The 32-year-old British actor is all over the silver screen with a flurry of releases, including “The Jane Austen Book Club” this month. Dancy landed on Broadway to star in the World War I drama “Journey’s End” this year and is spotted frequently about town with girlfriend Claire Danes. But though he’s well-exposed on both sides of the pond, it’s been a struggle getting his movie about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, “Beyond the Gates,” seen by U.S. audiences. He talked to the Resident about his hope for a second life for the movie via its DVD release this month, his plunge into New York’s nightlife, and the usefulness of a British accent. —Cotton Delo
Did you know much about the Rwandan genocide before you started shooting “Beyond the Gates”?
HD: No, I have to tell you, I knew next to nothing. I now consider myself to have been somebody who would be a typical member of an audience for this movie in that the words Rwanda, genocide, Hutu and Tutsi would all have reverberated a little bit, but I couldn’t have told you who was killing who. I don’t think I really understood what genocide meant. It was a very big learning curve for me.
What was the shoot like?
HD: It was not the way I expected it to be. Obviously I thought it might have been very emotional – very difficult, I should say – and it was very emotional, but it was also one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. To work with people who’ve undergone events this tragic and yet to be welcomed with open arms and to witness their amazing powers of survival – just the warmth, was amazing … I’m not enormously optimistic, but really, if you ever want a testimony to the human spirit, this was it.
This movie was made in 2004, and it’s only recently gotten a U.S. release.
HD: A movie like this, it takes long enough to make the thing and to persuade people to get it made. And then once you’ve done that, you get to start the struggle all over again to convince people to buy it and show it to people. It came out in the UK and then it grew and it came out in Europe, and then there was a pause, and finally it came to the U.S. God knows, I was proud to see it on the big screen in America, and I think that’s where it deserved to be.
Did the fact that “Hotel Rwanda” was made around the same time make getting a U.S. release more difficult?
HD: I think it probably did in this country. I think that unfortunately there’s more of a tendency in the market, if I can use that word, [to feel] that we’ve seen the Rwanda film now, and that story’s been told. And of course that’s not the case.
Did you move to New York to appear in “Journey’s End”?
HD: That’s right. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let me commute from London, so I was here for the first five months of the year, and on and off I’ve been back here one way or another since then.
How do you like it?
HD: You couldn’t ask for better than not only to work in New York but to work on Broadway, so I got the best possible intro. Now I’m getting used to the idea of actually having a nightlife, because when you’re working in the theater, you are the nightlife. As I say, I’m back and forth. I’ve actually just come back from Europe.
There’s a lot of comparisons nowadays between New York and London. How would you compare them?
HD: I always wind up getting really trite, but New York is contained; it can’t expand any more. I guess that and the fact that it’s built on a grid system kind of define it for me somehow. That driving energy, and the fact that if you go away for a week and you come back, then almost everywhere has closed and reopened as a different place. It’s so fast. And London is fast, but under the surface. There’s more continuity on the surface. I really enjoy them both.
What about the theater scene in each city?
HD: Actually, it’s funny, there’s a lot made of the musical and the star-driven play – both here and in the West End – and a lot of people bemoaning that, although I found doing “Journey’s End” this year on Broadway that there was quite a lot of competition in terms of other straight dramas and very well-received plays. And the same is true in London. But nonetheless, just like everything else in these two cities, it’s becoming more and more expensive both to go to the theater and to mount a play. So as the risks become greater, people try and diminish them by putting on a show that’s been done before with the guy from the TV show.
Have you been initiated into American sports at all?
HD: If you consider ignorance to be initiation. I like basketball. It took me a while to get into it because I’m British and we’re into cricket and football, where it’s possible to play for five days and have a draw. So when you’re watching a game where someone scores every three minutes, it took me a while to get into it. I’m still learning baseball. American football, not yet.
What neighborhood are you living in?
Are you able to keep a lower profile in New York than in London?
HD: New Yorkers and Londoners are pretty similar. To put it bluntly, they just don’t give a shit. No better way to make people hate you than to – quote, unquote – keep a low profile. It’s not necessary.
Do you encounter a lot of people excited to meet a Brit? Or do New Yorkers tend to play it cool?
HD: I think most New Yorkers now have met a Brit. There’s no shortage of us. There are certain moments when you’re expecting to have a hard time and then suddenly you just say a few words and doors open for you. Some people I guess still are convinced that a British accent means that you’re actually a decent person. But I think most people are more realistic than that.