11 Fascinating Facts About Rufus Sewell

Rufus Sewell may not be a household name in the U.S. just yet, but he is a pretty big deal in the U.K. The chiseled, English actor shot to fame in 1994's BBC period drama "Middlemarch." From there, he found himself playing a series of brooding lords, romantic cads, and villains. He took on the role of the evil Count Adhemar in 2001's jousting saga "A Knight's Tale." In the 2006 film "The Illusionist," Sewell goes toe-to-toe with Edward Norton trying to win a woman's heart.

As Jasper In "The Holiday," the actor plays Kate Winslet's lame excuse for an ex-boyfriend who ends up cheating on her. Sewell's turn as a Nazi in Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" got rave reviews. In 2016, the actor's take on Lord Melbourne in Masterpiece PBS' "Victoria" earned him heartthrob status. In 2019, he received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of tortured artist Declan Howell on "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."

Sewell is also a veteran theater actor, with an Olivier Award and a Tony nomination for his performance as Jan in Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll." As for his personal life, the star of Netflix's political thriller "The Diplomat" has managed to keep his mug out of the tabloid headlines — for the most part. But he is quite the interesting chap, and we have all the juiciest bits for you below. Here are 11 fascinating facts about Rufus Sewell.

His childhood was a mass of contradictions

Rufus Sewell hails from Twickenham, a London suburb known as "the home of English rugby." His father, William Sewell, was a famed Australian animator who created the "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" visuals for The Beatles' 1968 movie, "Yellow Submarine." Rufus' mother, Jo Sewell, was an artist who sold produce from the back of a truck to make ends meet. "So I was a little bit posh and a little bit free school dinners," the actor shared with The Guardian in 2013.

"We were poor, but we had a piano. We were arty but my mum had to work in a pub," he added. Rufus' parents split when he was five, and his dad died from a heart attack when he was 10. As a teenager growing up without a father, Rufus was a rabble-rouser. He drank, he smoked weed, he dyed his hair every color you can imagine, and he was busted for shoplifting. "A large part of my adolescence was spent doing my very best to draw attention to myself," the actor told The Telegraph.

The young man eventually found his passion in drama class, but it was Rufus' childhood performance in a production of "Rumpelstiltskin" that planted the seed for his future career. A drama teacher who was impressed with his performance in the production loaned him the cash for a trip to London to audition for the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Judi Dench helped the actor land an agent

Rufus Sewell studied at London's Central School of Speech and Drama for three years, but he wasn't one of the standout stars in his class. "There were a chosen few, and I wasn't one of them. I was playing waiters and servants," he admitted to The Guardian. During his final year, Sewell captured the attention of one of England's most esteemed thespians. Dame Judi Dench directed him in a production of "Macbeth," and the Oscar-winning "Shakespeare in Love" star saw something special in the young actor.

"She steered a couple of people towards me, one of whom was her agent, who then became my agent," Sewell told the Independent in 2016. In 1994, the actor landed his breakout role in the BBC miniseries "Middlemarch." When production began, Sewell tried to temper his expectations. "I told myself it would probably fail. But after a while I couldn't say that any more," the actor said in a separate chat with the Independent.

But casting director Gail Stevens, who pushed for Sewell for the role, worried the actor's burgeoning stage career would conflict with his shooting schedule. "At one ghastly moment it looked as though we couldn't have him," said Stevens. Fortunately, it all worked out, and he was able to navigate Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" and "Middlemarch." 

Rufus Sewell is a natural comedian

Some fans might be surprised to learn Rufus Sewell considers humorous roles his bread and butter. "I'm a comic actor, that's what I actually am. Everything else is a stretch," he shared with the AP (via WPVI-TV). In 2001's "A Knight's Tale," one of Sewell's earliest films, he showcases his sarcastic wit playing the villainous Count Adhemar. The New York Times wrote at the time, "Rufus Sewell steals the picture."

Asked if he would do a straightforward, goofy comedy picture, the actor told NPR, "It's the one thing that I like doing the most, and I'm probably the best at ... So yes, actually, it's my bag completely, I just don't get to do it very often." Sewell has played his share of rom-com rascals over the years, including his turn as a struggling actor in the 1998 film "The Very Thought of You." Most notably, he starred alongside Cameron Diaz and his real-life ex-girlfriend Kate Winslet in "2006's "The Holiday," a film The Daily Beast ranks as one of "The Best Christmas Movies of All Time."

Sewell said humor was one of the things that attracted him to "The Diplomat." Speaking to Collider, the actor explained he was drawn to the funny, complicated connection between his character, a former ambassador, and his wife, titular star Keri Russell. "It's this political intrigue, but with a naturally occurring screwball dynamic in this relationship," he said. 

