Back in his home country of Wales, Ioan Gruffudd's family may not have come with a Hooked On Phonics set, but it did come with Gruffudd's aunt, who was tasked with translating and dubbing an imported American television series into the Welsh language. So even before the tender age of 10, the kid was in show business. "I had the opportunity to play some characters on The Smurfs," says Gruffudd, who, for the record, is terribly pleasant and whose name, also for the record, is pronounced "Ewan Griffith."
Since that early experience, and since he exported himself to the United States, Gruffudd has become one of those actors who takes solid roles in small films while also taking on the massive Hollywood blockbusters. This summer alone he has a terrific part in Jake Kasdan's shoestring-budget flick The TV Set-a sweetly snarky insider look at the downfall of a promising TV series, modeled after Kasdan's experience on Freaks and Geeks-and on June 15, he reprises his role as Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic) in the Fantastic Four franchise, a movie that cost something like $130 million to make.
Gruffudd has done TV in the U.K. and stateside, and as you might expect, the experiences are different. "In the U.K. there are only two channels that are vying for that vast amount of money that is commercial airtime," he says. "So one would shoot a series, and one would get to see the whole series. Here, there's that pressure of having a series catch fire and capture an audience very early on in its life."
He adds that many of the experiences his and David Duchovny's characters in The TV Set ring true. He plays a BBC exec assigned to bring some class to an American network; Duchovny is the film's fictional series creator. "I can vouch for that," he says, having weathered a season on the Sci-Fi Network's Century City. "What goes on on-set, the arguments between the director and the lighting guy, or the writer and creator, or how the executives come down and everything changes. I've seen that firsthand."
Those are just some of the reasons Gruffudd is happier to have stretched into movies. "There's never enough time in TV," he says. "You're shooting an hour in eight days. In a movie, you shoot an hour in eight weeks. There's more care. It's like painting with broader strokes on television, whereas doing a movie is more like fine art."
When it comes to making movies, Gruffudd says, size really does change the experience. "The process itself between action and cut really isn't that different," he says. "But on something like The TV Set versus Fantastic Four, it's much quicker. You are getting through a few scenes a day because of the budgetary and time constraints. With Fantastic Four, you could work on a scene for a week." On a daily basis, he says, the smaller films are "a lot more satisfying, it must be said, as an actor. You come home having achieved two or three scenes, it's been about the character and the relationships and it's mentally satisfying."
That isn't to say that working in front of a blue or green screen isn't satisfying-or a challenge. "It's a different discipline you need. You're standing there hitting the marks, pretending that your arm is stretching way over there. Jessica [Alba, the Invisible Woman] is behind you, but she's invisible, and Chris [Evans, the Human Torch] is flying around somewhere. You're doing it over and over again. You really have to concentrate and be on the ball. I'm not believable in all those takes and they can't take that away and impose my arm-stretching. It's harder, in a sense. The satisfaction comes from seeing it all finally put together."