Actor Dan Stevens is endlessly curious. Adopted at birth by teachers, Stevens explains: “They instilled in me curiosity and a desire to question things. Perhaps they would suggest more gently that I sometimes interrogate things, but they (encouraged) the questioning mind, a faithful one as well.”
It was his questioning mind that made him forsake the juicy role of Matthew Crawley, the distant cousin who marries Lady Mary in Downton Abbey, and who surprisingly dies at the end of that show’s third season.
But instead of a passing, it proved a passport for Stevens, who’s starring in FX’s popular Legion, now enjoying its second season.
“I don’t really fully engage with something unless I’m a little bit scared,” he says. “I don’t want to be terrified stalk-still, but I don’t love the feeling that something’s too easy.”
It would’ve been simple, he says, “to easily walk into a World War I trench drama off the back of Downton but not necessarily straight into something like The Guest. Those kinds of movies and explorations led to Legion, which is a wonderful amalgamation of a number of things I’ve been working on,” he says.
“I like to feel like I’m getting a workout in some way, and Legion does that in more ways than one. It’s a continuation of the exploration of different things and trying things in different ways,” says Stevens.
His childhood didn’t seem to presage the man he would become. He was a voracious reader as a kid, spent most of his schooling in a boarding school (which he calls “a Lord Of The Flies kind of existence”). He majored in English literature at college and was reared in a pious Christian family.
“I think growing up around people with faith is a very interesting thing to have witnessed. I feel very lucky,” he says.
“My grandfather is a very devout man, and I found that dedication and the spirit with which it infused his whole life was very inspiring, really. I could only ever hope to be that at peace,” he nods.
Acting, he says, is something he’s done – in one form or another – ever since he was a kid. “And I think it’s the sense of play, the sense of collective play. It’s something that I’ve increasingly enjoyed in working as an actor – that sense of the collective.
“If enough people want something to happen, it will happen, I believe. And I think any creative project is a bit like that – a play or a film or a show – you’re pushing a very strange shaped stone up the hill, and hopefully all together at the same time and the same sort of way and sometimes there’s a lovely view at the top of it. And I think it’s that.”
Though he’s had his lean times, he never wanted to quit. “I’ve been tremendously lucky with the opportunity I’ve had and the people I’ve got to work with and the people who’ve given me a leg up as well, who’ve taken a shot on me.”
Married for nine years to singer Susie Hariet, now a full-time mum, Stevens has three children, daughters, eight and one, and a son, five.
“Becoming a father influenced me as a person, but as an artist as well, in terms of what I think about, how I think, the things that I read, the things that I choose to exclude from my life,” he says.
“I’ve given up drinking. I don’t watch the same kinds of movies loudly in the living room that I used to – you know, little ears. I think for an actor it’s a very healthy thing to think about somebody other than yourself. I think that’s useful for any human being,” says Stevens, 35.
“Your children have to grow up and learn that for themselves and that’s a very interesting thing to observe. I used to have a teacher who called it the ‘pre-Galileo complex’, the idea that everything revolves around you,” he says.
But being a parent can be heart-wrenching too. The toughest time for Stevens and his wife came when Aubrey, his five-year-old son, was diagnosed with Type One diabetes. He was only 18 months old.
“That was a big moment,” he shakes his head. “In recent memory that’s probably the toughest roadblock. But we’re managing it, and learning to live with it, and it is what it is.” – Tribune News Service/Luiane Lee