NEW YORK (AP) — Hugh Dancy was walking down the street, minding his own business, when he landed his first acting gig.
At the time, he was a teenager in boarding school in the south of England and had recently been sent to the school's theater because he was getting into trouble — someone's idea of punishment and community service. Dancy says he liked just hanging out there and he must have made a good impression.
"A few months later, quite literally, I was walking down the street and this older kid at the school said, 'Oh, you're going to be Ariel in my production of "The Tempest" next year,'" Dancy recalls. "I was cast on the street. It's never been so easy since."
There's something charmed about Dancy, and his being cast as a Shakespeare sprite for his first role somehow fits perfectly with a young actor who has since built a trans-Atlantic stage and film career quietly but steadily.
Over an omelet at a hotel dining room near his Soho home he shares with wife Claire Danes, Oxford University-educated Dancy is polite and cheerful, though tired from rehearsals. Dressed in jeans and a sweater, his hair tousled from bed, he nevertheless radiates an unflashy attractiveness, a mix of Orlando Bloom and Robert Pattinson.
This fall sees two Dancy films released — "Hysteria" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene" — while he slips onto a Broadway stage for the second time to tackle David Ives' psychological and kinky play "Venus in Fur."
Dancy, 36, stars opposite Nina Arianda in the two-character play, which explores power dynamics in the audition room. It thrilled audiences off-Broadway last year and returns with the same creative team — the director, costumer and scenic designer, as well as Arianda — except for Dancy, who takes over the part played by Wes Bentley.
"I did think to myself, 'I hope they treat me gently,'" says Dancy. "In a sense, I think coming to it fresh ultimately benefited me and I hope actually benefited everybody."
Director Walter Bobbie said adding Dancy helped the team expand their conception of the play. "He's obviously a fantastic actor with a huge emotional range to which he has direct access at any given time. What he brings is intelligence," said Bobbie. "You can't direct intelligence. You simply have to have it. Hugh brings that and a considerable amount of charisma."
Ives, the playwright, says Dancy won the part as soon as he opened his mouth during the audition. "He is an actor of immense range," he says. "He's brought the gift not only of himself to this performance but a gift for me in the sense that I can go back and rethink speeches and rethink moments in the play."
Dancy's home may be New York, but he also keeps one in London and has worked in both cities, armed with a very good American accent. "I've been lucky enough to chart a kind of strange course in between," he says. "I've been able to do it enough so far."
On this day, Dancy is awaiting the return of his wife in a few days. She's been in North Carolina since July filming the Showtime series "Homeland," and juggling a personal life with two in-demand actors isn't easy.
"I could be in London. I could be in New York. Same is true of her," he says. "She's worked in London more than I have, as a matter of fact, and I've worked in New York more than she has. The occasional challenge is matched by the great opportunities and advantages."
He hates having to field questions about his wife and squirms ever-so-slightly when the topic comes up. "It's not that I don't like being asked about it, I just don't like talking about it because I think it's private," he says.
Dancy appears opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rupert Everett, Jonathan Pryce and Felicity Jones in the movie "Hysteria." He plays the inventor in the Victorian era of the vibrator.
"It's a recognizable British costume drama that happens to be about the invention of a sex toy," says Dancy. "As a modern audience, you get to have your cake and eat it. Unfortunately, everything you say in relation to this movie sounds like a terrible double entendre. There's no way around that."
His other film is "Martha Marcy May Marlene" with Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. It's a psychological thriller about a woman who returns home after escaping an abusive cult.
"For me, it does help to jump between TV, film, stage and whatever," he says. "I think you excise slightly different certain muscles, although at the end of the day, at the very, very heart of it, it's the same deal. You're telling a story and you're finding truth in it and you're trying to keep it interesting."
After boarding school, Dancy graduated from Oxford and moved to London, winning small theater parts and TV roles. He landed the title role in a TV movie of "David Copperfield" with Michael Richards, Eileen Atkins, Sally Field and Anthony Andrews. He picked up an Emmy Award nomination in 2006 for his role as the Earl of Essex in "Elizabeth I" and has recently appeared on Showtime's "The Big C."
He made his Broadway debut in a 2007 revival of "Journey's End" and his film credits include "Evening" with Danes, "Black Hawk Down," ''Ella Enchanted," ''The Jane Austen Book Club," ''Confessions of a Shopaholic" and "Our Idiot Brother."
Dancy was born in England's Stoke-on-Trent and traces his unconventional career to his parents, Jonathan Dancy, a teacher and moral philosopher, and publisher Sarah Dancy. Hugh is the oldest of three children. His sister Kate works for Save the Children and his brother Jack runs a travel agency.
"We've all ended up in these slightly odd little pockets. Why that is, I don't know," he says. "But it must clearly have been something our parents did — for the good, I think."
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- Hugh Dancy