Ioan Gruffudd

King Arthur

Interviewed by Stella Papamichael

“I made the very foolish error of deciding to curl my eyelashes every morning ”

Ioan Gruffudd came to prominence as TV's favourite seafaring fop Horatio Hornblower, although he also featured as a dandy boy in Wilde and the much more manly Fifth Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe in Titanic. Megabucks producer Jerry Bruckheimer first came across him on casting rounds for Black Hawk Down and gave him a small role as Lt John Beales. The Welshman obviously made an impression, as Bruckheimer later offered him the much-coveted role of Lancelot in Antoine Fuqua's big budget retelling of the Arthurian legend, King Arthur.

How did you feel about this radical re-telling of the Arthurian legend?

I think that's the beauty of these stories: that you can make an Excalibur [the John Boorman movie] and you can make our version of King Arthur because it's a story that's evolved and been embellished over the centuries.

Do you subscribe to the theory that King Arthur was a Welshman?

Yes! I still believe to this day that Arthur was a Welshman. But no, there's this 6th century poet who speaks about this Roman commander who was at this war and that's what we're describing in this film - Lucius Artorius Castus, who was a real person. But certainly a lot of the names of the knights have come from these famous Welsh fables, and in one of the books all the knights are named, and there's over a hundred of them at least. So I'm very familiar with the legend.

What's your favourite telling of it?

A Spaceman In King Arthur's Court, which is an old Disney film. Or Excalibur.

You had to make unusual preparations for this role, didn't you? Apparently it took you quite a while to grow that little beard...

Yes, I think it took me about three months to grow that little scraggly one I had. And being Celtic, it turned out red, so I had to get it painted in every day to get that black effect.

And what's the story behind those lovely eyelashes?

Ah. I made the very foolish error of deciding to be one of the vainest knights of them all and so I decided to curl my eyelashes every morning. Unfortunately I was caught out by Ray Winstone one morning, and, as you can imagine, word got around very quickly. I soon become known as Sir Lashalot!

You tried on a kilt too, didn't you?

Oh, yes. Yes. I see where this is... When I went to the costume fitting, [costumer designer] Penny Rose had put Hugh Dancy, who plays Galahad, in a kilt and it worked with him - he really looks great in a kilt - but she put me in a kilt and I looked like a drag queen! So I just decided to go with the leather trousers, leather boots, and a leather tunic, and chainmail on the arms to, you know, make me look a little bit more masculine. And then I went and spoilt it all by curling my eyelashes.

Aside from the soft eyelashes, this version of Sir Lancelot has quite an edge to him, doesn't he?

Yes. The way David [Franzioni] had written it in the script he was a much darker, more brooding, angrier character. All he's known throughout his life is killing and warring, so it was pretty obvious from the writing how to go about playing him. I enjoyed the fact that he is this darker character and different from the traditional telling to the story of him as this gallant, noble knight of knights in shining armour. I think he becomes a much more realistic character, and a more human character.

This was a very physical role for you. Did it sometimes feel like hard work?

All the guys would admit that, as much as it was hard work every day being on the back of a horse, it was also quite exhilarating.

Exhilarating?

It's one of the best ways to clear the cobwebs from the night before, certainly, just to get on a horse. And there's no real acting involved when you're doing that. You're in your costume and you're on the back of a horse and you've got Hadrian's Wall built there for you, so you don't have to imagine it. And the physical aspect was - for me anyway - much more exhilarating than it was hard work.

You must also be exhilarated about landing the role of Mr Fantastic in Fantastic Four?

I'm delighted and I'm grateful. I'm grateful for the fact that I was in this film because I'm sure that was a huge element of me getting that part.

What do you say to the people who think you're too young for the part?

Well, I mean, there's always makeup, isn't there?