This actor's life: Andrew Lincoln is an altogether different animal in his latest stage role

Andrew Lincoln – cherubically curly, puppy dog-eyed love interest on British TV screens for the past decade – doesn't look quite himself today. His exuberant locks have been tamed, almost shaved off, he's wearing a lurid lime green and emerald golf sweater and is jangling some really quite nasty, cheap, yellowy gold jewellery. You'd never catch comfy old This Life favourite Egg, or classy, romantic Mark (who falls for his best friend's bride in Love Actually) in such an ostentatious rude-boy get-up.

Happily this disconcerting makeover is not a sign of early onset mid-life crisis (he's 35 years old) but part of the actor's assiduous preparations for his latest role in Parlour Song at London's Almeida Theatre. Lincoln plays Dale, car-wash magnate and man-about-town neighbour of the central married couple, Ned and Joy (played by Amanda Drew and Toby Jones). Dale is brash, a tad cocky and, as it turns out, a bit of a love rat – in short, the polar opposite of the notoriously cuckolded slacker Egg. "Totally! It's lovely for me to play a part that's not predatory exactly, but much more openly sexy," he says. "It's fantastically liberating, I much prefer doing something that's a bit more dangerous."

The play, by Jez Butterworth, who burst on to the theatre scene in 1995 with his debut, Mojo, has more than a hint of Pinter with its lyrical yet mercilessly precise use of language, dark comedy and suburban eeriness. The characters are all 40, and foremost amongst their various anxieties is the fear of ageing. Can Lincoln, one-time poster boy of the Nineties yuppie, relate to that? "I was on a set recently and realised that I've suddenly become the person that younger actors come to talk to. Oh God! I always thought I was the incendiary youngster and could get away with things, but it's changing."

Parlour Song is another new script for the actor who has made a habit of appearing in zeitgeist-defining premieres, including Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange at the National (with Bill Nighy and Chiwetel Ejiofor), Jonathan Harvey's Aids drama, Hushabye Mountain, and, most recently, Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss. Over the last decade, he has become the go-to guy for very modern, mildly flawed heroes, so it's surprising that he once dreamed of the greats. "My great friend Bill Nighy always says he's never going to wear tights. I'm not saying that, though there's part of me that does like to wear nice suits. When I was at drama school I wanted to do classical theatre. It just so happened that I did a film when I came out and I moved that way. I've been lucky to be able to bounce around and do lots of different things."

Luck and bouncing around notwithstanding, Lincoln, when pushed, admits that his success might also be down to a "driving engine of competitiveness" within. Born Andrew Clutterbuck (thank heavens for Equity and stage names) in Hull, he grew up in Bath, the younger son of a businessman and a psychiatric nurse. His older brother, Richard, now teaches RE in Surrey. "I was the freak," he laughs. When he was 14 years old, a teacher (the deliciously Dotheboys-sounding Mr Scrine) grabbed him off the rugby pitch to play the Artful Dodger. "And I loved it," recalls Lincoln. "It just caught me. I was kind of a loud, showy-offy child which is probably why he thought I'd blag it."

A summer with the National Youth Theatre scuppered a vague idea of becoming a vet and, as the acting bug took hold, he dropped one of his A-levels and concentrated on auditions. His father told him he would only be allowed to go to drama school if he received offers from five or more. "That was my father," shrugs Lincoln. "It was a very good thing, though because it really whittled out a burning desire in me." Having obediently gained places at the top five schools, he enrolled at Rada, paying his way with jobs as a commis chef, a barman and in one of his father's factories making car exhausts.

Within a year of graduating came This Life, the twentysomething house-share serial which captured a generation. "When I got the job I jumped up and down and whooped," he says. But he must get a tiny bit tired of talking about it? "I don't actually. It was a very remarkable job. It's good work. I never watch anything I'm in but I got a show reel together recently and got really sucked in. Everyone was brilliant and the writing was magnificent." Jack Davenport – naughty Miles – is still one of his best friends. But as the bunch of lawyers living and loving together defined Nineties television drama, so too has Egg, for better or worse, defined Lincoln for British directors, who have cast him variously as a boyish member of staff in Teachers and a thrusting young psychologist in Afterlife, while on the big screen he has popped up in Love Actually and Enduring Love. "I'd like to think that I've tried to do difficult things. Some may think I've been treading water for a bit, but I don't see it like that."

Wasn't it, though, an odd decision to revisit his most famous character for This Life +10, the special reunion episode in 2007 which, for many, soured memories of the zesty original with its smug Noughties tone. "It was good ... very strange. But very nice to see everyone again." Might it have been better to leave it in the 1990s? "I don't know what to say. I'd rather not talk about it, actually."

It's one of only two times that the otherwise talkative Lincoln clams up. The other is when he starts to talk about his one-year old daughter. He is guarded about his private life, mumbling that he finds fame "excruciating," having been "burned" in the past by over-exposure, most notably in rumours of an affair with Tara Fitzgerald during filming of The Woman in White. Two years ago, he married Gael Anderson – the daughter of Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson. They met when she was a runner and he was the director on a couple of episodes of Teachers (for which he earned a Bafta nomination). Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter, Apple, was a flower girl at their wedding. They live in London but escape frequently to Cornwall where Lincoln indulges his surfing habit.

Family life is the one thing holding him back from pursuing a Hollywood career full tilt. He spent last year working on an NBC pilot in which he played a pugnacious young New York attorney. "They shut down Wall Street to film it. It really felt like I'd ramped up a level." He'd already had one close shave with Hollywood in the aftermath of Love Actually. "But I felt I was being groomed to be the new Grant and that's not what I wanted to do. Hugh is brilliant but my excitement at being over there was to play a whole myriad of American parts. Now I feel like I'm in a better space. It can be quite overwhelming there, you can be suffocated with praise. You think, 'Oh man, I'm gonna take LA down,' and then you don't hear anything."

Still, his next two roles should keep things ticking over. He plays Mike Collins in Moonshot, a film about the Apollo 11 landings for American television, and Edgar Linton in Wuthering Heights for ITV. On the first day of filming he was thrown off a horse but it will take more than that to dim his puppyish enthusiasm for acting. "What more could one want? One minute I was in space, then the next in breeches on a horse in Yorkshire. That's the glory of this job."

'Parlour Song', to 9 May, Almeida Theatre, London, N1 (020-7359 4404)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker