Jaci Stephen: 'Had I remembered the name of the pub, I might just have met my idol'

Way Out West
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The Independent Online

Does Matthew Rhys actually exist? It's the question I've been asking for almost a year now, as I continue to chase the shadow of the Welsh actor who has made it big in Hollywood.

Matthew is one of the stars of my favourite TV show, Brothers and Sisters, in which he plays gay lawyer Kevin Walker. Good looking, charismatic, and an actor of extraordinary range and depth, he also manages one of the most convincing American accents of any non-American actor on the screen.

Despite my living in what most would regard as the acting capital of the world, Matthew remains one of the few actors I have a burning desire to meet. Matthew, you see, in addition to being a great talent, is (in case you haven't worked it out) Welsh.

I was told when I came here that there were dozens of Welsh people in LA. I have yet to meet one. At a Brits in LA lunch, I met a Scot, loads of English, a couple of Australians and Americans, but none of my kinsfolk. Downtown, there is a Welsh church, they tell me, but when the words downtown and church appear in one sentence, I am guaranteed to run for cover.

But I still want to meet my kinsfolk. The Welsh are very tribal, and wherever we go in the world, we try to hunt down our own kind. I like the self-deprecating humour, the easy conversation, the warmth in the comradeship. They aren't characteristics common to all Welsh people, of course, but they are noticeable enough to call them national traits.

So when I return home to Cardiff, I am questioned not about Hollywood celebrities born and bred in the US, but about the Welsh "community" they imagine lurks somewhere beneath the Hollywood sign.

"Have you bumped into Catherine?" they ask. "Have you seen Ioan's house?" "Have you been to Andrew's for Sunday roast?" That's Catherine Zeta Jones, Ioan Gruffudd and Andrew Howard, for those of you not quite up on modern Welsh thespianism. But most of all they say: "How's Matthew?"

I wish I could tell them. I wish I could say "Well, I was only saying to Matthew, when we worked out ... "Or "Matthew mixes a mean Martini". To be honest, I'd be happy enough being able to say: "I saw Matthew waving to me from afar", but I can't, because, quite simply, I haven't had so much as a sniff of his whereabouts.

When I went home at Christmas, I explained my dilemma to some friends at Boomerang Television. "Oh, he was filming with us," they said. "We know his sister. We'll get you an introduction." They didn't.

"Ah, you want to go to The Plough in Whitchurch on Christmas Eve; he's always there," said a radio producer.

Ha! This was more like it: date, time, venue.

Had I remembered the name of the pub correctly, I wouldn't have spent the night in the Fox and Hounds, nursing a pair of binoculars. "Yes, he was in the Plough," said the producer, the next time I saw him. "He was there Christmas morning, too."

With the start of the Six Nations at the weekend, and Matthew being a rugby fan, I thought I was pretty much guaranteed a meeting. "All the Welsh actors go to Santa Monica to watch the games," said my Boomerang friends. "We've filmed them there."

Great. Another date, time, place. This is the first Six Nations I will have spent in LA, and for Saturday's game against Scotland, if it meant getting to the pub for the 6am kick-off to bump into Matthew, then that's what I was going to do.

I had heard that the lads go to the Britannia or the King's Head to watch the Wales games. Alas, I slept late and only made it down to the King's Head for the France- Ireland game, by which time all the Welsh had left. It transpired, though, that there weren't many Welsh in attendance anyway. BBC America is, for the first time, showing the games live, so everyone can now stay at home in their dressing gowns.

Everyone tells me that Matthew is a delight to be with, both personally and professionally, and he still feels his roots very strongly, not least because Welsh is his first language. I am therefore brushing up on my Welsh in readiness for St David's Day, when I have been assured there is a big Welsh event which Matthew will most definitely be attending. I can already hear the words "you've just missed him" ringing in my ears.



To read Jaci Stephen's LA diary in full, go to lanotsoconfidential.blogspot.com

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