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Discovering Stephen Dillane

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It always gives me great delight to “discover” an actor. I don’t mean in the Hollywood sense (because I’m not an agent or producer, nor do I have any clout whatsoever), but “discover” in the sense that I’ve not really ever heard of the guy before. It happens to us all, I think. You see a film and something in the actor’s performance or looks (or both) touches you in a way that makes you want to see more of what he’s done. For me, it’s always a soulfulness that seems to lurk about the eyes and expression. (See Reflections of a Recidivist Fangirl.) Then, wham. I just have a need to find out who the guy is and what else he’s done and find out what I’ve been missing. All I can say is, “Thank God for Google!”

My latest “discovery” is Stephen Dillane, the brilliant British (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) stage and film actor. Most recently, Dillane played Thomas Jefferson in HBO’s John Adams miniseries. It didn’t hurt that he played my favorite Founding Father exactly as I had always imagined him: an enigmatic intellectual, at once fiery and guarded; eloquent and shy. I was immediately hooked. Who wouldn’t be? It was a terrific performance, right down to his accent, which began as slightly Gaelic, but as Jefferson aged over the course of some 50 years, so did the accent – to more of a relaxed “southern” drawl. Nice touch.

I was delighted to find out that Dillane is starring in not one, but two forthcoming films, bookending the month of May. Later this week, Dillane opens in Fugitive Pieces, a film about a boy rescued from the horrors of the Holocaust, who now, as an adult (played by Dillane), is haunted by his childhood memories. It is written and and directed by Jeremy Podeswa, and based on the novel by Canadian poet Anne Michaels. I’m looking forward to reviewing that film for Blogcritics when it opens.

Dillane also stars with Julianne Moore in Savage Grace, (opening May 30) based on the controversial life of the Bakeland family (who invented “Bakelite"). Both films look intriguing, dark, and serious. Can’t wait. Later this year, Dillane will appear as Charlemagne in the film Love and Virtue which takes on the French epic poem The Song of Roland. So lots of things coming up for us newbie fans of Mr. Stephen Dillane.

Dillane is an accomplished stage actor, having recently performed a one-man rendition of Macbeth in London, and whose Hamlet (also in London) has been considered amongst the best. He has won major stage awards, including a Tony (for Leading Actor) in 2000 for Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. But unless you want to dig through YouTube (yeah, I’ve done it) for snippets, you’ll have to stick to film and television DVDs to catch up with Dillane’s works. And lucky for us, there are quite a few.

I am slowly digging my way through his film oeuvre, so here are a couple of suggestions to start:

Welcome to Sarajevo is based on the true story of a British journalist who, in an act of impulsive bravery, rescues a young girl from the hell of early 1990s Bosnia. Dillane, as the journalist is wonderful at expressing the world-weariness of the protagonist Michael Henderson. The story is intense, and at times nearly unbearable for its tragedy. Woody Harrelson gives a disarming and surprising performance as Dillane’s American colleague. It’s a great and serious film.

Déjà Vu is about as romantic a film as possible. Not a chick flick by any means, Déjà Vu is a story of love lost and rediscovered; of destiny and soul mates. It’s gorgeously shot with Henry Jaglom’s signature realism (despite the fact that the film has strong supernatural overtones), with much of the dialogue improvised from rough sketches and notes. Dillane is fantastic as an English painter drawn hopelessly to an American designer, whom he encounters in a series of coincidence meetings. She is equally drawn to him, although they are both tied to other partners. Terrific supporting performances by Vanessa Redgrave and Noel Harrison (anyone remember him from the old '60s series The Man From UNCLE?).

I look forward to many months of catching up on my new discovery! And I'm open to suggestions.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her debut novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse comes out October 11 from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Dear Barbara,
    Stephen Dillane. Yes and yes. Thanks for the heads up. I look forward to seeing him in “Adams”. It was “The Hours” that did it for me. He filled the screen with the only man that could simultaneously deserve, deal with, and delight in Virginia Woolf(Nicole Kidman). He was not afraid nor would he blame himself after her death. He was a rare man sharing his life with a rare woman. After that I remembered how romantic, yet ordinary he was in “Déjà-vu”. He was a normal man caught up in something extraordinary. In “Goal I & II” he served the script, providing ballast for the boat in an all but unseen capacity. But he was the only reason I watched the “Goals”. He is no fancy pants actor but can seemingly do it all. He was a refreshing discovery, as you have been. Thanks Barbara.

  • Barbara Barnett

    I really did discover him with the Adams thing (which is coming out on DVD later this month. I will doing a full review on it in the next week or so. He’s one of those guys you could listen to reading the phone book.

  • Diane F.

    I first “met” Mr. Dillane while watching “John Adams” over the July 4th weekend and was quite impressed; then he really took hold of me when I saw that golf movie of his the other day. I have no interest in golf whatsoever but as soon as I saw his name in the opening credits, I sat up straight and watched the movie with enthusiasm. (My boyfriend and I take turns showing DVDs and this one was his choice.) Now I too will be researching his career and making an effort to update myself on his happenings. I’m sure his Jefferson role has increased his fanbase tremendously.

  • Jessica_Rabbit

    I have always loved Thomas Jefferson. I am a huge history buff and have scores of books about the founders on my shelves. But this, this man–he’s done such great justice to Thomas! He took my very breath away! He captured an essence of Jefferson that is so intriguing, so beautiful, so intelligent, yet somewhat pensive. His eyes speak volumes when his beautiful mouth is silent. He’s made Thomas Jefferson come alive.

    What an amazing actor! I’m hooked.

  • Barbara Barnett

    Hi Diane and JessicaRabbit.

    Diane–You should try to catch both Savage Grace and Fugitive Pieces, both out in theatres now. Great roles for Stephen and quite different than Thomas Jefferson. Also, try to get hold of “The Hours” with Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf. Stephen plays her husband, and again bring a fabulous simmering fragile strength to the role.

    Jessica–as a political scientist (in a past career) I became a fan of Jefferson when I was in graduate school. Jefferson was such a product of the enlightenment: a man of many, many gifts–a true renaissance man.

  • Colleen

    ahh yes, I’ve just finished watching “John Adams” and was struck by Stephen’s performance, so as I result I’m out reading up on him.
    He really is just brilliant as TJ and I’m looking forward to seeing his other flicks.

  • Lara Dotson

    I too, watched John Adams and for many weeks couldn’t get him off my mind. Does this ever happen to anyone else?? I googled him, bought his movies available and read every snippet of info I could on him. I found someone’s comment the other day that they should start filming Thomas Jefferson with Dillane starring…wonder if he’d even be interested. Also, Fugitive Pieces was never shown here in Indy, I’ve looked several times on Amazon if it’s been released yet on DVD but it’s not. Can’t wait to see it. I’ve watched the YouTube ‘bits’ over & over where he’s sitting at the piano with those daunting eyes, how can you not fall in love with this actor. He’s certainly one of those guys that just lingers in the mind…he seems like such a neat presence. Wonder if he’d be that way if you met him. Take care Dillane Fans!

  • Kathy F.

    I’m a late comer to John Adams. Unfortunately I live in a mountainous area where we can’t get cable. So I recently rented John Adams and was absolutely captivated by Stephen Dillane’s performance. I am also a history buff and I love Thomas Jefferson, and I thought Dillane played him brilliantly. I have also been Googling Dillane and trying to find out everything I can about him. He is very talented and I hope to see more of him.

  • ela

    Firelight is where I disciverd Mr. Dillane. It’s not the best movie, but I was captivated by his performance, is smile, his…everything! Man, is he sexy!! Looking forward to seeing more and more of him.

  • Debbie Wallis Landau

    Barbara, I was so delighted to learn other viewers had discovered the phenomenally talented and magnetic Stephen Dillane.
    Some years ago, I needlepointed a gift canvas depicting each of his movie roles in different alphabets. That’s a signature gift concept I design and create for favorite, often famous, people. Did I send it to him? Not yet! It needs to be amended.

    If you haven’t already seen it, you’ll learn of yet another believable incarnation when Stephen plays Harker, the straightlaced, humorless head of the CIA in Robert Redford’s SPY GAME.

