"Do you wanna be in my gang" from The telegraph

Actor Jonny Lee Miller is Mr Cool, with his pop-star girlfriend and Primrose Hill pad. But he's no snob, he tells Christa D'Souza

OF the three stars who emerged from the hit film Trainspotting - Robert Carlyle, Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller - Miller may not be the most famous but he certainly sounds the most interesting. On his wedding day, he was dressed head to toe in black leather, while his wife, the actress Angelina Jolie, wore a shirt on which she had painted his name in her own blood.

Working out: Jonny Lee Miller's first job was at the Hard Rock Café. 'I wanted to hang around these crazy, different people, and we all got free hamburgers'

The couple have since divorced, but Jonny has fond memories of their life together. He particularly misses Harry, the pet albino corn snake that used to sleep at the bottom of their bed and was fed mice, freshly executed by his master.

"I won't tell you how I did it," he says, solemnly, "because I'll have all sorts of people leaving bombs on my doorstep. . . but I will say I am very, very quick."

We are sitting in the hip St Martin's Hotel, off Leicester Square. It seems an appropriate place in which to find the intense, ashen-skinned young actor, his small, wiry frame perfectly complemented today by a tight black polo neck, cargo pants and sneakers.

Although nobody bothers us, his edgy presence has obviously been clocked by the dwindling lunch crowd, and I can't help noticing two young girls - model types with dead straight hair and fashionably exposed lumbar regions - looking over at our table hopefully, drawing out the cigarette and coffee stage for as long as possible.

Jonny Lee Miller, 26, is by no means a household name. Although his appearance as the peroxide-blond "Sick Boy" in Trainspotting was memorable, his subsequent roles - including a shell-shocked soldier in Regeneration and an 18th-century highwayman in Plunkett & Maclean - have not catapulted him to global stardom.


Among a certain London social circle, however, Jonny Lee Miller is king. Not only is he part of a "Primrose Hill mafia", which includes his best mate, Jude Law, and Law's wife, Sadie Frost, and not only does he count Anna Friel and Kate Moss as ex-dates, but his current girlfriend is the All Saint Natalie Appleton (with whom he shares a chihuahua and a Great Dane).

Is it, one wonders, possible to get any hipper than that? Apparently not, according to Elle magazine, which presented the aesthetic twosome with an award for being "London's Coolest Couple"

"Oh, Nat's much more famous than I am," grins Jonny, proudly. And then, almost as if he is worried that I might think "Nat" a big head, he tells me, "She's the loveliest, sweetest, most normal girl. . . There's such a strong family bond there, you know, with her sister and her mum and her dad."

In person, thankfully, Jonny is not quite the study in cool one might expect. Despite the very realistic rat he has had tattooed on a forearm, and his extremely convincing wide-boy accent, he has none of the easy bravado that, say, his friends McGregor and Law seem to exude.

He jiggles his knee up and down and scratches invisible itches with his bitten fingernails. There is something, too, about his delicate, bird-like features - the way his lower jaw protrudes slightly and his nostrils flare when asked a question - that make him seem vulnerable. This is a quality that makes his performance as Edmund Bertram in a new film of Mansfield Park so faultless. On the other hand, it is not difficult at all to imagine him throwing a wobbly. Take the time a photographer managed to make Natalie's daughter Rachel cry.

"I was picking her up from school and he followed us," he says, nostrils flaring at the memory. "I swear if I'd seen him, I'd have broken his bones. And I would have got away with it, too. The idea of following a seven-year-old girl! In my book that sort of man is a paedophile, there's something wrong with him. . . although," he adds, suddenly looking a little sheepish, "I have learnt you can't really do that sort of thing. Well, you can, but you shouldn't really talk about it."

Jonathan Lee Miller (he couldn't call himself Jonathan Miller, because of the famous doctor, and inserted his middle name because he liked the "country and western feel") comes from good, solid thespian stock. His great-great grandfather was an Edwardian music hall performer and his grandfather was the British actor Bernard Lee, who played M in the first 12 Bond films. Idolised by Miller, and reputed to be something of an eccentric on set, Lee was once discovered on a dubbing session in Pinewood sweetly murmuring obscenities into an animal's ear.

