The Line of Beauty
Interview with Dan Stevens
Dan Stevens has, by his own admission, been a lucky boy this last year.
Not only is he currently appearing in his first West End show, Sir Peter Hall's Hayfever at the Haymarket, alongside Dame Judi Dench, but, this month, he also stars in his first-ever major TV drama, BBC TWO's The Line Of Beauty.
Through a couple of strange coincidences, it seemed almost inevitable that Dan would land the starring role.
Firstly, the 24-year-old Cambridge-educated actor had been aware of the novel long before the TV adaptation was even conceived, thanks to his university tutor, and, secondly, before filming got under way it transpired that Dan had previously stayed in the amazing house used for the interiors of his character's home.
"The house belongs to a wealthy friend of mine from Cambridge," says Dan, who plays the handsome, gay and awkward Nick Guest in the three-part drama.
"It was very strange – I was chatting to [director] Saul Dibb about Nick's experiences of mixing in opulent circles and he asked whether I'd ever been to a house that had struck me like that.
"I started to describe this house and Saul realised it was the location they'd just chosen that week. It was really, really strange.
"The house is in Borehamwood – it's like footballers' wives territory – not that my friend's a footballer's wife," he laughs. "It's a beautiful house."
Dan first became aware of The Line Of Beauty when it was nominated for – and subsequently won – the 2004 Booker Prize: "My tutor at Cambridge, bizarrely, was on the Booker panel the year The Line Of Beauty won.
"Obviously he had nothing to do with the casting of this but I was very aware of it. He was a huge fan and had been enthusing about it."
Alan Hollinghurst was keen to be involved in Andrew Davies's adaptation and became a regular on set.
"He was in once or twice a week sometimes," says Dan.
"He was a wonderful presence on set, he would never interfere and I think he was just thrilled to watch his book being brought to life and meeting all these characters."
In the drama, Nick's journey begins when he moves in with the family of one of his Oxford friends, Toby Fedden. Head of the Feddens is pompous Tory MP Gerald (Tim McInnerny) and Nick is in awe of the trappings their lifestyle brings.
"I think it is quite an awesome environment, the opulent high society – they've got a gorgeous house in Notting Hill, family homes that are enormous stately homes not far from London and they have extraordinary parties, the likes of which Nick probably hasn't seen.
"There is something quite seductive about the opulence and the grandeur that he experiences with the Feddens."
While one may think that Nick, from humble beginnings in Barwick, Northamptonshire (where Fedden is the MP), may feel out of his depth in such surroundings, he soon discovers it's the kind of life he wants to lead.
"Nick's got a sort of natural charm and natural ability to adapt to the environment so I don't think he's intimidated by it, he's more excited by it and wants to be accepted by it," says Dan.
"Very subtly over the four years of the story, as the boom of the mid-Eighties really kicks in, you see him fitting quite increasingly comfortably into the environment."
Nick's sexuality is integral to the plot, as are the relationships he forms, first with Leo, a young, black council worker (played by 55 Degrees North star Don Gilet) whom Nick meets through a lonely hearts ad, and then with Wani (Alex Wyndham), an old Oxford friend who remains firmly in the closet and is engaged to be married.
"There's something quite exciting with Leo, I think, for Nick. As far as we know he hasn't had sex before and this is a first date with someone he's never met before and it's quite a risk – the first of many risks he takes in London.
"He's on a romantic quest to find this lover and he falls in love with Leo very quickly and easily.
"The relationship with Wani is a very protective thing. If this man is engaged to somebody and will one day marry her and have children and settle down into the so-called normal life, there's no way that Nick can be hurt by this because he knows that this is never a relationship that can come to full fruition."
With this being Dan's first major TV drama, the sex scenes with Leo were also a first.
"Don was great fun to work with and he made things very easy. It wasn't difficult; we just sort of got on with them really.
"I think what we tried to do is to make them look beautiful and to show that, particularly with the Leo relationship, this was a loving relationship, and that first sex scene is Nick's first sexual experience and it's a great surprise and joy to him.
