David's instinctive choice

SUFFOLK-based actor David Morrissey knew he had big shoes to fill when he auditioned for the role of Sharon Stone's paramour in Basic Instinct 2. In this belated sequel David is replacing Michael Douglas has the object of Sharon Stone's lusty affections in this tale of murder and psychological game-playing in London's fashionable Docklands.

By Andrew Clarke

SUFFOLK-based actor David Morrissey knew he had big shoes to fill when he auditioned for the role of Sharon Stone's paramour in Basic Instinct 2. In this belated sequel David is replacing Michael Douglas has the object of Sharon Stone's lusty affections in this tale of murder and psychological game-playing in London's fashionable Docklands.

Britain's David Morrissey, who sprang to fame playing Stephen Collins in the political thriller State of Play and Captain Gunther Weber in the big screen version of Captain Correlli's Mandolin, plays Dr Michael Glass, a police psychologist who is given ther task of assessing Stone's character - the murderous author Catherine Tramell - after she has killed a premier league football star in an auto-erotic accident.

But it doesn't take long for the manipulative Tramell to start playing mind-games with the smitten Dr Glass and it at that point that the psychologist's private and professional life start to disintergrate.

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Morrissey is part of a growing band of top rated British actors who are making Hollywood sit up and pay attention. Not since the hey day of the 1960s with the rise of Michael Caine, Peter O'Toole, Alan Bates, Tom Courtenay, Terence Stamp and Sean Connery have such a band of British acting talent taken Tinsel Town by storm.

David Morrissey joins the likes of Clive Owen, Ray Winstone, Jeremy Irons, Ben Kinglsey, Ralph Fiennes and Bill Nighy as Brits on Hollywood's A list.

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Morrissey, who lives with his wife author Esther Freud and their two children in north Suffolk, said that the film was too good an opportunity to turn down. “I was working on Stoned - the film about the life of Rolling Stone Brian Jones - when I got a call from Michael Caton-Jones saying that he wanted me to audition for Basic Instinct 2 and would I read a script that he was sending over.

“I read it immediately and thought it was a tremendous sexual thriller. It really leapt off the page and kept you guessing right up until the end. It was a classic thriller - almost Hitchcockian in its structure. It was about a man who finds himself trapped in a world outside his control. Catherine Tramell is a master manipulator and she enjoys living life on the edge.

“My character says early on that Tramell has a risk addiction and in that he was right - dangerously right.”

Although he was still busily working on Stoned, he said that he knew he wanted to do it, if only to work with Michael, who had made This Boy's Life with Robert De Niro - one of his favourite films.

“I flew out to LA with Michael to meet with Sharon. I think that was one of the first times that she had met with Michael as well. But we all got on very well. We did three or four scenes together and then I went back home and carried on making Stoned. I learned later that she saw something like 20 other leading men after me but fortunately I was the one who got the job.”

He said that being cast in a film with Charlotte Rampling and David Thewlis was also a dream come true. “I had never worked with either Charlotte or David before - although I am a great admirer of their work. David and I had a number of mutual friends and so we got on like a house on fire and Charlotte made life on set so easy. She's a great professional and I felt very honoured to work with her because she doesn't do many English language films these days and she was lovely to work with.”

David talks happily and easily about the film and obviously had a good time making it. “The people, my fellow cast members were a great part of what this film so enjoyable. The other part of what makes me choose one part over another or one film over another is the type of character that I play. That is one of the ruling criteria. Although it sounds rich at this point, but I am not that interested in leading roles - I would enjoy a smaller role or being part of an ensemble if the part I was given was an interesting one - something I could get my teeth into. I am not that concerned with always having my name over the title.”

He said that in Dr Michael Glass he could create a three-dimensional character - a man who is brought down by his own foibles and vulnerabilities. He is an educated psychiatrist and yet this doesn't prevent him from breaking the first rule of his profession - becoming emotionally involved with a patient. He can see his career falling apart, he realises that his colleagues and his friends are looking on in mounting horror and yet he can still do nothing about it.

“He's intrigued by Catherine that's why he does what he does. Also, at the same time, he's writing a paper which he hopes will blow apart the psychoanalytical world and Catherine is part of that study.” He said that the fact that he is her analyst and is bound by the confidentiality of their sessions together means that the rules and conventions of the contemporary thriller can be given full reign.

“It was a very challenging part but it was made easier by Michael who is a very down-to-earth Scottish guy with a great sense of humour which filtered its way into the filming process.

“Sharon appreciated that as well. We always had a laugh, which is very important when you're doing very tense scenes. Because this was a very dramatic film, it was like working in a pressure cooker at times, so in the downtime, laughter was a good way of releasing that tension - which was essential for me.”

He said that some of the most tense sequences revolved, not unexpectedly, around the sex scenes. So as an experienced actor does he always take a deep breath before accepting these kind of roles? David laughs: “I always take a deep breath, if only to bring in my stomach a bit. But no, it's not a problem as such because they are such technical scenes to shoot and just like any other scenes they are so fragmented and broken up into different shots that it's almost just like any other scene.

“I know everyone talks about the leg crossing scene in the first film but it was the film as a whole that got the people excited. With our film, there are explicit scenes but it is the overall story which is important. If you have got one hot sex scene but the film is rubbish, then it means nothing. The scene has to tell a story, it has to fit into the context of the rest of the film.”

But acting is not the be all and end all for David Morrissey who has also built up a reputation as a fine director which he says he would like to run in parallel with his acting career. “I say I would like it to run parallel because it has a disturbing habit of clashing but I suppose it will always like that because you are in the hands of those with their hands on the purse strings and the schedules of other actors.”

So far David has directed two short films and a couple of TV dramas as well as producing a French thriller L'Homme Du Train starring French singer turned actor Johnny Hallyday. “I have been very lucky with my casts. Passer By - a two part drama - starred James Nesbitt while Sweet Revenge starred Sophie Okonedo, Pam Ferris and Paul McGann. I was lucky to get Ian Hart to do a short film which helped establish my credentials as a director.

“I have always wanted to be a director - it's not that I have become disillusioned with being an actor. I love acting I always have but I see directing as probably the most creative part of the job because the director follows the project through from beginning to end. That's another reason why it's so good working with people like Michael Caton-Jones because you get to learn so much.

“I liked the way he worked. He was very straight forward. We'd rehearse but then when we were shooting he would suddenly pop up with his notes about whether what we were doing sounded truthful or not. He's a very instinctive director and I liked that.”

He said that although he is thrilled that George Clooney wins awards for films like Goodnight, Good Luck and Syriana, that Kenneth Branagh can still conjure up funding for top rate Shakespeare films, it's still not easy to secure cash to make films in Britain.

“It's never easy so it's very important to make each film count.” You get the impression that David, despite his success, is a very down-to-earth person - not easily swayed by the glamour and the bright lights of Hollywood. Perhaps it is because he and his family remain rooted in the Suffolk countryside.

“Sometimes I feel that I spend half my life driving up and down the A12 but whenever I come back to Suffolk I feel a wonderful sense of calm. You can just switch off - which in this day and age is very important. I love the fact where we live we are near the sea, in the countryside and it's a little haven away from the world - but still close enough to London for work.”

He said that he is equally happy working for television, theatre or movies. “What I look for is a sense of alchemy - some sort of magic that brings a film, television series or theatre alive.”

Basic Instinct 2 opens in cinemas across East Anglia this weekend.

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