R O L E M O D E LIf his portrayal of a serial killer in The Fall failed to dislodge Jamie Dornan from his place in women’s hearts, how will he fare as the star of the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey? He talks to Charlotte Sinclair: Photographs by Boo George
A fortnight before I’m due to interview the actor Jamie Dornan, the emails begin to ping into my inbox. “Oh my God. Can I come and watch?” says one. “He’s the most handsome man on the planet,” says another. The most succinct message reads: “Lucky bitch.”
This is not standard practice. Nor is the arrival, on the day itself, of serval more Vogue editors than are officially required to “observe” the shoot. The focus of all this lust is a rather unassuming presence. Dornan turns up in jeans and T-shirt, unshaven and quiet, politely shaking hands with each member of the crew. His fame is slighter, morecompact than one might imagine, especially if you’re basing your knowledge of Dornan on his excellent work as the body of Calvin Klein underwear. His face is set with delicate features and dark eyes, and he is boyish, not burly, though the impression is underminded by his deep Belfast accent and the pensive, watchful mood that he seems to inhabit like his very own cloud. Though he could just be tired.
He is, of course, extremely beautiful; you can’t help but stare. At the photographer’s request he lies down in a patch of long summer grass and frowns. It is a patented Dornan expression, a brow-puckered gaze that implies depth to all that surface beauty, a look familiar to anyone who saw his work in campaigns for Dior and Armani. Before he quit the fashion industry a few years ago, that frown made Dornan one of the most successful male models on record.
But this is not why we’re here – as Dornan is at pains to emphasise, giving short shrift to the suggestion of a Vogue editor that he might, perhaps, peel off his top? Last year Dornan surprised everyone – not least himself – by being cast as the lead in the hit BBC Series The Fall as Paul Spector, a bereavement counsellor, husband and father, who spends his evenings creeping into Belfast bedrooms and murdering defenceless women, a role he reprises for the show’s second season, debuting this month. As Spector, Dornan is the sleekest predator imaginable, all honed muscle tone and knicker-sniffing depravity, and the perfect foil to Gillian Anderson’s superbly alluring whip-smart detective Stella Gibson. For Dornan, it was a career-defining role, delivering him a Bafta nomination – and into the big time. Earlier this year he was cast as Christian Grey, in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. “The Fall changed by life – that’s not an overstatement,” he says.
As Spector, Dornan was a revelation, not least for the way he made most women viewers feel, a conflicted state of mind that might best be summed up as: is it OK to fancy a serial killer? (Lena Dunham tweeted: “I’m a monstrous @JamieDornan1 fan. Wasn’t allowed to be attacted to him on The Fall bc he played a sexmurderer. 50 Shades is my big chance. Wait, Christian Grey isn’t a murderer right?“) Gillian Anderson says Dornan’s attractiveness “makes what Spector does even more disturbing. Do his actions suddenly become less horrific or even perversely desirable because he is?” Even she was not immune to Dornan’s charms: “He’s very, very funny and has very good singing voice and seems to be, in real life, a doting father and husband and friend. I mean! I tried really hard to find something wrong with him”
Not that Dornan can speak to his own fanciability, or is remotely comfortable doing so. We are at a cafè around the corner from the shoot location, seated side by side at a counter by the window, which means that, for most of the interview, Dornan stares straight ahead through the glass. He is a fidget, jiggling and moving his legs, rubbing his forearms, and although he laughs easily and is never less than affable, he is a cautious conversationalist, measuring his words and leaving epic pauses in his sentences that I have to actively resist rushing into.
“There have been a lot of serial killers who fitted easily into society, who are intelligent, articulate, successful to a point, deemed relatively…” pause “… good looking, and – your words not mine – with me playing the character we were trying to show that this can and does exist.” Phew. (The accent, I can confirm, is truly delicious.) The role, however, was never meant to be his. “I’m not very well,” he says. “I didn’t do a good audition for The Fall. But the show’s writer, Allan Cubitt, saw something in me. I think he had to work pretty hard to convince everyone else.”
