In Hysteria, Hugh Dancy revs up the first vibrator

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Hugh Dancy didn’t precisely tell his wife that in his new comedy, Hysteria, he would be pretending to give hand jobs to women. “No, I did not,” he says, laughing. “Those words did not issue from my mouth.”

In fairness, his character, Mortimer Granville, is a doctor practising medicine in Victorian England. Like the best sort of medical professional, he’s prone to give lady patients vulva massages and—because Granville is based on the real-life Mortimer—he eventually invents that dandy gadget known as the vibrator.

It seems Dancy is doing a lot of sex work lately. At the moment, he’s calling from New York, where he lives with his wife (Claire Danes) and where he’s performing the reportedly sweaty and sizzling comedy Venus in Fur on Broadway. Yet he wasn’t inclined to excessive perspiration when he read the script for Hysteria (which opens on Friday [May 25] ).

“I wasn’t, like, so taken aback by the subject matter because I had some awareness of the premise: that that was the unlikely way that the vibrator was given to the world,” he says. “I thought it was kind of brilliant and imaginative to essentially take, like, a Merchant Ivory film and then right in the middle of it have these very, very reputable, upright medical men diddling women. There’s no other way to put it,” he adds amusedly. No, indeed.

The good doctors in the film (including Mortimer’s mentor, Robert Dalrymple, played by Jonathan Pryce), and in history, were perfectly serious diddlers. They imagined that the desperate housewives in their care suffered from a restless “hysteria” and that any “paroxysms” simply meant the treatment was working. Apparently, they didn’t pick up on the sighing and moaning.

“He takes hysteria seriously. I mean, when presented with the facts that he’s given, he’s delighted that he can earn a living and also help out these poor women,” Dancy says of Mortimer, who goes from being at the forefront of germ theory to oiling up for another cause.

Playing everyone from Sir Galahad to David Copperfield doesn’t necessarily prepare one to portray a man who develops carpal tunnel syndrome from pleasuring ladies for a living. No preparatory hand exercises were required, but Dancy does recall one long scene involving Dr. Robert demonstrating his “technique” to Mortimer, a patient becoming increasingly “untrammelled”, and Pryce likely needing “a hot bath” afterwards.

Maggie Gyllenhaal (who plays Dalrymple’s suffragette daughter) and “very, very entertaining human being” Rupert Everett (as the inventor whose motorized feather duster inspires Mortimer’s light-bulb moment) also costar. Though everyone tried not to “crack up”, there were hazards. “Almost immediately, you run into double entendres,” Dancy says. “I mean, you talk about the ‘climax’ of the movie.” Luckily, no Hello Kitty vibrators appeared on-set. “We had already the most ridiculous paraphernalia as it was.”

In August, Dancy will go to Toronto to film a new TV series, Hannibal—yes, that cannibalistic serial killer—in which he will play Special Agent Will Graham, “who finds himself hunting Hannibal, or being hunted by Hannibal, depending on the way you look at it”. He only looks one way at serial killers. “I think I’m against them.” And vibrators? “If I have to choose between a vibrator and a serial killer, I’ll take a vibrator.”


Watch the trailer for Hysteria.

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Barb
Does anyone know when this movie will be out in USA?
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