Les Mis congeniality
Eddie nods calmly and acknowledges that the question must be asked.
“What I would say about Eton is that my experience was all to do with a great teacher. He was an inspiration and he treated us like professional actors. We had extraordinary theatres and when you went in to professional theatre, it felt like you were still at school.”
He pauses for a while to gather his thoughts.
“Here’s the deal. I feel like this country has so much history that a massive part of our industry ends up being period drama. That means a lot of posh people in posh suits. And there’s no way around it. If you are from a posh background then casting directors will see you in those terms. Then again, they would be less likely to cast me in a Shane Meadows film.”
The argument goes that, in such straitened times, only people from privileged backgrounds can cope with the years of enforced poverty that actors initially face.
“I am aware of that privilege,” he says. “A lot of working-class actors have to give up everything and move. I was paying my way. I was working in a pub. But I could live at home.”
As Eddie explains, he became hooked on acting when at school. Nonetheless, after sitting A-Levels, he did not plunge himself into the profession. He did not make for drama school. The next move was a degree in art history at Trinity College, Cambridge. He “knew the stats” about acting and he genuinely adored history of art. At university, he hung out with fellow actors such as Hiddleston and Rebecca Hall. Mad plays were performed. Much fun was had.
“You can do a lot of crap when you’re doing student drama. You get to play old men. You do a lot of things you wouldn’t do at drama school. You can make a fool of yourself.”
Eddie secured a part in a production of Twelfth Night at Shakespeare’s Globe when he was still at Cambridge. In 2004, he won an Evening Standard Award for his turn in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? After that, he seems to have been inundated with offers. He secured an Olivier Award and a Tony for, respectively, the London and New York productions of John Logan’s Red. On telly, he has appeared in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and The Pillars of the Earth. So, was there ever a period when he felt that he wasn’t going to make it?
“I did work in a pub and I learnt silver service,” he says. “I suppose the complete nadir was working as a waiter at the British Soap Awards and having the cast of Hollyoaks fill up my tray with empty champagne glasses until the tray crashed to the floor. But I have been very lucky. There have been no prolonged periods without work and I know how lucky I’ve been.”
Eddie eventually registered with an international audience when he turned up opposite Michelle Williams as the wide-eyed protagonist of My Week with Marilyn. Williams got most of the attention. But Eddie was now on the industry radar.
Les Misérables has been a long time in the making. Premiered in Paris in 1980 and on the West End in 1985, the adaptation of Victor Hugo’s enormous novel is now the longest running show in London’s Theatreland. Previous adaptations of event shows from the 1980s have not fared all that well. Phantom of the Opera was a bomb. Evita performed only adequately. But Les Misérables does have a chance of breaking that curse.