In HBO’s “Rome,” James Purefoy played Marc Anthony, a powerful man with a love of blood, lust and more blood. But in his upcoming new primetime drama, “The Philanthropist,” for NBC, the handsome British actor is channeling another kind of commanding figure – one with a conscience.
“This isn’t just a glib story about a billionaire,” Purefoy told AccessHollywood.com about his character, Teddy Rist, aka “The Philanthropist. “It’s about a billionaire realizing what he can do with his power and wealth in order to help other people.”
In the drama, scheduled to premiere on June 24 at 10 PM following “America’s Got Talent,” Purefoy stars as Rist, a playboy billionaire who develops a taste for moral goodness after two major events involving children occur in his life.
“Quite a lot of his philanthropy comes out of a sense of selfishness really. His child has died. That’s left a great void in his life. He was filling that void with womanizing and alcohol and the rest of it,” Purefoy explained. “Just by fluke he went to Nigeria and he saved a little boy and the upshot was that not only was the boy saved, but it made him feel better. And so he suddenly realizes, maybe this will make me feel better and so week by week, he takes a hit on philanthropy.”
A former star of “Resident Evil” and “Vanity Fair,” Purefoy is paired up with two TV vets for the new series — Neve Campbell (“Party of Five”) and Jesse L. Martin (“Law & Order”) – who play Teddy’s wealthy pals Olivia and Philip Maidstone.
“They’re all billionaires, they’re all pretty much equal in their wealth,” Purefoy said. “[Jesse’s character] is the one who is kind of the bean counter if you like… He is the sensible one. He is the one trying to stop Teddy from being quite so, you know, quite so impulsive.”
Before taking the role, which came across his desk a little over a year ago, Purefoy enlisted the advice of some of his British pals who’ve taken up work in the USA.
“I spoke to Damien Lewis on ‘Life,’ and I spoke to [former ‘Rome’ co-star] Kevin McKidd who’s now doing ‘Grey’s Anatomy,” Purefoy recounted. “They all said, ‘Yes, it’s insane, and you are spat out at the end of your shoot, sort of [a] husk of a man,’ because it’s brutal, the shooting schedule… but at the end of the day I take that as a great challenge and I relish it, so I’m very excited by it.”
One thing not so exciting though, has been the injuries Purefoy has sustained while filming the first three episodes of the series (they will film a total of eight before the series begins).
“I keep having rather bad injuries. We have to stop shooting while I go and get myself fixed up,” he said. “I took a seven centimeter tear in a hamstring while I was [being filmed] under gun fire from some Nigerian rebels… And then I broke my foot recently. That required an operation, so I’m gonna go back and try not to be quite so eager to do my own stunts.”
While the scars from surgery will always be a reminder about the stunts, Purefoy said the drama itself has left its own lasting impact.
“It’s not only a cracking good action adventure, it’s intensely moving, it’s smart, it’s clever dialogue and it introduces a character who I really hope the American public takes to because I think if we can get billionaires to behave even a little bit like Teddy Rist, then they may not be quite so unpopular in the future,” he said.