Sheffield Steel

With a Hollywood movie and a potential TV smash under his belt JEREMY SHEFFIELD’s TV career is going from strength to strength but love remains suprisingly elusive. LaSheff talks romance, boyfriends and what life is like as an ‘out’ TV idol ...

Jeremy Sheffield is in a contemplative mood. He can afford to be. Five years ago, Attitude met the swarthy actor in his former member's club and shared a coffee while he discussed his decision to become the first British male TV actor to launch his professional career, out. He was sort of the Will Young of Holby City, give or take a News of The World scoop and a few years between them. He was sanguine about stuff then, and remains so now.

Well, wouldn't you be? He has a Britflick, the slick'n'scary tube horror film noir Creep, bagged and settled in cinemas. Two new TV series - Brian Park's Bombshell, in which he plays opposite Zoe 'Footballer's Wife' Lucker and the second part of ITV's frivolous Cagney and Lacey does Dulwich, Murder In Suburbia - are keeping his light far from the televisual bushell. And come summer, Sheffield will be a movie star. Official. He's third on a cast list below Will & Grace's russet goddess Debra Messing in The Wedding Date, a Julia Roberts' style comedy of errors, as Jeffrey, cementing his role of cad in the Hollywood rom-com millieu. But between all this screen excitement, one suspects a seismic shift is afoot in the land of the Sheff. He talks animatedly about his tentative next move, which sounds like it may be more of a back-room role in the screen process. Munching on a toasted wild mushroom and poached egg ensemble in his new member's club, he's upbeat and unsentimental about the forthcoming shift.

Though clearly he is slightly bothered by his approaching fourth decade, he looks as splendid as ever. When girls talk about all the gay men getting the looks, it is to Sheffield that they are probably referring. Broad of shoulder, chiselled of cheekbone, packed of musculature, he is the very essence of well groomed masculinity. Yet he himself remains in the land of the singleton. This is an ongoing dilemma, one that he discussed in his last major Attitude profile and one that he'd very much like to rectify. Any offers? One at a time now please. And make that an orderly queue at the back...

How old are you Jeremy? 38. 39 in March.

What will you do to celebrate? I'm not sure exactly.

Are you conscious of 40 being just around the block? Yes I am a little bit. I have a bit of anxiety about it. Not in a vain way. No, in a vain way, actually. But it's also in a 'my god I One step closer to death' way [laughs]. It's an ongoing anxiety. I think it is for most people.

Do you think it's a particular anxiety for a gay man? Why, because of the transition from a physical persona to a less physical one? There's definitely something in that.

I was thinking more along the lines of not having families... Absolutely. I mean, of course that's the biggest thing. That's absolutely how I feel. I have no idea how this is likely to be resolved but I've started getting terribly broody. Incredibly so. I've just been in Miami and a kid's game caught my eye in a playing field. It was six-year- olds playing soccer, which is of course rather weird for America. They had the full kit on, the referees with whistles. The parents were sat around watching. I was absorbed by it. The only thing I watch on TV is Little Angels. Child psychology I find really interesting. So, yes. All those factors are beginning to playa bigger part. And I have no idea how it will be resolved.

Do you have nieces and nephews? No, I have one brother and he doesn't have any children. I don't have cousins, no extended family. I don't have that communication with kids, really.

So you do want kids? I don't know logistically how it would work. That's my worry. I have thought about it to some extent. There are so many factors that go against it for me but it's something that I really would love to be able to do. It's a usual pattern that happens in straight life, it seamlessly moves you into another phase of your life. And that doesn't happen with gay men. You do get that awful feeling of 'am I repeating stuff? Am I getting stuck in this one pattern of my life?' I don't know the answer to it but I know that I'm feeling it more and more. I'm asking those questions of myself. Of course it's all tied up with hitting 40.

Are you in a relationship at the moment? No. And I haven't been since the last time that Attitude asked me. I've had a little thing in between that I'd rather not talk about. It didn't amount to anything.

Do you want to be? Yes I do. But I find it really difficult to maintain. It's my problem. If I'm going to do a relationship then I want to do it properly; if there's such a thing. I want to do it seriously and I seem not to be able to achieve 'that. I'm still trying to find out what a serious relationship is!

Have you been in love in your life? Yeah.

Many times? No.

You don't fall in love easily? No.

What's the primary thing you're looking for in someone? What is it that makes you fall? Um...I don't know the answer to that question. I know what I find attractive in men and one of the things is that they have a very strong sense of their own identity. I look for someone who I would find inspirational and I'm not sure whether that is overly healthy or realistic. It seems a little romantic to me. I would love to be inspired by somebody, not in a lofty sense necessarily but somebody who inspires me to be better than I am. It's about encouraging each other to push yourselves further. The trouble is I can't really answer these questions because I'm not really in a relationship and I've never really been in one that hasn't been long distance so the truth is I just don't know! I feel slightly bogus trying to say this stuff when I don't really know any answers.

