Close-up: Dan Stevens

With a fine Darcy moment under his belt, the young actor is taking a tilt at Coward

Dan Stevens has a plum new job, playing Nicky Lancaster in Noël Coward's play about sex, drugs and the upper classes, The Vortex – the role that catapulted Coward to fame in 1924. "Coward wrote it for himself, so it has some really good lines," says Stevens. Better than ever, in fact, since some lines censored from the original have been reinstated. Are they scandalous? "They are quite. I say I don't want to go to bed with my fiancée. You can really feel that land on the audience."

Stevens cut his teeth with the National Youth Theatre, then trod the boards at Cambridge University – even trying stand-up comedy. "I'd go out there with terrible material I'd written that afternoon. It's a good way of working on stagecraft and your presence. Of course, it's also absolutely terrifying."

When he played Macbeth at college, opposite Rebecca Hall, her father Peter (heard of him?) was so impressed that he cast him as Orlando in As You Like It – and so the glittering ascent began.

Stevens drew praise and comparisons with both a Muppet Baby and Hugh Grant for his part in a BBC adaptation of The Line of Beauty; and his performance in ITV's Sense and Sensibility was commended for his "Darcy moment" – the wet-shirted, wood-chopping scene. This amuses Stevens, who had tonsillitis and couldn't wait to get out of the cold.

The role of the dandyish Nicky Lancaster once landed Rupert Everett in trouble – accused of mumbling by two theatregoers, in revenge he mailed them a clump of his pubic hair. But Stevens, you feel, would never sink so low: in times of stress, he writes poetry or goes to the zoo. And besides, his diction is impeccable.

'The Vortex' opens at The Apollo, London W1 (0870 890 1101), on Tuesday

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