Eddie Redmayne: The darling of the Donmar is making tracks into Hollywood

Eddie Redmayne is, by common consent, one of the most exciting actors to hit both stage and screen since the auspicious advent of Mark Rylance some 30 years ago. Indeed, it was Rylance who gave Redmayne his first break, casting him as Viola to his own astonishing Olivia in the all-male Twelfth Night that the Globe performed at Middle Temple Inn in February 2002. This staging was designed to mark the 400th anniversary of the occasion when Shakespeare's men crossed the Thames to perform the self-same comedy for the lawyers.

As he was still an undergraduate, reading history of art at Trinity College, Cambridge, Redmayne was not able to perform the role again when the production moved to the Bankside theatre the following summer. He had prior engagement with his finals. I was lucky enough to be invited to the Middle Temple shindig and immediately registered that here was the first sighting of an extraordinary talent. But my review of his performance got comically garbled. Of his full-lipped, highly strung colt of a Viola, I wrote that s/he "would bring out the bisexual in X" and at this point I named a famously pious, repressed and repressive living personage. It was meant to be a cheeky way of saying that Redmayne's cross-dressed performance would sexually disconcert the locked-up likes of the puritan steward, Malvolio. But, with the prospect of possible litigation, the sentence was both reduced and inflated to "bring out the bisexual in any man" which, with its grandiose generalisation, managed to turn an intended garland into albatross.

Lanky, glittery-eyed, and blessed with the ability to move in a manner that seems to grant unimpeded access to the friction of the inner life, the erstwhile model for Burberry has several times been cast as a gay young man with a father-complex, but he's also a powerful draw to women. When I met him in his dressing room at the Donmar, where he has won rave reviews as the assistant to the artist Mark Rothko in a new play Red, I told him of my encounter with the female assistant at the Leicester Square HMV during my purchase of the DVD of Savage Grace. This is the 2007 Tom Kalin film about the hideous failure of will that befalls the beneficiaries of a load of inherited loot. All drug-zonked, underlying anguished lassitude, Redmayne brilliantly plays the predominantly gay, American scion of a moneyed union where heat meets cold leaving the son as the resulting steam. The HMV assistant told me that it was a great film, and I told her that I was about to interview "the boy". Her ears pricked up. "Well, you tell him 'well done' from me, and please give him my address," she declared.

Redmayne slaps his thigh with amusement at this story. He's unassuming, very smart, and humorous. Now 28, he grew up in a household that "did not have the theatre gene" – his father is something big in the city; his mother used to work in relocation. His brothers are all sportsmen and he cheerfully reports how sometimes he mentally runs roles past their tastes and preferences. "They once begged me never to hit them with a Restoration comedy". Seeing him play the MC in PVC and fishnets in Cabaret at the Edinburgh Festival when he was 19 (it's a role he hankers to portray professionally one day) persuaded his parents that maybe he could make a career in the alien world of theatre.

On stage, he has the knack of embodying people who seem to have a layer of skin missing and an extra mental radio station picking up frequencies unheard by other characters. Offstage, in contrast, he comes across as a man who is at home in his own regulation-strength skin and who, rather than a seer's intense tunnel vision, has a canny, wittily expressed, circumspection about life and career. He's also disarmingly honest, particularly with regard to the vagaries of movie making.In Savage Grace the parents were played, magnificently, by Stephen Dillane and Julianne Moore who are, in some ways, chalk and cheese. "Stephen is incredibly cerebral and has a meticulous way of rehearsing. Julianne is a shooter from the hip – she doesn't like to go straight into scene. And as the kid, I was sitting there thinking, 'Oh my God these are two hugely different ways of working'. But that was wonderful for capturing the character of a boy who is pulled in two directions..."

His Eton education did give him a leg-up, he's only too willing to acknowledge. Simon Dormandy, a former actor, became head of drama there and instilled a professional discipline in matters such as verse-speaking in his theatrically inclined charges. Among other roles, Redmayne played Shakespeare's Henry VI and his first drag turn as Adela Quested in a stage version of A Passage to India. Siobhan Bracke, the casting director, knew Dormandy from RSC days, and approached him when the decision was made to field a very young man as Viola in Twelfth Night. By this stage at Cambridge, Redmayne got his second call from Rylance and director Tim Carroll, "when I was well into a bottle of wine with a friend in Notting Hill. I had to go straight to the Globe and do a scene with Mark who I think was in a rehearsal dress and the wine..."

On screen, "I seem to have appeared in anything with Elizabeth I in it", he laughs, referring to the HBO mini-series Elizabeth I. He's also popped up in period pieces The Other Boleyn Girl and 2008's BBC triumph, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, in which he offered a masterly study in the magnetic properties of anguished self-deception as Angel Clare. On stage, he has now played three young American men who have issues with their sexuality and their father. In 2004, in a performance which won him the Evening Standard Award for Outstanding Newcomer and the Critics' Circle prize, he had to fall into a needy kiss with Jonathan Pryce who portrayed the bestiality-convert father in Edward Albee's The Goat. Preppy and peppery, he brought a lovely wounded flounce to the son of the US President-to-be in the excellent election-night political play Now or Later at the Royal Court in 2008. And now in Red, excellently directed by Michael Grandage at the Donmar, he plays Ken, a fictional composite of all the assistants ever used by the intense, dogmatic Mark Rothko. It's again a play about a father-and-son relationship in which the younger generation begins to make its superseding force felt.

Grandage says that actors often divide into those who are good on the front-foot and those who specialise in the power of passivity: "Eddie is terrific at both. You've only got to look at the change in the way he moves in the play. His feet are barely touching the floor in trepidation at the beginning and later he's virtually swaggering to the gramophone when he starts playing jazz records."

The actor's powers of observation are remarkable. It's a gift likely to be evident in his new film, The Yellow Handkerchief, with William Hurt and Kristen Stewart, which opens soon in the US. "It's a road movie and I play an adopted Native American who maybe has Asperger's." Redmayne imitates the way the character has little sense of the fly-zone of other people's personal space.

As for his future on the stage, he is surely now in a position to start calling the shots. I tell him that he will be on a ration of two-star reviews in The Independent for all stage work now until he accepts his destiny and plays Shakespeare's Richard II. Top directors should be forming an orderly queue of supplication for his services in this. While I was making ready to depart, he informed me that ironically, given his current role in Red and his art history background, he is in fact colour blind. I jocularly accused him of bluffing in the interests of publicising the show. But I rather think that Redmayne isn't programmed for fibbing offstage, just as onstage it's impossible to think of him making a sound or gesture that isn't full of truth.

'Red' to 6 Feb, Donmar Warehouse, London WC2 (0844 871 7624); 'The Yellow Handkerchief' is released later this year

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital