Emmy-nominated for his portrayal of the Earl of Essex in the miniseries Elizabeth I, Hugh Dancy is more widely known as the crown prince of romantic comedies such as Ella Enchanted, The Jane Austen Book Club, and Confessions of a Shopaholic. But whether he's playing a man with Asperger's syndrome in the recent filmAdam or just reigning over red carpets with fiancée Claire Danes, Dancy always dazzles like a royal jewel. Revisiting his sexually ambiguous parts in the 2007 dramas Evening and Savage Grace, the 34-year-old Brit confesses the perks and perils of being so darn pretty.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: Did you know that gays fancied the Dancy?
Hugh Dancy: I think that's been made clear enough times. [Laughs] I always appreciate it when people are appreciative, but I certainly don't live in constant need of people telling me how great I am. Other people make that their concern, but I don't.
Then I'll go easy on the flattery. As a man from the U.K., where same-sex civil partnership is legal, and as a man who's getting married this fall, what's your take on the marriage equality debate in the United States?
You're getting married soon?
No, you are.
Oh, right. I see. People can argue about whether or not they want to do it themselves, but the option ought to be there for everybody — and as far as I'm concerned, the sooner the better. It's been going on for a while in the U.K. and society hasn't crumbled.
Jessica Biel recently spoke about how her beauty has posed problems for her in the industry. Have you experienced a downside to being aesthetically pleasing?
Maybe that was something for me to overcome early on in my career — and for all I know it's still there in some intangible way — but I sense it much less now. I can't really complain about the roles that I've been able to play. [Capt. Dennis Stanhope in the World War I drama] Journey's End on Broadway a couple years ago was an incredibly rich and complex role, and the same is true of Adam.
But you're most commonly associated with light romantic comedies. Do you have any aspirations of tackling action-adventure or superhero roles?
Those movies do reach a huge audience, which is always important, and there's probably a franchise there, so you'll be kept in milk and cookies for years to come. And as a side effect, you'll probably end up in incredibly good shape. But it's not the be-all and end-all for me. People have said that maybe I should go for more edgy roles, but you've got to be very careful or you're just taking the next job that comes along where you're carrying a gun. I have no problem with romantic comedies; I just have a problem with bad movies in general. If I can make a good movie in almost any genre, I will. I try not to be snobbish about that.
Must I bring up Basic Instinct 2?
[Laughs] I basically signed up for that because it was directed by Michael Caton-Jones, who had just directed me in a movie called Beyond the Gates, which was about genocide in Rwanda. So Basic Instinct 2 could not have been more of a different experience. Did I know it was likely to be quite camp? Yes. I think anybody with half a brain could've figured that one out.
Are you a fan of camp?
I'm a fan of working with good friends when they ask me to.
As part of Broadway's annual Easter Bonnet Competition, a fund-raiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, you came onstage wearing nothing but a towel in a cheeky ploy to increase ticket sales for Journey's End. Did it help?
I don't think so, no, but we did win the damn thing. I was going to sing, but about four days before that I got diagnosed with a polyp on my vocal cord, so I decided to just come out in a towel. What the hell, right?
Because you take care of your body, do directors ask you to remove your shirt for scenes when it seems totally unnecessary?
What, you mean like in Adam? Or in Journey's End, having a quick wash in the trenches? [Laughs] I suppose the closest I've come to that would be Confessions of a Shopaholic, where the clothes were tailored to within an inch of their lives. But that's what we signed up for.
Photographer Mario Testino had you strip down to boxer shorts last year for the cover of Vogue Hommes International.
You figure if somebody's going to do it right, it would be him. I knew Mario previously from other shoots and from just bumping into him around and about, so it was pretty easy.
Are you comfortable being a sex symbol?
There are worse things you could be called. To some extent it's helpful, but if you engage in that too much, you actually limit your options professionally. And if your self-esteem rests on that, then you've got a major problem.
Were you OK with the fact that your modeling for Burberry print campaigns would be more about your looks than your talent?
Yeah, sure. It wasn't like I was looking for a new career. They said they wanted a British actor to do that, so I said, "Sure, I'm up for it." I'm up for anything — within limits.
To borrow a line about your character in Confessions of a Shopaholic: Do you speak Prada?
I cannot tell you how often I've been asked that question by stewardesses on airplanes. I've yet to come up with a sensible answer, except that I basically speak denim.
Your character Sam Green in Savage Grace has sex with both Barbara Baekeland and her son Tony, who were played by Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne. How are love scenes with a man different from those with a woman?
Let's just say that a love scene with a man and a woman at the same time is significantly different from everything else. Beyond that, maybe it's different with a man, but only because of my lack of experience. [Laughs] I'd worked with Eddie before and he's a good friend, so weirder than his gender was the fact that it was a mate of mine. That's what was really uncomfortable.
In the Daily Mail the real Sam Green called the film's suggestion that he's homosexual "untrue and a slur." How did you approach Sam's sexuality?
Whatever his sexuality may or may not be is read entirely between the lines in the book on which the movie's based; there's no clear sense of it. So I had to take the script as my starting point and not worry about that too much. Weirdly, quite recently at a party I spoke to somebody who knows him and was paid an immense compliment: Never having met or having seen footage of Sam Green, I was told that, although he denies he was ever in that threesome situation, he says that I was moving, walking, and talking exactly like him.
Yet he also said that he felt the film "damaged" him and that he was considering legal action. Do you feel any guilt about that controversy?
I don't feel guilt about that, to be honest with you, and I don't know what his motives would be for launching a lawsuit. I didn't have any underlying worries about what I'd done in the movie; if I had, I wouldn't have done it.
Many filmgoers saw your ill-fated character Buddy in Evening as a closeted homosexual, but I read that you didn't really consider him gay.
I didn't consider him not gay, but I certainly didn't consider that the whole thrust of the movie was building up to this one moment of truth about himself. That would've been too simple a way to play it, and I didn't want his problems to be too easily solved. Ann, Claire [Danes]'s character, basically tells him to go kiss some guys and figure it out, but I believe it's also true that he is in love with her. Maybe I just needed this to help play the character, but for me, he doesn't know the answer about his sexuality yet, and I don't think we do either.
What was your motivation for Buddy kissing Harris, Patrick Wilson's character?
I'm not denying that he has that very specific, basic impulse, but Buddy's somebody with a massive sense of inadequacy who's uncomfortable in his own body. Harris represents everything that Buddy wishes he was, so he basically wants to be him.
You've dismissed a certain gossip item about a drunken make-out session between you, Evening screenwriter Michael Cunningham, and a male hotel staffer. Are you annoyed by rumors regarding your sexuality?
No more so than by other rumors. There's a cultural phenomenon whereby people want to create or spread that particular rumor, and I find it slightly weird that that would be the go-to thing. I don't like talking about my private life in general, so I find it better not to engage in that. There's something as unseemly about denying those rumors as there is about the rumors in the first place.
We always hear about actors falling in love after meeting on film sets. Since it happened to you and Claire with Evening, how do you handle it now when your fiancée's off snogging someone else at work?
We've all got different levels of jealousy, and some people are just quicker to reach the boiling point. Personally, I'd like to think I'm fairly balanced. Generally speaking, it is a professional hazard, but you've got to try to remember that it's just a job.
So is Zac Efron, Claire's love interest in the upcoming Me and Orson Welles, safe from an ass-kicking?
Yeah, he's a good guy.
Ooh, what's he like in person?
[Laughs] He's a dreamboat.
The Advocate, September 2009 issue; extended online version.