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Change is a good thing for 'Passionada' star

Jason Isaacs gets hooked on diverse roles

HOLLYWOOD -- Jason Isaacs probably became an actor "because I like not being me. I guess I come from that European tradition of acting. It's a theatrical tradition of wanting, at least aspiring, to be a chameleon," he says. "I don't even really want to recognize myself."

At least in his Hollywood movies, the British actor, 40, has managed to reinvent himself for each role. As Mel Gibson's coolly malevolent nemesis William Tavington in "The Patriot," Isaacs created a vain, arrogant character who wore his long locks in a rigid ponytail.

As the no-nonsense Captain Mike Steele in Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down," he shaved his black hair to give his character a grizzled, world-weary quality. In "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," he captured the pomposity of wizard Lucius Malfoy with his long blond hair, velvet suits, and ornate walking stick.

In the romantic comedy "Passionada," he disappears into the character of Charlie Beck, a charming loser who finds love and redemption with a beautiful Portuguese widow (Sofia Milos) living in the fishing community of New Bedford. As the card shark rogue, Charlie wears loud sport shirts and hair that might be described as Ringo Starr's gone to seed.

Charlie, Isaacs says, is taste-challenged. "He has always had pretty bad taste in women and in his lifestyle. The thing about Charlie is that he's a terrible loser. He's always smiling and perky, but inside he's a walking tragedy. Living from motel to motel. Living in permanent denial. Wearing cheap shirts and bad hair. He's just a disaster except that he's witty and charming and he puts on a reasonable show." "Passionada" director Dan Ireland ("The Whole Wide World") says Isaacs was a great collaborator. "He added so much to Charlie," says Ireland. "He became much more of a guy who was looking for redemption and that added a complexity. Jason is just a master of underplaying yet getting it spot on."

Isaacs was in the middle of what he describes as World War IV, doing "Black Hawk Down" in Morocco for Ridley Scott, when he was offered "Passionada." After the high-testosterone Scott adventure, the experience came as a bit of a culture shock.

"It was so lovely having been in this very, very aggressive and deafening environment in Morocco for five months and then to be in this film which was about charm and wit and silence and trying to be subtle."

For Ireland, says Isaacs, "The script was a blueprint, a starting point. . . . He wanted us to improvise all. . . . It was nice after being such a small cog in such a huge thing in Morocco to feel very, very creative. I don't mean to be disrespectful to the writers, because they came up with the story and the characters, but I don't think I said a single word that was written in the script."

This Christmas, Isaacs appears in "Peter Pan," directed by P.J. Hogan ("My Best Friend's Wedding"), in which he plays the dual role of the bumbling Mr. Darling and the villainous Captain Hook.

Next year, Isaacs is set to reprise his Lucius Malfoy role for "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." He admits, "It would be nice to sneak something in between where I work with actors who have already hit puberty."

It's not that he doesn't love kids. He's absolutely besotted with his 16-month-old daughter, Lily. It's just the long hours.

"It is fantastic working with kids because they are incredibly refreshing and not cynical," says Isaacs. "They are just having fun, which is what acting should be about. However, they can't work a full day, so . . . I come to the set incredibly early and work a little bit. Then they go home and I work to the very last minute . . . and then the whole thing starts again. So it would be nice to share the burden with my fellow actors in a grown-up film."

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