Theo James Plays A Romantic Lead With An Aversion To Romance

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The dashing Sidney Parker floats in and out of his brother Tom’s seaside enterprise of Sanditon with barely a word besides. But Theo James — already a MASTERPIECE fan favorite from his memorable role in the first season of Downton Abbey — has plenty to say about this new series and his character’s seemingly icy resolve.

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Transcript

Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.

Sidney Parker is a mysterious man. Dashingly charming one minute and bitterly cold the next, he floats in and out of his brother Tom’s passion project of Sanditon with little more than a passing word.

CLIP

Sidney The promotion of Sanditon is a very delicate business, which I’m sure you truly understand. But I am trying my best for you.

Tom Try. That is all I ask, brother.

Jace: He catches Charlotte Heywood’s eye and lends her an ear, only to brutally dismiss her candor in a vicious putdown at the season opening ball.

CLIP

Sidney Where have you been? Nowhere. What have you learnt? Nothing, it would seem. And yet you take it upon yourself to criticize – let me put it to you, Miss Heywood. Which is the better way to live? To sit in your father’s house with your piano and your embroidery, waiting for someone to come along and take you off your parents’ hands – or to expend your energy in trying to make a difference – to leave your mark – to leave the world in a better state than you found it? That is what my brother Tom is trying to do, at the expense of a great deal of effort and anxiety, in a good cause in which I do my best to support and help him, and you see fit to amuse yourself at his expense?

Jace: Still, Sidney is surprised by Charlotte’s unexpected skill at setting Old Stringer’s leg after an accident on a construction site, and, for once, he finally seems to soften towards Miss Heywood. But only a bit.

CLIP

Sidney I must admit Miss Heywood, you’ve given a good account of yourself today. I should never expected you to be so capable.

Charlotte Because I am a young woman? Or because up until now you’ve dismissed me as frivolous?.

Jace Actor Theo James is already familiar to MASTERPIECE fans, thanks to his scene-stealing role as the seductive Turkish diplomat-turned-corpse, Mr. Pamouk, in the first season of Downton Abbey. James joined us to explore the ongoing legacy of Mr. Pamouk, the hard-working bustle of Sanditon, and the truth of where Sidney’s heart really lies.

Jace And this week, we are joined by Sanditon star Theo James. Welcome.

Theo James Hi. Yes, welcome to me. Thank you.

Jace You’re certainly no stranger to period drama breaking out as Mr. Pamouk, who is sexed to death by Lady Mary in the first season of Downton Abbey. What attracts you to period roles such as Sidney Parker?

Theo Well, I actually I that was the last period piece I’d done, that death of Mr. Pamouk. So I haven’t done it for a while. That was one of my first jobs. But I always like it. You know, it’s a staple in Britain, but it’s also a way of telling classic stories that we all love. And they you know, Jane Austen, for example, always has great, complex male and female characters. So it’s a no brainer in that sense. But I think initially, you know, it was an unfinished Jane Austen novel, i.e. something that’s never been done. And it was Andrew Davies, who I think if anyone’s going to adapt an unfinished work, it’s him. You know, he has the legacy and the legitimacy to do that. He’s not only adapted a lot before, but he’s proven he can do Jane Austen in a really complex, beautiful way, but also have that classic Andrew Davies sparkle in the eye, that wit and that humor. So those were the things that initially attracted me when you’re looking at a package, I guess. But then, you know, Sidney Parker, I loved from the beginning because he’s he’s very closed, quite judgmental, quite unlikable for the first couple of episodes. But then, you know, we start to warm to him in episode three or at least understand him. And I think that’s a great place to start. And it’s also an ability to bring complexity to male kind of romantic heroes, as it were, inverted commas. That their relationship. his and Charlotte Haywood’s, begins in a fractious way. You know, they they dislike each other and they misunderstand each other deeply. But through the course of the show, we start to understand that they have a burgeoning respect for each other and respect turns into love and friendship.

Jace I mean, he’s sort of unapologetically cruel to Charlotte Heywood the first few episodes.

CLIP

Sidney I don’t think of you at all, Miss Heywood. I am not interested in your approval or disapproval. Quite simply, I don’t care what you think, or how you feel. I am sorry if that disappoints you, but there it is. Have I made myself clear?

Charlotte Only if you really don’t care, I wonder that you take the trouble to be quite so offensive and hurtful. Good day.

