Frank J. Avella Sits Down
With Actor Dominic West
Opposite Photo: Dominic
West with Imelda Staunton in “Pride."
“Pride,” the extraordinary
true story of a gaggle of queer heroes who dared
to fight for what they felt was right at a time
when gays and lesbians weren’t all that popular—certainly
not in blue collar towns — is in theatres
now. The movie is empowering and inspiring, telling
the real tale of a group of LG’s (before the
BTs were added) that took it upon themselves to
raise a ton of money to support striking mineworkers
in a small village in Wales (during the 1984 Mineworkers
strike of the Thatcher regime).
Dominic West is part of the impressive
ensemble that include veterans Bill Nighy, Imelda
Staunton and Paddy Considine and newcomers Ben Schnetzer
and George McKay. West steals the film as the outrageous
and proud Jonathan with two key scenes, the first
being an outrageous dance to, “Shame, Shame,
Shame,” as well as a powerful dramatic scene
in the film’s final third. His committed,
graceful performance anchors the film.
West is best known for HBO’s
“The Wire,” the cutie Roxie cheats with
at the beginning of the film version of “Chicago”
as well as the terrific BBC series, “The Hour.”
He’s delivered excellent performances in a
host of features including: “Surviving Picasso,”
“Hannibal Rising,” “300”
and “Centurion.” West has also done
quite a bit of celebrated stage work in London and
has appears on Broadway. In October, West will be
starring in a new Showtime series, “The Affair,”
opposite Maura Tierney and Ruth Wilson.
I sat down with Dominic West at
The London Hotel the day of The Actor’s Fund
Benefit screening of “Pride,” in NYC.
Looking at least a decade younger than his real
age, West was charming, humble and a total delight.
J. Avella: How did you get involved in "Pride"?
Were you previously aware of the story?
West: No. I wasn’t. I was previously
aware of Matthew Warchus who’s a great, great
theatre director. I’ve wanted to work with
him for quite a long time. He never wanted to work
with me. (laughs) But then as I was walking up a
hill to go paragliding last year, he rang me and
he said to have a look at this script and he thinks
it would make a really great film. And so I read
it and instantly loved it and said I’d do
whatever he wanted (me to) in it.
But I didn’t know about
the actual story. I knew about the miner’s
strike. I grew up in Sheffield, which was the headquarters
of the Union of Mine Workers. I lived through that
in my early teens, so the subject matter was interesting
J. Avella: Jonathan (Dominic’s character
in "Pride") is unashamed and is his own
person. Was he a character you took to instantly
or did it take some time to know him?
West: I suppose I was a bit at sea at first.
And then I met the real Jonathan. I went to his
house…with the director who did all the talking,
which was great so I could just watch Jonathan.
Not that I was trying to do an imitation but meeting
him very much sharpened my resolve because he was
such an amazing man, such a lovely man. I realized
the weight of the responsibility to get it right…to
do the story justice and to do his story justice.
So meeting him was crucial.
J. Avella: You grew up Irish Catholic. Was
it difficult reconciling the church’s teaching
with a more progressive attitude towards gays and
West: Oh, no. I certainly haven’t listened
to the Church on that one for many years…I’m
not the world’s greatest Catholic and possibly
one of the reasons is its teachings and views on
homosexuality, among certain other things.
J. Avella: You directed an episode of “The
Wire.” Is directing something you see yourself
doing in the future?
West: Yes…after the doing “The
Wire,” I wanted to do more and David Simon
promised me a director’s slot on “Treme”
and the two opportunities I had to do that, I couldn’t
because I was acting...I did have great plans to
sharpen a few directing skills particularly in television
and then try and direct a feature but it rather
went on hold because I got lots of acting parts
that I wanted. I’m very keen to get back on
it but I’ll probably wait until I’ve
got a story I really want to tell.
J. Avella: This is a very different role
for you. Your career has been marked by diverse
and fascinating choices. You seem unafraid—from
the serial killer in “Appropriate Adult”
to Hector in “The Hour” to Richard Burton—best
thing about “Burton and Taylor,”—
West: That was a reckless decision…
J. Avella: And still—a rather fearless
performance, I thought…
West: Thank you.
