Daniel Deronda: Who's Who

Daniel Deronda Daniel Deronda
played by Hugh Dancy

Daniel Deronda is sensitive, caring, and highly intelligent, but haunted by doubts about his own identity. Drawn to Gwendolen Harleth the moment he sees her at the roulette table, he senses the vulnerability and despair lurking behind her brilliant façade.

The scope of the role as the eponymous hero of George Eliot's passionate love story immediately drew Hugh Dancy to Andrew Davies's adaptation. It was at Oxford, where he studied English language and literature, that Dancy first discovered the character he would one day bring to life onscreen. "I'd read the book a long time before I got the script, and my residual memory from that was the breadth of the story," he says, "the progression that he goes through and what he learns about himself."

Dancy praises Davies's adaptation. "Everybody knows that if you adapt a novel for television or for the screen, you're involved in a work of translation, and, like any kind of translation, you're going to have a different product at the end. But with Andrew Davies attached, and other people [including producer Louis Marks] who were involved with [a 1994 adaptation of Eliot's] Middlemarch, they're not about to introduce some theme that isn't there. Nor are they going to split it down the middle and just keep the nice bits," he says. "You have to have faith in the original work of art, and they have. A lot of our discussions when we were on set would involve going back to the book, because you have this perfect blueprint."

As the son of a philosophy professor, Dancy, the eldest of three, might have been expected to take the path to academia. "My father's an academic, and both of my grandfathers taught Classics. It's something to do with being the eldest son, but I reacted quite strongly against that world quite early on, and I didn't want to go into it."

He began to act when he was only 13. Adept at several accents and dialects, from Welsh to South African to Southern American, he has starred in a number of other films and plays, both period and contemporary: Madame Bovary [with Deronda co-star Hugh Bonneville]; Guy Jenkins's The Sleeping Dictionary; Ridley Scott's Hollywood blockbuster Black Hawk Down; and Sam Mendes's play To The Green Fields Beyond.

Upcoming films include the thriller Tempo with Melanie Griffith and Rachael Leigh Cook, and Ella Enchanted, a traditional fairy tale with a modern slant.