Swiss-born Oliver Tobias Freitag shortened his name to Oliver Tobias for professional reasons in 1971 when he made his West End debut playing Berger in the original production of Hair at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

In the 1970s, Tobias shot to fame in television series such as Arthur of the Britons and Luke's Kingdom as well as, most memorably, playing opposite Joan Collins in the 1978 film The Stud. The last secured Tobias' status as one of the era’s top sex symbols, a position which was commemorated in last year's TV round-up of Heart-throbs of the 70s.

Tobias' other film and television credits have included Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, The Brylcreem Boys, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, Romance of a Horsethief, The Wicked Lady, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Mozart in Turkey, Alessio, The Choice and Adventurer.

Throughout his career, Tobias has also returned regularly to the stage. Amongst his musical credits are Jesus Chris Superstar, the rock opera version of Peer Gynt, The Pirates of Penzance and, most recently, La Cava in the West End, first at the Victoria Palace and then the Piccadilly Theatre.

Tobias is now starring with Kate O'Mara in a major new touring production of Oscar Wilde's classic social satire, A Woman of No Importance, which is directed by Elijah Moshinsky.

Date & place of birth
Born 6 August 1947 in Zurich, Switzerland.

When did you move to the UK?
In 1958. My parents thought it'd be best for me to be educated over here rather than in post-war Europe. I came here with the steam trains.

Now lives in...
Battersea, south London

Trained at...
East 15

First big break
Being in the original production of Hair - that was straight after drama school.

Career highlights
There've been very many. The first picture I ever made was with Yul Brynner, Romance of a Horsethief. Then I had another huge break with Charlotte Rampling in the film of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. The television series Arthur of the Britons - that was a break in terms of popularity because television makes you popular. Then, of course, The Stud with Joan Collins. And in the West End, playing the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance (Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 1983) and La Cava (2000). There were lots of bits and pieces in between. Also, in 1989, doing Bassa Selim in Mozart's opera The Abduction from the Seraglia at the Royal Opera House. That was a real turnaround. People thought, 'What the hell is he doing there?'

Why do you think that was the public's reaction?
Most people don't know where I'm coming from. The popular press believe in this image of me as The Stud, and that's not really me. But then, I don't know where I'm coming from either. I just know what I'm doing at the time.

How do you feel about being considered a sex symbol?
It's fine by me; it's better than being known as violent, an Arnold Schwarzenegger type who promotes selling bombs and guns. It's harmless. I don't think it's really had an impact on my career. We live in an odd age. There's so much celebrity-driven dross that tries to make something out of nothing. The dumbing down amazes me. But it doesn't affect what I do personally. I don't care what people write, I just let them get on with it.

Favourite productions (stage or film) you've ever worked on
I've enjoyed all the variation. In particular, I feel quite privileged to have been part of Hair certainly, and The Stud has turned out to be sort of a cult thing.

Favourite co-stars
I've worked with so many lovely people. And I adore actresses; in fact all 'luvvies' are lovely. They're the bravest of human beings, I believe. They're so exposed, especially theatre actors. Acting on stage, you can't hide behind an instrument or a camera. You're on your own; you have to produce entirely your own drama. That takes a very special bunch of people.

Favourite playwrights
They're so many, it's hard to pick. Certainly, Oscar Wilde is a wonderful playwright and a wonderful philosopher. I like the classics. In order to prevail over time, obviously the plays have to be very very good. Some newer plays are experiments that just don't work. I don't think there's enough good new writing around.

Why do you think Oscar Wilde has stood the test of time?
Wilde manages to step outside of what the English perceive themselves to be. The English can be so arrogant within themselves, but if someone can take an angle and take the piss out of them, they love it. Wilde was someone of great intelligence who had a go at the English. Of course, it wasn't just the English; no one and nothing escapes Wilde's clutches. Relationships, society, the law - he had a proper angle for them all. He makes people think and start to look at themselves more carefully.

What role would you most like to play still?
I have no thoughts on that. Life has its own sort of mystery.

What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
I don't know what difference it would make if they did know what to do. Look at the guy who's meant to sort out the Tube. Bob Kiley. He's got a track record and he's told them what to do and they still don't want to do it. So what's the point in telling them anything?

Favourite book
The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Favourite holiday destination
The Far East - Sri Lanka

Favourite website
I'm a feather and parchment person; I write letters and send faxes. But I'm about to get into all that. I should get involved and a friend says he can put it together for me so I'm going to start a website for my fans later this year.

Why did you want to accept your role in A Woman of No Importance?
It's a brilliant part - cynical, detached and socially critical. It's a lovely role and a very good piece of theatre, a brilliant play. And I get to work with some lovely partners too - Kate O'Mara, she's absolutely fabulous, but also Josephine Tewson and Deborah Grant.

What's your favourite line from A Woman of No Importance?
I've got loads. Here are three, you can choose your favourite:

  • "All thought is immoral, it's very essence is destruction. If you think of anything, you kill it; nothing survives being thought of."
  • "If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough. If he's not a gentleman, what he knows is bad for him."
  • "To win back my youth, Gerald, there is nothing I wouldn't do except take exercise, get up early or be a useful member of the community."

    What are your plans for the future?
    I'm in talks with Jeremy Lloyd about doing a new play of his, but I don't want to pre-empt anything. If it happens, we'll probably tour it and then bring it into the West End.

    - Oliver Tobias was speaking to Terri Paddock

    A Woman of No Importance plays at Windsor's Theatre Royal until 9 February before continuing on tour to 20 other UK cities up to mid-July 2002.