The Welsh actor discusses moving from Cardiff to California and starring in the hit US drama series.
“I love and embrace the cultural differences,” says Rhys – now almost a California native, after four years’ worth of Brothers & Sisters (shown here on More4). “In some ways, they’re so profoundly different from Britain. In other ways, very similar.”
Rhys plays Kevin Walker, a glossily gay Californian in his mid-thirties, and one of the siblings of the show’s title. He’s sitting in a Disney conference room joshing with actor Luke Macfarlane, who plays his on-screen husband Scotty. Though Rhys’s American accent never slips on-screen, his voice now is straight from the valleys. “When I speak to people from Britain, that’s when I feel like a fake, speaking with an American accent,” he says, slightly sheepishly.
Macfarlane, who hails from Canada, joins in. “Matthew’s also exceptionally talented at all accents,” he says archly.
“Yes. Even neighbourhoods of Canada,” says Rhys.
“Not just neighbourhoods – specific hockey teams,” quips Macfarlane.
The pair’s good-natured off-screen banter is exactly how fans of the show would hope. Brothers & Sisters has no time-travelling cops, no jets crashing on desert islands. It rivets more than 10million American viewers with nothing more than the intertwined stories of one family. Warm, prosperous and sentimental, the show – and its high-octane, often tear-jerking emotion – is kept from descending into soap opera not just by polished scriptwriting, but by a classy cast: Calista Flockhart, Rob Lowe and, crucially, Sally Field as materfamilias Nora Walker. On Facebook, there’s a “Which Walker are you?” quiz – and, quips Macfarlane, “everyone just keeps taking it until they get Nora.”
As British viewers start season four tonight, they will catch up with Kevin and Scotty’s newest storyline: the quest for a baby. “We’re lucky that that storyline is relatively uncharted,” says Rhys. “The whole journey of going about it makes very interesting TV.”
“And so do the different ways one goes about it – adoption versus surrogacy,” adds Macfarlane.
Along with the gay couple on ABC’s new sitcom Modern Family, Kevin and Scotty are blazing a trail for gay parenting on American primetime television. But, says Rhys, he doesn’t feel like a “poster child” for gay rights. “The press we’ve had has been very positive,” he says. “A very healthy, very nice response – that what we’re doing is on the right track.”
Macfarlane agrees. “The cultural significance is always surprising,” he says. “We just show up and do the work, and they tell us it’s groundbreaking – but it doesn’t necessarily feel groundbreaking.” Certainly Brothers & Sisters doesn’t trumpet itself as a genre-altering show. It is executive produced by Ken Olin, who appeared on screen as self-obsessed ad exec Michael Steadman in the Eighties-zeitgeist series thirtysomething. Brothers & Sisters reflects a more mature version of the same sensibility, with enviable suburban houses and beautiful knitwear as much on show as Rhys’s American accent.
Rhys himself is evidently having the time of his life. “I feel comfortable here primarily because I think Los Angeles is made up of people who don’t come from here, so you can find kindred spirits very easily,” he says. “It’s a town of gypsies.”
But Rhys has a more versatile CV than some TV actors, having played Dylan Thomas in the 2008 film The Edge of Love – and opposite Kathleen Turner in the West End version of The Graduate. “I definitely want to go back to the theatre. It is hard work, it is repetitive, but it is intensely rewarding,” he says.
His career as a chameleon extends even to talking to journalists. “You play to whatever publication you’re being interviewed by,” he says cheerily. So who is he being today, for The Daily Telegraph. “Upright Tory. Bring back Maggie!” So… does he hunt and shoot and fish? “I do, yes. I actually do! Well, I don’t hunt on horseback. In Wales, it’s a little more practical. It’s vermin control.” As Rhys is called back to the cavernous sound stage, it’s hard not to think: you can take the boy out of Cardiff…
Brothers & Sisters is on More4 tonight at 9.00pm
Source: The Telegraph