I had the same tingling feeling - no, not that one - watching 28-year-old Luke Treadaway play the lead in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time this afternoon as I did watching an unknown James McAvoy in Privates on Parade in 2001. The play was a little silly, but McAvoy exuded charisma and talent from every pore. When I later saw him in Shameless, I remember thinking: Oh. It's him.
Watching Treadaway was the same: it's an extraordinary role – his character, Christopher, has Asperger Syndrome. And he was remarkable: spirited, funny and moving.
Against the odds – and against McAvoy, among others – Treadaway won best actor at the Oliver Awards on Sunday for his role (presented by Kim Cattrall, above). "I feel like someone's going to call and tell me it's all a big mistake," he says, which is what all actors say. But he seemed genuine.
I interviewed him yesterday, not about his win – which was just good timing – but about a new scheme that aims to get autistic kids and their parents into theatres, something they usually find intimidating and nerve-wracking. Playing someone with autism, he is particularly passionate about the project.
We met in a windowless corner of the Apollo Theatre on the sunniest afternoon of the year. So Treadaway – slim, barefoot, clutching coconut water and a packet of tobacco – suggested we sit outside the stage door in the sun, perched on the kerb.
He was all of the following: friendly, intelligent, sparky, confident. And, of course, a thespian, kissing co-stars, calling them darling. He didn't kiss me, I'm glad to say: just two good handshakes.
He is nice-looking but not drop dead gorgeous. The photograph, top, best resembles him in real life: a young Damian Lewis with a nicely imperfect face. Below he's all pout and hairspray, the perfect casting shot. Either way, he's one to watch: almost famous, and you read about him here almost first.