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British actor Rupert Friend has come a long way since he made his acting debut by sitting on Johnny Depp’s lap in 2004’s “The Libertine.” In the five years since that movie — in which Friend played a courtier of the debauched Earl of Rochester — the 28-year-old has made 14 films. For his latest, “The Young Victoria,” the actor is back in period costume, but playing a loftier role: German-born Prince Albert, the object of the teenage queen-to-be’s affection.
“It was a huge responsibility,” he says of playing the young royal, who found true love in what was originally an arranged match with Queen Victoria. “Not because he was famous, but because I found his dedication to both Victoria and to this country that wasn’t his really inspiring. So I was keen to do him justice.”
Friend gives a nuanced interpretation of the political and emotional undercurrents of the relationship, in which the Queen, played by his friend Emily Blunt, had the upper hand. “[Albert] was a prince in his own country. And yet he couldn’t even propose to the woman he loves because he can’t tell the Queen to do anything. She had to ask him,” explains Friend, who in real life squires his “Pride & Prejudice” co-star Keira Knightly.
The Oxfordshire native has made great strides since his first drama school audition, when he was so nervous he choked up (he was eventually accepted at London’s Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts). Now, when picking roles, he says he is “interested by characters who lead different lives than me. That’s what gets my juices going.”
For 2010, that instinct has led him to London’s West End, where he will be appearing for the first time in a revival of Douglas Carter Beane’s Tony Award-winning play “The Little Dog Laughed” at the Garrick Theatre. On the big screen, he will play a New York jazz musician in “Lullaby for Pi” with Clémence Poésy and Forest Whitaker, and street urchin-turned-best-selling author Kevin Lewis in “The Kid,” opposite Natascha McElhone.
Friend, who is intensely private, will cop to admiring both Depp and Daniel Day-Lewis for their transformative talent, but just don’t ask him to pick a favorite film. “I like watching a film once and never again. Really, there’s almost nothing that I want to do more than once in life,” he says. “I don’t keep books. I read them and then give them away, even if I loved them, because there are so many other books I need to read or films I need to see.”
To that end, Friend has allowed himself one extravagance in his London home: “My biggest luxury for myself was a lovely projector. I don’t miss the television at all.”