Tom Phillips is back on familiar ground playing Mr. Darcy in SummerFest's production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
For years he was a staple of Lexington's outdoor summer theater festival when it was "under several different names and at different locations," he says.
Phillips made his stage debut in 1990 playing the title role in Henry V at the Lexington Shakespeare Festival, SummerFest's predecessor. In subsequent years, his parts included the title role in Robin Hood, one of the Three Musketeers and Shakespearean turns such as Laertes in Hamlet (twice).
Phillips also worked with other area theaters; and starred in one of the more prominent locally produced feature films of the last decade, Stephen Zimmer's Shadows Light; and numerous local TV commercials.
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Like many local talents, Phillips decided to take a shot at bigger things, moving to Los Angeles 41/2 years ago to test the waters of film and television.
"I hadn't done it yet and I didn't want to look back and say, 'I wish I had tried that,'" Phillips, 42, says. "L.A. is very difficult, as everybody knows. But sometimes you don't know how difficult and in how many different ways.
"I didn't have a lot of success career-wise. So it's nice to come back and jump back into it."
Money prompted Phillips to move back, reluctantly — "It's about half as expensive to live here as it is to live out there," he says — but chances to get back on stage have been his reward.
Phillips started the summer playing several parts in Actors Guild of Lexington's Tommy, and now he is back to one of his favorite things: tackling an iconic role.
In recent decades, Mr. Darcy has been idealized thanks to film editions of the novel and other works such as the Bridget Jones's Diary books and movies. and Becoming Jane, a 2007 film that had Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen writing Pride and Prejudice while herself becoming involved in a romance similar to that of the book's Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.
But Phillips is quick to point out that Mr. Darcy is not exactly Prince Charming.
"He's very inept in a number of ways, socially speaking," Phillips says. "He comes across to many people as incredibly arrogant and full of himself. And there's an element of truth in that."
One of Darcy's main shortcomings is that "he's just shy," Phillips says. "He doesn't like talking with strangers, he doesn't like dancing with people he doesn't know."
That creates a social ineptitude.
"At times, he shows very little sense of what not to say," Phillips says. "It like the old 'does this dress make me look fat?' thing. The answer is always 'no,' but at times you think he might say, 'Yes, I'm afraid it does.'"
So how does that guy become the man of many an Austenite's dreams? It's the love story between Darcy and Elizabeth, which Phillips says Jon Jory made the center of his theatrical adaptation of the novel.
Elizabeth and Darcy's romance is forbidden. They live in a time when marriage is for status, not love.
Darcy is from a higher class than Elizabeth, and all his family and friends find it unconscionable that he would want to marry her. Her parents know that and pursue matching her with men she has no use for.
"They have no family connections," Phillips says of Elizabeth's family. "They have nothing to offer him. But Darcy is that rare breed. He doesn't care. He wants her."
Who could ask for more than that?