Source: InStyle magazine – October 1999. Words by Laura Jamison. Photographs by Stephen Danelian.
Despite his penchant for portraying proper English gentlemen of a bygone era (Emma, An Ideal Husband, The Winslow Boy), Jeremy Northam does not dress for tea. Nor for breakfast. The effervescent Northam showed up for an interview at a Manhatten diner with his thick brown hair gelled, wearing leather slides and a toe ring. He obviously doesn’t do anything by the book – least of all deciding how to dress. “I think the whole clubbing thing has had a huge effect on style in the U.K. A few years ago I would never have thought of wearing an elasticized Lyrca T-shirt. Now I think, Hmm, that’s quite nice, isn’t it? It’s hilarious, really.” The youngest of four children who grew up in Cambridge, England, Northam is now a steadfast Londoner, despite his surging popularity in Hollywood. With this month’s release of Happy, Texas he breaks out of the costume-drama mold – and out of prison, playing an escaped convict who poses as a gay man who runs small-town child beauty pageants. Emma would be mortified.
Do you like clothes? I prefer to wear them in most social situations.
Have you been without them on stage? No, never been naked onstage. On film, constantly. You know those close-ups? I’m naked from the neck down. The wing collars are painted on.
Why do you get cast in so many period dramas? People don’t see me as contemporary, I don’t know why. I guess it’s the way one talks. And when I go for fittings for period dramas, [wardrobe] people say, “Don’t go to the gym too much.” You can’t have a big neck and wear any of that stuff.
Are those costumes uncomfortable? Yes, terribly uncomfortable, especially when they dig into your double chin. I dread it. I had to go to some costume fittings recently – I’m doing a version of Henry James’s The Golden Bowl – and my heart sank when the collarless shirts and the studs came out.
You must have liked your Happy, Texas wardrobe better. Orange prison bodices! I predict they will be this year’s thing. Very flattering. I looked about six months pregnant – and that was before breakfast.
Do you watch your weight? I always feel overweight. I was a fat child until about 25, then I just shot up. I haven’t had a proper routine for the last year or so, but I’m getting back into the swing of things. I’m doing the gym thing and trying to run. I’ve been meaning to learn a bit of yoga, something I can take with me.
Do you have any favourite designers? I’m very fond of Nicole Farhi. I like Dolce & Gabbana, but mostly their jeans, or Paul Smith. I like stuff that lasts and gets better with age – things that actually increase in attractiveness with age. I love new clothes but it’s a bit of a disappointment when the knees go.
Anything trendy you just can’t see yourself wearing? I cannot ever wear cargo pants. I just don’t like them. They don’t suit me. They’re like: “Hey, let’s go to the gym for three hours every morning and get all that unsightly weight off our butts, then let’s stuff our pockets full of maps!”
Are you growing your hair out? Why? What’s wrong with it? I’m just growing it for the hair people [for my next film]. I always give them something to play with. I have to grow a beard as well.
Did you grow a mustache for An Ideal Husband? No, they just stuck it on. I’m dreading having a beard because I will be one of these people … [smears egg yolk on his chin to imitate characters with facial hair] “What? Oh, here? Other side? Where?”
Do you like wearing a beard? All of my family, apart from my mother and sister, have worn beards at times. And I’m not entirely sure about them either. So, I think when I was growing up, I thought, One day I’ll be a man and have lots of hair on my face. But I don’t know what I think about beards. Beards are … for hikers.
Have you ever waxed your body for a role? Well, once I thought I’d wax my chest for [a part] – actually, I used a cream hair remover. I put some on and it felt a bit strange. I went back to read the instructions and it said, “Leave on for six minutes only.” Aagh! I had clumps falling off with strange junglelike tendrils hanging down. Then I had to shave the rest. I showed up the next day with tissue paper all over my chest. It was quite unpleasant, really. Twelve hours later I started itching.
You have a toe ring. Was that a gift? No, no one gives me gifts. I recently saw a very dear old girlfriend. She looked down and said, “Oh, my God! You’ve got a toe ring.” I said, “What’s wrong with that?” She said, “Well, you’re drawing attention to something that’s not very nice.” I said, “Oh, what’s that?” She said, “Your toes!”
How do you prepare for a night out on a date? I shower. I like to smell nice. I try not to think too much about it, because if you wear something to impress someone you end up feeling like a jerk.