IN THE SPOTLIGHT MATTHEW MACFADYEN IS ONE BUSY MAN ON THE BIG SCREEN, ON STAGE AND AS A FATHER.
Selectiveness is not necessarily an actor's best friend.
So claims Matthew Macfadyen, whose two acting jobs in 2006 led him about as far from the persona of Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy in "Pride & Prejudice" as it is possible to travel.
He played a writer embroiled in darkly comic funeral doings and a paroled pedophile. He also became a father for the second time.
"You try to be canny about things, and then you realize you've sat on your ass for six months waiting for the really nice one," says the Norfolk, England-born Macfadyen. "So this year has gotten very busy, very quickly."
Audiences will see him later this year opposite Ewan McGregor and Michelle Williams in "Incendiary," a drama about an anti-terrorist agent who falls in love with the widow of a suicide bomber. He'll leap from a stage production of "The Pain and the Itch" at England's Royal Court Theatre this summer to shooting the film adaptation of Peter Morgan's play "Frost/Nixon" for director Ron Howard.
"I didn't plan it. It just happened," Macfadyen says of his busy schedule. "I feel like it's out of my hands. I always have, really."
"Death at a Funeral," the second of Macfadyen's 2006 efforts, opening Friday, finds the actor among an ensemble of Brits facing a grimly comic crisis at the burial of their patriarch. Daniel, Macfadyen's character, is the dutiful son who has lived too long in his parents' home.
Daniel's been working on the same novel for years; his wife (played by Keeley Hawes, Macfadyen's off-screen spouse) is anxious to put a down payment on a new flat, and an unknown and unexpected guest at the funeral (Peter Dinklage) throws the family -- with Daniel in as the point person -- into full-scale catastrophe containment mode. Rupert Graves, Andy Nyman, Alan Tudyk and Peter Vaughan round out the cast for director Frank Oz.
"He's the sort of drip at the center who, I suppose, gets kind of a spine at the end, or the beginnings of one," Macfadyen says of Daniel. "I guess he's kind of the classic pasty everyman."
This would not exactly be the kind of bloke Macfadyen is accustomed to playing. A mainstay of the classical London stage, where he has played various Shakespeare heroes both at the Royal National Theatre and with the Cheek by Jowl company, Macfadyen made a mark as the undercover operative Tom Quinn in the second series of the British TV series "Spooks" ("MI-5" in America).
His profile rose substantially in 2005 when, while still largely an unknown, he was cast as an age-appropriate Mr. Darcy to Keira Knightley's Lizzie Bennet in the Joe Wright-directed "Pride and Prejudice."
The Darcy notices were strong, but with a series of strait-laced and classical roles under his belt, Macfadyen faced potential type-casting. Hence, in part, his decision to join "Funeral."
Mixing it up even further, Macfadyen plays a pedophile released back into society in the British TV film "Secret Life,"
"People's imaginations aren't that great," Macfadyen says. "I got to stretch my muscles and ('Death at a Funeral') is so different from anything I've done before. I go from all these roles that are quite serious to a movie where people are flinging (excrement) in people's faces."
"He's sublime, an amazing actor," Oz says of Macfadyen. "We needed someone who would be honest and subtle, and that would set the acting tone for everybody else. They would understand that the movie isn't supposed to be too broad."
The opportunity to share the screen again with Hawes was, as it turned out, a happy accident. The two actors have different agents, and they both went up for the same movie together, tag-teaming the audition since husband and wife didn't have a baby sitter to look after their 2-year-old daughter, Maggie.
Hawes and Macfadyen met on the set of "Spooks," while Hawes was still married to cartoonist Spencer McCullum. "Death at a Funeral" became something of a family milestone because Hawes was pregnant with the couple's son, Ralph, during the filming.
With both parents working concurrently, child juggling took some figuring out. "I don't really know how we did it," Macfadyen says. "A lot of panicky early morning dropoffs with parents covering."
Other than that, working with his wife was smooth sailing.
"You think it's going to be weird, but it's actually fine," he says. "Everybody knows when you're having a row. That's the only downside."
evan henerson, (818) 713-3651
2 photos, box
(1) Matthew Macfadyen, right, with Keira Knigtley and director Joe Wright, played Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice."
(2) no caption (Matthew Macfadyen)