The actor went through years of 'compromise and disappointment'

In his 20s, Rufus Sewell was one of Britain's rising stars. "Middlemarch" and his 1995 film "Cold Comfort Farm" (featuring fellow big-screen newcomer Kate Beckinsale), were both wildly popular. Following his splashy National Theatre debut in "Arcadia," Sewell appeared as Fortinbras in Kenneth Branagh's acclaimed film adaptation of "Hamlet." Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. "People talk about opportunity knocking," Sewell told The Guardian in 2013, "but the gate was always swinging in the breeze before I got to the door."

Sewell claimed he was set to play the lead in "Interview With The Vampire," before Tom Cruise expressed interest in the role. The actor was attached to "Shakespeare In Love" with Julia Roberts until she walked away from the project. Joseph Fiennes ended up with the part, alongside Gwyneth Paltrow, who won an Oscar for her performance. Sewell believes the opportunities that slipped through his hands have helped him master his craft. "Yes, years of compromise and disappointment have added depth to my acting."

In a 2016 interview with the Independent, Sewell noted that whenever he's on a hot streak, acting jobs seem to freeze up pretty quickly. "There was a time when suddenly I got my Australian passport, my green card and I already had my British passport — and it occurred to me that I was unemployed in three different countries," he said. "It was like a cosmic joke."

He is an award-winning stage actor

In 1992, Rufus Sewell made an impressive West End debut in a production of "Making It Better," picking up the Critics Circle's Most Promising Newcomer Award for his performance. Following his Olivier-nominated turn in Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia," Sewell first appeared on Broadway in 1995's short-lived "Translations." In a review of a 2001 National Theatre production of John Osbourne's "Luther," The Guardian raved about Sewell's "revelatory performance."

Sewell's most lauded stage role to date was in another Stoppard play — "Rock 'n' Roll." The actor plays Jan, a Czech university student who comes home and must face the oppressive regime in his country. Trevor Nunn, who directed the play, shared with the Daily News, "Rufus was always brilliant from the word 'Go.' He understands how much of Tom's humanity is in this role."

"In different hands, the part could be more sober and monotonous. But Rufus has got this wonderful comic ability, which is very helpful because Tom does, too," the director added. Sewell originated the role in London and won an Olivier Award for his performance in 2007. The actor reprised the role on Broadway, adding Tony nominee to his long list of accolades. In 2016, Sewell was praised for his role in the London revival of Yasmina Reza's "Art." "Rufus Sewell shines," The Guardian wrote of the "finely shaded character study."

Rufus Sewell doesn't mind being seen as 'a piece of meat'

In Masterpiece PBS”s "Victoria," Rufus Sewell took on one of his most popular small screen roles, as the handsome, brooding Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria's trusted advisor and confidant. As the series suggests, their relationship may have gone deeper than that. Sewell's female fan base went wild for the character ITV's "This Morning" show dubbed "the most fancied man in Britain." One person tweeted, "omg let me die in his ocean of hotness," after seeing Lord M look particularly fine in that day's episode.

"Anyone else more than a little in love with Lord Melbourne? (Rufus Sewell)," another asked. In a 2017 interview with Harper's Bazaar, Sewell admitted he enjoyed his sex object status as he approached his 50th birthday. "As a 49-year-old man, I am absolutely delighted and I have no qualms about it—excuse me, I'm just a piece of meat, thank you very much," the star of the 2021 film "Old" shared. "Part of me is very lucky to be having that kind of attention at all!"

Speaking to Masterpiece about the real Lord Melbourne, Sewell said he can't explain why the character became such a fan favorite, but the more he learned about the man, the more fond he became of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. "I like the fact that he was really a fan throughout his life of very independent, spirited, smart, brilliant women."

The actor says he's been typecast for years

A lot of Hollywood actors' careers have been impacted by typecasting. "American Pie" star Seann William Scott struggled to move past playing foul-mouthed, sex-crazed Steve Stifler types. Taylor Lautner may always be seen as the guy from the "Twilight" movies with those killer abs. Rufus Sewell, on the other hand, says casting directors tried to put him in a few different boxes at various stages in his career.

In the early 2000's, the actor took on a series of villainous roles. Sewell plays a mysterious cult leader with special powers in "Bless the Child." In "A Knight's Tale," he stars as Heath Ledger's evil romantic rival. "I loved playing a baddie in that film, but after that, people kind of got the idea that's all I do, which is not the case," Sewell recalled to Backstage. "There was a spate where I would open a script, and there was a page where it says, 'There's a dark figure on a horse,' and I knew it was me."

More than a decade later, Sewell starred in one of his baddest bad guy roles, playing John Smith in Amazon's "The Man on the High Castle." That's when he received the script for "Victoria." In a 2017 chat with Harper's Bazaar, Sewell shared, "Suddenly on my doorstep arrives this other typecast that I used to battle with—the brooding Victorian lord. I read it and thought, 'You know what? I am so lucky to still be considered for this kind of role.'"

