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“There wasn’t a wanker among us” James Purefoy talks IRONCLAD

James Purefoy is a bit of an enigma when it comes to cinema. A decade ago, he came close to becoming Britain’s innuendo auteur-James Bond but missed the boat claiming he was ‘too old’. He has hopped across almost every point in history for his diverse film roles (it’s like he has a movie DeLorean). From breeches in period dramas to togas in the HBO series ROME, Purefoy is about as seasoned as actors come. As he slides into the room for a quick-fire interview, he offers open arms to the round table of eager journalists. It’s clear he is more Mr.Darcy than Mark Anthony. At 42, Purefoy has the air of a charming public school boy, well spoken but not afraid to pepper his florid speech with ‘fucks’ and ‘bastards’ and ‘wankers’. Although Purefoy is here to discuss his latest film, IRONCLAD, he eschews the regular promo-format. (To read THN’s view on the film, see our review, here). Instead of the usual pre-prepared anecdotes, Purefoy converses with the room, letting the questions take their course. He goes beyond the confines of movie-plugging to discuss his son’s disdain for his choice of career, suicide bombings and his love for honest on-screen violence. When he speaks about his fondness for his co-stars, it feels truly genuine, instead of the usual “they were wonderful to work with, so professional”, he says,

It’s very important for a film that using the template of the seven samurai or magnificent seven story that you get a bunch of actors who are going to get on with each other and fortunately, we had not a wanker amongst us. Which is often not the case. There was no ego, there was no problem with that, there was gentle ribbing and joshing and joking. A lot of people had worked with each other before, I had worked with Derek Jackobi a couple of times and Brian (Cox) a couple of times and Jason (Flemming) and Mackenzie twice, so it feels like just old friends coming back together.”

Unlike most actors, Purefoy isn’t afraid to compromise himself, or others, in the interest of avoiding bullshit. This is especially true when talking about about ROME, the contentious HBO series that made his name in the USA as the ‘sex in sandals’ Mark Anthony. Despite an incredible reception overseas, the UK edition never received the credit it was due and our man Purefoy wasn’t afraid to explain why,

It was great series and we were slightly buggered up here. The BBC did a very strange thing where they put somebody in charge of re-editing of the first three episodes here who did SUCH a shocking butchering of the pace and the effect of the first three episodes that we never really covered from it. If I step off a plane in New York or LA you get a lot of reaction about ROME where as here, it never really took off. It was, I hate to say it, that persons fault. It’s quite extrordinary how a hundred million dollar series can be given to a junior producer and editor and they fuck it up really badly.”

It’s not only his wit that’s sharp. Purefoy’s penchant for medieval epics such as SOLOMON KANE have left him utterly skilled at waving a rapier (or sabre or shortsword or any other inflated knife the director allows  him). In his latest endeavour, the ambitious siege movie, IRONCLAD, Purefoy plays Marshall, a troubled Templar knight. He may be sombre and silent, but Marshall is in no way coy. For the role, Purefoy had to use a broadsword-not your average blade, he explains;

I am pretty handy with a sword now, I think people need to feel safe that their leading man can dismember somebody with the flick of an oyster card…but this one the broadsword is a WHOLE weapon, not just the blade…You can chop a man clean in half with it… if you slice through somebody, normally with a sword you’d stop, and come back for another CHOP but because its so heavy a broad sword you just hold on behind it and it keeps coming. We called the sword Florence because when you set it in motion you had to go with the ‘flo’.” (all the journalists at the table offer an approving ‘ooooh’)

Still, even fictional sword play comes with occupational hazards. When Purefoy was working on the set of Solomon Kane, he accidentally skewered a stunt man’s cheek, leaving the tip of his rapier sitting on the tongue, “I was obviously horrified as I hate hurting people” he says, still wincing at the memory, “but he was a very butch Czech guy… It was a real sword but he just said (puts on what sounds like a Russian accent) ‘no James just make movie big success then I boast‘.”

Purefoy has become an unauthorised Brit-film action hero but despite the on-screen machismo, he claims that his 14 year old son is less than impressed with his choice of work, “he’s never thought I was cool, his friends think i’m much cooler than he does..STREET DANCE is what he’s interested in.” The teenager could be forgiven for assuming his dad’s IRONCLAD character- a celibate, pious knight who despises women-is less than impressive. Purefoy strikes me as a no-nonsense pragmatist, so I can’t help but ask how he felt about playing a character with such strict Christian values-one who kills countless men in the name of god. But the question of his Marshall’s life choice places the issue in a broader context for Purefoy,

I don’t think you have to look far today to see men, mainly-well there is the odd female suicide bomber-who commit appalling atrocities…but they believe they have a get out of jail free card in terms of eternal damnation because they are doing it ‘in gods name’. But it’s not just Islamic extremists, it’s you know religious fundamentalists in the US who believe they can shoot the owner of an abortion clinic in gods name. its any arsehole who commits unspeakable violence in gods name. I have no time for it, for real violence at all. There are infinitely better ways of solving the worlds problems than violence. Sitting around a table talking about it is a pretty good start.” he says, gesturing to the members of his round table.

He might abhor real-life violence, but when it comes to the medieval gore of film’s such as IRONCLAD he says, “If you’re going to try and make a film about something that is brutally violent, what’s the point of not showing the brutal violence? (IRONCLAD) is violent and it was violent and it was meant to be one of the most brutally violent sieges of the medieval times-in the whole of time, it was horrific.I don’t think we over glamorise or make it sexy-the violence We are pretty honest about it.”

You don’t get much more honest than beating a man to death with a severed arm. IRONCLAD is just one of the many project pies that this actor has his fingers in. He’s set to star in the highly anticipated mega comic-book movie JOHN CARTER OF MARS, currently in a world of lengthy post-production. As we speak, he his playing opposite Sienna Miller in the West End show FLARE PATH, set in the era of World War Two. And of course, it wouldn’t be an interview with Purefoy if we didn’t discuss yet another historical series. The Arthurian TV show, Camelot is to air on Channel 4 later this year with Purefoy as King Lot. When asked what viewers can expect from his character Purefoy smiles and says, “he is very much Mark Anthony (from TV series ROME) in medieval times. If you were missing Mark Anthony tune into Camelot he’s reappeared-with a big beard”.

And with that, the Dictaphone wielding knights are forced to draw the interview to a close. Just when we were getting giddy with Purefoy’s charm. He delivers a deep, joyous laugh before hopping in his actor’s DeLorean, revs up to 88 and just like that-he’s off to the stage, back to the 1940s.

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