    Alternatively, he is moody, conflicted, sexy and magnetic in FIRELIGHT, an oldie but goodie, in which he stars opposite beautiful Sophie Marceau.
    And he was always very good in a few brief vignettes in THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED, portraying famous golfer Harry Vardon.

    Hope this reaches you since it’s almost a year since last posting!!

    best regards, from a fellow fan in the Detroit, Michigan area….Debbie

  • Barbara S Barnett

    It’s great hearing from people even so long after I first wrote this article. Dillane’s Jefferson is still indelible. I’ve enjoyed so many of his films. Welcome to Sarajevo is probably my favorite, but Deja Vu..and the mosre recent God on Trial are all fantastic performances.

  • justfordillane

    I would like to see him perform live on stage – I would not mind going to London to watch him there

  • OMG I’ve recently discovered Stephen Dillane too and I looking for other things he’s been in. Will check out Jon Adams and Welcome to Sarajevo. My intro to SD was in Firelight. I’d say his performance in it is what kept me watching!

  • barbara barnett

    Ragtag–I strongly suggest the John Adams miniseries. His Thomas Jefferson is perfect. Sarjevo is also brilliant. And if you can find it, Fugitive Pieces is also something I’d highly recommend.

  • Ok i’ll check out fugitive pieces too barbara! All these shows i’ve never heard of. I’m going to try for ‘The shooting of thomas hurndall’ too. Busy times ahead.

  • Try to get “The Hours” as well with Nicole Kidman.

  • Yes i’ve been meaning to watch that one anyway. Have heard a lot about the nose!

  • Hey he’s in King Arthur too as Merlin? Is that worth seeing for Dillane drama?

  • Keara of Maine

    “You see a film and something in the actor’s performance or looks (or both) touches you in a way that makes you want to see more of what he’s done. For me, it’s always a soulfulness that seems to lurk about the eyes and expression.”

    I find myself in that same exact position frequently. I love new discoveries. I’m on your blog because my recent discovery is also Stephen Dillane in “John Adams.” I was mesmerized by his fresh and haunting portrayal of Jefferson. I am watching John Adams because it was by the same director who did another recent favorite of mine, “The Damned United” with my last actor discovery, Michael Sheen – also British. If you’ve never seen Sheen, I suspect you’ll be quite taken with him. Not quite the quiet, soulful type portraying famed UK Football manager Brian Clough, but endearingly human, affectionate and sexy nevertheless. You don’t have to like sports to love this movie.

    In both cases, however, my studies have led me as much or more to the characters these actors portrayed. I haven’t seen anything else by Sheen or Dillane, but I’m fascinated to have discovered the real life stories of Brian Clough and Thomas Jefferson – the latter I’ve begun reading about.

  • I love Michael Sheen. He’s sort of cornered the market on playing Tony Blair–but he was great as David Frost in Frost/Nixon as well. I really like him.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! Have a look ’round.

  • Keara of Maine

    I’m looking forward to seeing “The Queen” with Michael Sheen. I imagine he’d be very good as Tony Blair.

    I was about to mention my last two faves are Hugh Laurie and Edward Norton, but I decided to look around on your posts and find you’ve got Hugh Laurie (as Dr. House) quite covered! Wow, we must be on the same wavelength. I do very much like Edward Norton in “Leaves of Grass” and “Primal Fear” too, because he’s just such a good actor.

  • Edward Norton is probably in my top three or four favorite American actors.

  • joanne

    i hope you will continue to follow stephen dillane. He deserves far more visibility in the U S. He has recently been cast as Stannis in season 2 of HBOs game of thrones. He is one of the finest actors today. Thanks Barbara

  • Joanne–I’d no idea that he was going to be Stannis In GOT! Awesome casting. Can’t wait.

  • Robin

    It is marvelous to find that others are as appreciative of Mr.Dillane’s talents and efforts as I am. The Hours, John Adams, Spy Game….he was superb in each endeavor. Game of Thrones was truly fascinating this past season, and has just upped the ante for anticipation with the addition of this great actor as well as Natalie Dormer.

  • Sharon Pack

    Stephen Dillane is one of the most charismatic actors I have seen in a long time. I am literally transported when I watch him. No matter what difficulties I am having, he takes my mind off them for awhile.