Ebertfest: Dancy on 'Hysteria' and more

Ebertfest: Dancy on 'Hysteria' and more

CHAMPAIGN — Naming a character he's most enjoyed playing is tricky for Hugh Dancy.

The roles he's most fond of are not necessarily the ones people have heard of, the British actor says.

"In a way, the ones that were toughest at the time, looking back, are the ones I'm most glad that I did," said Dancy, who will be at Roger Ebert's Film Festival on Thursday with the movie "Hysteria."

"One was Adam in the movie 'Adam.' He had Asperger's, which I knew literally nothing about when I read the script, so it was pretty much a vertical learning curve for me and extra challenging for me as an actor because you're playing (a person) who has an empathy disorder.

"That's diametrically opposed to what acting is about, oddly, and ultimately a hard thing to do."

Before the film was shot in 2005 in New York City, Dancy read as many firsthand accounts as he could by people with Asperger's and then met with people with the syndrome, which falls on the autism spectrum.

"Ultimately, I was helped by a lot of people," he said. "Adam," directed by Max Mayer, was released in 2009 and won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Dancy also enjoyed portraying British schoolteacher Joe Connor in the 2005 movie "Beyond the Gates," set in 1994 Rwanda when tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis boiled over into genocide.

Connor and Father Christopher, a priest played by John Hurt, are caught up in the conflict and stay to help those seeking shelter at a school.

"I was working with the late, great John Hurt in Rwanda for a few months" about a decade after the genocide, Dancy said. "It was an extremely daunting thing to do, to approach that story in any shape or form. It's not anything you want to screw up. It was an amazing piece of work and life experience."

Dancy also has acted in theater in London and on Broadway and in television. He might be best known for his two recent roles on television:

— Will Graham, the gifted criminal profiler in the NBC series "Hannibal" who works with psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter to track down serial killers. The thriller ran for three seasons before it was canceled in 2015.

— The religious cult leader Cal Roberts in the Hulu original series "The Path," about a new-age spiritualist movement known as Meyerism. It's about to enter its third season.

He really likes portraying Cal Roberts and said he likes the show a lot.

"I wouldn't want to be a religious leader in real life," Dancy said. "Cal is pretty troubled. He has massive control and anger issues. That's just the beginning. In order to shore up his faith and belief system that he lives by, he ends up doing some fairly heinous things, and I found I enjoy that."

In "Hysteria," a 2011 rom-com, Dancy plays a doctor alongside another doctor portrayed by Jonathan Pryce. The two manually stimulate (under a blanket) female genitalia to cure their patients' "hysteria." The work leads Dancy's character, Dr. Mortimer Granville, to invent the vibrator — in the prudish Victorian era.

Granville is a mash-up of characters.

"Not only is it a composite, it's a pretty comical take on the thing," Dancy said. "I think the actual guy was substantially older than me. The story line blurs together a lot of things that were happening at the time, like the women's movement along with his particular invention."

Personally, Dancy said he enjoyed making the film, directed by Tanya Wexler, who also will be at Ebertfest, because it was shot in London and Luxembourg and he was able to work with Pryce, of "Monty Python" fame.

"I grew up admiring him," Dancy said. "It was great to work with him. I worked with Rupert Everett as well. It was a very good experience."

Dancy first began acting as a 13-year-old at a boarding school in England. At the time he was rebellious, "a bit of a tearaway," as he told The Independent.

"I was sent to the school theater," he told The News-Gazette. "They told me to keep myself busy. Someone told me — not asked me — to be in a play. I didn't have a choice. That was that. It turned out I liked it."

After graduating, he didn't want to become a professional actor right away. So he studied literature at Oxford. He knew, though, that he eventually wanted to act for a living.

Since 2009, Dancy has been married to actress Claire Danes, who stars in the Showtime series "Homeland." They have one child, Cyrus.

They will not be able to accompany Dancy to Champaign. The family lives in New York — where Danes grew up — rather than in California.

"It's possible to do that and still have a career and I can get back to Europe to see my family relatively easily," Dancy said. "For all those reasons, I've always been glad when I go to Hollywood that I have something to retreat to."

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