There is a common perception that actors ought to stick to their lines if they want to sound intelligent, but that’s not true in Hugh Dancy’s case. Currently starring in the well-received revival of R.C. Sheriff’s “Journey’s End” at the Belasco Theatre in New York, the budding matinee idol is as adept at discussing World War I poets and African geopolitics as he is the vagaries of Hollywood. But don’t think Dancy is simply adopting a pose — as the son of a philosophy professor, the Oxford University graduate comes by it honestly.
Now 31, the sometime Burberry model has shorn the curly locks that had preteens swooning over him in “Ella Enchanted” and adopted the upright posture of the British officer he incarnates each night in his Broadway debut. But the Staffordshire-born Dancy almost didn’t make it to the New York stage. “I had a fraught few days in London with my bags packed, waiting for a visa,” he remembers, though he was finally allowed to come in January as part of a SAG foreign-exchange program.
Now that he’s here, he’s happily ensconced — and fully looks the part of a native West Villager, drinking a soy cappuccino and munching a croissant in Cafe Cluny.
“It’s the first time I’ve spent a long time anywhere,” he explains. “I could end up being here longer than I’ve actually managed to spend in any place in years and years. I haven’t been at home for longer than a month in as long as I can remember.”
Home would be London and the reason for his nomadic existence is Dancy’s hectic shooting schedule for the six movies he has premiering this year: Just out was “Blood and Chocolate” and next up is “Beyond the Gates,” quickly followed by “Savage Grace,” “The Jane Austen Book Club,” “Brontë” and “Evening” (which, if one reads the tabloids, introduced him to current love interest Claire Danes — who later showed up at Cafe Cluny presumably to meet Dancy, but in a depressing nod to the onus of fame, pretended not to know him).
Dancy’s mushrooming career was not premeditated. He read English literature at Oxford, though he got his acting start on the school stage while still at the elite, all-boys private school Winchester College. “I was sent to the school theater basically as punishment to keep me out of trouble,” he laughs. “It was the only walk of life that girls were involved with as well — not that I was a raging lothario at 14, but it’s kind of a pleasant alternative.”
This story first appeared in the March 1, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Now, however, he’s in an all-male play where his days start at 1 p.m., end at 11 p.m. and the time in between is spent acting out the horrifying tedium of WWI trench warfare. “In a way, the more there’s that feeling of ‘Here we go again,’ the closer you are getting to one aspect of the reality that those guys are living in,” he says, joking, “the sense of endless, numbing repetition with a group of people that you know very well is exactly what the play is about.”