The Sunday Times Magazine: James D’Arcy

The other Mr D’Arcy

He was playing a cocaine addict in a gritty prison flick. Now he’s dressing up for Madonna. There seems to be nothing James D’Arcy can’t do

james d'arcy

James D’Arcy is as twitchingly nervous as befits a man who’s about to become horrendously famous, as he will this autumn when Madonna has her way with him. He crosses, uncrosses, re-crosses his legs; flicks his face to the window so his green eyes catch the light; asks the photographer, again, if he can check the pictures. His thin lips pucker, the sharp cheekbones twitch, he runs a hand through his Sloaney curls and asks, tentatively, if he’ll make our cover. His body is sheathed in an eye-wateringly tight suit that, according to the stylist, “you couldn’t wear if you had even an inch of body fat”. James’s wiry 6ft 3in frame doesn’t. Still, he looks like he’s sweating under the studio lights.

Any minute, fame’s coming for James like a bullet in the head. Partly because Amy Winehouse’s boyfriend, Reg Traviss, has just had him star in the Brit-flick Screwed — a film based on the former prison officer Ronnie Thompson’s bestselling book of the same name. But mainly because Madonna has cast him as Edward VIII in her second movie as a director, W.E — her £18m take on the Wallis Simpson saga that led to the 1936 abdication crisis. And, because Madonna is Madonna, it already has reviewers champing at the bit, gossips speculating over rows on set and historians despairing of inaccuracies in the plot. Everybody is whispering about James D’Arcy, so soon he can stop schlepping to auditions thinking,“I’m never the first choice”, and start battening down the hatches against the paparazzi. This is his first big magazine interview.

James is already cult-figure famous. He doesn’t often get recognised in the street, “but it has happened”, which he finds “a bit odd, really”.

If you google him — he never does, because ‘down that road madness lies’ — you will find his lanky figure driving women wild online
In 2001, he played the title role in ITV’s Nicholas Nickleby, the lead in the BBC’s Irish independence drama Rebel Heart, and snogged Joseph Fiennes onstage as Edward II at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

In 2003, he looked dashing at Russell Crowe’s side as 1st Lt Tom Pullings in Master and Commander. He starred with Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland in An American Haunting in 2005, and opposite Billie Piper in ITV’s Mansfield Park in 2007.

His ability to look consistently smouldering in britches has made him something of a cross between Colin Firth and a thinking woman’s Robert Pattinson.

If you google him — which he never does, because “down that road madness lies” — you’ll find his lanky figure driving women wild online. There’s a smattering of D’Arcy fan sites, where admirers post photographs of him shirtless, make slide shows of his picture to music (so you can swoon over James in period dress to Andy Williams’s Can’t Take My Eyes off You), compile James-centred lexicons (DDoD = Daily Dose of D’Arcy), and compare erotic D’Arcy-related dreams — “I dreamt that it was the late 1800s and James kidnapped me and made me research stuff from encyclopedias.”

Photoshoot over, he reappears in a casual grey T-shirt and baggy jeans tucked into boots. He has shed his posturing with the suit, and collapses on the sofa, endlessly chatty. Up close, he’s distractingly good-looking. I say he’s a heart-throb and he gets all flustered. “I don’t think of myself in those terms,” he laughs, blushing. He tries not to read the things people write, but just does “what has to be done, and then have a nice meal and not worry too much about it”. But women do find you sexy, I purr. He shrieks: “How am I supposed to answer that? I don’t know. I suppose if it’s true then it’s delightful, lovely. That is something that has never truly encroached on my life.”

Being onscreen, he insists, certainly doesn’t get him more girls. He’s single, without children, and “that’s accident, that’s not deliberate”.

He used to date the actress Lucy Punch, his blonde co-star in the 2002 romcom Come Together, but “that’s a while ago”. “I’m not with anybody now,” he smiles, and leans forward flirtily. “Where’s this going?”

I meet him just after watching Screwed, a gritty, drug-addled drama set in the violent world of a modern-day prison. “Did you think it was good?” he asks anxiously. Well, I can say that D’Arcy was brilliant in it as Sam — a thuggish, working-class ex-soldier, a total departure from his usual rakish roles.

Until now his on-screen incarnations have been upper-class roles in costume dramas. It’s an image that’s culminated almost predictably in his playing a king in W.E, where the producer, Colin Vaines, lapped up his “regal quality” and made him a shoo-in as the next Colin Firth, “famous for being the king before me”. Early in his career he and Firth were even briefly confused, when James received a script for a Hollywood blockbuster that he now admits he was hopelessly unsuited to and inexperienced for. “I remember my agent being completely baffled as to why I would be sent this script. I phoned him and said, ‘This is good. It’s great! Why me?’ and he said, ‘I know!’ ” James duly sent off a head shot, but heard nothing back.

“Much later,” James giggles, “I realised Pride and Prejudice had just come out at the time I had received the script, and that Colin Firth had played Mr Darcy.” He switches to an impression of a cigar-chomping American casting director, whom he imagines demanding, “Get me that Darcy guy!” But you can’t imagine Firth taking on Sam in Screwed — a hard-nut, shaven-headed drug addict; the fact that D’Arcy did suggests something more intriguing about him than his smooth Home Counties accent lets on.

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