Alice Eve is flitting from table to table at the Electric, a private members' club in Notting Hill Gate. A social butterfly in flight, the British actress is waving at everybody in sight with a dreamlike, old-fashioned and polite air about her. She greets the waiter as if he is the kindest person on the planet, rocking her head slightly from side to side as she talks to him.
Eve, 27, has come straight from rehearsing Cyrano de Bergerac at a big studio space down the road in west London. The original Edmond Rostand play, written in 1897 and based on the real life of Cyrano de Bergerac, the French soldier, poet, and duellist, whose gigantic nose triggers his self-doubt was adapted by Anthony Burgess for the RSC in the mid Eighties. In Trevor Nunn's revival at Chichester Festival Theatre, Eve plays love interest Roxanne opposite Joseph Fiennes's Cyrano.
Nunn – who also directed Eve in Tom Stoppard's hit play Rock 'n' Roll in 2006 – cast Eve in his new production, after she wrote him a letter suggesting they work together again; an offer, it seems, Nunn could not refuse. The director claimed her Rock'n'Roll audition was "one of the best by a young actor I've seen in a long time", considering her "a stroke of luck" for his play, which later transferred successfully to Broadway.
"I wrote to Trevor and I said, 'I'd love to take you up on your offer and have you teach me how to do a classic role' and he said 'OK'," says Eve. "This is my first foray into the classics and iambic pentameter."
Eve is immersing herself fully in the part, going home every night and floating her eyes over the script repeatedly. "Trevor calls Roxanne the brightest woman in France," adds Eve." In Rock'n'Roll I was only fourth lead. This is a big investment. The character Roxanne carries the heart and love of the play." It's very different working with Nunn on a classic "swashbuckling romance", rather than a new play, she says, referring to the production as "blockbuster theatre".
"The entire play is written in verse, in rhyming couplets. It's like finding one's voice in another universe." At the mention of Fiennes, her co-star, she swoons: "He is just a pure delight. I mean, it doesn't surprise me that Gwyneth Paltrow plays her best performance opposite Joseph Fiennes. He is such a wonderfully generous actor."
Nunn's method in Cyrano de Bergerac is apparently to "create the shape of the drama and then track the emotional journeys", says Eve. "It's such a visual feast. The set is staggering." She talks about Roxanne as if she is her best friend. "Roxanne doesn't even suspect Cyrano loves her. To her absolute undoing, it never occurs to her to love him because of his nose – which is her tragedy. She loves everything about his mind and the letters he has written, which she thinks are coming from another man. She is in love with his soul and she doesn't realise."
Eve is the daughter of British actors Trevor Eve, of Shoestring fame, and Sharon Maughan, formerly one half of the Gold Blend ad couple. Seeing her parents on television was like "watching your mum and dad at work".
"From a home perspective, the theatre experiences were more profound than the television ones. There were the animated conversations and the high energy levels. All that dynamism would be brought into the house when my parents were doing a play."
She went to Bedales and then on to Oxford to study English via Westminster school. Part of her childhood was spent in LA, which may explain why she can pull off a good American accent (notably as Simon Pegg's girlfriend in 2006's Big Nothing). She first appeared, while still at Oxford, as Miss Frayne in Richard Eyre's Stage Beauty and then played Cicely Boyd in the TV series, The Rotters' Club, based on Jonathan Coe's novel, followed by the shallow-but-beautiful love interest of James McAvoy in the 2006 Tom-Hanks-produced rom-com Starter for 10.
This year, she has already made two films for US release. In She's Out of My League, she plays a sexy, successful woman who falls for a man working in an airport, while in Crossing Over, a film starring Harrison Ford and Ashley Judd about immigrants trying to get legal status in LA, she plays a young and desperate Australian girl, who ends up being cajoled into having sex for favours.
It was only two years ago that Eve made her professional stage debut in Rock'n'Roll, which also starred Rufus Sewell, whom she dated during the run. "It felt organic to perform with him and then go home with him at night," she says. She has also dated Rafe Spall (son of Timothy), with whom she starred in The Rotters' Club. A few years ago, Tatler placed her at number six in a list of eligible women to marry. She now lives alone near Ladbroke Grove in a flat she bought a year ago, where she stays awake at night suffering from insomnia. "I worry about anything and everything there is. It can take on a thousand forms. There's always the artist's crisis – if you are going to be thought good."
When she's not acting she likes to "play at being in the country" at her parents' retreat in Sussex. She also likes yoga and acupuncture. "I work on being rooted in myself. I do these things because the job I do takes its toll. My body is my tool. But I think I've got addicted to yoga. My body gets cross with me if I don't use it and certain bits start to creak."
She dreams of playing Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra, but says she is still too young – and has a deep-seated regret that she has never been "courageous" enough to be a writer – although she is currently working on a romantic screenplay.
"I was talking to my mum the other night as to whether becoming an actress was inevitable for me because of my parents being in the business. I'm looking at whether acting is intrinsic or whether it is nurture. Acting really takes a lot out of you. Probably I am an actress through and through, because everything else other than acting I play at doing. When friends can't deal with problems, I try to convince them to pretend to be in a movie. That's my way of dealing with things! The trouble is sometimes the feeling is greater than what you can pretend. I do live in a bit of a dream world."
'Cyrano de Bergerac', Chichester Festival Theatre, Friday to 30 May (01243 781 312; www.cft.org.uk)