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Stuart Townsend - Biography

TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Stuart Townsend - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web

Stuart Townsend

Personal details

Name: Stuart Townsend
Born: 15 December 1972 (Age: 42)
Where: Howth, Ireland
Height: 5' 11"
Awards: No major awards

All about this star


Like pop musicians, British and Irish actors seem to invade America in waves. Back in the late Eighties and early Nineties, it was Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Daniel Day-Lewis. Come the new millennium, a new crop had sprung up with Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Paul Bettany and - a dark horse coming up on the rails - Stuart Townsend. Townsend didn't hang about. Such was his charisma and innate ability, he was starring in Hollywood blockbusters when his film credits were still in single figures.

He was born on the 15th of December, 1972, in Howth, a quiet fishing village on a peninsula just north of Dublin, near a tiny island named Ireland's Eye. His father, Peter, was a pro golfer, then at the peak of his success. A three-time winner of the British Boys Championship, he'd win three tournaments on the European tour, and appeared in the Ryder Cup teams of 1969 and 1971. He'd also rise back to prominence just as Stuart hit Hollywood, in March 2002 winning the Barbados Seniors Open, his first title since 1978.

Peter took a young Irish wife, Lorna, who'd become one of her country's top models - the pair's work causing Stuart to wait 13 years for his brother Dylan, and 15 for sister Chloe. So Stuart grew up as an only child, enduring the claustrophobic life of a small town where everyone knew everything about everyone. As a child he was a devout Catholic, dragging his rather less zealous mother along to church. Always interested in films (though with no thought at all of a career in acting), he spent much of his time in the local video store - the village had no cinema. He still recalls the sadness he felt when he'd finally watched every movie in the shop. Otherwise he was a pretty wayward teen. He'd get into fist fights on the last bus home (the bus eventually being cancelled forever). He lost his virginity to a married woman while on an exchange trip to France, the woman having a whip hanging over her bed (he was pleased she didn't use it). And he was expelled from school on three separate occasions.

His problem, as an adolescent, was that he had no definite vocation. Like many of his countryfolk, all he wanted was to escape the confines of small-town Ireland, travel far, far away, and never have to work in an office. But there was no way out - not, at least, until he enjoyed a particularly fortuitous twist of fate. In his late teens he was dating a girl who was attending the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin. Previously, he's said, he thought acting classes were for kids, he didn't realise adults could try it. But, deciding to give it a whirl, he went along for a couple of weeks, found that he liked it and auditioned successfully for a two-year course.

Stuart's debut stage performance was in a school production of Patrick Sutton's Tear Up The Black Sail at the Project. Later would come two productions of Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy at the Gaiety. Stuart would play two small parts in the first, but by the second he'd risen to the status of Behan's best friend. Graduating in 1994, he and his friends set up their own theatre group, Ether For Lunch, and devised a show based on the children's TV show The Magic Roundabout. It was a great laugh, Stuart later saying "You have no idea how much fun it is playing Ermentrude the Cow".

Jealously watching as friends and acquaintances won film roles, many of them in the Irish epic Michael Collins, Stuart's first professional role was in fellow thespian John Crowley's True Lines, a production that demanded seven weeks of improvisation and two of research. It changed constantly - in the first version Stuart's character lived, in the second he died. The play was staged at the Dublin Theatre Festival and, a great success, moved on to the Bush Theatre in London. In the meantime, Stuart gained valuable experience in a number of student films, including the short Godsuit.

Finally, he scored his first film role, in Gillies MacKinnon's Trojan Eddie (tragically too late for his mum to see it - she died, at only 43, in 1994). MacKinnon was then a hot indie property after Small Faces, a gritty but absolutely hilarious tale from Glasgow's fiercest estates. Now he came to Ireland. Trojan Eddie is the name of Stephen Rea's small-time crook, who works for and is wholly dominated by Richard Harris's big boss. Harris is getting married to a much younger girl, but on their wedding day she skips town with her secret lover, Harris's nephew - this is Stuart, whose looks and overt sensuality would often see him playing lovers. Harris is understandably annoyed, especially as they've taken all the wedding gifts, and Rea is ordered to track the naughty elopers down.

It was an accomplished movie, but not a major release. It did, though, secure Stuart the services of a London agent who quickly acquired him a role in London-set Shooting Fish. Here Stuart played a geeky English techno boffin who teams up with fast-talking American Dan Futterman to pull off a series of ingenious scams. Employing as a secretary Kate Beckinsale, who's trying to stop her avaricious fiance from seizing the family home and ruining the life of her retarded brother, it just gets more and more complicated - in the cheeriest possible way. Stuart was excellent, though not keen on the haircut he was given. Director Stefan Schwartz did not think the first version goofy enough, so he took to hacking at Stuart's hair himself.

To get the chemistry going between the two male leads, Schwartz had them go out on Oxford Street and try to sell car alarms that supposedly fired a mighty bolt of electricity through any would-be thief. They also had to pull another scam --which Schwartz filmed - where Futterman had to sell expensive perfume on a street-corner. Stuart would come up when a crowd had gathered, and claim to be on his way to see his girlfriend in Guildford. Futterman would persuade him to buy her perfume, and Stuart would hand over a '50 note, only to see Futterman grab it and run. Stuart would give brief chase, only to fall over a cunningly placed bag. Then he'd burst into tears - prompting all the good ladies watching in horror to give him money for his trip to Guildford. It worked - the guy was a genuine charmer, and no mistake.

