Close-up: Rory Kinnear

He was more than a match for Maggie. Now the actor is squaring up to Stalin

Following in the footsteps of a famous parent may be a curse for some, but it’s been nothing but a blessing for Rory Kinnear. He was just 10 when his father, the comic actor Roy, died after falling off his horse on the set of The Return of the Musketeers. “He was held in such warmth by so many people, and it’s lovely when you go to a job and someone gives you another nice story about him. It keeps his memory alive.”

Now 31, Kinnear is regarded as one of theatre’s most accomplished leading men. For that, he can thank the National, where he broke through as a fabulously preening 21st-century fop in the Restoration comedy The Man of Mode, and subsequently shone in Philistines and The Revenger’s Tragedy. Now he’s back again for Burnt by the Sun; an adaptation of a 1994 Russian Oscar-winning film, it sets an explosive love triangle against the backdrop of Stalinist rule. “It’s about how Stalin’s rise destroyed freedom and created rifts between people.”

Not that Kinnear’s ambitions are entirely stage-bound. Last year he portrayed a young Denis Thatcher in BBC4’s The Long Walk to Finchley, and he dipped his toes into the Hollywood pool on the latest Bond. “I took it in my stride until four days in and I suddenly thought, ‘Everybody’s going to see this.’ I found that slightly galling, then I thought, ‘Shut up, you can’t think like that.’”

With another National appearance as Hamlet mooted for next year, he may have to get used to a lot more eyes on him. For now, though, he remains circumspect about his success. “I’ve known about some theatre jobs a few months in advance, but in TV and film, I’m very far off from the stage where things are greenlit because of my involvement. Once a play finishes, we all go a-hunting again.”

‘Burnt by the Sun’ opens at the NT Lyttelton, London SE1 (020 7452 3000) on 4 March