GRUFFUDD, IOAN – KING ARTHUR
Luck and determination helped Welsh-born Ioan Gruffudd to get the role of Lancelot in Jerry Bruckheimer’s gritty production of King Arthur, in an example of the Hollywood dream factory at work, as Gruffudd reveals to Andrew L. Urban.
It’s one of those Hollywood casting stories that perpetuates the legend of the dream factory: like hundreds of other actors in Los Angeles, Ioan Gruffudd had worked on one of the many tv pilot shows that are lined up each year for the networks to buy like so many new season apples. Some get up, some fail. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Antoine Fuqua were casting King Arthur, and had instructed their casting agent not to audition any actors who were in pilots for tv shows. They wanted to avoid a) getting excited and then losing them to a new series, and b) having to start re-casting.
It says something of the relatively quiet and shy Ioan Gruffudd that he managed to persuade the casting agent to at least shoot a tape of his audition piece. “I told her she could just hang on to it in her cupboard,” he says in a charmingly, lyrically lilting Welsh accent, as he sips a cup of white coffee in a hotel on Sydney harbour.
As it turned out, the filmmakers were unable to find the right actor for the role of Lancelot. They had looked all over the world, without success. “My agent then persuaded the casting director to show Jerry and Antoine my audition tape…”
As for the tv series, it was picked up, but only for a mid-season run, which meant that Gruffudd could take on the Lancelot role, finish it on a Friday in November 2003, and start on the tv show the following Monday. Was it destiny? More likely “it was very lucky!” says Gruffudd, “and you definitely need luck in this business.” Maybe, he muses, “the fact that I was technically unavailable made me more attractive.”
Well, maybe, but Gruffud, at 30 a well respected and established actor in the UK, is perhaps a tad too modest here. He rose to prominence in the ITV period drama series Hornblower, which launched in 1998. He had support roles in Wilde and in Titanic, and in 2002, he played Phillip Bosinney in the miniseries remake of The Forsythe Saga, and then opposite Stephen Dillane in the horror film, The Gathering. But even before all that, he began acting as a child, with the encouragement and support of his family.
But as Lancelot, Gruffudd (pronounced like Griffith, with the ‘th’ sounding like ‘then’ not ‘thin’) has taken a step into the big league. “I hadn’t changed in the two weeks after getting the part but suddenly I could meet with anyone I wanted…. Being in a Jerry Bruckheimer film gives you that.”
In this film, the story is set in 5th century Britain (the Dark Ages, not the Middle Ages a 1,000 years later that are the traditional setting of this legend). The occupying Romans are close to pulling of the southern part of the island. A small band of Sarmatian knights who had completed 15 years forced service in the imperial Roman army, are due to be given their freedom. Led by half Roman half Brit Artorius Castus – Arthur, (Clive Owen) – they have one last assignment: to save an important Roman family living north of Hadrian’s Wall from the advancing, deadly Saxons. The dangerous task brings Arthur and his closest friend Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd) face to face with Merlin (Stephen Dillane), the inspirational leader of the pagan tribes, with the talented archer Guinevere (Keira Knightley) - and finally with Saxon leader, the fearsome Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgard). The bloody battle convinces Arthur he should remain in England and help unite its people in peace and freedom.
Although the script he first read evolved into something very different, the core elements remained. And the changes were made often on the run – but with the cast included in the process. “Antoine Fuqua is a brilliant shooter,” says Gruffudd, “as you can see in all the great battle scenes. So ho concentrates on that and he tends to leave the actors alone to do their thing.” Fuqua (Tears of the Sun, Training Day) has taken Franzoni’s screenplay and imagined a more realistic world for Arthur than we are used to. “I liked the screenplay very much, we have more empathy with these knights, they’re more real,” says Gruffudd.
Moving to Hollywood with his gorgeous actress girlfriend Alice Evans (they met while making 102 Dalmatians), Gruffudd is now in the right place to make the most of his major break. He enjoys living in Los Angeles “it’s a much maligned town and not as bad as some people make out”) and doesn’t for a second think he’s ‘sold out’.
“That notion comes from a fear of failing,” he says, “ or from ignorance. I’m in the biggest pond there is, and if you want to be an actor, that has huge advantages.”
"a fantasy to play a cowboy"
While Gruffudd has no burning desire to play any particular role, he has always had a fantasy to play a cowboy. “The parts have chosen me so far… I’d like to get to a position where I can choose and say ‘this is what I’d like to do’ but I’m not there at the moment. I’m still
auditioning and so on. But I’ve always had this fantasy of playing a cowboy,” he says laughing. “It comes from my childhood, I think, my father and I both loved Westerns and grew up watching them with him. … so perhaps something like Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven …”
Published July 22, 2004
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Ioan Gruffud as Lancelot