In person, the casting makes total sense. Not that Dornan exhibits psychopathic tendencies, obviously, not even in his ability to peel an orange in a single, looping strand, as evidenced in an early episode – an essential serial-killer skill – but that, by temperament, he has a brooding, deep-thinking quality. It’s a characteristic specific to him, but so is it very typically Northern Irish (so an Irishman assures me). And it endows his performance with the required menace.
“I guess I saw his potential and didn’t let anything else stand in my way,” explains Cubitt “You only need to meet Jamie once to realise that he has a huge amount going for him byond beingso physically attractive. I’d also say that Jamie’s attractiveness is more like that of a Brando than some empty-headed clothes-horse. It’s a fine balance of masculinity and femininity in a subtle and exciting mix. There needs to be some darkness and dangerousness in there, too, to make a real leading man.”
Until Cubitt’s intervention, Dornan’s acting career had been limited to small but prestigious roles in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and the American fantasy series Once Upon a Time. Was it a case of his modelling succed counting against him? “A little bit maybe,” he says. “Maybe it still will. For the last 10 years of my life I’ve been a model. I will always think of myself during that time less as being a relatively successful model, more of a failed actor. Becuase I was failing every week.”
I should say here that I know Jamie a little. In 2001, my husband Ben directed a Channel 4 reality show called Model Behaviou for which Dornan applied and was selected as a contestant. Though he was eliminated in the programme’s London rounds “I think I made it to day two before they said, ‘OK mate, that’s enough, see ya’“), Dornan subsequently signed a modelling contract with Select. When he moved to London, he and Ben remaind friendly, occasionally playing football together in a Monday-night league. When I bumped into Dornan he was often nursing some sort of sports-related injury – even, once, a black eye, and was always remarkably sanguine about the fact, despite usually being days away from shooting a Dior Homme fragrance campaign. “It got to the point where I didn’t tell my agent that I was playing rugby,” he says. (The trait for injury does not appear to have lapsed. He pulls back his T-shirt to expose a muscled shoulder freckled with burst blood vessels, the result of an afternoon spent clay-pigeon shooting.)
Even then, at the peak of his modelling powers and in demand from Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel and Hedi Slimane, there was nothing in Dornan’s demeanour or personality that might lead to comparisons to the preening, male-model tropes represented in Zoolander. “There are guys in the industry who aren’t far off that” he says, smiling, “and why not?” In his twenties, Dornan was more interested in going to the pub with his mates than plucking his eyebrows (he doesn’t) or worrying about his waistline. Certainly, he didn’t relish the fame that accompanied the two-year period when he dated Keira Knightley. Still, talking to Dornan is to understand that it might sometimes be a wee bit inconvenient to be so very handsome. (Whenever I broach the subject of his looks, the pauses between his words become crevasses.)
“Look, I have a lot of respect for the fashion industry,” he says, “but when you actually break it down, it’s all a bit silly.” He squirms when I mention the game that Ben and I used to play over the summer of 2010, when I seemed as if every bus in London was plastered with an image of Dornan, oiled up an stripped down to his Calvins, limbs entwined with those of an equally oleaginous, nearnaked Eva Mendes. (The game was called “Count the Jamies”. Maximum score: eight buses in one afternoon.) “What a horrible summer that was! Sickened by the sight of me in my pants,” he laughs.
“There is a certain stigma attached to the whole thing a model-turned actor,” he continues. “But I was always quite a reluctant model, to my agent’s annoyance. I was never hugely keen on it or doing it, and in a weird way I didn’t do a great deal of it. They happened to be jobs that ended up on the sides of buses, but it wasn’t this all-consuming thing. I’ve never done a catwalk show in my life.” Is he happy to be free of it? “I’m not ungrateful. I enjoy working with certain photographers, and having a bit of a craic and catching up, but the actual thing of having to stand looking all moody and looking off in the distance and ‘Let’s just do a couple with a finger round your mouth…’” He laughs. “I’d rather be playing football.”
