The action in Burnt by the Sun takes place over the course of a single day during the mid 1930s in Russia. It's a big communist holiday, and the setting is a dacha that's owned by my character, the revolutionary hero General Kotov, though he allows the family of his wife, a white Russian, to live there. And into this mix enters his wife's former lover Mitia, who turns out to be not exactly what they think he is. So it becomes a very long day for the wife (Maroussia), who probably wishes by the end of it all that she'd stayed in bed!

Whether Kotov is a hero or a villain depends on your perspective. He's very tough - his wife calls him the “hardest man on the planet” - and he's very committed to the revolution, no matter what that entails, because he genuinely believes that the old system had to go. And at the same time he's devoted to his wife and to his daughter, and for the love of his wife he tolerates her family swanning around talking about Puccini and reminiscing about the old days. So he's a very honest man, and highly devoted to his family.

A few people have mentioned a physical resemblance between my character and Stalin but I assure you that isn't deliberate on our part - I've certainly never been told I look like Uncle Joe! I think to be honest any man of my age with that style of moustache would probably look a bit like him. I must admit though that one of the props is a photograph of Kotov and Stalin, and they went to the trouble of taking a shot of me and superimposing it - I'm not going to lie, I did notice some similarities!

Rory Kinnear, who play Milita, is a remarkable actor of his generation. I'd heard people talking about him but because I haven't been living in London I hadn't had a chance to see his work. And he is phenomenal – his intellect, passion, speed, wit – he's got everything, including the ability to play the piano wearing a gas mask! So in rehearsals I often felt that he was slightly ahead of me as I just plodded along. Howard Davies was great though, he allows actors to develop in a way that each of us could find our own identity with the characters at our own pace - that's actually very rare in a director.

I have very fond memories of the National. The last time I was here I was in Closer, which was wonderful – though I can't believe it was 12 years ago, time flies. As a place of work the National is very special, even though it looks like a big grey bunker from the outside. There's a lot of people that have been here for many years and you can see why. I've been away for a while, but I hope they'll ask me back.

I've got a bust right hand at the minute due to punching a colleague! It was a mistake I hasten to add, during the last preview performance on Monday. I punched him in the temple and went into a moment of shock, but then I felt this sharp pain in my right hand, which hasn't recovered as quickly as his bump. It was Roger Ringrose, who plays the chief goon – Roger, please consider this my public apology! So I'm bandaged up at the moment, which is a shame because there's a scene when I perform a kind of Irish/Slavic dance, and I've had to curtail it somewhat – there was a lot more clapping in it originally.


Burnt by the Sun continues in rep at the NT Lyttelton until 21 May 2009.