But you have intuition. Yes I do. But I still feel a little fake answering stuff about relationships. My conclusion is only that I don't really know about them.

Does having what is quite an egotistical profession affect your personal life? Explain what you mean by egotistical.

Desiring people to watch you. OK. There's also the sense that as an actor you're forever looking inward, to see how you react, behave, appear to other people and to the outside world, what facades you put up and how they work and don't work. That's how you develop a character and recreate another person's life. There is a valid argument that says that that is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be positive. You have to know yourself a bit more because of it. Understanding these manipulations can possibly make you a better human being. The other side of it is of course that you're in front of a lot of different people and...

You go too inward and analyse yourself to death rather than getting on with things? Exactly. I have a tendency to do that anyway. I did it long before I was an actor. Way too much. I have a constant search for perfection. I'm always feeling let down or like I'm letting myself down. Western culture is very goal orientated. A lot of people have this stuff. Perfectionism is a double sided coin. It can be productive and encourage you in your search for the best. It can be a strong driving force or it can be a great source of lethargy. Even if I have on paper achievec) a lot of things, in my mind it starts to give very little pleasure. It's hard to enjoy the moment because nothing is ever good enough. It really is an issue for me.

Your career arc is quite the opposite of that though. You had the dancing thing and did very well with that and

If I’m going to do a relationship then I want to do it properly, if there’s such a thing. I want to do it seriously and I seem not to be able to achieve that. I’m still trying to find out what a serious relationship is!

then made the move to acting... But to me it doesn't look like that. With dancing I never became a principle so I cut out on it. There were lots of different factors in me making the shift but that was definitely one of them. I felt that with acting I would have more control over what I could do creatively than I did with ballet. But I'm still telling other people's stories. I have much more input but there are still limitations to my creative input. I don't really have a choice in the projects that I do.

Are you moving into production here?  think I am. What I'm trying to find is some team to work with on some ideas I have an interest in. I'm too afraid to put them out there by myself but I definitely feel the need to move into production of some sort. I want to share the responsibility with someone else. I can feel myself moving towards that.

Have you ever been asked to do reality TV shows? Oh god, yeah. All of them, I think. My friend Jeremy Edwards has just done Celebrity Big Brother.

Would you do one? I might consider it for the money. But I've been offered quite a lot of money and thought hmm, renovate the house at the expense of my personal dignity? Maybe not. The one I thought about long and hard was the ballroom dancing one [Strictly Come Dancing] which I was offered for the first series. But I know what I'm like and I think I would be... never say never. It seems to me that watching a couple of the programmes it's very much a popularity contest. That's quite scary. I'm insecure enough. I don't need to put that on the line.

It'll be interesting to see how it affects Jeremy. I haven't seen him since so I don't know.

Your career literally can hinge on a moment. One minute he looks like he's going to get the lead in a Richard Curtis film out of it, the next the whole mood switches wildly against him after this interchange with Jackie Stallone. I heard about this. I'm not sure what happened there but Jez has a certain sense of humour and it's quite wicked. He's such a wonderful man, he has a good, good heart, but there is this humour to him which is possible to be misread. It amazes me that he doesn't get slapped round the face more often but mostly people get it and they understand his heart. He gets away with a lot because it can be easily misinterpreted. I think his time will come. He's got lots of things in the pipeline and he's really very good.

Has your career gone as planned? As hoped? I'm a perfectionist! l hope for ridiculous things. There's been plenty of parts that I've auditioned for and not got and wanted very badly.

Such as? I don't kiss and tell! But there's been many. This is part of an actor's life. I've spent almost the whole of the last four years employed. If I wasn't a perfectionist I couldn't have asked for more. As I am one, I'm never going to be satisfied.

Do you feel satisfied in any way with your move into movies? I saw a trailer for The Wedding Date and I wasn't in it. I play the third lead, it's certainly a major part of the film. And only Debra [Messing] and Dermot [Mulrooney] were in it. I understand. r mean, there's no reason for an American audience why I would make the trailer. Debra's a huge star there and it has to look like a romantic story with Dermot. But still there was this disappointment to it. But I was at a friend's house in America watching the Golden Globes, all snuggled up on the bed together, talking about what everyone was wearing and suddenly in the interval the movie trailer comes on and there I am. That was one of the most exciting things I've had since I started acting. It was a proper movie trailer! With that guy's voice.

Was The Wedding Date the first time you'd been on a film set? Properly, yes. Icon did a version of Anna Karenina that bombed horribly. It was with Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean and I had ten days on that. That was very exciting. It was the first time on a full film set. It was filmed in St Petersberg in Catherine the Great's summer palace. Unbelievable. I was marched out from a limo in make-up through the extras, sitting around, the sound guys, the cameras and into the epicentre of this whole whirling madness. It was incredible. That was my first experience of it, but The Wedding Date was the first proper reason I had to be there, not as a little side-lined character. Jeffrey is irredeemable, I love the character. The last frame of the film is me doing naked push-ups looking at another woman.

Are you naked? In a PG way.

Would you do nude? No. I don't know. If it wasn't gratuitous, if it was the right kind of material.

Where do you stand on Nine Songs? I'm not sure. Who's in it? Kieran O'Brien. I was sure all the fuss about that had gone now. Hasn't it been screened? Oh, the frenzy led me to believe it had come and gone. I think there's an argument against it in a way. People are just going to go along to see the guy's cock, let's face it.1t's perfectly valid, if it doesn't take away from the story. If it's gratuitous I wouldn't do it.

How did you find Debra? She's really good. She's just really, really good. She knows exactly what she's doing. They're all bloody good in that show [Will & Grace]. I've been down to watch them filming and the

Attitude’s one of the only places I’ll sit and talk about my sexuality because it’s important here. To have some ambiguity as an actor is a good thing

stuff they do is amazing. The writers re-write on the spot, then it goes to the actors and they have to do it and it's so terrifying. She's a hugely intelligent woman. I don't really know anything about comedy so that was all hugely scary to me. I talked to Jack Davenport about this because it's almost like comedy scripts are a language that I just don't understand. Alii can ever do is go with instincts. Watching Debra, who is very serious about it, was a great lesson. She can plot through the moments where it'll work.

How's Bombshell been? Bloody hard work! It was quite hard going. Five months of intense work. My character's a major in the army, Major Nick Welling, Major Swelling, ha ha. I'm married to a general's daughter who is a pill-popping alchoholic and I'm having an affair with Zoe Lucker's character. So when I'm filming my domestic scenes with my wife, I'm in it. When I'm filming the affair with Zoe's character, I'm in it. And when the generic army scenes are being filmed, I'm in them too. It's quite full on. It's a new project.

There's a lot of anticipation on this because of Zoe too, isn't there? I think so. And it's weird because I'm in the middle of filming the second series of Murder In Suburbia which is a nice little thing to do. It's a bit bigger part this time. They've found their feet with it. The identity's much clearer by the second series. We know where we're at with it. Bombshell hasn't got there yet. It will do but it's very tense on a new thing.

You don't do that hard sell actor thing of everything's fabulous, do you? I know what you're saying. It takes a lot for me to glorify anything in life. I find very few things extraordinary.

Is this tied up with your perfectionism? Absolutely. I mean, of course it is.

Are your female fans aware of you as a gay actor? Yes, I think so. Attitude's one of the only places I'll sit and talk about my sexuality because it's important here. To have some ambiguity as an actor is a good thing. I don't want to do a [very famous closeted Hollywood actor], here. But it can be a good thing. I'm curious about people so I can't expect other people not to be. I can't just not speak about it which in it's very lack of verbalising it is a denial. That I have a problem with. I didn't want to be waving flags and being a gay right's activist either. Thank god people do, but it's not me. I wanted to be honest, clear and unambiguous about it. It's how I feel comfortable. I have a fan site that a really sweet lady set up. Most of it is not mentioned, 1 don't know whether that's because people don't know or don't care but 5% of the fan mail I've seen has mentioned it.

Do you get gay blokes writing to you?  Yeah, Some.  It's not the majority.  I have some letters off men and women with pictures and addresses and phone numbers saying that they'd like to date me. It's sweet. It's not something I'd have the courage to do, but it's sweet.  This something that brings us back to the earlier conversation. If someone knows you from the telly then they have a gamut of information on you that you don't have on them. So you start off these meetings with the normal social procedure thrown on its head.

Can you spot the fans when they're chatting you up? Yeah.  Sometimes they tell you, which is it best way of it doing it.  If they try and pretend that they're not then they're starting on a really dishonest footing.

Would you miss the attention if you moved into production?  I don't think I would.  I don't feel like I miss that feeling of being on telly every week that I was with Holby.  You know, the attention comes and goes.  I don't mind at all.  I don't miss it.  It doesn't seem to make any difference.  If I'm telling stories then I'm doing what I want to do.