Any Welshman will tell you: if you’re born and raised in God’s own country, you’ll always regard it as home. I’ve set up my life in New York, but I only say I’m going home when I’m going back to Wales. I miss it enormously on a daily basis.
I always thought I’d return to Wales, but when I moved from Los Angeles I only made it as far east as New York. It still amazes me that my son was born in Brooklyn. One day he’ll look at the Manhattan skyline and think, this is my home - whereas I still think I’m in a Robert de Niro film.
I don’t think there’s a choice about forgetting your Welshness. If you’re born in Wales or to Welsh parents, as soon as that indelible stamp has been marked upon you it’s with you for the rest of your life, whether you’re watching rugby, singing songs, or tearing up at Tom Jones.
I was born and raised in Cardiff, and it’s still an incredibly special place to me. It’s not a city you can be bored in."
Keeping the Welsh connection
St David’s Day takes on a greater meaning for exiles. It’s that one day of the year we have the excuse to be overtly Welsh. When I was living in Los Angeles we used to cook an entire lamb for 12 hours over an open fire-pit, and everyone came over and there’d be a few shandies drunk. There’s a very strong Welsh society in New York so they do a very big party on 1 March. I insist that my son wears something incredibly patriotic and I make him eat a leek.
One of the first films I ever made was with this incredible French crew. We were shooting all around Wales and the director of photography said, ‘You have a little big country.’ And I love that about Wales. You want great mountain ranges, incredible coastline, sweeping vistas – you can be in any type of landscape in a very short time.
We’re a small country that historically has had to struggle for its identity. We’ve had to scream louder because we’re smaller, and that imbues you with an incredible sense of identity. That is unwavering in me, it’s as strong as oak. This is great for what I do for a living, which is running away into flights of fancy and pretending to be other people. There’s no way of getting away from who I am.
Winning an Emmy [best actor 2018 for The Americans] is a very surreal experience. It instils in you a great sense of reflection on what brought you to that moment. For me it was firmly begun in the chapel, school, the eisteddfod, the Urdd - all those big performance institutions were the foundation for me, in that moment, holding that trophy. Giving my speech was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life. What I was primarily trying to do was not shake, and also remember everyone I needed to thank. At the end I wanted to say, ‘Diolch yn fawr iawn,’ thank you very much, just to throw a little Welsh bomb onto a universal stage. But I forgot, and I kick myself constantly for that. So now I’ve got to win an Oscar just so I can say ‘Diolch yn fawr iawn’ at the end.
My own Dad’s family is from Machynlleth in Mid Wales, and Mum’s from Fishguard in Pembrokeshire. As kids our time was divided equally between the two. Mum’s family are a seafaring lot, so there were beaches, boats and sailing. Dad’s family were all farmers, so Easter was always about lambing and helping out on the farm. We had a very rich upbringing in that sense: it felt like going to two different countries.
Whoah, Wales - winning
In the past Wales was sometimes regarded as the lesser of Celtic cousins. It didn’t have the might of Scotland and Ireland. I always dare people to explore Wales because what they’ll discover there will shock them. It always does.
The challenge of introducing Wales to American friends was put to me about three years ago. A friend said, ‘I’ve got three days, I want to drive around Wales, where should we go?’. So we set off from Cardiff one morning in blazing sunshine, had lunch on the beach in Gower; he was amazed already that we weren’t having a piece of bread and cheese at the bottom of a coal mine. Then he wanted to see the Dylan Thomas sights, so we went to Laugharne, had a few pints at Brown’s and stayed the night. Then we hit the coast road and went all the way up to Eryri (Snowdonia). We came back down the middle through Rhayader and the Elan Valley. He was amazed. He went, ‘Whoah, Wales - winning.’ That’s not a bad tagline.
Geographically we can offer so much. You can go coasteering, you can go zip-lining down the side of a mountain, you can traverse almost the entire country on horseback. The one road that’s always dear to my heart is the A470, because you see so many different vistas and landscapes. I always love going up through the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) and into Mid Wales, where you see Wales starting to flex its muscles and the landscape gets more dramatic. With a good soundtrack, that route never fails to impress.
It’s easy for me to brag because I have a very rose-tinted view of Wales as a nation. But I always maintain the Welsh are warm, enjoy a good laugh, and their pride in the country will always lend itself to a great welcome. I want people to come, discover and enjoy Wales.