HOLLYWOOD -- Jason Isaacs probably became an actor "because I like not being me. I guess I come from that European tradition of acting. It's a theatrical tradition of wanting, at least aspiring, to be a chameleon," he says. "I don't even really want to recognize myself."
At least in his Hollywood movies, the British actor, 40,
has managed to reinvent himself for each role. As Mel Gibson's coolly
malevolent nemesis William Tavington in "The Patriot," Isaacs created a
vain, arrogant character who wore his long locks in a tight, rigid
ponytail. As the no-nonsense Capt. Mike Steele in Ridley Scott's "Black
Hawk Down," he shaved his black hair to give his character a grizzled,
world-weary quality. In "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," he
captured the pomposity and prejudice of wizard Lucius Malfoy with his long
blond hair, velvet suits and ornate walking stick.
In his latest
film, the old-fashioned romantic comedy "Passionada," he disappears into
the character of Charlie Beck, a charming loser who finds love and
redemption with a beautiful Portuguese widow (Sofia Milos) living in the
fishing community of New Bedford, Mass. As the card shark rogue, Charlie
wears loud, large sport shirts and a hairdo that might be described as
Ringo Starr's gone to seed.
"I am very involved in the look of a
character generally," says Isaacs, who in person comes across as charming
and funny, with deep blue eyes and a warm smile.
says, is taste-challenged. "He has always had pretty bad taste in women
and in his lifestyle. The thing about Charlie is that he's a terrible
loser. He's always smiling and perky but inside he's a walking tragedy.
Living from motel to motel. Living in permanent denial. Wearing cheap
shirts and bad hair. He's just a disaster except that he's witty and
charming and he puts on a reasonable show. But if you ever held him still
for two seconds and looked in his eyes or if you spent more than a
half-hour with him, you'd have to get away because it will make you feel
sad. He's a sad guy."
"Passionada" director Dan Ireland ("The Whole
Wide World") says Isaacs was a great collaborator. "He added so much to
Charlie," says Ireland. "He became much more of a guy who was looking for
redemption and that added a complexity. Jason is just a master of
underplaying yet getting it spot on. There is just a level of emotions he
Isaacs was in the middle of what he describes as "World War
IV" doing "Black Hawk Down" in Morocco for Ridley Scott when he was
offered "Passionada." The day after he completed "Black Hawk," he was in
Massachusetts in front of the cameras for "Passionada."
high-testosterone Scott adventure, the experience came as a bit of a
"It was so lovely having been in this very, very
aggressive and deafening environment in Morocco for five months and then
to be in this film which was about charm and wit and silence and trying to
be subtle. 'Black Hawk' was very difficult to do. Physically it was a very
hostile environment and it really wasn't about acting. It was about story.
It was all you could do to make yourself heard."
For Ireland, says
Isaacs, "The script was a blueprint, a starting point. He wanted us to
improvise all the time while we were doing it. It was nice after being
such a small cog in a such a huge thing in Morocco to feel very, very
creative. I don't mean to be disrespectful to the writers because they
came up with the story and the characters, but I don't think I said a
single word that was written in the script."
The day before this
interview, Isaacs completed work on the big new Christmas release "Peter
Pan," directed by P.J. Hogan ("My Best Friend's Wedding"), in which he
plays the dual role of the bumbling Mr. Darling and the villainous Captain
Hook. Isaacs spent 13 months working on "Peter Pan" in Australia and in
"The movie's really in two parts," says Isaacs. "There
is Victorian London and Never Land."
This version, he says, is far
closer to the original James M. Barrie story than the musical version,
Disney's animated adaptation and Steven Spielberg's "Hook," all of which
depict Hook as a buffoon.
"Barrie's Hook is a very dangerous man,"
Isaacs says. "He's kind of a wounded animal."
And Barrie describes
him as cadaverous, with eyes as blue as "forget-me-nots except when they
glow red when he is about to kill someone," says Isaacs. Trailers for the
film have been playing in theaters for several months and Isaacs looks
both terrifying and alluring as Hook with his long, black, curly
"We experimented (with his look) for weeks and weeks," says
Isaacs. "My wig at one point had dreadlocks and looked a little too much
like I was in living on the beach in Venice. His hair is described as
looking like melted black candles, so you know you have to have
But the "real stroke of genius" is Hook's hook. "The
thing that sets this film apart is that you just have to look at the hook.
It's described by Barrie as a talon, an iron claw for ripping people up.
Every Hook I've seen they have a big round thing (with a hook). It always
looks like a disability, and mine looks like a vicious ugly
Next year, Isaacs is set to reprise his role of Lucius
Malfoy for "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." He admits, "It would be
nice to sneak something in between where I work with actors who have
already hit puberty."
It's not that he doesn't love kids. He's
absolutely besotted with his 16-month-old daughter, Lily. It's just the
"It is fantastic working with kids because they are
incredibly refreshing and not cynical," says Isaacs. "They are just having
fun, which is what acting should be about. However, they can't work a full
day so my experience is I come to the set incredibly early and work a
little bit. Then they go home and I work to the very last minute you can
squeeze out of the crew, and then the whole thing starts again. So it
would be nice to share the burden with my fellow actors in a grown-up