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Dominic West on Turning 50 and PBS's 'Les Miserables'

After playing so many bad guys, 'The Affair' star relishes the heroic role of Jean Valjean

Actor Dominic West attends the "Les Miserables" New York premiere at Times Center on April 08, 2019 in New York City.
Jim Spellman/Getty Images

How does Dominic West feel about his upcoming 50th birthday on Oct. 15? “It's like New Year's Day,” says the British star of The Affair and The Wire. “It makes me feel like I can start all over. You feel like, Okay, now what do I want to do with the rest of my life?”

The first thing he's doing is Les Miserables, the six-part, non-musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel (PBS Masterpiece, April 14), playing French revolution hero Jean Valjean. “I think Valjean was the best superhero of all time,” says West. “He scales buildings like Spider-Man. He did speak a lot like Iron Man. But neither of those characters has done 19 years’ hard labor in a French prison camp. He is the toughest of them all.” West likes what he calls the character's “inner heroics,” too. “He has struggled against his own demons, struggled to do the right thing, the loving thing, rather than the vengeful thing."

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Being the good guy feels good to West after playing so many villains. “It was so refreshing to play a hero, and I only want to do that from now on. Living with Jean Valjean is a wonderful experience. Living with Noah Soloway [his adulterous character on The Affair, airing its fifth and final season on Showtime in 2019] is not. I played Fred West the serial killer, Iago and some other a------s, and it was a really depressing year. And, you know, these people get to you.”

Next up, he says he'll find the “time or doggedness to see through” a dozen projects he's got in his head, including the life stories of Karl Marx and British design revolutionary William Morris. “I tend to get most excited about historical figures that have extraordinary lives that we've forgotten.”

Such excitement runs in the family. “My 20-year-old daughter Martha made a film called Creation, about Charles Darwin, when she was 9. She played Darwin's daughter,” explains West. “She was brilliant, but I said, ‘You're going to miss out on a lot of school.’ Now she's 20 at Oxford studying English, and she's very keen to get back into acting. I'm going all out to help her."

This summer, he's gearing up for a good old all-American road trip with his wife and four children. “We're going to get an RV and hopefully go out for two months,” says West. “They want to see all the monuments and the Grand Canyon. I want to see the Pacific Northwest. It all stemmed from a film called Captain Fantastic, with Viggo Mortensen raising his kids in the wild — that sort of hugely appeals to me. Although my wife reminds me that his [character's] wife commits suicide.”

One thing that may change when West hits 50: his exercise routine. “In my 40s, I got into hot yoga. That's a good one that can last me the rest of my life. But I might have to eventually give in to wearing Lycra shorts and taking up cycling, because I can't really run anymore."