Whether he's playing rock guitar, hunting vampires in Argentina or wielding a sword in ancient Rome, JJ Feild will be all over our screens soon
No less arresting, I'm sure, are his roles in three hotly anticipated films, two of which are out this month. That's our excuse, anyway, for spending a sunny afternoon in the dark recesses of a London caf, sipping wine and giggling.
During a recent interview, Nick Moran said, "Anyone who is cool (will go see Telstar]." He would say that, of course, since the star of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is Telstar's director and one of those who wrote the original stageplay from which it's adapted. For all that, he's not wrong.
Telstar, a biopic of legendary music producer Joe Meek, has already generated excited inquiries from the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Arctic Monkeys, all great fans of the controversial 1960s iconoclast, who was as famous for his musical genius as he was for being eccentric, tone deaf and addicted to amphetamines. In 1967 Meek fatally shot his landlady before turning the gun on himself.
Con O'Neill reprises the role of Meek and Feild stars as his protg, Heinz Burt. Shot on a slim budget of less than 1.5 million – made possible by calling in every favour in the book – it represents, says Feild, a labour of love on the part of everyone involved.
Although there's music in his pedigree – more of which later – that gene bypassed him completely. "I told Nick, 'I can't sing, I can't play the guitar.' He said, 'Perfect, Heinz was rubbish!' We turned up at a rehearsal room off Holloway Road and there was a lovely guy who came to help us, and the first thing I saw was a tattoo on his arm that said 'Libertine'. It was Carl Barat! He was the loveliest man, and a really good actor as well. He plays Gene Vincent.
"Barat taught me three guitar chords and I learned a few more for the bass. So I play the guitar for real in the film and sing one of the songs – the one where I'm meant to be awful. The scene of me sounding like a strangled cat is actually me. Wait! I should say it the other way around! That was a double and the big, number-one worldwide hit was actually me singing."
The love story between the two men has, he explains, "been denied and confirmed a million times. Joe was completely and beautifully in love with Heinz. He turned a mediocre performer into something extraordinary. All respect to Heinz for getting where he did, but I don't think it would have happened without Joe Meek. Joe had the idea of his look and all his songs. Heinz was incredibly ambitious and very open to what was going on around him – including whatever had to happen to get to the top.
"It's a very beautiful, tragic love story. Tragic for Joe, because Heinz had everything he ever wanted and he walked away. Then Heinz's career ended as soon as Joe was out of the picture. When I first got the script I envisaged it as a sort of warning to anyone in the artistic world. You can win a talent show and be so famous that you can't walk down the street, but no-one knows you next Monday."
The only downside to making Telstar was hair loss caused by repeat bleaching. "I know what Marilyn felt like. Peroxide is not right for human hair," he warns, should I harbour any urge to go blonde.
He is a revelation, this young man. No amount of poring over his films prepared me for how handsome he is in person, or the sheer magnetic force of his personality. While I don't subscribe to the notion that actors are dumb bunnies, I'm startled by his tremendous intellectual curiosity and generosity of spirit. He is, as the French say, comfortable in his skin, in a way that's quite infectious.
Perhaps it's because, at 31, he's better travelled than most men twice his age. He was born in Boulder, Colorado, to a British academic and his American wife, originally from California's Napa Valley – though it amuses him that each parent wound up living in the other one's country after they split up.
Feild's dad, Reshad, was a founding member of The Springfields (you may have heard of Dusty), who became a renowned Sufi scholar. The marriage ended when JJ was young, and from age six he regularly crossed the Atlantic. Though London is home, he's spent masses of time in Provence as well, and there developed a taste for ros wine. Nowadays he spends half the year in Los Angeles, half in London, when not in some far-flung location for work.
"We have this obsession with broken homes," he says, apropos of his childhood. "Everyone wants to find a problem with it, but not me. I had great homes. Both my parents remarried and I got more people to learn from!"
As a kid, Feild was transfixed by a crumpled photograph hanging in the hallway. "It was a mountain that looked like a stone pyramid: Mount Kailash in Tibet. We looked it up and read that it was probably the most sacred place on Earth and perhaps the most inaccessible, so my brother and I said, 'Oh! Let's go!' We planned the trip for a year. He was 19 and I was 17; we were both too young. We hitched through China, Lhasa, and all the way through Tibet to do the pilgrimage and walk around the mountain. These were the days before Sat phones, before mobiles.
"It was one of the most formative events of my entire life. It still changes me. I'm still learning from it. I got very ill on the trip and was lucky to survive. When you have any near-death experience you continually learn from it in retrospect. It's like love at first sight – that's really hindsight, where you look back and go, 'Wow! That was the moment I fell in love.' At the moment you're just experiencing it; for the rest of your life you're understanding it."
Making Blood: The Last Vampire brought him back to China. From the folks who brought the world Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, it's the first live-action film of a manga animation, and one of the most award-winning animes of them all. It stars South Korean star Gianna Jun as a half-vampire, half-human 400-year-old out to destroy the evil matriarch of all vampires.
Feild plays a villainous vampire hunter, but has no scenes with Jun. "I was really disappointed because I wanted to fly around on the wires. We filmed in Argentina and the foothills of the Himalayas, in western China.
"I fell in love with Argentina. The two cities I've found very hard to leave in my life were New York and Buenos Aries. At the moment, it's being reborn. The economy collapsed, but now the country is exploding again. There's a real mix of European cultures – French, Italian – and ancient South American culture. I had the most amazing Italian food of my life there. The people are wonderful and the art and the architecture are like a time capsule – the way I imagine Havana to be."
He's not complaining, but it was surely less exotic filming Centurion – one of two upcoming films about the "lost" ninth legion of Roman soldiers – in Aviemore, despite the opportunity to discover the delights of a haggis supper. "My grandfather was called Hamish Hamilton and I was convinced for ages that he was Scottish, but it turns out he was Irish," he says with some disappointment.
When the snow proved relentless, the crew retreated to a Surrey forest, only to find themselves besieged by rain and blizzards. As for the plot, Feild summarises: "Swords and sandals, boys with toys, men in skirts. Thousands of soldiers march into the mist and these blue, woaded Scottish Picts chase them out." And which is he? "I'm a Roman," he purrs, making it sound like the sexiest nationality known to man.
When he's not filming, which admittedly isn't often, Feild is obsessed with golf, gleefully reporting that he recently – finally – beat his pal Dougray Scott during a session on the course in Los Angeles. He's also a passionate foodie able to recount in mouth-watering detail highlights of a birthday meal in France, at Chez Bruno, where truffles are the speciality of the house.
I have rarely met a man who seemed so contented with his lot. Then again, I don't know all his friends. Not long ago he and his great buddy Jamie Sives were asked what they hoped for in their careers. "Jamie said – and I wish it had been me saying this – 'What I hope is that I never have to get a job. This isn't a job: it's great fun.'"
Telstar and Blood: The Last Vampire are both released on 19 June. Centurion is due out later this year.