrutinised franchise like this? “It’s nice to, um, put something to bed,” he says, with the wry smile of someone who battles innuendo on a daily basis. Inevitably, there has been speculation about whether Dornan will go full-frontal before the trilogy’s out, following the first film’s notable absentee. Recently male objectification has been a hot topic among ogled actors like Kit Harington and Henry Cavill, who have complained of double standards. Dornan seems less fazed by his lot, however. “Proxy of being an actor, you’re opening yourself up to objectification of some kind… it’s kind of a horrible feeling, but it goes with the territory.” As for what’s next, he’s vague: “I don’t over-think those things,” he says. Which makes me wonder; could he be in line for a certain 00 agent role, as has been mooted? “I don’t think that would ever come my way… but it would be amazing, even to be considered,” he says, garbling his words slightly. Sincere denial or embarrassed white lie? There he is, inscrutable again.