Actor Owen Teale made his West End debut, via Coventry, in the 1988 adaptation of Catherine Cookson's The Fifteen Streets, which was subsequently filmed for television.

After that first big break, he has worked regularly on the stage. A veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company, his many RSC productions have included Love's Labour's Lost, King Lear, Julius Caesar and Henry IV, Part, while he's appeared elsewhere in major productions of Run for Your Wife, The Country, The Comedy of Errors and Cabaret.

The actor achieved recognition on the other side of the Atlantic in a production of A Doll's House, which transferred to Broadway via the West End and a UK tour. Teale earned not only rave reviews but also a Tony Award for his performance as Torvald.

His television and screen credits include Conspiracy, The Cherry Orchard, Ted and Alice, Ballykissangel, Dangerfield, The Thin Blue Line, Dangerous Lady, David Copperfield, Robin Hood and Judas and Jesus.

This month Teale returns for the second time at the National Theatre, where he last appeared 12 years ago in Berenice, to take the title role in Katie Mitchell's production of Ivanov. Originally due to star Paul Rhys, Teale stepped in to replace his fellow Welshman when Rhy withdrew following family illness.

Date & place of birth
Born 20 May 1961 in Swansea, Wales.

Lives now in...
New Cross Gate, southeast London.

Trained at...
Guildford School of Acting.

First big break
The Fifteen Streets in the West End in 1988. It was the first stage adaptation of one of Catherine Cookson's romantic novels and I had a great part, playing John, a real old-fashioned hero. Afterwards, we made a film of it. I hadn't playing a leading man before that.

Career highlights to date
A 'career' is really just a viewpoint on your work, isn't it? Your career is retrospective. It only makes sense afterward because there's a real chance element to the whole thing. The Fifteen Streets, playing Hotspur in the RSC's Henry IV and playing Torvald in A Doll's House were all definitely highlights for me. The last was pretty massive, especially winning the Tony Award on Broadway. That whole existence in New York was like a life in itself. To be nobody when you arrive and then to be 'somebody' almost overnight. It really does happen overnight there, which would be impossible in this country.

To what do you attribute that difference between New York & London?
I'm sure it's linked to the architecture. In New York, everything's huge, it demands to be seen. You have to go looking for London, it's spread out, more understated. So, as an actor, it takes a lot longer to get noticed here. In New York, people used to stop me in the street when I was in A Doll's House. I've almost got a fear of going back now because it can't possibly be the same again, but it does put your belief back in fairy tales.

Favourite productions you've ever worked on
A Doll's House and Henry IV - for learning more about who I am or could be.

Favourite co-stars
Sylvestra Le Touzel in Henry IV. That's how we met and now we're married and have a family together. Also from that production, the late, great Robert Stephens, simply for learning so much from him. And from A Doll's House, Janet McTeer. She once said to me that acting was the challenge of having the courage of your convictions.

Favourite directors
Katie Mitchell (who is directing Ivanov). This is the second time I've worked with her (the last time was The Country at the Royal Court). She has great skill in achieving liberation through details. It's this fear some people have that she's pinning them down, but actually, when you join up the prosaic on stage, it's amazingly freeing. Anthony Page for his wisdom on A Doll's House. It was only a little touring production to start with but it grew and grew. Terry Hands for what he's doing for the future of Welsh theatre. And Adrian Noble. Henry IV was his inaugural production when he first took over as artistic director at the RSC. That's the man I remember. His brilliance of mind and spirit - I found him so alive and so inspiring.

Favourite playwrights
Chekhov, Shakespeare, Stoppard. These are writers that provide true enlightenment. They create amazing stories while at the same time investigating this huge theme of what it means to be alive. Absolute genius - it doesn't get any better. Also, for sheer entertainment, I like Terry Johnson and the freedom with which he employs all forms of theatre known to man.

What roles would you most like to play still?
Anything by any of the above.

What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
I've been looking after the children while Sylvestra's done Benefactors so I haven't seen much in awhile. I did enjoy Shockheaded Peter. I went to a late show and the theatre was absolutely full of young people. I thought even my 16-year-old son would like it, which is saying something. He's grown up to be a bit anti-theatre, rebelling I suppose against having it rammed down his throat for so many years by his parents. I also loved Howard Davies' Private Lives with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. The casting, the history, the synchronicity of those two actors and their careers made that production a great moment in theatre.

What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
They've got to find a way of ensuring that more of the money that goes into the theatre actually makes it down to the actor. They are the only ones who meet the audience on the night after all. If the minimum wage for actors were better, I think standards would improve and more people would come to the theatre.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
If I were clever, I'd say I'd like to be the young Owen Teale again, so I wouldn't commit the same mistakes again, but I'm not sure I believe in that. I think I'd want to swap with a playwright, so that I could experience that amazing power of the written word, the power to really affect and inspire people. The pressure on them must be enormous, though.

Favourite holiday destinations
The Greek islands. I've only been to four so far so I've got many more to go yet.

Favourite books
Martin Amis' autobiography Experience and The Collected Works of William Shakespeare. During my most lonely experiences, when filming abroad, I can read the plays I've been in and they become like my diary. I remember so much about my wonderful time in Stratford and so much about myself. It makes me feel better.

Favourite after-show haunts
The Ivy, Joe Allen's, places where other actors go. I love actors and bumping into them. But I can only afford to go out when I'm filming - you can't afford restaurant meals on a theatre salary.

Favourite website It's a fantastic search engine and it helps me so much, especially working with Katie Mitchell when you have to do a tremendous amount of research. For every image that you refer to in a play, she requires you to have a real concept of it in your mind. That's what I mean about her attention to details. But it's always worth it.

If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have been professionally?
A very unsuccessful entrepreneur.

Why did you want to accept your part in this production of Ivanov?
It was absolutely the right part for me at this moment - what better way to investigate one's own mid-life crisis? It is a bit funny the questions that Ivanov asks himself. It was also a great chance to work again with so many friends, like Katie, Indira Varma and Philip Voss.

How do you feel about replacing Paul Rhys at relatively short notice?
It feels strangely meant to be; it's renewed my belief in fate. And it's not really like walking in another man's shoes because they hadn't started rehearsals fully by the time I came in.

What, if anything, is so special about performing at the National?
I last worked here 12 years ago and am very glad to be back now. It is special. Working at the National you have this feeling that you are at the very centre of one's profession, it's a focal point. People want to come here, to see things and to work. The sheer talent that you bump into walking up and down the corridors in this place is incredibly stimulating.

What's your favourite Chekhov play?
It's got to be Ivanov for now. I can't see beyond it at the moment. It was Chekhov's first play and is much maligned as being inferior to his others. But I find it fascinating. It's a bold allegory for 19th-century Russia.

What's your favourite line from Ivanov?
"I'm so bored I could take a run at a wall."

What's the funniest/oddest/most notable thing that has happened in rehearsals for Ivanov?
It's this exercise that Katie likes to do which is all of those things - funny, odd and notable. We have to do the scenes in the style of The Godfather. Sometimes when you approach it like that, it can really unlock an aspect of the story or characters for you. Apparently, I'm James Caan.

What are your plans for the future?
As soon as I finish this, I'm going to work with Terry Hands at the Clwyd Theatr Cymru in Mold. We're doing Arnold Wesker's 1965 play The Four Seasons, which will be the first time it's been revived.

Ivanov opens at the National Cottesloe on 16 September 2002, following previews from 7 September.