Luke Treadaway, rising star of The Rise

He won an Olivier playing an autistic maths genius half his age. Now he's an ex-con hungry for revenge in Leeds' answer to The Usual Suspects...

Who is Luke Treadaway? Just ask James McAvoy, Rupert Everett, Rafe Spall and Mark Rylance. Earlier this year, aged 28, he triumphed over them at the Oliviers: the stage equivalent of a Bafta.

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Treadaway – not to be confused with his twin brother Harry, who also treads the boards – scooped Best Actor for his role in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; the icing on the cake was posing for photographs with Helen Mirren who took home the award for Best Actress. 

“I was completely blown away. The Royal Opera House is absolutely massive and there I was, trying to think of what to say having completely not prepared anything. What do they call it? A flashbulb memory: where it’s a picture in your head.”

When RadioTimes.com meets him, four months and many sell-out performances later, Treadaway looks like a man badly in need of a holiday: his cut-glass cheekbones and earnest grin cannot hide dark circles and thin cheeks. Tonight he will spend three hours bouncing off walls, being suspended by wires and crawling around on stage. It will be his 195th performance as a 15 year-old maths prodigy with Asperger’s syndrome in the best-selling novel turned West End hit. Tomorrow will be his last.

“It’s definitely time to stop. Obviously it’s going to be sad and I’m going to miss the company. But my body has been in a state of exhaustion now for quite a few weeks. I’ve just been pushing through. You can only take Nurofen and smother your knees in pain-killing creams for so long.”
 
He pulls down the collar of his T-shirt to reveal a hairless, reddened chest. “Every day I have to shave upwards and shave my chest. It’s going to be horrible while it grows back.”
 
In his new film The Rise – released on DVD last week – Treadaway hasn’t so much grown up as metamorphosed. He plays an ex-con hungry for revenge, a charmer with designer stubble who’s a world away from the autistic genius of The Curious Incident – which of course was the appeal.
 
“I think I’m best when I’m challenged with having to have a different physicality and a voice,” he muses, the broad vowels of his Devonshire youth still just about audible. “Someone like Christopher [his character in The Curious Incident] has brought out the best of me because he was so different from me.

“It’s like painting: if it’s someone quite close to you, it feels like you’ve only got three colours on the palate. But if it’s someone that has all these different things about them and is nothing like you, it feels like you’ve got a million colours and you can splash it up. It’s freeing to be able to play a part that’s so different from you.”
 
Set in Leeds, The Rise is an exhilarating twist on the East End gangster caper: the heroes are callow northerners, not cunning Cockneys. The title refers to a sprawling council estate, which wouldn’t be out of place in a post-apocalyptic blockbuster thanks to brooding cinematography from first-time director Rowan Athale.
 
In the opening scene his character, Harvey, is bloodied, back in a cell and being interrogated by a world-weary detective (Timothy Spall). Cue flashbacks à la The Usual Suspects as we find out why this young pretender dared to take on the local drug lord (Neil Maskell as menacing as ever).
 
“I suppose in some ways it is a heist film. But at the same time it doesn’t feel too formulaic because it’s not set in London; it’s not just another one of those gang things. And when I saw who else Rowan had cast, I thought: this is going to be good.”

For Harvey doesn’t attempt it alone: Iwan Rheon (Misfits), Gerard Kearns (Shameless) and Matthew Lewis (another metamorphosis – yes, that really is the Harry Potter veteran better known as nerdy Neville Longbottom) play his endearingly half-hearted partners-in-crime, while Vanessa Kirby (Great Expectations) is his foxy girlfriend.
 
Harvey is the closest Treadaway has come to playing a conventional leading man. Why so reluctant to cash in on those cheekbones? “I just like interesting stuff. I struggle…” He shrugs, squirms a little. “If I get asked to do the cool, normal boyfriend-type part, I’m like: no, I can’t do it.”

The Rise is out now on DVD


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