Jace I mean, why is he quite so pointed towards her? Is it sort of due to his history with women?

Theo Yes and yes and no. I loved the unapologetic nature of his, you know, whiplike tongue. I think that’s really interesting, characterwise, you know, that too often we kind of apologize for characters too quickly, especially in period drama. So I liked that element that he can be so cruel and vicious in in a way. But, yes, we quickly understand that not only has he been kind of burnt in the past and his history with with love and and people and women has been a complex one. And thus he doesn’t trust anyone. But also, he’s a complicated man that has made money off the cotton trade. And although he didn’t, you know, he wasn’t directly involved in slavery. He made money at the hand of slavery. And I think now he is the guardian of this young, intelligent, spirited woman who is black. He. The guilt and the sense of self-loathing is, you know, it permeates his whole being. So there’s an anger that comes from that and an anger kind of which is directed at himself. But but but it comes out in ways where he’s vicious to other people. And then on a more kind of surface level, I guess, I think he gets to this town, Sanditon, and he gets back to his family. And there’s this woman there, and she is intriguing and beautiful, but also deeply irritating and presumptuous and opinionated. And she both pisses him off and he also is kind of unmistakably attracted to her and he’s struggling with the dichotomy of that, essentially.

Jace Last week’s episode ended with Charlotte coming upon Sidney as you emerged naked from the sea.

CLIP

Sidney Miss Heywood! Am I never to get away from you?

Charlotte Mr Parker, I assure you, you are the last person I wished to see!

Sidney Yes you’re right, I spoke out of turn Forgive me.

Charlotte Of course. Excuse me.

Jace What did you make of this scene and its inherent tension and awkwardness?

Theo Well, I had a stunt bottom. No, I didn’t really. I wish I had. I really again, I liked that. That was something that I read very early on in the conversation about, you know, the show and the character. And to me. It’s a tricky one because I didn’t know it. On one hand, I didn’t want it to be gratuitous because we’re in a land where there is a lot of gratuitous nudity. But for me, when I read it, you didn’t feel that way because it felt like a natural extension or most of those great scenes like, you know, Colin Firth coming out of the lake like it felt kind of spontaneous and awkward, but also, you know, filled with a lot of sexual tension and unsaid sexual tension, which in Regency Britain was. Was, you know, as hot as it could be. Kind of thing. So I like the conceit of it. The filming of it was less than sexy. You know, you’ve got like a weird sock thing on your genitals. And it’s March in Britain in freezing cold temperatures. So, you know, not only do you feel cold, but I think you look cold. So I. But, yeah, I again, I like the conceit of it. I think it’s an interesting place to go because it’s not somewhere where we’ve quite been with Jane Austen. It’s familiar., but we haven’t quite pushed her that far yet. So I’d like that element of it.

Jace Charlotte has a rather even-keeled reaction to Mr. Stringer’s accident as she strips off a piece of her petticoat and makes it tourniquet out of it. Does that change Sidney’s ill formed opinion of her reaction to the sight of blood and and this accident?

Theo Yes, certainly. I think, you know, this this woman who he thinks is kind of silly and presumptuous suddenly shows she has real mettle and color to her personality and suddenly she’s cool under fire and pressure and stoic and strong. And suddenly he thinks, oh, maybe I did underestimate this woman. And she’s much stronger and, you know, more rounded and complex than he ever thought.

Jace Sidney’s apology to Charlotte’s rather backhanded. I never expected you to be so capable, but it quickly turns flirtatious with their one upmanship of the ‘well thens.’

CLIP

Sidney Miss Heywood, I’ve been meaning to say —  ourmeeting down at the cove, I hope you weren’t too embarrassed.

Charlotte Why should I be embarrassed? I was fully clothed.

Sidney Yes, very good point. Well it was hardly fair of you to ambush me like that.

Charlotte I can assure you it was not deliberate on my part.

Sidney Nor mine!

Charlotte Well then.

Sidney Well then.

Jace Is that moment where he suddenly sees Charlotte Haywood as someone worthy of his attention or even affection? Is that where the shift happens?

Theo Interesting, because I don’t think so. I think in the script it almost plays like that. But for me, I think he’s attracted to her from the minute he sees her, but he’s very closed and he’s never gonna show that. But I think the shift there is when he realizes that not only maybe she is an attractive person, she’s also someone who. Yeah, I guess you’re right. Is worthy of of affection. I don’t think at that point, though, he’s graduated to thinking that she’s worthy of courtship. But I think he thinks that at all. I think she’s still a young, slightly silly girl. I mean, but now she’s upped herself in his estimations.

