Birmingham Post

From Hollywood to rural Dorset

If you don't recognise Ciaran Hinds' name, you'll certainly know his face. The Belfastborn actor, who made his name in period dramas Persuasion and Jane Eyre, has hit the big time acting in movies alongside Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett and Tom Hanks.

Now the 50-year-old is back on the small screen in ITV1's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor Of Casterbridge, on Sunday, December 28 and Monday, December 29, playing Michael Henchard alongside Bafta-winner Juliet Aubrey, Jodhi May and James Purefoy.

And working for ten weeks in rural Dorset was a bit of a change, he says.

'Dorchester used to close down at 5.30pm, except there was one brave soul who stayed open 'til 6pm,' he smiles. 'It's a quiet town.'

The contrast between Dorset and Hollywood is a strange one, he adds. 'It's a very weird and wonderful journey,' he says. 'It's extraordinary when you work with people like Cate Blanchett (in Ve-ronica Guerin). 'And Angelina Jolie (whom he acted with thesecond Lara Croft film), people read things and think, 'Is she really mad?'. Not at all. She's a brilliant, very open, warm, hardworking, talented girl.'

A lot of his recent filming has been in a bleak studio at Pinewood though, he points out, not the most glamorous of locations.

Despite the constant rain which drenched cast and crew during the filming of Hardy's tragic story, Hinds reveals he loved working on The Mayor Of Casterbridge -not least because of the sideburns he sported.

'I walked around with those long stupid things for quite a while -and they never came back into fashion,' he laughs.

Even the Dorset accent wasn't too difficult to master -the cast were given special tuition by a voice coach before filming started.

'I'm from the north of Ireland,' Hinds says. 'And although County Antrim isn't exactly the same, there is a burr which is similar.'

But the light points in Hardy's tale are few and far between. 'The story starts with a tragedy and then goes downhill in a way, doesn't it,' says Hinds wryly.

The story follows Michael Henchard, who sells his wife and baby daughter in a fit of drunkenness. Vowing never to touch alcohol for 21 years, he builds up his career until he becomes Mayor of Casterbridge, and a respected merchant.

Then, 19 years later, his wife reappears, just as Henchard hires a new manager for his company. Anxious to make amends for his wrong, the remorseful Henchard finds his emotions getting the better of him, with every action forcing his life into a downwardspiral.

It was tricky making his character seem sympathetic, Hinds says.

'As one of the characters says, he is adamant and bull-headed, he can be bad tempered and he's arrogant and ambitious, but he's not a bad man. It's most of the way to being a bad man, but he does show remorse.

'But because of his nature, the remorse is followed by all the other very, very strong earthy kind of male emotions that he's not afraid to manifest at all. And he ain't subtle about it,' he adds with a smile.

'Henchard seems to make mistake after mistake and in a way I don't think he can help it. There's something in his make-up, he is a flawed character.

'You keep thinking, 'No, don't do that', and then he goes and does it.'

It's not all doom and gloom though, he points out -the romance between two of the younger characters and the comedy of the village gossips lightens the mood beautifully, he says.

The actor, who is in the middle of filming The Phantom Of The Opera -he and Simon Callow play the two opera managers, 'We're like those two guys in The Muppets, Stadler and Waldorf,' he laughs -has no plans to watch the programme with his family overChristmas.

And he reveals his 12 year-old daughter Aoife -the Gaelic for Eve -is one of his biggest critics.

'She doesn't see a lot of the stuff I do, because it's a bit adult. But when she was ten she did see a play I did in Dublin, a Chekhov short story, as I was babysitting her and performing as well.

'It was Halloween night, so she was all dressed up like a vampire, sitting in the lighting box. Afterwards I said, 'So, what did you think?'.

'She said, 'You got lots of your lines wrong'. And I said, 'How would you know? And I didn't'.

'And she said, 'No, I was looking at the script'. I thought, 'What, you spent your whole time looking at the words? How peevish is that, at ten years old?',' he laughs.

'She's discovered Eminem now,' he adds. 'I don't know if she'll have time for Thomas Hardy.' Based in Paris -Hinds's partner, and mother of Aoife, is French-Vietnamese actress Helene Patarot -the actor says his bilingual daughter doesn't seem to thinkmuch of his language skills either.

'I can get by in French,' he says. 'I ignore the pluperfect subjunctive and ridiculous things like that.

'But whenever I speak to my daughter in French, she always answers me in English.

'It's like she's saying, 'Forget it mate'.'