March 7, 1998

The man with the method all his own

Ciaran Hinds, who stars in a new BBC drama, lets Kate Bassett into the secret of his success as a romantic hero

HE is not an obvious choice for your romantic hero. However Ciaran Hinds, at 45, seems to be developing a habit of portraying obsessive passion. This Belfast-born actor isn't classically handsome. He's got a face as long as an Easter Island carving, somewhere between a horse and a sheer cliff. But he's impressively tall and dark, with expressive eyes that the camera loves.

On Sunday, Hinds stars in Getting Hurt, a new drama kicking off a BBC2 season entitled Obsessions. Written by Andrew Davies (best known for television adaptations such as Middlemarch and Pride and Prejudice), Getting Hurt is a contemporary film noir about addictive desire and violence, shot in seedy Shepherd's Bush, west London. "I play Charlie Cross, a nondescript solicitor," explains Hinds, who chucked in his own law studies at Queen's University, Belfast, to pursue acting at Rada.

Cross's job and marriage rapidly go to the wall as he gets caught up in a dangerous affair with Amanda Ooms's gamine Viola, who works in an underworld bar. "The moment Charlie sees Viola, a button is switched on in him," Hinds says. "Viola has a chemistry that infects, or affects, the genes of male sexuality. Men can't put her down."

This has interesting parallels with Hinds's recent role in Patrick Marber's hit play Closer at the National Theatre. He gave a powerful performance as the doctor, Larry, ensnared in a love-tangle with three other Londoners, including Liza Walker's strip club waif - who curiously resembles Ooms in Getting Hurt.

Hinds, though, differentiates between his two parts. "This fella Charlie's a bit naive," he says, "not a chancer looking for liaisons. Larry had probably had loads of affairs, a bit of a lad and charged-up sexually."

Hinds found Closer fascinating, but decided not to stay on in the cast for the production's imminent West End transfer. "I wasn't quite ready to finish it," he says. "There was still so much work to do, going into the pit that bit further. But I'd promised I'd do this film, Titanic Town with Roger Michell, set in Belfast in the Seventies, about a mother [Julie Walters] and daughter. I'm the sad, ulcer-ridden dad."

It was in Michell's superb film adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion that Hinds gained star status as high-collared Captain Wentworth, unable to shake off his love for Amanda Root's Anne. He was also a commandingly moody Rochester in LWT's Jane Eyre.

The most surprising thing about meeting Hinds in the flesh is that there is nothing brooding or stiff-backed about him. He is just enormously gentle and self-effacing with a quietly bubbling sense of humour, talking extremely softly. "I'm a terrible mumbler," he agrees in his mellow Irish accent, and bends double over my tape recorder like an obliging giant.

Flexibility is, actually, a feature of Hinds's acting career. He started as a small boy, telling Irish myths, encouraged by his mother, an amateur actress who also inspired two of Hinds's four sisters to enter the profession (one of them, Caitriona, is actually in Titanic Town). At 12, as a skinny grammar school boy, Ciaran apparently made a terrific Lady Macbeth. "My mum says I haven't done anything as good," says the Royal Shakespeare Company stalwart with a smirk, "so it's an on-going battle trying to hit that high again."

Hinds's professional debut, at the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre, was as the back of a pantomime horse. "I didn't even make the front!" Nevertheless, he was soon taking leading roles, and subsequently joined Peter Brook's revered international touring troupe, where he met his wife, the French-Vietnamese actress Hélène Patarot. They have a six-year-old daughter.

Now Hinds is in demand with big-screen directors. He is the Reverend Hasset in Gillian Armstrong's forthcoming film of Oscar and Lucinda, with Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett.

"I'm also very happy working on a French-English film called The Lost Son, with Daniel Auteuil, working with people from different cultures, getting different ideas," he says. Hinds has adapted to diverse styles over the years. "In the Seventies in Glasgow the productions were big and bold, with painted faces and fantastic costumes," he says. "Working with Brook was like starting again, stripping away all excess."

In terms of the actor's technique nowadays, he says, "It's not one method. You might use elements of autobiography, or try different thought rhythms - very fast or slow and laboured." What are his natural thought rhythms?

He mulls this over. " Quite light," he smiles, "Pretty vacant sometimes, no doubt about that."