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‘Ooh, he’s very handsome and we’re teaching him to DANCE the SALSA’

Vivian, 27, stunned the world when it was revealed she’s engaged to Rufus Sewell, nearly 30 years older at 56. So what does her very sparky Cuban granny think?

by Barbara McMahon

HE IS known to millions of fans as the philandering love-rat Jasper Bloom in festive film The Holiday and the suave husband of an American ambassador in The Diplomat. And Rufus Sewell will soon play the hapless Prince Andrew in the Netflix drama Scoop, chronicling the BBC2 Newsnight interview that led to the Duke’s dramatic fall from grace.

Now the 56-year-old British actor has undertaken another challenge: winning over the family of his much younger fiancee Vivian Benitez – and learning to salsa. He’s making great progress, according to his 27-year-old fiancee’s Cubanborn grandmother.

‘Age is just a number and we all think Rufus is a wonderful man. We’re teaching him salsa,’ says 83year-old Mirna Benitez, speaking to

The Mail on Sunday from her home in Florida. ‘He’s already a good dancer and he will get better. All the women in the family will teach him.’

Indeed, the evidence is there for all to see. A video posted on Facebook shows Sewell throwing himself with gusto into an impromptu salsa lesson in the garden of the Benitez family home, during their Thanksgiving celebrations last month.

He gamely joins Vivian and another family member for a ‘rueda de casino’ which is danced in a circle of people, attempting a shimmy and hip-swing that belies his years, to enthusiastic applause. Later, the couple pair off and finish the dance together.

Sewell and Vivian – a budding actress, with a few minor roles in TV and film to her name – have been dating for at least two years, and announced their engagement last week with Vivian joyfully posting on Instagram a photo of her diamond ring and a shot of Sewell kissing her on the cheek. The future Mrs Sewell – the third to hold the title – clearly has a sense of humour as she noted: ‘Til death (or him continuing to walk on bathmats with his outside shoes) do us part.’

THE engagement appears to have taken place in Rome as Vivian also shared a photo of herself standing in front of the Trevi Fountain in the early hours of the morning. Rome is dear to Sewell’s heart after he spent time on location there for the 2011 BBC series, Zen, an adaptation of Michael Dibdin’s detective novels, in which he played police detective Aurelio Zen.

Born in Twickenham, South-West London, Sewell was ten when his Australian-born animator father died. He was brought up by his Welsh mother and, by his own account, was a troublesome teenager before becoming interested in acting.

One of his early mentors was Judi Dench, who directed him in a play at the Central School of Drama in London and introduced him to her agent, who, in turn, signed him up.

Sewell’s smouldering good looks brought him a broad range of television roles, such as in The Man In The High Castle and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, as well as film roles in Dangerous Beauty, A Knight’s Tale and The Father.

His performance in Tom Stoppard’s stage play Rock ’N’ Roll won him an Olivier Award. He was soon picking up accolades off-screen, too: the actor was once dubbed

‘the most fanciable man in Britain’ and had romances with actresses including Alice Eve, Donna Air and the late Helen McCrory.

Sewell also had a fleeting romantic liaison with Kate Winslet, a costar in The Holiday, a Christmas staple about two women – the other played by Cameron Diaz – who swap houses for the holidays, and find romance in unexpected places. But his most famous romantic encounter was with Madonna, whom he reportedly turned down after she pursued him for a date.

His portrayal of the raffish Lord Melbourne in the 2016 historical TV drama Victoria – with Jenna Coleman in the title role – earned him a legion of new female attention. Commenting on his new ‘heart-throb’ status, he joked in an interview: ‘After years of complaining about it, at my age it’s good to be objectified.’

He’s had two (brief) marriages. His first wife was fashion journal

ist Yasmin Abdallah, whom he married in 1999. The marriage did not get off to the easiest start, with no honeymoon as the groom was due on stage in Macbeth the evening of their wedding, while the bride had to return to her home country of Australia for visa reasons.

They were eventually spotted celebrating their marriage at The Ivy restaurant in Covent Garden after Abdallah relocated to England, but their happiness was short-lived. They split two weeks before their first anniversary with Sewell later blaming nebulous ‘irreconcilable differences’ for the end of the relationship.

His second marriage was to producer and scriptwriter Amy Gardner in 2004. They had a son, William, now 21, but the marriage lasted barely two years.

Sewell then went on to have a relationship with hair stylist Ami Komai, with whom he has a tenyear-old daugher, Lola.

None of this bothers his new ‘abuela’, Mirna. ‘We didn’t know until recently that we had a movie star in the family,’ she laughs.

Her own life is a world away from Hollywood. She and her husband Leonico have been married for 63 years, and went from Cuba to the US in 1968. They owned a fabric manufacturing factory in New Jersey before retiring to Florida.

The family have been doing their homework on their in-law to be.

‘Vivian called me and said he was in The Diplomat, and we watched it. He was very good and he is very handsome. He’s also very down to earth. We all feel comfortable with Rufus. He’s a lovely man,’ she says. She’s also unfazed by the near 30year age gap: ‘For me, it doesn’t matter. They’re very much in love and as long as they’re happy, that’s all that counts.’

As for her granddaughter, Mirna is just as proud. ‘Even as a little girl, Vivian was very smart,’ she says. ‘She’s a storm. Full of energy and vitality. She’s been working since she was 16 or 17. She’s got a great career ahead of her.’

Vivian, who has a sister, Emma, was born in New York. Her mother works at an immigration law firm, and is divorced from her father, Eduardo – Mirna’s son. She started out as a scout for the Wilhelmina Models agency in LA and starred in a short-lived 2018 online reality series about her work. She’s also had acting roles in the thrillers Arsenal and Criminal Minds.

She remains close to her father, and revealed on Instagram last month he’s had some serious health issues. She wrote: ‘A couple of months, out of nowhere, my dad collapsed and was admitted into the ICU where he suffered multiple seizures, a stroke, a heart attack, a burst bowel – but still, he woke up and asked the nurse if she was taken lol,’ the actress wrote.

‘Worst of all, they found a brain tumour. He was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma.

‘He’s the funniest, most lovingly offensive, sensitive, beautiful man you’ll ever meet. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers for me as I hope I’ll be apologising for his offcolour jokes for a long, long time.’

Mirna confirmed that her son has had chemotherapy and revealed the first time she met Rufus Sewell was when her granddaughter brought him to the hospital to meet her father after his diagnosis.

‘It’s good for Vivian to have Rufus beside her,’ she said. ‘My son is happy about the engagement, very enthusiastic. He’s looking forward to the wedding.’ The couple are based in LA, but Sewell has already taken his future wife and motherin-law back to the UK to introduce her to family and friends.

Last year, on Instagram, Vivian posted idyllic pictures of her, her mother and Sewell on holiday in Wales. ‘Three days of bliss on the Pembrokeshire coast with my mama and my love,’ she wrote.

A quick learner, Mirna is staying loyally discreet on the subject of the wedding date. ‘I don’t think they know yet where it will be or when,’ she says. ‘But I wish them all the love and luck in the world.’

And no guesses for what the happy couple’s first dance will be.

Israel At War




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