Jace You mention their first meeting that he might actually find her attractive sort of when he sees her. And he’s very curt with her dismissive to the point where he doesn’t even acknowledge her presence more than a sort of nod. I mean, why is he so cool and curt towards her from the outset?

Theo Because he doesn’t care. I mean, he can be attracted to her in a very fleeting way. But at that point, he doesn’t care. The problem with him is he begins and he doesn’t give a shit about anyone or anything. And that’s that’s his that’s his arc, in a way. But he begins to learn how to how to feel and love people and, you know, give something back. I think he’s curtness  comes from a place of a closed nature. But also as curtain, this comes from, you know, being a solitary bachelor for the last 20, 15 years of his life.

Jace I mean, Tom is a flighty dreamer. Arthur and Diana are delusional hypochondriacs. Has Sidney been forced by familial circumstances to become the practical or realistic Parker sibling? Is that who he is?

Theo Yes, I think he’s definitely been forced to do that. But you know, reluctantly, he’s returning to this small town, which he believes is kind of beneath him. He’s reluctantly engaged in a business proposition with his brother. And he raises money. That’s what he does, essentially. He’s like a venture capitalist, but he. He soon realizes that the dreams and aspirations of his brother are legitimate. But yes, I think he’s he’s come from a place where he’s had to be the one pick him to pieces a lot of time. Although later in the series, we understand that actually he went through his own kind of turmoil and Tom, his ever-loving brother, actually bailed him out and bailed him out of a large debt. So. So, you know, I think we understand a lot more about the family dynamic as the series goes on.

Jace If Sanditon is the fulfillment of Tom’s personal desire, what does it represent for Sidney?

Theo The fulfillment of Sanditon for him means placating, at least initially placating his wayward family and being there to support them. But in the most loose way possible because of his distant nature. By the end of the series, it becomes very personal to him, and finishing this project is everything to him and more important than anything he’s ever done.

Jace You mentioned he earned his fortune from the cotton trade. Does he see his financial gains as blood money of any sort?

Theo I think he definitely sees it as blood money, and that’s why he hates himself a little bit. Miss Lambe’s father was his kind of mentor in the Americas and died, and his dying wish is to essentially look after my daughter, who’s, you know, Antiguan but of African descent. And, you know, he wants her to grow up a lady in distinguished society. That’s what he says. That’s very difficult for him for for Miss Lambe because she’s a fish out of water. A young black woman at a time where where that was extremely difficult. You know, it’s still difficult today, but it was you know, it was even harder then. So, yes, I think I think that’s that’s what motivates some of his anger and guilt.

Jace And he and Georgiana have a very interesting dynamic. They seem to loathe each other. They’re constantly at odds. What do you make of their relationship? And its sort of odd dimension?

Theo Yeah, I think there’s kind of there’s there is a brotherly but also like there’s a little paternal, you know, nature in that I think it blossoms as the story goes on.

CLIP

Georgiana  How long will you be absent?

Sidney At least a week. I have some business matters I have to attend to.

Georgiana I am sorry my behavior has been so wanting. You were right to remove me from London. I will strive to do better.

Sidney As will I.

Theo He sees her as deeply spoiled, but because of his own guilt and his own inability to understand emotion, at that point, he distances himself from her. And as a result, she feels completely alone and abandoned by this person. That was is the one connection to our homeland. The one friend of her father and and the one person in New Antigua says she feels legitimately abandoned by this man and he feels that he’s callous and unfeeling. Which is fair enough, because he is a bit of a dick.

Jace But we like him anyway.

Theo We like him eventually.

Jace Before this next question, a quick word from our sponsors… 

Jace We’re told that he suffered from a broken heart, which could excuse some, but not all of his behavior toward Charlotte. How has that failed romance affected him and his viewpoint?

