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Hey, Jude: His pal Law helped Jonny Lee Miller say bye-bye to bashfulness

Luaine Lee
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

PASADENA, Calif. — Though he comes from a long line of actors, Jonny Lee Miller was never an extrovert. He often felt intimidated by crowds and still doesn't manage them well. But the star of movies like "Trainspotting," "Afterglow," TV's "Eli Stone" and PBS' upcoming "Endgame," says his best buddy helped him overcome his shyness.

The British Miller met that friend, actor Jude Law, when he was 15.

"We've been best friends for nearly 25 years. And he had a great impact on my life. We shared two different flats together when we were younger. When he was younger, he was a very gregarious and outgoing individual, and I was quite shy. And he helped me overcome that. I guess that changed me," says Miller in a deserted meeting room in a hotel here.

You don't have to be outgoing to be an actor, says Miller. "I think you have to have the ability to extrovert, but you don't have to BE an extrovert at all. A lot of the more intense actors are not extroverts. I'm not great ... in large groups of people but I'm not shy anymore. I like to think of myself as being quite friendly, but I wouldn't call myself shy," he says, the rolled sleeves of his red-and-white checked shirt revealing tattoos on both forearms.

"I'm not intimidated easily, but I got over that. Jude helped me do that. But also traveling the world and seeing stuff. I've been some places and had some experiences where things don't bother me a lot generally because I know how lucky I am, and I'm quite happy," says Miller, who's sporting a light brown mustache and close cropped hair.

"I think I used to get intimidated a lot. I used to be quite nervous. It's traveling the world and having life experiences that's changed that for me. When bad things happen, and you bounce back."

Though his performance as the film buff, Sick Boy, in "Trainspotting" won favor with audiences, Miller didn't bounce back from what followed.

"I made some really bad decisions, and I turned a lot of work down and kind of got lost in life," he says. "And I was out there in the world not really concentrating on my career really."

It was during this time that he married and divorced Angelina Jolie. "I did have some interesting experiences work-wise, but nobody saw them. I had an amazing time and went to some great places doing these jobs and worked with some great actors but I wasn't really focused. My agent here jokes because I see the agents a lot now, but there was a period of six years when I didn't go into their office."

One of those "great places" was India where Miller traveled the entire perimeter of the sub-continent with 15 strangers on a camping expedition for three months.

"When you're self-sufficient you buy your food in markets, decide what routes to take, what you want to do, sometimes you stop in a city and you disappear because you're sick of the people you're traveling with. And you disappear for four days. We never stayed in hotels and you see much more of the country that way. And I came back a completely different person."

Miller's latest role in "Endgame," as the bookish businessman who helps orchestrate secret negotiations between warring factions in racial-torn South Africa, seems like a completely different person from the heroin addled Sick Boy or the accomplished Mr. Knightley from "Emma."

But that's the nature of his work, and he comes by it honestly. Miller's great-grandfather performed in music hall, his grandfather was actor Bernard Lee (M in the early "Bond" movies) and his father, Alan Miller, was a well-known and highly respected stage manager who worked both at the BBC and in theater.

Miller earned his first acting paycheck when he was 8. "I did three or four things and got my union card then. I was like, 'Well, I can do this.' And I got paid and had my own bank account when I was 8 years old. Then I didn't do anything professionally for quite some time, but I did go into the theater at school."

In fact, in a deal with his father, he passed his first set of exams in high school, then quit school at 17 to pursue his passion.

Now married to American actress Michele Hicks ("The Shield"), he is the father of a 10-month-old son, and a three-year resident of the U.S. "I moved because I needed a change," he says.

"And I had fallen out of favor with my hometown. I moved for professional reasons. I had some opportunities and wanted to work ... You learn a lot more about yourself."

"Endgame" airs Sunday on "Masterpiece Contemporary."

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