April 1 2000 METRO FILM

After Trainspotting, how could Jonny Lee Miller's career ever falter? Yet his love life now has a higher profile than his films. Can Mansfield Park change all that? Lisa Verrico finds out

Here's Jonny

There can be few film stars who make less of an entrance than Jonny Lee Miller. When the 27-year-old Britpack actor arrives alone to meet me in the foyer of the hip St Martin's Lane Hotel in London, no one bats an eyelid. Miller may have earned tags as a rising star and instant sex symbol as Sick Boy in Danny Boyle's Trainspotting (1996) - not to mention attracting tabloid attention for his relationships with the darling of the 2000 Oscars, Angelina Jolie, and All Saint Natalie Appleton - but he is still far from a famous face.

I almost missed him myself. Dressed in chain-store combats and black hooded jumper, not only is Miller much slimmer than he looks in photographs, but the distinctive peroxide-blond hair, which he sported as Sick Boy, has been replaced by a mid-brown crop. Moreover, he is softly spoken and at times surprisingly shy, nothing like the self-assured celebrity that his public persona suggests.

"Even I don't recognise myself in the papers," he says solemnly. "The person I read about isn't me. I'm supposed to be some sort of party animal, but that couldn't be further from the truth."

Famous for his dislike of interviews, Miller is here to talk about Mansfield Park, an offbeat film adaptation of Jane Austen's novel, which hit British cinemas yesterday. In his first serious costume drama, Miller plays leading man Edmund Bertram, the kindhearted but naive second son of a wealthy, early 19th-century aristocrat (played by Harold Pinter).

"I'm not a big costume drama fan," admits Miller, who can't name one such film that he has enjoyed. "Mansfield Park appealed to me because I thought the script took an unusual approach. There's a lot of humour in it, which you wouldn't expect. I also liked the idea of playing someone as square as Edmund. I've never had a character like him before."

Surprisingly, Miller didn't bother to read the book. "I probably should have done," he says. " I usually do read the book if I'm working on an adaptation, but this time I thought it might be better not to. I knew that the film was wildly different from the novel and it was the guy in the script that I wanted to get to." 

Born in middle-class Kingston-upon-Thames to an acting family - his great-grandfather, Edmund James Lee, was a music hall performer, his grandfather, Bernard Lee, played M in the first dozen Bond films, and his father, Alan Miller, was a stage actor in the Fifties and Sixties - Miller says he was seven when he first knew that his future lay in films. Two years later he made his small screen debut in - spookily enough - a BBC adaptation of Mansfield Park.

By the time he enrolled at Tiffin School for Boys, his local grammar school, Miller had developed a passion for acting. He attended drama classes and joined the National Youth Music Theatre. Aged 17, and armed with nine GCSEs, Miller left school to pursue a stage career. After a year working in a café, he got an evening job backstage at London's Drury Lane theatre and devoted his days to going to auditions. His first parts were in television series such as Inspector Morse, Minder and The Bill, with only two or three lines to say. Then he landed a regular role in EastEnders.

"Do you remember Mrs Hewitt, the woman who had an affair with Arthur?" asks Miller. "Well, I was her son. I used to help Arthur in the garden. It was five weeks' work and I made more money there than I ever had in my life. Then they offered me a year's contract. I said no, thank God. I thought I should get out of there while I still could. No offence to EastEnders."

Miller's break on to the big screen came in 1994 when he was cast as cyber surfer Zero Cool in Hackers. It was while filming in New York that he fell in love with his co-star, wild child actress Angelina Jolie, then 18, who's just bagged an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Girl, Interrupted. The following year saw Miller in Scotland shooting what he thought would be a cult underground film, after his friend and fellow struggling actor Ewan McGregor suggested him for Trainspotting's Sick Boy. Miller was the only non-Scottish lead.

"That was a little nerve-racking," he admits. "But the guys were great - they all helped me out with the accent. I adopted it as soon as we got to Glasgow and kept it up the whole time we were there. People thought that I really was Scottish. Ewan and Robert (Carlyle) thought I was mad."

Flooded with offers of sub-Sick Boy roles, Miller moved to Los Angeles where, in March 1996, he married Jolie. The bizarre ceremony involved Miller wearing black leather and Jolie writing his name on her white silk shirt in her own blood. Two weeks later Miller met his father-in-law for the first time - the Hollywood legend Jon Voight. Over the next 18 months, the marriage failed and Miller's career began to trail behind those of his Trainspotting co-stars.

His first flop was a two-part, American television western, Dead Man's Walk (1996), with Harry Dean Stanton and David Arquette. Then came the Canadian film Afterglow (1997), which won Miller rave reviews and his co-star, Julie Christie, an Oscar nomination, but bombed at the box office. He returned home for a second spell in Scotland to play shell-shocked Billy Prior in Regeneration (1997). Again, the film was a critical hit, but a commercial disappointment.

Last year, the highwayman caper Plunkett & Macleane - in which he starred alongside the now highflying Carlyle - seemed certain to give Miller only his second real success. Unfortunately, the critics panned it, and already this year the Miller curse has struck yet again. Having spent three months in freezing conditions in Scotland playing investigative journalist Cameron Colley in an adaptation of Iain Banks's novel Complicity, Miller suspects the film has been shelved.

"It came out in Scotland, but nowhere else," he says, clearly bemused. "I have no idea why. None of the cast was invited to the opening. I had to ask to see the finished film. I'm a bit pissed off, to be honest. I thought it was pretty good. It's hard for me to be subjective because I'm in it, but it certainly doesn't merit being lost."

Miller claims to have no idea what his next film role will be. However, he will be appearing on stage in London's West End later this year, alongside Michael Gambon in a Patrick Marber-directed production of The Caretaker.

Meanwhile, much to his dislike, Miller is making a name for himself as one of the world's most sought-after celebrity bachelors. Besides Natalie Appleton, he has been linked with the likes of Kate Moss and Anna Friel and is now a prime tabloid target.

"I'm not comfortable with celebrity at all," Miller admits, although he was happy to turn up at the Elle style awards last year, where he and Appleton were named Britain's Coolest Couple. "Despite how it looks, I'm not interested in that type of attention. All I want to be known as is a good actor. A good actor who minds his own business and keeps himself to himself." 

Mansfield Park is on general release.


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