- Photography by Mr Tom Craig
- Styling by Mr Dan May, Style Director, MR PORTER
- Words by Ms Lesley White
On a crowded Notting Hill street recently, a voice rang out loud and clear. "There's that serial killer!" The accused, Mr Jamie Dornan, shakes his head as he recalls this experience of public recognition. "It's not a reaction you really need." For a man fresh from terrorising the population of Belfast, albeit in a television drama, he has nothing of the unhinged about him, no flicker of menace, only the genuine charm of someone who is never trying to charm. Curled up in an armchair at Little House Mayfair, clutching a cappuccino or latte ("I don't know the difference," he says), he is also perched on the cusp of a serious acting career, powered beyond expectations by his chilling performance in The Fall, the BBC's Belfast-set thriller. In the series he plays Paul Spector, a monster so anonymous in his muted sweaters, button-down shirts and ubiquitous green anorak (which Mr Dornan loathed) that he is almost invisible. The actor miraculously packed away the good looks - lapis lazuli eyes, delicate bones, he even has pretty ears - that made him reputedly the highest-paid male model in the world.
He couldn't be happier to move on. Essentially, Mr Dornan is a 31-year-old Northern Irish bloke who just happens to photograph like a dream. He loved his County Down childhood, even with the sadness of losing his mother to cancer when he was 16, and had no burning desire to get away from the town of Holywood, where he grew up. "It's where my heart is," he says, and at his wedding in Somerset in April eight of his groomsmen were friends from back home.
I think photographers and
directors realise that my face doesn't
quite work without a beard. I'm not
happy without one
In person, this privately educated son of an eminent obstetrician, who was raised in a leafy suburb, is droll, likeable, measured and not the least bit vain. He says he enjoyed modelling for the fascinating creative types he met; but I think, really, that it swept him along on a magic carpet ride so lucrative that it would have been mad to get off and go to drama school, as he originally intended. "I got everything out of that world that you can get. And I never did a fashion show," he adds proudly. "It was part of my Dior contract to open its shows in Milan... but we had that written out as I have a funny, bouncy walk - not cool. It wouldn't make a suit look any better."
He was booked by famed photographer Mr Bruce Weber 12 years ago, more or less immediately after stepping off the boat to the UK from Ireland ("A plane to Stanstead and two trains, actually"), and this break was followed by a parade of elite modelling campaigns, his first film role in Ms Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, parts in small movies and a big one in the hit US fairy-tale drama series Once Upon a Time. "But it's only recently that I really decided I wanted to act," he says.
While the first episodes of The Fall were airing, he and his wife, Ms Amelia Warner (an actress and musician who now owns a vintage shop called Found and Vision) were driving across the US in a convertible Mustang. "No one likes to bother you on your honeymoon," he laughs, "but I was thinking, 'It's been on for 30 seconds and no-one's been in touch...'" Their romantic trip, which lasted five weeks, saw Mr Dornan drive 6,000 miles (Ms Warner doesn't drive), taking in LA, where the couple spend half of the year anyway, "drinking, playing table tennis, bumming around", blissfully undisturbed by his impending celebrity status. Mr Dornan's former romance with Ms Keira Knightley offered him a taste of that gilded cage, and he feels lucky that his private life is currently left out of the spotlight. "My level of fame," he says gratefully, "has no impact on my life."
That might change, however. The second series of The Fall is set to begin shooting in January, and Mr Dornan will be able to forget the self-doubt that dogged him first time around, when his casting was an act of faith (and obstinacy) on the part of writer Mr Allan Cubitt. "In my first speaking scene I was thinking, 'Ok, this is it, they'll be firing me now.' There was nothing on my CV that warranted my being there," he says. But at least he knew he wasn't on set to look hot, or adorable, or even vaguely decorative.
Against all odds, Mr Dornan is unimpressed by his own looks. As a rugby-playing teenager he was constantly labelled "cute" by his older sister's friends, while he longed to appear manly and sporty. His solution was facial hair: as soon as hormones permitted he grew a beard - now neatly groomed but with dangerously bushy ambitions - and if it has to be shaved for acting he is seriously "humpy" about it. "I think photographers and directors realise that my face doesn't quite work without a beard. I look too young to sell clothes. Too young to be a dad. Too young for anything... I'm still fighting the cute thing. I'm not happy without a beard."
Once upon a time
Mr Dornan as Sheriff Graham Humbert and Ms Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan in the first season of the fantasy drama, 2011
Mr Dornan as serial killer Paul Spector in this year's acclaimed BBC drama, also starring Ms Gillian Anderson
Mr Dornan as Count Fersen and Ms Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette in the 2006 film
The Red Carpet
Mr Dornan and his wife Ms Warner attend the Irish Film and Television Awards at The Convention Centre, Dublin, February 2013
Indeed, he finds himself gripped by bouts of beard envy, and was recently mesmerised by the facial forest of a commuter on London's Central line. "This man's beard was massive and I was just staring at it. I loved how he owned his face, but I didn't say 'I love your beard'." Mr Dornan's restraint was wise, since his remarkably resilient nose has already been broken three times: at 15 he was hit in the face with a ball by his tennis coach for cheekiness, the second time was a rugby collision, and the third a head-butt in Infernos bar in Clapham, South London. The latter incident involved a rude fellow who was informed by an inebriated Mr Dornan that his behaviour was especially unacceptable since it was National Courtesy Day (a fact that he had gleaned from watching UK daytime TV show Today With Des & Mel that morning). He staggered home, swilled down some ibuprofen, slept for 14 hours and awoke covered in congealed blood. It is not a story one would associate with the former ambassador for the Calvin Klein lifestyle, remembered for his famous beach shoot with Ms Eva Mendes - the pair grappling like two beautiful oiled seals - and having Ms Natalia Vodianova "taking a bite out of my arse" on yet another beach, but Mr Dornan twinkles in the telling.
Right now he would like nothing better than to hit the gym and start lifting weights, but smashing his shoulder in a skiing accident four years ago has meant two operations in the past six months - he pulls down his T-shirt to reveal tiny punctures resulting from keyhole surgery - and almost constant pain. The pull-ups of Paul Spector's fitness regime and his fight scenes in The Fall were agony, and when we part he is off to a physio session that he hopes will kick-start a recovery which will allow him to get into shape. "I have massive insecurities about how I look and will do for the rest of my life. I'm amazed if people are happy in their own skin. I see someone and I think, 'F**k him, look at him, he's got way better arms than me.'"
And yet behind all this self-deprecation, Mr Dornan's ego is in robust health and working a pacy double act with his wry sense of humour. He tells me his dream role would be playing his hero, the veteran US comedian Mr Don Rickles, for which he would shave not only his beard but any other body part that required it. "They'll probably give it to De Niro," he sighs. "They are mates after all."