How Dervla tamed me: Rupert Penry-Jones on his playboy past (including a fling with Kylie!) – and why he’s glad he gave it all up for the Ballykissangel star
Charmed life: Rupert Penry-Jones
Rupert Penry-Jones the family man is quite a contrast to the playboy and party animal he used to be.
The self-styled ‘Soho House Boy’ – after the London private members’ club where he was a mainstay until 2am every night – was thrown out of drama school, worked as a model in Milan and dated Kylie Minogue for nine months.
Now 41, and about to begin his third series of crime drama Whitechapel, ITV1’s modern take on some of London’s goriest crimes, he’s married to former Ballykissangel star Dervla Kirwan, is father to Florence, seven, and five-year-old
Peter, lives in rural Hampshire and is in bed by 9.30pm. He does the school run, attends parents’ evenings and admits his ambition to make it big in Hollywood has taken a back seat because he couldn’t bear to be away from home.
‘I like a stable life. I like to be home as much as possible, rather than living like a gypsy.’
He further acknowledged parental responsibility by giving up his beloved Suzuki SV650 motorbike and buying a comfortable family saloon, much to the astonishment of his more freewheeling friends.
‘It’s a tiny price to pay for the joy of being a dad,’ he says. However, the lad in him couldn’t resist a kickaround with a football last year – and the consequences were disastrous. ‘I played in a charity match and broke my leg just below the knee,’ he says.
‘It was just before I was due to make the BBC legal drama Silk. I was sure I’d have to pull out and feared I might have destroyed my career. In the end, the producers said if I could stand without crutches they’d work around me, so we got through it.’
Then he went on to film the new series of White chapel, in which he plays murder detective DI Joseph Chandler. ‘My knee gave way halfway through shooting this year’s series,’ says Rupert.
‘One of the screws that had been put in there after I broke it came out through my knee and my tendons were catching on the bone. I sight – it was like breaking my leg all over again. I took painkillers, had injections and we got a lookalike in to do my running scenes. You might just spot me limping in some of the later episodes. The knee and leg are fine now, and the important thing is I didn’t lose either role.’
Rupert is about to begin his third series of crime drama Whitechapel (left) and with Dervla and family
So now he’s added football to the long list of laddish activities he’s given up, but he’s still putting in plenty of hours keeping his body toned at his home gym, followed by long sessions in his outdoor heated swimming pool with its wave machine.
The Penry-Jones six-pack is an essential part of almost any of his TV appearances, and Whitechapel is no exception. He showed his washboard stomach off in Charlotte Gray, in which he played Cate Blanchett’s lover, BBC drama Cambridge Spies, where he was cast as traitor Donald Maclean, and Spooks, the show that made him a household name, thanks to his four-year stint as heroic spy Adam Carter.
But it’s fatherhood that’s put him on the straight and narrow. ‘Dervla started so many fundamental changes in my life, and there’s been no resistance from me. She’s just the right woman for me. She “gets” me – I can be myself with her,’ he has said.
Dervla started so many fundamental changes in my life, and there’s been no resistance from me. She’s just the right woman for me.
They met in 2001 when they were in a play, J.B. Priestley’s Dangerous Corner, and married in 2007. She’d been engaged to actor Stephen Tompkinson, and at first Rupert didn’t want to work with her
‘I’d heard she was difficult. I said to my agent, “I don’t want to do anything with Dervla. I don’t think we’d get on.” And he said, “Don’t be stupid, you can’t turn down a job because of that.” Within a few weeks we were in love. I’m so glad I listened to advice for once.’
He’s reluctant now to look back on his time with Kylie Minogue in 1999 out of respect for Dervla. He and Kylie starred together in Shakespeare’s The Tempest in Barbados.
‘I thought I was one of the luckiest men in the world,’ he said. ‘And to be honest I couldn’t believe it would last longer than a week. She’s an extremely free spirit.’ He has given one clue as to why they might have split up.
‘I wasn’t really into her music. And, once, I stupidly said to her when she played me Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, “Yeah, it’s good. But I’d rather hear you do some sort of rock, acoustic thing.” I was in the studio when she was recording it. And she got very annoyed with me. And then – obviously – it turned into this huge hit.’
Rupert had nine month relationship with Kylie Minogue but in the end he fell for Dervla Kirwan
He’s the first to admit he’s led a charmed life as the public school-educated son of acting parents Angela Thorne and Peter Penry-Jones, and has said of his childhood, ‘I didn’t pay much attention to school, I just wanted to act.’ But things were slow to take off.
‘There was a whole generation of pretty boys who thought they were going to be stars. But when I was 21 I looked 17, so I didn’t get those parts straight away. I didn’t begrudge other people’s success, but it used to hurt.’
Now, though, he’s well established, and unless Hollywood comes up with an offer too good to refuse – five years ago he was considered for the role of James Bond, before it went to Daniel Craig – he’s staying here.
‘If I didn’t have a successful TV career in Britain I might think differently, but I’ve no desire to up sticks. So I’m afraid you’re stuck with me,’ he laughs.
Whitechapel, ITV1, Monday, 9pm.