ROACHE TAKES WINGS

Byline: Julie L. Belcove

NEW YORK — Linus Roache has an odd habit. Whenever he is poised to break into the A-list of young actors, he takes off. Turns and runs.
He did it after 1995’s “Priest,” in which his portrayal of an idealistic, but conflicted, gay cleric caused a venomous protest even before the movie opened — but also landed him front and center in the celebrity spotlight. The New York Times predicted he would emerge as a rival of Ralph Fiennes and Kenneth Branagh.
“Opportunities can disappear as fast as they come,” Roache admits. “But I needed to just step away from the business. I’d been working very hard. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore.”
He fled again after wrapping “The Wings of the Dove,” which co-stars Helena Bonham Carter and Alison Elliott and is set to open Nov. 7. For 18 months, he says, “I didn’t do anything.”
Actually, he did. He started a production company, Real Films, with some friends and began producing a documentary about a spiritual retreat in India, to which he had journeyed on both sabbaticals. He describes the work-in-progress as an exploration of “some of the big questions you might find yourself asking at four o’clock in the morning, after a party, sitting in the kitchen.”
Yup, Roache is your basic deep-thinking, well-read English actor. Thirty-three years old, soulful gray eyes and two go-rounds with the Royal Shakespeare Company under his belt.
The offspring of two performers, he had a brief career as a child actor, playing his own dad’s son on a long-running British soap. But his parents, who divorced when he was 10, encouraged him to put off acting and have a normal childhood.
“Normal,” he sniffs, “whatever that is.”
Stage and TV roles started coming his way right after drama school. Then came his first movie deal, “Mr. God, This Is Anna.”
“I was having costume fittings,” he remembers. “I’d turned down other work. Then one day, I got a call and was told it was not happening. That was my introduction to movies. I said, ‘Forget movies.”‘
He returned to the theater, including a stint as Richard II. After reading the script for “Priest,” he decided to give movies another chance.
“It opened doors in ways I never imagined,” he says, “but at that point, I stopped.”
The role of Merton, the object of two women’s love and obsession in “The Wings of the Dove,” coaxed him back to work. Roache says he was drawn to the dark side of the period film, which is based on a Henry James novel.
“Merton is not your typical Hollywood hero,” he says. “He falls victim to these two women. He becomes quite a weak man. I think he’s a terribly real character.”
Roache’s next project is an HBO war movie entitled, “Shot Through the Heart,” in which he will play a Muslim in Sarajevo opposite Vincent Perez as his Serbian best friend.
Then he’ll probably return to London, where he lives with his girlfriend of 10 years, the actress Rosalind Bennett.
“Maybe we should get married,” he says, “but it hasn’t felt necessary. We’re comfortable. Maybe we’re just reevaluating what marriage is.
“People want so much from each other,” he continues, alluding to themes from “The Wings of the Dove.” “You begin to question, ‘Is that really love?”‘
From there, Roache finds himself pondering what it is to be a human being and how best to live — those 4 a.m. questions again. “It isn’t just about acting,” he says.
His own philosophy is more Buddhist than New Age, he says, and he’s pleased to have made some headway toward his goal: shedding his “self-concern.”
“I’m definitely stronger than I was three years ago,” he says. “I’m nowhere near as neurotic.”

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