Hardy Plumbing
October 10, 2007

The Other British Hugh



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The deck was stacked against him – five women to one man. It could have been a curse, but for Hugh Dancy, who shares his first name and demeanor with another British leading man, named Hugh Grant, it was sheer fun.

One of Hollywood's hottest rising stars, Dancy has played Prince Charmont in Ella Enchanted, Sir Galahad in King Arthur, and the Earl of Essex in HBO's Elizabeth I, with Helen Mirren.

Suspending the nobility labels, in The Jane Austen Book Club, he's just plain Grigg, a rich software geek. This screen adaptation by writer/director Robin Swicord of Karen Joy Fowler's bestselling 2004 novel is centuries removed from 19th century Regency England.

The film's protagonists, however, find echoes, predictions, warnings and wisdom about their own trajectories to life within Austen's beloved narratives. Thinking in terms of sixes, that's the number of book club members, books examined, and seriocomic storylines unfolding over a six month time period.

Grigg's own storyline begins when he bumps into Jocelyn (Maria Bello) in a hotel elevator. She's attending a dog breeders' gathering. He's checking out a sci-fi convention. Jocelyn sees a potential younger man diversion for her girlfriend Sylvia (Amy Brenneman). Grigg sees only Sylvia.

Grigg was someone Dancy could relate to. "Though I'm technologically handicapped, there are little elements where I am nerdy. I think most of us are, more than we let on. None of us are as cool as we aim to be.

"What I like about Grigg, which I don't think I share, is that he's so comfortable in his own skin. He's happy being around a group of women, which I also am. It doesn't matter that he is awkward or clumsy and the women tease him. He accepts himself and that's ultimately his strength."

The Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire-born, Oxford-trained actor continued, "You don't often see that character portrayed on screen. Men and women seem to have to be exaggerated versions of masculinity and femininity if they are going to be the romantic lead. Back in the day of the screwball comedies it was OK for Cary Grant to run around and just be a fool. But then it was Cary Grant, the sexiest man on the planet."

Clearly, The Jane Austen Book Club must be labeled a "chick flick," but even Dancy sheepishly confessed, "I'm not one of those mad Austenites, the crazed fans, but I've read most of Austen's books, and Pride and Prejudice a couple of times."

Often sighted in the metropolitan area with his girlfriend, the actress Claire Danes, whom he met on the set of Evening, Dancy laughingly conceded, "I think I have been a romantic on occasion. Some people are just out-and-out romantics, but most of us have a lot of different people inside us. Therefore, most people have the capacity. Even the most hard-boiled cynic is probably going to end up having his romantic moment. I'm certainly not the most hard-boiled cynic."

Dressed in a long sleeve black dress shirt with matching slacks, Dancy shifted repeatedly about the light beige couch in his Regency Hotel suite. It had been a marathon day of interviews and Dancy was growing weary. "I'm sick of hearing the sound of my own voice," he admitted, "But it's OK talking about something you're proud of."

Two days later, he faces another press day for the DVD release of Beyond the Gates, theatrically released earlier this year. Inspired by a real story, Dancy plays a teacher, John Hurt, a Catholic priest, caught in the midst of the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Together they face the moral dilemma of staying to save as many Tutsis from Hutu killers as possible or fleeing for their own safety.

"Rwanda was beautiful and terrible at the same time. It's now 12, 13 years after the genocide. That country is really strong and the progress they've made is unbelievable, but the history is still there. It's visible in the holes in the walls, and the scars on the people's faces. It's a great movie and I think people will really like it," he added.

Throughout his career, Dancy has traveled extensively, filming Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down in Morocco, The Sleeping Dictionary in Sarawak, Borneo, Madame Bovary, Young Blades, and Tempo in France, Elizabeth I in Lithuania, and Blood and Chocolate in Bucharest.

"Both in the literal and metaphoric sense I love exploring. By working there, you key into the economy and work with local people. Somehow you get a much more interesting view," said Dancy, who will be seen later this season in Tom Kalin's Savage Grace with Julianne Moore.

Dancy, who recently starred on Broadway in the Tony Award winning Journey's End, plans to take a break and catch the premiere of Pygmalion, starring Claire Danes as Eliza Doolittle on October 18.

"I'd love to be around here a bit, but I'm very bad at taking a break. Maybe the day I get done talking about the Book Club a script will come through my letterbox. There's been a couple already and I'll get that call, 'c'mon back. We're starting next week.' So it's hard to make plans," he concluded.

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