And A with ]...Rhys Ifans

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September 16, 2004|By Susan King | Susan King,Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- Moviegoers familiar with Welsh actor Rhys Ifans from his scene-stealing comedic turn as Hugh Grant's slovenly roommate Spike in 1999's Notting Hill probably won't recognize him in Vanity Fair. Ifans cuts a dashing figure as a noble 19th-century British soldier.

Directed by Indian filmmaker Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), Vanity Fair is based on William Makepeace Thackeray's 1848 satire of British society. The film stars Reese Witherspoon as the ambitious heroine Becky Sharp, who will stop at nothing to rise to the cream of British society. Ifans, 36, plays the stalwart William Dobbin, who loves Becky's best friend, the very married Amelia, but is too frightened to tell her.

Since Notting Hill, Ifans has worked with directors Mike Figgis (Hotel), Lasse Hallstrom (The Shipping News), Michel Gondry (Human Nature) and Steven Brill (Little Nicky).

Most recently seen in the Australian comedy Danny Deckchair, Ifans also stars in Notting Hill director Roger Michell's latest film, Enduring Love. In the intense character drama, Ifans plays an enigmatic man who falls madly in love with an analytical professor and writer (Daniel Craig) after the two try to rescue a young boy from a hot-air balloon crash.

Had you done many period films before Vanity Fair?

I did a film called Dancing at Lughnasa with Meryl Streep years ago, which was set in the 1930s. But this is the first film I have done with horses and the first time I wore boots and a sword. The only reason I did it really was because I was such a fan of Mira Nair.

Had she seen you in a particular project that led to her casting you?

We met a few years previously at the BAFTAs [British cinema's equivalent of the Oscars]. I was lucky enough to sit at her table, and we hit it off straight away. We kind of mocked the proceedings in a very similar fashion. I did a play in the Donmar Warehouse last year [in] London, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist. I played the maniac in that. Mira saw that and she thought, "Let's get him to do something [in the film]."

Dobbin must have been a challenge to play.

Dobbin is very much not me. [The character] was actually for William Thackeray an afterthought. When Thackeray wrote the book, he was advised by his publishers to write a character like Dobbin, otherwise people would not read the book. They kind of needed a moral vessel to take them through the narrative. I don't know if that is true with the film or not, but the challenge with Dobbin is that you had to play it for real.

Was working with Nair what you expected?

You feel very safe in her company, and inspired. Mira and I have a healthy irreverence for English culture.

Is that a typical Welsh sentiment?

Absolutely! England invaded us before they invaded India. India has a democracy right now, but we haven't.

But you still have your language.

Absolutely! So hey, thanks guys for leaving us that. English is still very much my second language. I am much better in Welsh. There is a lot more to say in [Welsh].

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