Maggie Smith, Jude Law and Mark Rylance were among the boldfaced names on hand to congratulate Iwan Rheon on his Best Supporting Actor triumph at this year’s Laurence Olivier Awards for Spring Awakening – impressively, only the 25-year-old Welsh actor’s second play out of drama school. In the acclaimed rock musical spin on Frank Wedekind’s 19th century German play about troubled adolescents locked in a tumult of sexual confusion and oppression, Rheon racked up accolades as Moritz Stiefel, the manic, messed-up boy who dies in a harrowing shotgun suicide. “The fact that the show won too was amazing,” he says. “We were all disappointed when it got pulled five months earlier than planned, so it was nice to have that closure.”
Had Spring Awakening not closed early Rheon wouldn’t have scored his other big break in Misfits, E4’s hit series about a gang of ASBO teens who develop superpowers after a freak lightning storm. The twist is their powers evolve from their insecurities, with Rheon’s painfully introverted wallflower Simon afflicted by invisibility. “They’re rubbish superheroes, they can’t really control their powers,” says Rheon, “and, no, Simon doesn’t use his invisibility for anything naughty. Not yet, anyway…”
Growing up in Cardiff, Rheon was more attuned to music than thesping as a youth, embracing his father’s and older brother’s love of Bob Dylan, Queen, The Who and The Small Faces, and penning lyrics for himself and local bands (he still fronts a group called The Convictions, and recently released his own EP on iTunes, “Tongue Tied”, which reflects his acoustic folk-pop leanings). Landing a two-year gig in the long-running Welsh-language series Pobol Y Cwm gave him a taste for acting, however, and from Welsh soap opera to London drama school to Olivier Awards, it’s been a rapid rise. “It’s all sort of worked out quite nicely so far,” Rheon admits.
And it might just work out even better. Rheon is hotly tipped to star as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. While obviously wary about tipping his hand, Rheon, who could easily pass muster as a diminutive Tolkien hero, owns up to the fact that he may be, could be, should be in the frame – assuming the film ever gets made: “I don’t know… I don’t think so… well, who knows – we’ll see.”