Jonny's father, a former stage actor called Alan Miller, worked at the BBC for 20 years, and Jonny has fond memories of hanging out at Television Centre with his sister, watching Top Of The Pops and Blue Peter being made.

His own desire to perform was nurtured with a travelling youth theatre company. A shy, lacklustre student, he left school (Tiffin Boys' in Kingston-upon-Thames) when he was 16. His first job was working as a porter at the Hard Rock Café in Piccadilly, a position he chose because he thought it would be good for his career.

"I wanted to hang around these crazy, different people, and besides, it was fantastic, hilarious fun. We all got free hamburgers and once, they took us all on a coach to France for a holiday."

His next job, as an usher at the Drury Lane theatre, allowed him to go out in the day for auditions and he began to get some television work. These were obviously fun times. He recalls being arrested for something "very naughty" and being held in the station by two policemen.

"They said to me, 'What do you do?' I said, 'I'm an actor', so they gave me this look, you know, That Look?" He narrows his eyes and leans back in his chair to make the moment live for me.

"They don't want to ask, they're trying not to, but they can't help it. So I say, 'Well, I've just been in The Bill, actually'."

A successful career in television beckoned, but when he was offered a contract to appear in EastEnders, he turned

it down, as it didn't fit in with his master plan - to "become a movie star".

In 1994, he went to Hollywood to make a techno-thriller, Hackers. On the set, he met and fell in love with Jolie. The couple got married quickly, so quickly, in fact, that Jonny didn't even meet his new father-in-law, the actor Jon Voight, until after the wedding.

The press, meanwhile, were fascinated. Jolie let it be known that she was interested in exploring sado-masochism and did not rule out the possibility of a lesbian affair. She also told one reporter that Jonny was "pretty wild", a suggestion that he never denied.

Perhaps predictably, the marriage did not last very long - Jolie wanted to live in New York; he missed being able to watch his team, Chelsea, on television. But the parting was amicable. When I tell him that Jolie has accepted the part of Lara Croft in the multi-million dollar film version of Tomb Raider, his eyes light up with genuine affection.

"Oh, so she is doing that!"

Although he has not ruled out the possibility of doing a blockbuster one day, "as long as it is a bit edgy", he seems perfectly happy with the very British path his career is taking.

He has just agreed to perform on stage in a production of The Caretaker, directed by Patrick Marber. This year, he will appear in a film adaptation of Iain Banks's thriller Complicity, in which he plays a journalist involved in a murder. There is also Love, Honour and Obey, a film by his good friend Dominic Anciano - a former boyfriend of that other Primrose Hill lovely, Rachel Weisz - which also stars, surprise, surprise, Jude Law and Sadie Frost.

Then, perhaps most important of all, there is Natural Nylon, the film production company Miller set up with Law, Frost,McGregor and Sean Pertwee, whose latest project is The Hell Fire Club, a rollicking, 18th-century costume drama about the louche society that caused a political scandal.

As Miller describes it, "It's an awesome story which does allow us all to be together, without twisting reality too much."

When I suggest that this clubbiness smacks a little of playground elitism, however, he disagrees. "I've been excluded from enough clubs and groups in my own life to know that if I smell that sort of thing, I hate it," he shrugs.

"And, I mean, it's very open, our club. OK, everyone might have thought we were a gang, but then we teamed up with Dominic and his friends and now everybody thinks we're all just one big gang.

"Soon, we'll find another gang and get together with them, too, do you know what I mean?"

Sort of. But why do they all have to be so wretchedly good-looking? Has he ever, for example, been out with anyone just a tiny bit plain? Miller takes a second to consider this - he can't be too long, because his godson, Rafferty Law, is having a tea party this afternoon.

"Er. . . no," he says, at last. "I don't think so. Opposites don't usually attract, do they?"

Luans Notes...

  • This interview was sent to me by the very lovely Agnes Muench of the SPecial Sean Pertwee page.


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