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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.

Frank J. Avella: How did you get involved in "Pride"? Were you previously aware of the story?

Dominic 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 to me.

Frank 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?

Dominic 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.

Frank J. Avella: You grew up Irish Catholic. Was it difficult reconciling the church’s teaching with a more progressive attitude towards gays and lesbians?

Dominic 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.

Frank J. Avella: You directed an episode of “The Wire.” Is directing something you see yourself doing in the future?

Dominic 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.

Frank 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,”—

Dominic West: That was a reckless decision…

Frank J. Avella: And still—a rather fearless performance, I thought…

Dominic West: Thank you.

Frank J. Avella: And onstage in London in “The River,” “Rock ‘n Roll,” “Butley”…to name a few. What draws you to projects?

Dominic 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.

Frank J. Avella: Do you come out at the end thinking, I nailed that or are you more of a perfectionist?

Dominic 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.

Frank J. Avella: Well, you’re wrong.

Dominic West: Good. Thank you.

Frank J. Avella: You did “Design for Living” on Broadway in 2001. Any plans to come back to the New York stage any time soon?

Dominic 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.

Frank J. Avella: What would you say is the best experience you’ve had as an actor so far?

Dominic 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.

Frank 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?

Dominic 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.

Frank J. Avella: I think of O’Toole when I think of you.

Dominic 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...

Frank J. Avella: Are there certain directors you’d like to work with where you would say yes without seeing a script?

Dominic 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.

Frank J. Avella: You’re too good looking to work with Mike Leigh.

Dominic 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.

Frank J. Avella: What do you love most about New York City?

Dominic 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.

 

 

 


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