In a lovely stroke of determinism, Dornan was brought up in a town near Belfast called Holywood. “Belfast in the Eighties was still not a great place to be,” he says, “but I wouldn’t have changed my upbringing for the world. I went to school in Belfast, all my mates were from there. But I was in a protected part of it. I’m not trying to sell it like I saw the worst of it – I didn’t – but we definitely saw things, and there was certainly fear and tension that doesn’t exist now.” Was he aware of his looks growing up? “No, I didn’t do praticularly well with girls at school. I was very shy. I’m not saying that was the only reason I didn’t do well with them,” he laughs, “but I just didn’t. I never had any reason to think I looked different.”The new series of ‘The Fall’ will be screened on BBC2 in November
Dornan’s father is an eminent obstetrician; his mother died of cancer when he was 16. Did he ever want to go into medicine? “Jesus, no,” he laughs. Though nor did his father, initially. “He was offered a place at Rada when he was 18, and wanted to be an actor. But my grandparents said, ‘No, you’re going to medical school.’” Dornan’s own decision not to go to drama school – “I think acting’s an instinctual thing” – was vindicated when he received a Bafta nomination for The Fall. “Yes! Let’s talk about that!” he says, thumping the counter. “I’m a competitive little bastard. On the red carpet I was saying, ‘I’m so happy to be nominated.’ But then you get in there you’re like, ‘Fuck this, I want to win!’ You’re actually a bit miserable when you don’t,” he laughs.
He married musician and actress Amelia Warner in 2013, and the couple have a daughter. “She’s dream stuff. It’s amazing. I love fatherhood. These last couple of years have been quite something. But we’re enjoying it.” Dornan won the role of Christian Grey in Fifty Shades while Warner was heavily pregnant. “We had to get to Toronto [where the film was shot] as soon as I found out, because my wife was due to give birth imminently. Only now am I realising how mad the whole period was: the filming, the baby, the way the job came about…” Dornan was a late substitution for Charlie Hunnam, who pulled out of the role. “All of it was totally crazy.”
He is under strict orders not to talk about Fifty Shades. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, it’s due for release on Valentine’s Day 2015. But we can talk around it, about the pressure of adapting a book that’s sold 100 million copies. “It’s actually too insane,” he says. “They’re very loved books, but they’re just books, and we’re just trying to make a film.” (Dornan does not strike one as a natural reader of EL James’s oeuvre.) Is he ready for the level of attention that the film will bring to bear on his life? “I’m not sure you can be. If it’s a nightmare, we’ll move to Outer Mongolia or something, live in a yurt,” he laughs. “I’ve got a lot of shit together, finally, by age 32. I’m glad I have that all in place when whateer happens, happens.” Of the S&M-y confluence in the characters of Christian Grey and Paul Spector, he says, “there’s definitely similar aspects that run through both. But I hope I haven’t given the same performance twice. The accent’s different,” he deadpans.
As we’re finishing, I mention Lena Dunham. “I love that she is a fan of The Fall,” he says. “I think that’s the coolest thing in the world, I really do.” We segue into a descussion about Girls, and the power of Dunham’s influence. “I want to work with her,” he says. Would he do a love scene? His answer is emphatic and absolute: “I’m not getting naked. I’m sick of it. Sick of it.” Until then, we have more spectacular creepiness from Paul Spector and The Fall to look forward to. Think of it an object lession maternal advice: never trust a pretty face.
Please credit The50ShadesWorld.com if you want to use this Interview anywhere becasue I transcrpted it!
– Jamie Dornan > Magazines Scans > 2014 > Vogue UK (November)
– Jamie Dornan > Photoshoots > 2014 > Boo George for Vogue UK