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
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas