10 Things You Never Knew About James Purefoy
James Purefoy likes to keep himself busy. Since he began his acting career in the 1990s, the charismatic Englishman has never really been out of work. You might know him from hit historical drama Rome, DC crime series Pennyworth, coming-of-age dramedy Sex Education, or the charming Britcom Fisherman's Friends, to name just a few of his projects.
Purefoy also appears in the second season of A Discovery of Witches as Philippe de Clermont, stepfather of Matthew Goode's Matthew Clairmont. The show returns Sunday, June 27 at 7pm ET on AMC – though you can watch full episodes here already – so let's take some time to find out more about once it's new cast members!
1. The surname Purefoy dates back more than a thousand years.
According to House of Names, it began "soon after 1066 when the Norman Conquest of England occurred" and was a name "given to a man of true faith." It actually derives from the Old French term pure-foy, meaning someone who was staunch and true.
2. He went to Sherborne, a prestigious independent boarding school that also counts John Le Carré, Hugh Bonneville, and Chris Martin among its alumni.
Purefoy has since revealed that he embarked on a course of therapy in his late-twenties to deal with the emotional fallout from being sent to boarding school as a child. "I think if you're sent away by your parents, you often have a sense of blame about that," he told The Independent, likening the long-term effects to "spaghetti in your chest that needs to be combed out."
He then said of his parents' decision to send him to Sherborne: "It's fine. They did what they did. They did what they did because that's what their parents did, and that's what their parents did, and to blame them is a waste of time. Blaming other people for it is a negative and pointless exercise."
3. As a teenager, he spent two years working as a hospital porter.
"The pay was £25 ($35) for a 40 hour week. And this was 1980 not 1890," he told Somerset Live in 2019. "Duties involved schlepping patients from wards to one department or another, collecting and delivering laundry, blood samples, documents, blood & plasma, meals, mail. A prosthetic leg here, an amputated one there. You name it, we portered it. I did a spell in the operating theaters and then the mortuary."
Recalling why he eventually left to pursue an acting career, Purefoy added: "I spent two very happy years there. It was only when I told my father that I was going to try to qualify as a mortician that he suggested my time might be better spent doing A Levels at a college near him that I left the hospital and went to a Tech [college]. And did Theatre Studies."
4. He twice came close to playing Bond: first when Pierce Brosnan was cast in 1995, then when Daniel Craig landed the role a decade later.
"I kind of wish it had never been found out that I’d gone up for Bond. It has plagued my life – the job that I didn’t get," Purefoy told The Independent last year.
During the same interview, he also admitted that he had rather mixed feelings about the high-pressure role. "There have been jobs, Bond being one of them, where you get very close to getting something and then you start pulling away because the ramifications of what would happen if you got it become a little troubling," Purefoy said. "The closer I got to Bond, the more I wasn’t really sure."
5. He isn't remotely precious when it comes to his résumé.
"I've done some rubbish," Purefoy told the i paper last year, comparing himself to Sir Michael Caine in this regard.
"He's a big hero of mine, simply for the fact of those films he made in the '70s and '80s: Jaws 4, The Swarm, The Hand," Purefoy said. "I love him for doing those films – he was a jobbing film star, or ‘a movie actor’ as he describes himself. It's very satisfying that there are people out there who have done terrible things. Every plumber has done a duff job somewhere. But every job has a thing about it that makes it worth doing."
6. He has no interest whatsoever in the 'fame game.'
"I was once described as a ‘stealth celebrity’ and I couldn’t have been happier," Purefoy told Gentlemen's Journal. "It sounds kind of cool, and it shows just how disinterested I am in that side of the world. I don’t go to the parties. I don’t go to the openings. I just don't buy into it. I'd rather be at home with a good book."
7. He gets on very well with Matthew Goode, who plays his on-screen son in A Discovery of Witches.
They clearly had a great time making The Wine Show together, as this hilarious outtakes reel shows.
8. In fact, he kind of has Matthew Goode to thank for his role in A Discovery of Witches.
"I got involved with this because I was sitting in a hotel bar with Matthew. We were shooting The Wine Show in Portugal and we were in the bar one night," Purefoy told Collider earlier this year. "Suddenly his phone beeped and it was Jane Tranter, the esteemed producer of not only The Wine Show but Succession and a million other things. She was offering up three actors to play his father and wanted his opinion on each of them."
He then said of Goode – who is only 14 years younger than him: "He loved the idea of me playing his father and found it hilarious because we’re not really father-and-son age. And then, it went from there. I got a lovely letter from Tranter and Edoardo Ferretti, who is one of the producers on A Discovery of Witches, laying out exactly how important this character was to them and in the witches' universe, and how important it was for me to play him. So, I said yes, which meant that I could spend more time with Matthew.'
9. He used to be a regular at a casino on London's Shaftesbury Avenue, but says he doesn't gamble any more.
Purefoy told Square Mile that as a younger man, he would visit the casino "two or three times a week, for a year."
"And you genuinely do realize the balance that the house has over you if you go as consistently as that," he added. "I would keep a record of how much I lost, how much I made, and it pretty much split into 51% for them and 49% for me."
Asked about his biggest win, Purefoy replied: "Quite considerable. Thousands. But then I'd lose thousands."
10. He had a memorable experience shooting the 2006 movie Goose on the Loose in rural Saskatchewan with a rather boastful Chevy Chase.
"I'd only ever seen him in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but his ego was so enormous that he thought I knew everything about him. But I’m an eternal optimist, even when the stuff between action and cut isn’t of the highest standard,” Purefoy told the i paper.
Do you have a favorite James Purefoy role to date?