Traveller’s tales: James Purefoy
The Somerset-based actor talks tagliatelle in Rome, unwanted souvenirs and how to outsmart a polar bear in the Arctic Circle
Where are you right now?
I’m in Leeds, shooting a beautifully written thriller for ITV called Malpractice. It’s with a wonderful director called Phil Barantini, who did last year’s Boiling Point. I’m staying in Shipley, just down the road from Leeds, next to the tax office.
When was your very first trip abroad?
I had a godmother who lived in Rosslare – the southeast tip of Ireland. She had a riding stables there and one of the three holidays I went on with my dad in my whole life was going there. Then we did a driving holiday, just me and him, around Ireland. I didn’t really travel much until I was 16 or 17 and went on an Interrail trip across Europe. Since I became an actor, I have travelled much more than I should have done.
What’s been your most memorable travel experience?
One of the great things about being an actor is that, if you’re lucky, you do get to travel. I played a diamond mine billionaire in a show that was shot in the Arctic – in Churchill, northern Manitoba. I was on another job simultaneously in Ecuador, so had to get to there from Quito, which was no mean feat. The assistant directors gave me a piece of paper when I arrived with the polar bear protocol written on it. One of the things that really amused me was: “Give corners of buildings a very wide berth”. It went on to explain that polar bears sometimes wait around the edge of a building for unsuspecting pedestrians.
Have you ever accepted a role because of where it is?
I’ll do pretty much any job if it’s in Rome, having played Mark Antony in Rome for two years. Rome is my favourite city of all, and I’d go back there in a heartbeat. Every day the visual assault of Rome is so extraordinary as you come around a corner and see the Pantheon, the smell, the food, the people.
Purefoy as Jim in the first Fisherman’s Friends
As the Black Prince, aka Colville, in A Knight’s Tale
As Remi, father of Otis, in Sex Education
As Mark Antony in Rome
Where’s your favourite place for a meal?
In Rome, there’s a restaurant called Santa Lucia just behind Piazza Navona. It does a dish called tagliatelle al tartufo, which is essentially just truffle and tagliatelle. The smell is so evocative of the incredibly happy time I had in Rome, and they make it so beautifully. They also always give me a big f**k-off truffle when I leave to take home with me.
Polar bears sometimes wait around the edge of a building for unsuspecting pedestrians
What’s your most memorable hotel stay?
I’ve stayed in some extraordinary hotels – in the jungle in Mexico, in Churchill, in Namibia and South Africa, but actually one of my most memorable stays was in Babington House in Somerset. It sounds weird, because I come from Somerset and it’s only just up the road from me, but when Babington was first created, Nick Jones asked me to come and stay with a dozen of my friends before they opened as a test for the staff. Nothing could have been more perfect than that weekend. It is a truly beautiful hotel.
What do you miss about home when you’re away?
Sausages. Only because no one makes a sausage like Macken Brothers on Turnham Green Terrace in London. I also miss my garden in Somerset. I’m a keen gardener and it’s the one place as an actor you can create something, and no one is going to stab you in the back when they look at it! I worry that the courgettes aren’t being picked, worry that things aren’t being watered properly, not that my wife ignores it – but it isn’t as far up her list of priorities as it is mine.
Have you brought home any memorable souvenirs?
I used to bring souvenirs home for my eldest son who’s 25 now – everything from snowglobes to Zulu spears. I brought home a totem pole for him from a gift shop when I was in Saskatchewan in Canada. Sadly, the other day I was in the attic and I found a cardboard box and they were all in there! He’d left it when he moved out and said, “I don’t want any of it.”
Fisherman’s Friends: One and All is out now
As told to: Helen Whitaker
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