by Moonah Ellison
photography by Danielle St. Laurent
While boyish good looks and easy English charm are qualities traditionally associated with the token playboy movie star, Hugh Dancy is quite the exception to the rule. He remains diplomatically reserved, mastering the art of relating clear opinions while refusing to reveal the true measure of his depth. Such reservation is rarely seen in such handsome leading men. Ultimately, it is easy to conclude that his passions are acting, fiancée Claire Danes, and his family, with fame and international attention of little importance. While such calculated discretion is endearing, his embodiment of the Great British reserve may not have as permanent a place, Stateside.
A self-proclaimed Londoner at heart, the Oxford-educated Dancy regularly shuffles between continents, splitting his time between his home in London and his career in New York. While he is obviously partial to London, he is hesitant to admit his preference, claiming that the two benefit each other and rhetorically stating, “Why should I barrage myself for liking both places?” Though he tends to go to great lengths to avoid offering a clear cut opinion, seemingly in an effort to avoid any form of criticism, he does graciously refer to New York City as one of the most welcoming places in the world.
And he would know, since he recently resided here while filming the unconventional love story, Adam. His first leading role of this nature, Dancy plays Adam, a man forced to navigate the frightening realm of love with challenges due to Asperger’s Syndrome, a social disorder which renders it difficult to connect with others. When questioned about the subject matter, Dancy remains reserved, stating simply that he believed in the script, that it was a complicated area to delve into in any depth, and further, that his preparation and process are best left unsaid. This left me to wonder, “When exactly does he deem it best to elaborate?”
While he generally avoids in-depth discussions, Dancy does allow himself to offer comments regarding today’s political climate. With reference to the striking polarities of British and American politics today – what with the left wing running the U.S. and the right wing likely to take over in Britain – Dancy highlights, “it is unusual except that there are similar factions… The difference is I don’t hear anyone in England speaking up, saying maybe we should avoid partisanship, avoid the blame game. I think people are going radically partisan in Britain at the moment. And Obama has clearly and strongly made that point and has been able to make that point in a way that I think politicians have realized not only that he believes it, but actually that’s what the majority of the population wants as well. It’s interesting, and to be able to see kind of out of that bubble. You don’t really see that in England, where the British politics are widely bubbled.” And what does this reserved British star think about our President? He reveals that his film, Adam, was screened at the Sundance Film Festival around the time of the inauguration. About that powerful day, Dancy was “happy and delighted to be able to watch it in the company of these great people who are now my friends and to kind of share vicariously in their pride.”
Though remaining diplomatic, with wisdom undoubtedly gained through his character in Adam, Dancy makes the interesting argument that, “for some people, a diagnosis, and even a correct diagnosis, is not always productive. I mean in the sense that there are people, and generations, which have found a very productive place in society, and have made a life for themselves, who would now be diagnosed and labeled and so forth, and that maybe wouldn’t be to their advantage.” To him, such labels come with the consequence of hindering someone’s personal development. He finishes his statement regarding the drawbacks of such diagnosis by amending that a diagnosis often provides relief and understanding for those who feel alone and isolated.
Dancy’s refusal to accept the limitations that society imposes through labeling syndromes, disorders, and conditions, could perhaps be explained by episodes in his personal history. Growing up, Dancy was deemed a disorderly troublemaker, almost expelled from his all-boys boarding school. As a disciplinary measure, the school forced the rebellious young Hugh to help out with the drama program, ultimately catapulting him into the space where he would find a strange familiarity. For Dancy, his involvement with the drama program, intended to be a source of discipline, ultimately became a source of freedom. Unaware that he was even missing something in his life, acting liberated him – it was free of the hierarchy that firmly rooted his traditional boarding school; it was a democratic entity for his personal expression. Plus, there were girls.
While maintaining that raging hormones were not the reason he so enjoyed acting, Dancy, forever the gentleman, states that he merely appreciated the energy that comes with having women around. We must say that they, to be sure, reveled in his energy as well.
He first channeled that positive energy onstage in the role of Ariel in The Tempest. Amidst a career on stage and in film, theater certainly seems to be the place where Dancy thrives the most. Though he maintains his allegiance to both and fails to pledge his passion in any exclusive direction, when he discusses acting on stage we see, for the first time, a glimmer of his depth. Dancy reveals that onstage, “You get to tell the entire story from start to finish every night and thoroughly understand it in a way you don’t always do with movies. With theatre, it happens organically; it’s part of the process with the rehearsals and such so that when you’re finally doing it, you’ve got all that behind you. You get the immediate reaction, and if it goes well, you’re constantly getting good feedback. At the end of the night, you get a reward. It’s the only time as an actor you ever get to shut that voice of doubt that most actors have because of the insecurity of what they are doing. In the theatre, you kind of close that gap.” This opens a refreshing vulnerability, which lasts just a moment before he reverts to the fence that his sexy derriere so comfortably rests upon by saying, again, “for me each one benefits from the other. I found that when I’m doing one, I wish I was doing the other which is absolutely less healthy.” Hey, at least he can admit when he has a problem.
But problems don’t seem to be abundant for this up-and-coming British actor. He’s engaged to Claire Danes, appeared in a movie honored at Sundance, and seems to be content in his family life. When prompted about his future plans, Dancy, unsurprisingly, offers an anticipated response. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with directions that all have that passion, and beyond that I don’t really have plans. I hope to stay, if I’m lucky enough to stay, on the same course that I am and to work with people I respect and to challenge myself. But those are all general things. I think you should only think in the short term as an actor; you don’t know what lies around the corner.” That, of course, is true of anyone, but for Dancy, do all of his best days lie ahead of him?
Though he admits he is a very private person, Dancy takes privacy to a completely different level. While his resistance to truly speaking his mind may be a way to establish a mysterious character, it’s a pretty risky game. It may better serve him to put it all out there (and if not all, just a bit) and make a few mistakes rather than never present his true opinion. Perhaps that’s just the way he likes it – Dancy does not strike me as the kind of man who desires attention and public understanding of his character, and maybe that’s refreshing. When directly questioned with the fact that much of his public persona is left without depth, he agrees, commenting, “I think that you’re right. I enjoy the opportunity to talk about my work. I also think that I am relatively private, but I also think that work is best served by not spilling out every last detail of my life and I by no means feel any compulsion to do that.” He is certainly not teetering on any fence in that regard.
Following his strong advocacy for his personal privacy, Dancy does candidly offer one of his strongest opinions yet with reference to other actors in the public sphere, saying that he has a “huge admiration for actors that [support a cause] with a strong understanding of the cause they are espousing. By the same token, I find it a little tough watching actors aligning themselves with a movement about which they appear not to have much actual understanding. My sister works for charity, and explained bluntly that a press release she puts out without a hook, a celebrity name, won’t make the press. It’s just an equation.” While Dancy’s dancing around questions is a bit frustrating, it is refreshing to have an actor who doesn’t use his fame to influence social causes he has no real passion for or knowledge of. Damn. One conversation with Hugh Dancy and I have found myself perched on that fence, right there beside him.