Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Friend and Kathy Bates in French Kissing

When Rupert Friend played the dashing Mr Wickham in Pride & Prejudice, it seemed he might sweep Keira Knightley's younger onscreen sister, Lydia, off her feet.

Of course, it was Knightley herself who succumbed to the actor's charms while making the 2005 film and the pair have been an item ever since. Not that anyone would know, because, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, they are rarely photographed together.

Friend may have had onscreen romances with two of the world's most beautiful women - Michelle Pfeiffer in Cheri and Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria - and be evolving into a star himself but don't expect him to talk about his own relationship. Still, the soft-spoken 27-year-old is interesting in his own right and turns out to be quite a boozer, much like Cheri, his young man-about-town in Stephen Frears' film.

Set in early 20th-century Paris during a decadent a time known as the belle epoque, Cheri is based on a 1920 book by Colette, who lived the liberal life of her times.

Her story recalls a time when wealthy courtesans helped dictate the latest fashion trends after bedding the wealthiest and noblest of men.

As one might imagine, the courtesans weren't the best of mothers and this certainly is true of Cheri's mother, Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates), who soon realises her son is mediocre husband material.

A sharp dresser, Cheri has never contemplated any form of discipline and has managed to get by thus far on his looks and money.

When his mother palms him off to her courtesan friend Lea (Pfeiffer) so the older woman might instruct him in society's ways, the last thing anyone imagines is their falling in love.

After more than six years of living together, an ageing Lea must relinquish her aloof lover to an arranged wife. While he doesn't seem to mind, she is devastated.

"Cheri's a path-of-least-resistance guy and he's incredibly greedy," Friend notes.

"He believes he has the dowry from his wife; they can have a child or whatever and he can carry on with his diffident ways. He's also a product of his society and realises that for social acceptance, to climb up the social ladder, he needs a wife and family. He is quite callous."

Beneath Cheri's impeccably clothed exterior lies a sad, empty man - a character Colette created to reflect not only the courtesans but the high-class society in general.

"It seems like they don't have a care in the world, that they're bored rich people," Friend muses. "But underneath there's a deep undercurrent of vulnerability and yearning. Anita Pallenberg [the swinging '60s icon plays a former courtesan turned opium den owner] puts it concisely: 'You have everything you could possibly want but it doesn't mean a thing."'

Friend admits being nervous when approaching his most extensive love scenes to date.

"Michelle's an icon but I didn't really grow up watching films and I discovered her in Tim Burton's Batman Returns, in Frankie and Johnny and in Scarface rather late. I imagined her as someone who only exists up there on a magical screen, in Hollywood, so it was like stepping into the screen when sharing scenes with her. I was terrified - I mean, I would be crazy not to be."

Pfeiffer, 51, an old-hand at movie intimacy, was happy they went straight into the love scenes without much ado. "I wouldn't say I get nervous doing it but because it's uncomfortable I like to get it over and done with," she admits, laughing. "Still, the scenes were very important to the story, so we didn't want to give them short shrift."

Stephen Frears, who reunites with his Dangerous Liaisons writer, Christopher Hampton, as well as Pfeiffer for similarly raunchy period material, had taken a risk on casting Friend, a relative unknown, to play a 19-year-old. The actor's thin, almost feminine beauty helps him look much younger.

"Rupert sort of blossomed through the film," Frears says.

Given his distaste for the media focus on his girlfriend, it's understandable that Friend has adopted a low-key approach to his career, which began in The Libertine alongside Johnny Depp and also saw him with a blond dye-job playing a Nazi officer in The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas.

He likes to transform into characters and audiences should look forward to his portrayal of Prince Albert, the man Queen Victoria (Blunt) mourned for half her life.

"When I first met Emily, I had to audition with other potential Alberts," he recalls.

"It's rare that an actress is allowed to choose but the director wanted to see if there was chemistry in place. I was filming The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas so it was a bit of a stretch. But she chose me."

The rest, of course, is history.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: