On The Philanthropist, which premiered last week on NBC, James Purefoy plays Teddy Rist, a billionaire playboy whose life is forever changed when he saves a small boy from a flood in Nigeria. From that day forward, Rist focuses on charity, and jumps from country to country helping people. Purefoy, the British actor who played a full-frontally nude Marc Antony in HBO’s Rome, spoke with Vulture about real-life do-gooders, Obama’s TV tastes, and how he missed the James Bond boat.
A billionaire who travels around the world and helps people? Sounds fishy.
I know, I know. I read the script and said, "Preposterous! Come on! What kind of billionaire does this?! It’ll be laughed off the television screens." But then I met Bobby Sager, the billionaire who spends ten months of the year going anywhere he thinks practical, boots-on-the-ground, eyeball-to-eyeball philanthropy will make a difference. The show's not a biopic — the adventures aren’t specifically based on Bobby’s travels. But the idea behind the show comes from his philosophy. I met him and thought he was extraordinary and decided to do the show.
So your character is like the anti-Madoff.
He’s giving, not taking, and it makes him feel really fucking good.
Sounds like a perfect show for the current hope-obsessed climate.
I would imagine if your President ever had the time to sit down and watch a TV show, he would be very happy with what this show is about. It takes the audience to countries it might not know, and focuses down on very specific problems within those countries and those communities.
I think he’s more of an Entourage kind of guy.
It doesn’t matter who you are — I think your heart is a little blackened thing if you don’t like this show.
Is it easier to play a do-gooder than Marc Antony?
Of course, Teddy is much closer to how I actually am, and how I feel about the world. Though I do miss driving around West London in a chariot pulled by lions. I’m kidding.
Is there a Rome movie in development, or is that just a rumor?
I heard there is a Rome movie in the works. I’m not sure if I’ll be in it, though, because obviously, Marc Antony’s already dead. I’m hoping they might be thinking about a prequel, because then I get to be in it. Let’s just start a whole website campaigning for that, yes?
It’s interesting that they let you keep your British accent in this show.
I mean, there are plenty of British people in New York; there are thousands and thousands of them, so why not tell the story of one of them? But again, it’s sort of in keeping with the philosophy of the show, which is about being open to all cultures and everybody’s point of view. And honestly, we were shooting in third-world countries without much experience doing so, and one week I had to learn 42 pages of dialogue in four days — there was a lot more I needed to think and worry about other than, you know, whether I’m getting my Rs right. And NBC was fine with that.
As I was watching, I couldn’t help thinking about what a great James Bond you would have made.
Yes, I was up for it, but hey, you know, Daniel’s doing an amazing job! He’s taking it in a very different direction, and I think he’s fabulous. I also like him as a man. That ship has already sailed with Captain Craig at the helm. Oh, well.