"It's not easy to do but I've never done any straight sex scenes on camera so I imagine they're just as hard to get right," adds Dan.
At 24, Dan obviously doesn't remember much about the Eighties, the decade The Line Of Beauty is set in.
"I was only three or four in 1986. I don't remember much at all but it was really interesting interviewing my parents and people of my parents' generation who remember it like it was yesterday. I think I made them feel very old!" he laughs.
"My parents are in their late fifties and I was reading stuff and talking to people from the older generations and asking them about Thatcherism and the Eighties.
"What was interesting was talking to older gay men about what it was like being gay in the Eighties.
"As well as Aids, which was a physical disease, there was actually a disease rife in society which was to exclude the idea of love from a huge sector of the population.
"This idea of forbidden love was a huge problem in the Eighties. In the 21st century, I think it's fair to say, homosexuality is more accepted in Britain and it's wonderful that my generation has been able to grow up with that."
Of course another major part of the Eighties, aside from the politics, was the music, and the soundtrack to The Line Of Beauty features an eclectic mix of tracks ranging from New Order (Blue Monday) to The Passions (I'm In Love With A German Film Star).
"I'm a huge fan of Eighties music," says Dan.
"I think my parents seemed to bypass Eighties pop music, though," he laughs.
"What's great about the drama is you get the clash of classical and quite ugly electronic pop music – the port culture and the cocaine culture.
"You've got Chopin played at piano recitals and then you cut to the Rolling Stones or New Order.
"Saul really dug deep into the soundtrack of the Eighties. He was always listening to CDs when we were shooting, trying to find interesting music, rather than playing something like Karma Chameleon."
While filming The Line Of Beauty was a baptism of fire for Dan, who only left university a couple of years ago, he found it a totally enthralling experience, one he'd like to repeat.
"It was thrilling and it really was in at the deep end and I was on set all day every day.
"There wasn't a day when I wasn't filming over the nine-week shoot and other characters would come and go so I sometimes felt like I was receiving guests on set!
"It was pretty quick but I think that's the best way to learn, really.
"People ask if I was terrified but I was actually really excited because it's what I've always wanted, a lead role in something.
"It's great and if it comes off then hopefully it'll lead to other things."
At his tender age Dan has already worked with some of the greats in the business, obviously including Andrew Davies, The Line Of Beauty's adaptor.
"I've seen quite a lot of his stuff over the years. There's something of his on almost every month these days," he laughs.
"Bleak House was on around the same time that we were filming The Line Of Beauty so I didn't really see much of it but I'd seen Pride and Prejudice when I was a lot younger and Tipping The Velvet, his other saucy shocker!"
Dan is also working with renowned stage director Sir Peter Hall in Hayfever, a partnership which began while he was still at university.
"His daughter, Rebecca Hall, who's an actress, was in this student production of Macbeth I was doing – she was Lady Macbeth and I was Macbeth, so he came to the last night, which made the last night more terrifying than the first!
"But he must've liked what he saw because he's employed me three times now [the other two being Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It at the Theatre Royal, Bath, in 2005].
"He's a great man and he's been very good to me and he works very simply, which is what you really need at the beginning of a career.
"I'm looking forward to working with other directors but he's got a great approach to texts and he's very good at making things clear and understandable.
"Hayfever's going really well, it's great fun. Dame Judi is wonderful. She's very, very supportive and great to learn from as well.
"We opened at the end of April and the reviews have been largely good.
"It's totally different to The Line Of Beauty – there was lots of subtlety and passivity with Nick and there's none of that in Simon Bliss at all."
If Dan plays his cards right, it looks as if he has a glittering career ahead of him, both on stage and on film.
He says: "I'd like to do both. I really enjoyed the film work and I really love working in the theatre.
"I'm doing Noel Coward at the moment and I've done quite a lot of Shakespeare but I'd love to carry on doing both. We'll see. I've been a lucky boy."