Stuart's next movie took him far away from loveable roguishness. In Under The Skin, Samantha Morton played Iris, a girl who, when her mother dies, seeks solace in sex with strangers. Meeting Stuart in a cinema, they have rampant sex in an alley and she gets obsessive, losing most of her self-respect in a series of sordid incidents. Alienating friends and family, can she stop this terrible downward spiral?

In many respects, Stuart's next movie was even more depressing. Resurrection Man saw his first outright lead role and concerned a Protestant gang in Seventies Belfast, modelled on the Shankhill Butchers. As Victor Kelly, a natural-born vicious thug who dreams of matching James Cagney in The Public Enemy, Stuart joins the gang and, by proving himself more cruel and murderous than the rest, takes over. The cuttings, beatings and torturings are absolutely grotesque, thoroughly horrifying, but Stuart, even at his most brutish, remains compelling, even attractive. Despite his vile behaviour, we feel almost like his screen mother, Brenda Blethyn, who refuses to see any bad in the boy.

Now Stuart moved on to his first bomb, Simon Magus, which sadly received next to no promotion and disappeared without trace. Here he played a young romantic in a pre-war Jewish community in Silesia, who wants to buy land from squire Rutger Hauer so he can build a railway station and thus help out the woman he loves - a widowed shopkeeper played by the wonderful Embeth Davidtz. Meanwhile a gentile is moving in on the land, and using Simon Magus, a Jewish outcast who claims to get messages from the devil, to help him. Weirdly and prophetically, Magus is also suffering visions of increasing clarity - visions that show him the railway line being used to transport Jews to the death camps.

After this came Wonderland, directed by Michael Winterbottom, executive producer of Resurrection Man (he'd also directed Welcome To Sarajevo and would later helm the Madchester story, 24 Hour Party People). This concerned three sisters in South London, each of them looking for love, affection, any kind of human connection that will save them from loneliness. One sees men after hours in her hair salon. Another, played by Gina McKee, takes out personal ads. So once again Stuart, as the quiet Tim, stepped in as a mysterious love interest, showing McKee that not all men replying to ladies' ads are psychopathic beasts.

Keen to widen his scope, Stuart took on The Venice Project, an ambitious art-house flick that, flitting between parties celebrating Venice's Biennales in 1999 and 1699, explored the influence of art and changing attitudes to it. Alongside Lauren Bacall, Dennis Hopper, Linus Roache and Stockard Channing, Stuart played dual roles, one in each time. He was particularly amusing in 1699, as a jester named Gippo who claims that art in the future will be abstract and experimental - outraging the Count who has him tossed into the Canale Grande. Three hundred years later, he turns up as Lark, Bacall's fun-loving relative who's having an affair with the sexy family maid. Now he claims that the future will be dominated by invisible art - the theory being that if you can't see it, you can't buy it or control it, therefore art cannot be sullied. During shooting, the villa where many of the cast were housed caught a-blaze due to an electrical fire in the library. Only the swift action of co-star Dean Stockwell averted disaster.

Despite Stockwell's heroics, Stuart found another of his co-stars far more appealing, for a while dating indie darling Parker Posey. Work-wise, he now moved on to a French production, set in London, called Mauvaise Passe (or The Escort) and co-written by Hanif Kureishi and director Michel Blanc. Here Daniel Auteuil, star of Jean De Florette, played a middle-aged French fellow who, for some reason, has fled to London. Badly assaulted in Soho, he's helped out by Stuart, a caf' owner who moonlights as a gigolo, who takes on the role of Auteuil's pimp, setting him up with a variety of women. Unfortunately, the two guys fall out and everything goes horribly wrong.

Of course, Stuart, with those sultry looks and absurd levels of charm, made a perfect gigolo. And his next role demanded more of the same - much, much more. About Adam took him back to Dublin where he really had to turn on the sex appeal. Seducing waitress Kate Hudson, he proceeds to get it on with both her sisters - played by Charlotte Bradley and the brilliant Frances O'Connor - and pretty much everyone else who crosses his path, including the girls' brother and his girlfriend. It was an outrageous part that very few actors could pull off. But Stuart managed it with ease.

After this came the dark comedy The Payback All-Star Revue, where Stuart led a gang of oddball musicians in a $100 million hold-up at the Vegas Riviera Casino where they're playing. Smart and sassy, he refuses to surrender to the police until he's told his story to journalist Joshua Jackson. It was a neat idea, but came way too close to the blockbusting Ocean's Eleven to stand any chance.