Rufus Sewell may not be the marrying kind

Rufus Sewell has been linked to a few Hollywood stars throughout his career. The actor briefly dated his "Hamlet" co-star Kate Winslet, and reunited with her on screen in "The Holiday." Sewell and "Peaky Blinders" actor Helen McCrory were an item before she married "Billions" star Damian Lewis. Sewell started seeing Yasmin Abdallah, an Australian fashion journalist. They tied the knot in 1999, but called it quits just months later.

In 2004, the "Restless" actor walked down the aisle a second time alongside writer and producer Amy Gardner, with whom he shares a son, Billy. In a 2007 interview with Daily Mail, Sewell opened up about becoming a dad. "I think I was a bit frightened at first of having to be a grown-up, but I don't feel that way now." Speaking to The Telegraph in 2003, Sewell embraced the joys of raising his son, while acknowledging it isn't always a walk in the park.

"Billy is a funny, cheeky, lovely boy and I love being with him," "The Father" the actor said. "Parenthood is terrifying, though. I can barely walk past a building without panicking that it's going to collapse on his head." Sewell, who keeps his private life out of the spotlight, is believed to be in a long-term relationship with hairstylist and entrepreneur Ami Komai (above). The couple share a daughter, Lola, born in 2013. Komai is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bright Lite, an online magazine for teen and pre-teen girls.

He received an Emmy nod for his role on The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

Rufus Sewell only appeared in one episode of Amazon's hit series "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," but the English actor doesn't need long to make a lasting impression. In a Season 2 episode titled "Look, She Made a Hat," Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and boyfriend Benjamin (Zachary Levi) wind up at the studio of Sewell's character Declan Howell, a drunk lonely painter who has eyes on Midge.

When Declan reveals one of his masterpieces (that Benjamin wants to purchase) to her alone, the down-on-his-luck artist tells her, "If you want to do something great, if you want to take it as far as it will go, you can't have everything. You lose family, a sense of home." Sewell received an Emmy nomination for his celebrated performance as "the most famous unknown artist in the world." "Rufus Sewell pulls off an incredible performance in an already memorable episode," wrote Screen Rant.

"In a single episode, he manages to turn out one of the most compelling characters in the entire series," raved Pajiba. At the Emmys ceremony, there was some stiff competition in the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series category, including Peter MacNicol for "Veep," and Adam Sandler and John Mulvaney, both nominated for "Saturday Night Live." But it was Sewell's "Mrs. Maisel" co-star Luke Kirby, who recurred as comedian Lenny Bruce since the series' premiere, who nabbed the trophy in 2019, and then again in 2020.

Rufus Sewell looks for the good in his evil characters

In a 2016 interview with Broadway World, Rufus Sewell explained how he approached the role of ruthless Nazi leader John Smith in the small-screen adaptation of Philip K. Dick's dystopian thriller, "The Man in the High Castle." "What I try to steer away from is the idea that he is an evil person, and I think the key to him, and what's interesting to me about playing him is that he is a man with many, many good qualities and many dangerous qualities, like any human being."

While his character is loyal to the regime of Nazi Germany, Sewell noted John Smith is also a devoted husband and father, and not always the stalwart play-by-the-rules good soldier. "I think he embodies a conflict," he said. After landing the role, Sewell recalled to Parade, he "had to really explore the light and dark of a personality, to explore what I was capable of, that this was actually a better platform for it than playing some not-very-well-written good guy in a not very good thing." 

The characters in the Emmy-winning series are involved in heinous activities, but critics had high praise for the show and its talented cast. "Beautifully acted," raved the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Jeff Korbelik from the Lincoln Journal Star gave viewers a heads-up this isn't a series you'll want to watch one episode at a time. The arts critic wrote, "It's a thrill ride from the onset."

The actor clicked with his co-star Keri Russell from the jump

In "The Diplomat," Keri Russell stars as Kate Wyler, the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. The titular diplomat isn't just facing international crises and threats of war, she's dealing with the pressures of her fiery marriage to Hal (Russell Sewell), a fellow ambassador, who's now taken a back seat to her career. The drama and humor at the core of the Netflix thriller rests on the chemistry between the two stars. "So much of what we have together was there on day one," Sewell told Gold Derby.

In a joint interview with Netflix's Tudum, Russell said they clicked straight away — and the pair couldn't wait to duke it out in front of the cameras. For their epic fight scene in Episode 3, they agreed not to use stunt doubles. "I didn't want to deprive her," quipped Sewell. "She'd been looking forward to getting at me." Sewell also gave kudos to the script, written by series creator Debora Cahn ("Homeland," "The West Wing").

"This was really, really smart and the level of the humor was always perfectly matched to the requirements of the scene... You didn't have to dumb down for it." The acclaimed drama shot to Netflix's top spot right out of the gate, and quickly became a fan favorite. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has already been renewed for a second season. The Chicago Tribune also had high praise for "The Diplomat," labeling it "the best in its class."