Some celebrities insist they were born to be a star. Jeremy Northam is definitely not one of them. He decided to give acting a serious go at the age of 24, but says self-deprecatingly: "I thought I wouldn't work much. Or maybe just a little, if I was lucky." Whether it was due to luck, talent or his easy-on-the-eye looks, Jeremy found success both on the stage and in film.
He arrived on December 1, 1961, in Cambridge, England, the youngest of four children born to John a university don and Rachel Northam. As a youngster, grammar-school educated Jeremy was turned on to acting by a year's work as a stagehand a far cry from the posh roles he'd ride to fame. He studied English literature at Bedford College, before joining the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Pantomime work and a string of small-town musicals followed before he got his break as the understudy for an ailing Daniel Day-Lewis in a 1989 production of Hamlet at the National Theatre.
"I hadn't rehearsed Hamlet in months," says Jeremy. "I'd been on stage playing Osric, who doesn't have a lot to say, and had rushed into the dressing room to see if I could find a copy of the play when Dan's dresser walked in with all his costumes and flung them on the bed without a word. Then I heard an announcement saying the part of Hamlet would be played by Jeremy Northam. I couldn't get a drop of saliva to form in my mouth. It was the most horrifying night of my life." Luckily he regained control of his faculties and scored a major triumph.
While making a name for himself on stage aged 28 he took home the Most Promising Newcomer prize at the Olivier Awards for his role in The Voysey Inheritance his profile abroad remained decidedly low-key. That was before he played a bad boy in the 1995 Sandra Bullock vehicle The Net. Suddenly scripts poured in and before the end of the millennium he would co-star with Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Sharon Stone, Uma Thurman and Kate Beckinsale.
"I don't feel remotely famous," insists the usually guarded actor, despite finding success on both sides of the pond. "Occasionally the idea does freak me out. For it to start relatively late in life could be odd, because you would be thinking, why is that person staring at me? Especially when you're having one of those days when you don't want anybody to look at you anyway."
Yet after 15 years in the public eye, Jeremy is still very much excited by his craft. "I have always had to work at acting, but I think it was the work that appealed," he says. "The very fact that acting was ephemeral and hard to grasp made it seem all the more wonderful. I still do feel that."
The dedication which has borne such fruit in his professional life has at times soured his relatively short-lived romantic relationships, however. "An old director friend of mine once said to me that, for your partner, when you are working it's like you are having an affair," says the Enigma star. In the past he has been linked with models Lisa Butcher and Marie Helvin, as well as TV beauty Donna Air, but is currently still in search of a leading lady despite admitting that he's not a big fan of dating.
"I am an uncle nine times over and I am getting more and more broody," said the actor a few years back. "I have got to find someone who would like to have children with me and is around long enough to manage it."