By Luaine Lee
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
BEVERLY HILLS — Many British actors come to America to hit the big time. They star in long-running TV series or wage battles in action-gripped movies. But it’s been more than that for Ioan Gruffudd.
The Welsh actor has starred as the brave naval officer in the “Hornblower” series, Mr. Fantastic in “The Fantastic Four,” and Lancelot in “King Arthur,” but it was moving to America that changed him.
“I’m terrible with conflict,” he says. “That’s why living in America is quite healthy because we’re taught on a daily basis to (express ourselves.) I see my daughter having discussions, and everything is out in the open and discussed. ‘Why are you upset?’ ‘Well, because of this.’ And discourse and argument is part of one’s upbringing here,” he says relaxing in a vinyl club chair in a coffee bar here.
“And you don’t take it personally. Growing up in the U.K., you take it VERY personally. It’s very refreshing to be in a culture where conflict isn’t necessarily going to end in never talking with each other again.”
Though he sports an impressive acting resume, Gruffudd (pronounced Griffith) says he always doubts his abilities when faced with a new project. The latest is his role as the New York City medical examiner who is blessed (or cursed) with immortality in ABC’s series, “Forever.” Gruffudd finds his character solving crimes with the keen eye of a man who has lived far beyond his time.
Gruffudd feels that trepidation is an integral part of performing. “If you don’t have that, I’d be more scared NOT having that fear. The day that I become complacent about a job or a part or a character is the day I should give up acting. I hope that I have that energy, that passion that desire, that nervousness, that terror — because that’s what spurs you forward, I think.”
It’s been a lifetime of nervousness for Gruffudd, who began acting in a Welsh soap opera when he was 12, a role that lasted until he was 21.
Both his parents were educators, but they encouraged him. And while the job earned him pocket money, it also made him the butt of classmates’ jokes. “As you can imagine in a small place like Wales and a small city like Cardiff, and also because it was a Welsh-speaking soap opera, it wasn’t necessarily the coolest thing in the world to be involved with,” he says.
“I did get teased about it a lot. And it wasn’t something I could wear as a badge of honor. Had I been in a show like ‘Neighbors’ or ‘Home and Away’ or ‘Eastenders’ — which were huge at the time — then I think I would’ve had a little bit more attention. But because it was a Welsh speaking show, it wasn’t cool in the slightest. A lot of people were taking the mickey out of me. Quite a lot.”
Minus his “mickey” or not, he had one thing going for him. His dad was the principal at the high school he attended. Everybody respected him and that helped his son. Gruffudd also played the oboe, sang and was involved in soccer and rugby. All that helped him muddle through his teenage angst.
Married to actress Alice Evans, Gruffudd is the father of two girls, 5 and 1. He and Evans were together for six years before they wed. “Getting married was a turning point in the sense I didn’t think it was possible to elevate a relationship any higher than it was at the time,” he says.
“But then standing in front of your friends and your family and making that commitment in front of them, actually made me feel like a man for the first time in my life. My wife, God bless her, gave me an ultimatum. ‘Where is this going?’ ‘Are we together or not?’ It was amazing. Along my entire journey and career she’s been there supporting, understanding because she’s an actor herself. And we’ve both been a great support network for each other.”
He says having a family has changed his attitude about his career. “Because there’s no ‘maybe I’ll do this’ or ‘maybe I’ll do that,’ which you can afford to do as a married or a single man. Now with kids, where is your next job coming from? You stop being so precious about career. Let’s try to live in the now, and what is in front of me now.”
There is one disadvantage to starring in “Forever,” Gruffudd admits. He hates to get up in the morning. “I am hopeless without my sleep. I’m like one of those teenagers you can’t get out of bed. I’m 40, and I’ve got two kids and responsibilities, and I have to get up. But I’m hopeless, I’m absolutely hopeless. I become Jekyll and Hyde. So my wife and daughter call me Grumpy McGrumpster.”