In the shadows of a serial killer

By Lynn Elber

Matthew Macfadyen has dropped the fine clothes but he's no slouch fighting crime in the time of Jack the Ripper, says Lynn Elber.

Matthew Macfadyen is perfectly presentable in jeans and a crewneck sweater that co-ordinates nicely with the blue of his eyes.

But the look is far from the elegant attire he wore as Mr Darcy opposite Keira Knightley's Elizabeth in the 2005 film Pride & Prejudice. And his posture is just as casual, which he acknowledges might offend the aristocratic character's diehard fans.

"You're slouching! What are you doing? Stand up straight, man!" Macfadyen says, teasing himself.

He looks back fondly on what he calls the "iconic" role drawn from Jane Austen's novel. But the British actor, who's also known to audiences for his part as an intelligence officer in the series Spooks - and in New Zealand for his role in the movie In My Father's Den - welcomes the chance to switch gears.

"I, as most actors, want to mix it up and do different things. Otherwise it gets boring and tiresome, not only for yourself but for everyone else seeing you do the same kind of thing," he says.

"The joy of being an actor is to play different parts, do something different."

Macfadyen's latest chance for diversity comes in Ripper Street, an 1880s police drama set on the gritty and untamed streets of London's East End around the period that serial killer Jack the Ripper terrorised the area.

The mysterious and brutal Jack the Ripper has been recycled throughout pop culture in films including 1979's Time After Time and 2001's From Hell with Johnny Depp. But series creator Richard Warlow says the killer is a backdrop and invisible character for Ripper Street.

"What we wanted to do really was to tell stories about the streets down which he walked and committed his crimes in the wake of those terrible murders," Warlow says, "and how it affected the community and, most importantly, the police that tried and failed to catch him."

Each episode will include what he calls a "stand-alone crime" as well as pull at the thread of Detective Inspector Edmund Reid's (Macfadyen) life, including those surrounding him at work and at home.

Macfadyen says he was reluctant to take on another series after two-plus seasons on MI-5 because of TV's demanding production schedules. Then the Ripper Street pilot script came his way last year.

"I thought the Jack the Ripper thing had been done before ... but I loved it. The thing that was most attractive was the language and the way he [Warlow] constructs the sentences ... they feel very muscular without feeling sort of wanky and silly. ..."

There is an antiquated eloquence to the dialogue that contrasts with the drama's mean streets and violent sexuality of the first case tackled by Reid and his cohorts, Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn, Game of Thrones) and American forensics whiz Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg, The Ex List).

Macfadyen says he was drawn to his character's modern sensibility.

Reid isn't "a sort of stock detective character. He's a very free thinking, forward-looking kind of man, not a sort of jaded 'seen it all' copper. So I was intrigued by that," he said.

The detective's viewpoint is so expansive that he can't resist admiring the potential of an early version of a motion picture camera even when he's just thwarted its use in making a 19th-century snuff film.

The scene had slipped Macfadyen's mind when he watched the episode at home in London and his wife, actress Keeley Hawes (Upstairs Downstairs), suddenly took alarmed note of what was unfolding on the screen.

"My 12-year-old stepson was watching and we said, 'Okay, bedtime!" says Macfadyen, who has two children with Hawes.

But he considers the show "punchy and brave" for a mature audience and would like to see it go at least another season, in part for selfish reasons. "Jerome, Adam and I get on so well, very happily. I know actors always say they love each other," he says, then smiles. "That's not always the case."

Who: Matthew Macfadyen
What: Ripper Street
Where: UKTV, from Monday 8.30pm

- TimeOut, AP

- NZ Herald

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