Hard-working, mercurial and good at playing mean – reformed hell-raiser Dominic West eats asparagus into the small hours with Imogen Lycett Green
After nearly two decades hitting headlines as a womanising bachelor of the most hell-raising kind, Dominic West married the mother of three of his four children last year. Has family life brought tranquillity with it? ‘You must be joking,’ he screams, throwing his head back. ‘I am swamped by kids. The theatre is where the order is, the calm, the structure. Things begin on time. Family life is chaos. I have never been happier in my life but when it’s time to go to the theatre, I run out the door.’
Much to the envy of his groupies I pick West up from the stage door of the Theatre Royal, Brighton, after the preview of Simon Gray’s Butley, in which West plays the lead. We are dining at the high-ceilinged brasserie Côte, part of the stylish mini-chain (www.cote-restaurants-co.uk), opposite Brighton Pavilion. West has changed from Ben Butley’s greasy suit into a crisp white cotton shirt. He’s not tall but he looks burly and strong. It’s his hands that don’t quite fit. They are pearly soft and almost feminine. He is embarrassed that I notice them, thinking they should be gnarlier for a boy of his age (41).
You notice his hands because they move about a lot, into his hair, along the arm of his seat, around the wine glass, back through his hair. He lounges on the banquette then sits up straight. Leans forward, leans back. He won’t sit still. Brusque and fidgety, he is trying to talk as little as possible. ‘That little fucker,’ he says, directing venom at the tiny tape recorder. (There was a nasty piece about him published recently.) ‘I feel like I’m riding the crest of a wave and I’m about to crash into a trough.’ I say anxiety is better than pride before a fall. Is he proud of his work? ‘I don’t give a fuck about my career,’ he says. ‘I just care about doing what I do to the best of my ability. That’s what we’ve all got to do, isn’t it? Otherwise what’s the point?’
He chooses asparagus followed by duck, has a kir royale and then decides to move onto a Meursault. It’s already nearly midnight and we haven’t even started eating. West is decisive with the menu and doesn’t seem enormously interested in the food. ‘I can cook but I don’t. My wife is much better than me.’ Dominic met the garden designer Catherine Fitzgerald at Trinity College, Dublin where he read English literature. ‘She dumped me back then,’ he says. ‘I probably deserved it.’ They eventually got back together. ‘She wouldn’t have bothered with getting married but I wanted to do it. I was the blushing bride. She was the reluctant groom.’ Later, he says: ‘I grew up with girls. All those sisters’ (he has five, and one brother). ‘I expect the driving force in my life is approval from women. Catherine’s aloof indifference is irresistible.’
West has an impressive theatrical record in this country but became an international heartthrob as Jimmy McNulty in cult US police drama The Wire. His brief stint acting in rom coms (opposite Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile, among others) did him no favours. ‘I wasn’t technically the lead,’ he says, ‘more the arsehole they have to discard in order to end up with “the one”.’ The only common denominator in all his parts is the baddie element. ‘I go to auditions on full charm offensive, I promise. I want to play the warmhearted hero. But I always get the evil twat.’ He ponders for a moment. ‘Either I’m just good at playing mean or I actually am an evil twat.’
I don’t mind either way. On stage as Butley he manages both mean and endearing. Off stage his tricky behaviour is just what you expect from such a handsome bugger. I can see why the security of a play script, of lines and cues and beginning times and curtain times might be a welcome harness for the mercurial West. As the waiters slowly fall asleep standing, we turn the tape off and he finishes the wine. At half past two, the fight’s gone out of him. ‘All my mates think I’m mad to keep working so hard. Do you think I’m mad? Half of me just wants to go and live with Catherine in Ireland and grow vegetables.’
Dominic West is in Butley at the Duchess Theatre, London until 27 August.