J. Avella: And onstage in London in “The
River,” “Rock ‘n Roll,”
“Butley”…to name a few. What draws
you to projects?
West: I suppose one of the first things would
be if it’s a challenge, if it’s something
that I haven’t really done before. You have
to have two things really. You have to have a spark
of identification so you know you can play the part.
And you also have to have a sense of a challenge—almost
a sense of dread. I think all of the most interesting
parts I have slightly dreaded. (laughs) And I certainly
dreaded this one. I dreaded the dance. I knew that
was going to be quite hard for me to pull off because
I’m obviously not trained in dancing and I’m
not getting any younger. That challenge was perfect
because I love the material and the director and
it’s rare you get both.
J. Avella: Do you come out at the end thinking,
I nailed that or are you more of a perfectionist?
West: I think I’m getting worse. I’m
not as bad as Bill Nighy who says he can’t
watch anything he does. But I can’t remember
when I last saw something (of mine) and thought,
‘oh, that was good.’ I tend to think
it’s just dreadful.
J. Avella: Well, you’re wrong.
West: Good. Thank you.
J. Avella: You did “Design for Living”
on Broadway in 2001. Any plans to come back to the
New York stage any time soon?
West: Oh, I wish. Nothing’s come up
but I would love to. It’s a bit of a problem
being away from my kids for too long but I’m
over here anyway. If I got a job on the stage, I’d
just move here. It’d be great.
J. Avella: What would you say is the best
experience you’ve had as an actor so far?
West: Oh, wow…I’ve had so many.
It’s an extraordinary job if you get lucky
and you get work. My favorite job has always been
“De La Guarda.” I was in that in London
for five months and loved that more than I can say.
It was a huge challenge so I loved doing it. But
I had a great time on “The Wire.” And
that awful part, Fred West, in “Appropriate
Adult” was actually one of the most enjoyable
shoots I’ve been on. That’s one of the
ironies of acting, the more terrible the subject,
the more fun it seems to be--in a perverse way.
And on “Pride,” it was a group of a
dozen or so people who were with each other every
day…three or four of the funniest people I’ve
ever met in my life were onset so this was particularly
good fun…we were an ensemble. No one was really
the star. And that helped, too.
J. Avella: Is there an actor you would say
was a hero of yours growing up, that you’ve
worked with or have wanted to work with?
West: Oh I’ve got loads I suppose.
That I have worked with…Anthony Hopkins was
always a great hero of mine. I finally worked with
him playing his son, Picasso’s son. And he
was hilarious because he was so dismissive of his
career…and I love Michael Gambon. He’s
just an extraordinary man and a wonderful actor.
I think the one I like to watch most is Klaus Kinski.
We obviously never met but he’d be the one—or
Brando. They’d be my two. And Burton. Burton
was a hero, too, because his story is just so romantic
and he was such a man.
J. Avella: I think of O’Toole when
I think of you.
West: Do you? Oh, he’s wonderful. He
just died. He was the last one of that group that
survived all that booze. Hilarious man. He really
knew how to be a star. He was a brilliant star.
Probably better than Burton...
J. Avella: Are there certain directors you’d
like to work with where you would say yes without
seeing a script?
West: Yeah, yeah. Any, actually. (laughs)
Someone like me longs to work with any good director
‘cause there aren’t that many so I would
drop everything for all the usual suspects. I always
wanted to work with Mike Leigh or Ken Loach and
I never will.
J. Avella: You’re too good looking
to work with Mike Leigh.
West: …Thanks so much. The process
would be so amazing. I’d love to do that process
and I think the closest, internationally, would
be Robert LePage, the Canadian director. Everything
I see him do is real art and great masterpiece theatre.
And I’d love to be involved with anything
with him. I think he’s just extraordinary.
J. Avella: What do you love most about New
West: I really love New York City. I was
just in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass)
and I think those three bridges together on the
East River—just the scale of them—they
always just fill me with such a thrill when I see
them…what’s amazing here are the huge
aerial bridges and walkways and subway lines that
go really high up. That’s the most dramatic
thing for me that always thrills me…just the
audacity and scale of the place.