But, what the heck, Stuart's star was in the ascendant. He'd been chosen to play Aragorn in Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy. With the world soon to be at his feet, off he went to New Zealand for two months preparation. But then, a few days into shooting, he found himself sacked, and replaced by Viggo Mortensen. Jackson claimed this was due to breach of contract and "director-artist creative chemistry problems", the implication being that Stuart was "difficult". But other stories circulated, tales of absent directors, non-existent scripts and a creative process overshadowed by computer technology. Stuart was furious, but mostly kept silent, noting only his anger when they got him an acting coach and his conviction that they'd simply got the wrong man. "They recast the role with a guy who's 20 years older than me and a completely different type," he said. "It's obvious they wanted something completely different for the role and made a mistake". Maybe they did, Stuart is very slight in build - much more a lover than a gnarled fighter.

Whatever, things were still on the up. Turning down the lead in Gangster Number 1 (which would launch the career of Paul Bettany) and returning to the stage, Stuart had spent nine weeks in the summer of 2000 at the Donmar Warehouse, in Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending, directed by Nicholas Hytner, helmsman of The Madness Of King George. Here he played young, guitar-playing drifter Val Xavier who wanders into a seething Southern town and is taken in by storekeeper Lady Torrance, played by Helen Mirren, who's trapped in a dead marriage. For a while, the pair find comfort in love, despite the bigotry, violence and insanity all around them. Despite his intimidating leading lady, Stuart grew into the role quickly, looking groovy in a snakeskin jacket and singing and playing well (Stuart was always a keen instrumentalist).

This would serve him well in his next role - his major league breakthrough. Director Michael Rymer had signed up to make Queen Of The Damned, a kind of sequel to Interview With The Vampire that would draw upon the second and third books of Anne Rice's series. What he needed was a man to play Lestat (Tom Cruise in the original), as a rock star, as a lover and as a killer. Wes Bentley was approached, so was Heath Ledger. But then Rymer saw Townsend in Orpheus Descending - he could sing, he could play, he could strut and he could seduce. When the director subsequently watched Resurrection Man, with Stuart pasty-faced and psychotic, the deal was sealed.

So off to Australia went Stuart, to play the demon rock star whose music awakens Akasha, the first ever vampire, mother of them all and titular Queen Of The Damned (played by Aaliyah, who'd die in a plane crash just before the shoot ended). Before this, though, he'd visited author Rice in New Orleans. He tells a particularly spooky story about the occasion. Rice gave him a copy of her novel The Witching Hour, he said, and told him to turn to page 486. He did and saw "The Life Of Stuart Townsend" written there. "I was like %u2018Oh, Anne, that's so sweet that you put me in one of your books', he said, "and she said %u2018Stuart, I wrote that book eleven years ago'."

The shoot went well, with Stuart overcoming the major obstacle of having to perform live onstage before 3000 extras, delivering songs written by Jonathan Davis of Korn. And the film did well, debuting at Number One in the US box office charts.

Now Stuart was a big deal, and he moved on to Trapped (formerly known as 24 Hours). Here he played Dr Will Jennings, a renowned anaethesiologist with his wife being played by Charlize Theron. The couple's daughter is kidnapped by Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love, who do not count on the fact that the girl is asthmatic and, more importantly, that Stuart and Charlize kick ass. The film, fittingly given Mrs Cobain's involvement, was filmed in Seattle.

Despite only appearing in a couple of scenes with Theron, the couple were on the shoot together for three full months, becoming real-life partners. Unlike so many actor-pairings, they would jealously guard their privacy, choosing to go camping in the wilds of Australia and the US rather than courting maximum publicity. They'd get engaged in 2003.

That same year would see Stuart appear in Shade, a gambling drama that saw Gabriel Byrne and Thandie Newton as a card-sharp con-team who recruit Stuart and Jamie Foxx to help bring down underground kingpin The Dean, played by Sylvester Stallone. Though far superior to the just-released Confidence, the movie was shelved until a festival success finally ensured distribution.

No such problem was had by the blockbusting League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Based on the Alan Moore comic, this saw many of the great fictional characters of the late 1800s drawn together to stop a mad megalomaniac from blowing up a meeting of European leaders and starting a world war. Sean Connery starred as Allan Quartermain, with Stuart appropriately chosen to play Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray - who here cannot die unless he sees his own portrait. It should have been a smash. Unfortunately, the project suffered throughout, with millions of dollars' worth of sets being destroyed by the floods in Prague in the summer of 2002, and Connery immersed in dreadful battles with the director. Eventually the movie would emerge as a triumph of action over substance and would not be the hoped-for financial hit.

Still, there was Charlize. Now hot Hollywood property, she demanded Stuart be taken onto her next project, Head In The Clouds. Directed by John Duigan (of Sirens and Lawn Dogs), this was a sweeping 1930s romance that saw Theron's hedonistic Gilda Besse drawn towards more serious matters when her friends, Townsend and Penelope Cruz, involve themselves in the battle against Spanish fascism.

Very few actors - very few MALE actors, anyway - have so often played lovers. They'll all be seen to make love, so we know they're not, like, FAGGY, or something. But such are Stuart Townsend's looks, his charm, his ready lasciviousness that many of his characters are lovers. That is, they are there to seduce - that's what they DO, that's ALL they do. In About Adam and as the Vampire Lestat, he surely peaked. It's to be hoped that the future brings him more varied roles. He can certainly deal with them.

Dominic Wills


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