Theo I think the failed romance kind of defined him in his early days. You know, the idea is that he was young, 20 year old in love and had found the love of his life, or so he thought. But she kind of usurped him and chose a older, wealthier man. So that kind of pushed him to become the man he was and go off and make make his own fortune. But it also meant that he is closed and fairly resentful character. But it’s not just that. You know, I think if you were involved in the cotton trade in the 18 tens twenties out in Antigua, you know, you’ve lived a really rough, tough life where. It would wear you know, life is not precious at all. And, you know, death is everywhere around you. So I think that shaped him and it made him quite cynical. And he comes back to this town where, you know, that they’re quite naive. And then the loveliest way, they haven’t seen the things that he’s seen. And that to him is is infuriating in a way, because he doesn’t know why these people are so jolly and parochial. But what he realizes is by the end that there’s something very special and unique about them.

Jace Do you see him as a cad?

Theo I think he was a cad. I don’t think he. He’s not a cad in this. In terms of he’s not a womanizer, you know, I don’t. He doesn’t care enough to be a womanizer. But I think he’s a heavy drinker, gambler. A fighter. And all those things. So there’s there’s a caddish nature to him. But not a womanizer.

Jace There’s a tenderness to the scene where Sidney and Charlotte play with the children and have the toy boat race.

CLIP

Sidney Well Miss Heywood, you’ve arrived at a rather critical venture.

Alicia The British navy are about to rout the French.

Henry You can take charge of the French fleet.

Jenny We shall call you Admiral Aywood.

Charlotte Well which boat is ours?

Alicia Red.

Jenny Uncle Sidney and Henry are the blue boats.

Sidney Yes.

Charlotte Well come on then, we musn’t let those beastly boys win.

Sidney Well we have to win, cause it’s a matter of historical record, isn’t it Henry?

Henry Yea.

Charlotte Can we not rewrite our history, if we find it disagreeable?

Jace Is this sort of a thawing of the ice between them where he can kind of maybe agree to rewrite their shared history?

Theo It’s a temporary thaw in the ice. Yes, I think there’s a suggestion that perhaps they can, you know, start from scratch. But then the next episode that is blown to smithereens.

Jace I mean, is it Charlotte’s influence that pushes him to try and mend his fractured relationship with Georgiana at the end of this episode?

Theo Yes, certainly. I think I think this this this beguiling, strange, annoying woman is teaching him how to be how to understand emotionality again. So certainly I think he is understanding of the his situation with Georgiana through his his. His relationship with Charlotte, essentially, and so she is definitely the force to which he begins to make amends for everything he’s done.

Jace How would you describe what’s coming up for Sidney for the rest of the season? In three words.

Theo Lots of fighting.

Jace That is true. If Sidney Parker were a color, what color would he be?

Theo Black.

Jace You shot to fame after one episode of Downton Abbey. What was the legacy of Kemal Pamouk and Downton for you?

Theo There wasn’t really one, if I’m honest. I mean, it seems like that on my you know CV or whatever, but it didn’t really help because I remember shooting it, and, you know, it didn’t get big in America for a couple of years or a year after it’d been in Britain. And also I had a wig on. You know, most of the time. So it was good to do, but it definitely didn’t kind of shape my career in any way.

Jace You became a bonafide action star with the Divergent movies and Underworld: Blood Wars. What did you learn from the experience of being a global action star?

Theo I don’t know about bonafide, but, um, I learnt, um, what did I learn? Um. That, uh, when you say you want to do all your own stunts, make sure you’re ready to hurt yourself. Because I don’t think I was ready for it. I also learned that you know, sometimes you have to be careful, those movies, because they tend to, you know, for better or worse. They are appealing to a big demographic and sometimes that can, you know, reduce some of the themes that were complex initially to their more low denominator. And that can be tricky. So, you know, it’s great to be in something big. But at the same time, you know, it’s tricky to be a tiny part of a massive machine and not feel like you have any agency.

Jace Theo James, thank you so very much.

Theo Thanks, dude.

Jace In most period costume dramas, it’s rare to see actors of color, much less to see them play major characters with their own storylines. The heiress Georgiana Lambe, however, is a Jane Austen original, and her role in Sanditon continues to expand as the series goes on.

CLIP

Miss Lambe I don’t care to be any man’s property, Lady Denham.

Lady Denham Oh! Hoity toity! I should have thought someone like you would be quite used to being a man’s property! Was not your mother a slave?

Miss Lambe She was. But being used to a thing and liking it are not the same, my lady.

Jace Sanditon star Crystal Clarke offers her take on the importance of being Miss Lambe in conversation with us on Sunday, January 26.

MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Rebecca Eaton is the executive producer at large for MASTERPIECE. Susanne Simpson is the executive producer of MASTERPIECE.

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