The Oscar-winning actor explains why timing is so important in his profession

Is timekeeping important to you?

I am always rancidly, embarrassingly on time, if not early.

You’re early for things?

Yes. There was a horrific moment a few years ago when I had to sing at the Oscars with the cast of Les Misérables, and I was given strict instructions that Hannah, my wife, and I had to be on time, because the red carpet opened at a specific time. So we got in the car, and the whole of LA was shut down – it was the most extraordinary experience. As we neared the venue I called the publicist to say we were arriving, and she said, ‘What? You’re 45 minutes early. No one is here. Stop! Stop!’ So we then had the rather surreal experience of standing outside in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, next to a load of tour buses, waiting to get in.

Why do you think you’re so punctual?

It was actually a music teacher of mine at school, Ralph Allwood, who first instilled in me the idea of punctuality. He got very angry if you were late. If you’re a musician – if you’re part of an orchestra – then you have to be on time.

And if you’re an actor, too…

On a purely practical level, when I started doing film I wondered why there were all these people surrounding the actors. I thought, ‘These people are so indulged’ – which is true – but the real reason is that film-making costs so much money. So if a person is a second late, it’s costing money.

Timing is also a key part of the actor’s craft, isn’t it?

Yes, absolutely. An extraordinary thing I often find with plays is the difference in the running time: you’ll come off stage and ask, how long was that? Ninety-three minutes? Interesting, one minute off last time. What is it that’s caused that shift? Is it that the audience were more engaged? Was there more laughter, or was I slowing down? And, if so, does that mean the performance doesn’t have enough drive?

Do you expect others to be on time?

I’m actually very tolerant. My wife, for example, is never on time. We got married in a chapel that was next to where the reception was happening, purely so that when she was late I knew she would be nearby. And she was over 40 minutes late. Everyone was in meltdown apart from me – I was relatively calm because I know that she’s never been on time for anything in her life. Maybe I should get her a watch?

Do you wear a watch?

I do. It’s an Omega Globemaster.

Do you remember your first proper watch?

Your first watch becomes quite a big deal when you’re a kid because there’s the sense of responsibility that comes with it. I first came to know Omega because my dad had one – a very beautiful, simple gold watch with a black strap. Anyway, the time came to pass when I had to graduate from my Flik Flak, and my dad gave me this watch and that’s where it all started. For me there is a wonderful elegance about Omega watches – they don’t scream too hard. The one I now wear has a sort of vintage feel to it, which I love.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I’m passionate about painting and playing the piano – neither of which I’m very good at, but I find I’m at my most relaxed when I’m doing either of those things, precisely because they are focusing my mind on something else. My earnings from Les Misérables were spent on a piano.

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