Posted on February 11th, 2010 by admin

In 2004, the Devon-born actor and his twin brother Luke, both then in their first year studying drama at Lamda, were cast as conjoined punk-singing siblings in the cult film Brothers of the Head.


Harry spent two months strapped to his brother to get into character, and also “lost two-and-a-half stone, so I was under eight stone, which was quite severe. But it seemed important, because those characters would have been malnourished.”

He learned the drums to play Joy Division sticksman Steve Morris in Anton Corbijn’s Control, and how to strip a car engine for his superbly understated performance as the traveller who befriends Katie Jarvis’s Mia in Andrea Arnold’s Evening Standard Award- winning film, Fish Tank.

“It’s not ‘method’,” he says, squirming slightly. “It’s partly the pleasure of the learning. But also, whoever you are playing, they feel very dear to you. You want to tell their story as truthfully as possible, bring their complexity to life. You don’t want to guess or be general. It just makes sense to me to do more work rather than less.”

For his latest role as Oswald in Iain Glen’s forthcoming West End revival of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, the preparation has been cerebral rather than physical.

Oswald breaks away from his churchy upbringing to discover a world of bohemian freedom as a painter in Paris, only to be struck down by terminal syphilis inherited from the wastrel father.

Treadaway sees Oswald as hopeful and progressive as well as cursed. He has bursts of creativity as well as suicidal depressions, all attributable to his condition.

“I researched it over Christmas in Jamaica,” he says, smiling. “I’m sat on this balcony, looking out over the Caribbean, reading about syphilis and learning lines like ‘it won’t stop raining’ and ‘it’s so dark’. I did wonder whether to make him thin, as syphilitics quite often lost weight because of insomnia and nerves, but realistically I also had to eat enough to have the energy for eight shows a week.”

He also researched the kind of painters (Van Gogh, Manet, Degas) that Oswald would have admired, and the philosophy of Nietzsche and Marx. He learned that the world of the 1890s that Ibsen depicts foreshadowed the sexual and artistic revolutions of the Sixties.

“There was this sense, certainly in Rome and Paris, that you should live life to the full and be happy and that since it cost money to get married, it didn’t matter if you lived together if you were in love,” he says, “which is abhorrent to the likes of Ibsen’s Pastor Manders.”

Iain Glen takes the role of the hypocritical and reactionary Manders in Ghosts, as well as making his debut in the director’s chair, while Oswald’s mother is played by Lesley Sharp, with whom Treadaway worked on the 2005 TV drama Afterlife. “She’s a force, incredible. Someone who searches at the highest level for the truth of a character.”

Ghosts is in marked contrast to Harry’s only other professional stage play, Mark Ravenhill’s expressionistic Over There at the Royal Court, in which he co-starred again with his brother Luke, playing twins representing the divided Germany. Funnily enough, he was only able to take on Ghosts because a planned Edward Albee play about twins, that he was due to do with Luke in New York, fell through.

“We always had in our minds that we wouldn’t work together because it would diminish our individual enjoyment of a project, and we wouldn’t want to do something about twins just for the sake of it,” Harry says.

“But if a script like Brothers of the Head comes along, or the chance of doing a two-hander at the Royal Court, or a new Edward Albee play, you’re not going to not do it, are you?”

He and Luke are “supportive” of each other, and are no closer or more competitive than other siblings. “Most people don’t live their lives constantly thinking what their brothers and sisters are doing,” he points out. “If Luke had gone off to become a marine biologist I’d still be here, doing this.”

The fact that they went into the same profession and to the same drama school owes more to their rural upbringing than to any unusual bond. The twins grew up in “a really rural, tiny village in Devon, playing in fields. It’s a great way to grow up, with a real innocence: you could have been in any era.” Their father is an architect, their mother a retired teacher who now educates Afghan refugees, and they have an older brother, Sam, who is an artist.

“So you like make-believing as young children, you do it in school plays, then someone slaps down a form for the National Youth Theatre and you apply and do a play with them,” he says.

“Being from Devon, we didn’t know anything about drama school but there were loads of kids there from London who did, and we basically copied down the places they were applying to.

Then we both, individually, decided to go to the best place that accepted us. We weren’t going ‘let’s go together’.” The acting jobs they’ve done together have thrown them into weird and intense proximity – kissing in Brothers of the Head, smearing food on each other in Over There – but as they have pointed out in the past, it’s the characters doing it, not them.

The NYT hasn’t just steered Harry Treadaway’s career but also his social and romantic life.

During an NYT production, aged 16, he met and became firm friends with the talented actors Felicity Jones and Matt Smith, who is soon to be the new Dr Who (“couldn’t happen to a better bloke”).

Smith and Jones subsequently appeared in Polly Stenham’s award-winning play That Face, and when Treadaway went to meet them for a drink during rehearsals, he also met the gamine and talented young writer. They have now been together for three years.

He once wrote that she was the most beautiful girl in the world. “Well, she is, she is, she is,” he says, squirming again. “You want to retain a bit of how you really feel, but she is the most beautiful person in the world, and it’s fantastic, thank you very much.”

You would imagine these glam young things in an endless ritzy social whirl of parties and premieres alongside Smith and Jones – and weirdly, after meeting Treadaway I spot Stenham at the theatre with comedian Simon Amstell.

But when I ask Treadaway what his and Stenham’s London life consists of, he mentions a three-hour walk they took on deserted, drizzly Hampstead Heath with her new puppy.

He sniggers sheepishly. His Devonian roots are showing. “That’s a totally countrified version of living in London isn’t it?” he says. “I’m trying to find woods with no one in them.”

Ghosts is at the Duchess Theatre until 15 May. Box office: 0845 579 1973 or


Luke Treadaway, 25
Made his professional debut with his identical twin Harry in cult film Brothers of the Head but has since veered towards the stage, appearing in St Joan and War Horse at the National. We’ll see him next in the blockbuster remake of Clash of the Titans.

Polly Stenham, 22
Given wild acclaim and an Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright award for her debut drama That Face, Stenham has also been walking out with Harry Treadaway for three years. Since her follow-up play Tusk Tusk, Stenham has been working on a screenplay of That Face, and has, according to Treadaway, “lots of pies in the oven, and is just waiting to see which goes crispy”.

Matt Smith, 27
A contemporary of the Treadaway twins at the National Youth Theatre, Smith originally turned to acting after a back injury put paid to his footballing dreams. He won the Standard’s Most Promising Newcomer Award for his performance in That Face. Next up, playing the 11th incarnation of Doctor Who.

Felicity Jones, 25
Another NYT contemporary, the elfin Jones began her TV career at 14 in The Worst Witch, acted at Oxford, and in 2007 starred in an ITV adaptation of Northanger Abbey and in Polly Stenham’s That Face. She excelled in The Chalk Garden at the Donmar and appears in Ricky Gervais’s next film Cemetery Junction.

Source: The Standard