Rupert Friend reveals his less serious side

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Old 20-Oct-2011
Rupert Friend reveals his less serious side

UNP ImageHe was always the obvious choice, but I was never one for Mr Darcy.

The perfect gentleman — polite and charming with all the right words and of course the ability to do the honourable thing whatever the circumstances.

No, for me the intrigue lay in Mr Wickham. In modern-day terms, he's the one your mother would tolerate while praying a Mr Darcy would come along and sweep you off your feet.

The bad boy

Wickham is the bad boy. He's the one who tells lies. The one who'd let you down at the last minute or run off with your best friend. He's the one who potentially could make life very difficult.

So imagine my fear/excitement/anxiety when I got a call from British actor Rupert Friend, who not only played the delightful Mr Wickham in the 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, but is not exactly known for his warm regard for the media. Gulp.

In preparation, I found myself trying to find a "cleverer" way of asking if the 30-year-old had ever been to Abu Dhabi.

Partly born of frustration thanks to his personal life being dragged through the press having dated Keira Knightley for the past five years, Friend has a reputation for making things uncomfortable for journalists who don't know their stuff.

"Is the United Arab Emirates a destination one has ever travelled to previously," I practised. Five minutes later, the line connected, what came out was: "So have you ever been to the UAE before?"

‘I can't wait'

And I'm glad, because Mr Wickham really isn't so bad after all and thrives on people being exactly who they really are.

"So many interviews seem to portray me as a serious guy, and I'm not really," said Friend who wanted to know whether I was in Abu Dhabi myself.

"Is it warm?" he quickly threw in. "I can't wait to come and see the place for myself.

"It's such a bonus to have the chance to come to a place like the UAE."

Friend's 16-minute short film Steve will close the fifth Abu Dhabi Film Festival Friday, and the British actor will be adding some star power to the closing night red carpet.

And while Friend is desperate to explore the Emirates, the red carpet isn't something he's looking forward to.


"It's absolutely terrifying," he said with an irony-laced laugh. "I recognise it's one of those things people enjoy, no matter what side of the carpet you're on, but it's really quite frightening. For a start, everybody is looking at you and I still haven't worked out what to say to the press."

Friend trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London and was named Outstanding New Talent at the 2005 Satellite Awards. That same year he was also nominated for Best Newcomer at the British Independent Film Awards.

But things weren't always so easy. Bullied incessantly from an early age at his Oxfordshire schools, for being "different", the actor says his antagonists can partly be credited for his success today.

"My advice to anyone going through the same thing is so take solace in the fact you are being singled out because you are talented. You are someone who has something to offer," he said. "I see that now."

Held down in the playground while other boys stubbed out cigarettes on his skin, he was targeted for being interested in stories and adventures.


"I wasn't interested in football. It made me different. I wore glasses, had bad hair, a funny name, you name it. The old mantra of telling someone doesn't work either, because it just gets worse. But those kids miss out on some very special collaborations which could change their lives."

And that's exactly what happened for Friend. Because his friends, unlike the mindless halfwits who ruined his school years, are now people the world looks up to.

Who else could make a short film with a three-actor castlist which reads Colin Firth, his ex-flame Knightley and Tom Mison?

"I believe in allowing an audience the opportunity to make up their own mind," he said admitting he'd avoided my question requesting info on the movie. "Intrigue is so much more effective. I don't like to be over-prescriptive of an audience. The same with a book or with art — people shouldn't read too much before they explore."

What we can reveal though is the film is enjoying rave reviews on the festival circuit having shown at more than 19, from London to Mexico.

Plucked from school

"It started as a story which I wrote to make my friends laugh," he offered as synopsis replacement. "Colin is a good friend of mine and I was explaining this character, Steve, and his eyes caught mine and we were thinking the same thing. I wasn't going to direct it, but as it treads a difficult line between drama and comedy I thought ‘why not'. I'm also cheaper, because I'm free."

His most notable role to date is arguably as Mr Wickham, but Friend also appeared opposite Johnny Depp in The Libertine, as Billy Downs, having been plucked from theatre school.

"I couldn't act my way out of a paper bag," he said, his personality really starting to show. "It was a time when people who paid for an education didn't try so hard. I didn't go to a good school but I promised them I was willing to learn and they gave me a chance."

Issues with assumptions, a hater of stereotypes and a passion for travel and horses, realist Friend is packed and set for Abu Dhabi.

"I am planning to go horse riding in the desert. It's the most fabulous way of seeing the landscape and what's more majestic than the natural desert? It's one of my 10 things to do before I die. It's all very brilliant to build bridges and buildings, but long after we're gone it will be the natural things in this world which will still be here."

Very true, Mr Wickham. Very true.

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