Rupert Graves Online.
Media Bank

1999 - Rup's Got Class Appeal.

Author: Patricia O'Haire.
Publication: The Daily News.

Rupert Graves, a handsome British actor best-known for his upper-crust roles onstage and in films - had an unlikely start: as Tomato the clown. "I never started out to be an actor," says the brown-eyed 36-year-old star of "Dreaming of Joseph Lees," which opened Friday.

"When I was 15, I was hopeless, a terrible student. So I just left, dropped out and joined a circus. I put up rigging, cleaned up after a show, put up posters, whatever they asked. And finally, I became Tomato, the junior clown.

Send In the Ex-Clowns: Rupert Graves: His first job was as Tomato.

"Then I went to work at Butlin's, a vacation place mostly for British factory workers, where I did a lot of clowning and children's plays and began to get extra work in films," he says. Finally a casting person, impressed by his looks and talent, suggested he try for a role in a new movie being made by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, "A Room With a View."

He was just 21 when he got the part that launched his acting career. Goodbye clowning.

Thin and dark-haired, Graves is a natural actor who has never taken acting lessons or gone to acting school. "At this time of my life, I'd be too embarrassed to go. At the same time," he smiles, "I'm glad to see I can get away with it."

He gets away with a lot. He has a public school accent, the result of voice lessons to cure a stutter when he was a child. He grew up in a small Midlands town called Weston-Super-Mare, but because of his accent, he's easily cast as an upper-class Brit.

As such, he's worked in period pieces like "Maurice," "A Handful of Dust," "Mrs. Dalloway" and "The Madness of King George," among others. For his role in "Intimate Relations" he won Best Actor Award at the 1996 Montreal Film Festival.

Graves has paid his dues onstage, too, most recently in "Closer" with Natasha Richardson, Anna Friel and Ciaran Hinds. He has also had meaty roles in "The Iceman Cometh" (with Kevin Spacey in London), David Rabe's "Hurlyburly," "Amadeus" and "Torch Song Trilogy."

His latest film, "Dreaming of Joseph Lees," he describes as "an English Gothic piece about rural madness. It takes place in Somerset, very much like the area I come from, a real redneck area - everyone looks like everyone else. I have the title role - an adventurer who's lost his leg in an accident.
"I'm back home and I'm remote, detached, slightly withdrawn - the kind of man horny young girls swoon over," he says. He's sure not a clown anymore.

©1999 The Daily News.