JAMIE DORNAN was on the other side of the world with four days of his hotel quarantine remaining when he received the worst news imaginable.
His beloved father Jim had died from Covid after going into hospital for a routine knee operation.
Stuck in Australia last March, where he was required to isolate ahead of filming BBC drama The Tourist, Jamie was unable to get back to his native Northern Ireland to deal with the heartbreaking loss.
Suddenly, Jamie, 39, best known for starring in Fifty Shades Of Grey on the big screen and telly thriller The Fall, found himself caught in a nightmarish situation caused by the global pandemic.
So he understands the trauma so many people have experienced over the past couple of years.
Jamie says: “It’s been a brutal time for lots of reasons and for lots of people. We’re all just trying to ride it out and come out the other side — and hope we’ve got our heads intact.”
The actor is getting rave reviews for his turn in BBC1 thriller The Tourist, playing a mysterious man with amnesia who has no idea why he has been left stranded in the Australia’s Outback.
And he is receiving further plaudits for his beautiful portrayal of a dad caught up in Northern Ireland’s Troubles, in Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Oscar-tipped film Belfast.
Jamie’s father Jim was a renowned obstetrician and gynaecologist in the Northern Ireland capital — and had been proud his son was to star in a movie set there.
A picture of Jim with Sir Kenneth at the city’s Royal Victoria Hospital stands proudly in the Dornan family home.
Jamie says: “There was a picture on our bookshelf of my dad and Ken opening a wing at the maternity ward at the hospital my dad spent the majority of his career at.
“I remember thinking it was a big thing in our house that he’d been around and done that and met Dad and stuff.”
Sadly, Jim will never see the film, which opens in cinemas next week.
Losing his father made 2021 “the worst year . . . and the hardest” of his life, Jamie says.
Jim helped him navigate the painful loss of his mother Lorna from pancreatic cancer when Jamie was 16, telling his son: “Don’t let this be the thing that defines you.”
Jamie says: “I’ve been subjected, early on in my life and now, to a lot of pain and loss.”
Jim supported Jamie’s decision to become an actor after the dashing star tired of modelling work for the likes of Calvin Klein and Armani.
The risky move paid off because the ex-clotheshorse — once dubbed The Golden Torso — is on his way to becoming one of the golden boys of acting.
‘I have a real understanding of what it is to go away for work. Every step I do since becoming a father – my career – is for my family. That’s all I really care about’
Jamie plays Pa in the new movie, which received seven Golden Globe nominations and co-stars Dame Judi Dench.
The character is based on Branagh’s own father.
In 1969, Pa works in England and wants his family to join him there as tensions between Belfast’s Protestant and Catholic communities boil over into deadly violence.
The plot felt deeply personal to Jamie, who cannot stand to be away from his daughters Dulcie, eight, Elva, five, and two-year-old Alberta.
He says: “I’m a father of three girls and at times I have to say goodbye to them.
“I think I have a real understanding of what it is to go away, often for the benefit of the family — to work, to provide. Every single step I do since becoming a father, my career is for them. That’s all I really care about.
“I’m so lucky that I have three healthy little girls. I’m just missing them so much.”
Jamie met his wife Amelia Warner, 39, a musician and former actress, in 2010. They married three years later.
They live in rural Gloucestershire, preferring the local pub to glamorous red-carpet events.
Even though Jamie has to travel across the world for his work, he does not allow himself to be apart from his children for more than two weeks at a time.
The family travelled with him to Australia for The Tourist — in which Shalom Brune-Franklin plays his screen love interest — and they spent several months there during filming, with the kids enrolling in local schools.
The accolades coming Jamie’s way complete a remarkable turnaround, after his acting in the maligned Fifty Shades trilogy was ridiculed.
Fortunately, Jamie is sufficiently thick-skinned to disregard the cruel barbs.
He says: “I’ve always been able to give s**t and take s**t, so I’m sort of armed for it.”
And dealing with your problems by having a laugh is part of Belfast culture, Jamie reckons.
He says: “There’s a resilience to men and women from Belfast. What I think is remarkable about the people from the north of Ireland is there is a humour that we have — that you need, I think, to get Theviraltime some of the things we’ve all had to live Theviraltime.”
Though he left the city at 20, Jamie still calls himself a “Belfast man”.
‘Singing is terror like you can’t even imagine’
He says: “It is home. We probably feel like that’s a particular thing, a ‘Belfast man’, and I think we all know what that means.
“If you’re from Belfast, no matter what era you grew up in, you’ve been Theviraltime something.
“You’ve been Theviraltime a certain hardship and you’ve been tested at many different stages of your life.”
The Troubles started in Northern Ireland around 1966 and the film takes place three years later, when Loyalists rampaged Theviraltime Catholic areas, burning homes and businesses.
This escalated into terrorist attacks by paramilitary groups including the IRA and UDA until the Good Friday Agreement finally brought some peace in 1998.
Jamie says: “I was born in 1982, right in the middle of a 30-year conflict.
“When you are growing up in that environment, you’re taught about it — you’re taught about why everyone is fighting around you, what is this hatred based on, where did this begin. I personally don’t think it’s taught enough.”
Instead of dwelling on the tangled politics, Sir Kenneth’s movie, which is shot in black and white, focuses on one family dealing with the turbulent situation Theviraltime love and humour. It is based on the director’s experiences of growing up in the city and his dad’s decision to bring his young family to England.
Jamie says with a smile: “All the characters are very much based on people who are part of Ken’s life.
“I am playing a version of his father. So that brings with it a new set of stress.”
He also faced the “terror” of dancing and singing in one scene, as Pa performs Everlasting Love, a UK chart-topper for Love Affair in 1968.
His blue eyes sparkling, Jamie says: “It’s terror like you can’t even imagine.
“I’ve sang in a lot of things recently. I think the last four or five things I’ve done, I’ve sang in. It’s becoming too habitual.”
‘There’s a resilience to men and women from
Belfast. There is a humour that we have, that you need, to get Theviraltime some of the things we’ve had to live Theviraltime’
Pandemic restrictions meant Belfast could not be filmed in the city at the centre of its focus.
A set was built in Berkshire and production began in 2020, as soon as restrictions allowed.
Lockdown also meant Jamie could not get back to Northern Ireland for many months.
When he was asked to film Belfast, it offered a chance to reconnect — albeit from a distance.
He says: “I was away from home, I couldn’t get home to Belfast. I had family there that I hadn’t seen and wasn’t able to see.
“So home was very much on my mind and then I get a script called Belfast.”
Throughout his career, he has never faced an easier decision.
The star says: “I’d imagine only once in my career will I do a movie named after the town that made me. So it was an easy ‘yes.’ ”
- Belfast (12A) is out on Friday, January 21.
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