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Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Laura Linney stars in Christopher Hampton's seductive dark comedy.

Ben Daniels

Age: 43

Hometown: Nuneadon, "a small working town in the middle of England."

Currently: Visiting his "favorite city in the world" to play the epically manipulative Vicomte de Valmont opposite Laura Linney in Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Crossing the Pond: The Brits are known for a certain degree of propriety— they don't tend to gush the way Americans do. So when Daniels cops to child-like enthusiasm about his Broadway debut, he's doubly endearing. "Oh my god, I'm so excited!" he proclaims, boyish grin firmly in place. "I feel like a kid! I wake up and go 'Ahhh!' It's completely pathetic." And that's coming from an actor accustomed to big roles, with an Olivier Award for his stage work and a devoted following and sex symbol status from the BBC's Cutting It, a popular nighttime soap akin to Desperate Housewives. "I was on holiday in Greece and my agent phoned and said, 'Do you want to have a meeting for Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway?' And I went, 'Uh…yeah!' I knew [the audition] was going to be full-on, so I thought, 'I just gonna go for it. I have a handle on this character that maybe they haven't seen before.' And they ran with it!"

From the Midlands to the Stage: "I'm a great candidate for why arts funding shouldn't be cut, because I had no experience other than what was at school," Daniels says of his theatrical roots. "I'm from a working-class town—there were no theaters, and the cinema closed when I was a kid. So all we had was bad TV, really." A shy child, Daniels discovered that acting helped draw him out of his shell. "Anything that gave me a voice or a way to express myself I went running headlong toward." Luckily, Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare's hometown was just 35 miles away, offering the kind of top-level drama training a 16-year-old couldn't find at home. From there, Daniels jumped to London's prestigious LAMDA conservatory, then began playing an array of leading men, earning an Olivier Award for the National Theatre's production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons in 2001.

Count Him In: The role of Valmont, one of the Holy Grails of treacherous stage villains, was originated by Daniels' countryman Alan Rickman in 1987 and played by John Malkovich in the 1988 film retitled Dangerous Liaisons. Despite this impressive lineage, Daniel has no misgivings about tackling the part. "It's so brilliantly written and complex that you can bring your own Valmont to it," he says. "I went back to the novel, so both [Rickman and Malkovich's] performances are completely different to how I do him." So, what will Daniels bring to the evil Vicomte this time around? "A sense of humor. This fellow makes people feel really, really good and gets them to do things they wouldn't necessarily do because they feel good." He ponders his character for a moment, then stops. "I'd say more but I don't want to slag people off," he explains good-naturedly.

American Idol: "Everyone should have 'I HEART Laura Linney' bumper stickers, because she is like a national treasure, isn't she?" the gracious Daniels says of his Oscar-nominated co-star, cast as cunning Marquise de Merteuil. "It's such great casting because you don't want Merteuil to be vile from the outside, you want people to believe no one knows what she's really like. It's all about power, and she has much more over Valmont, as becomes evident throughout the evening in a ghastly way." Daniels stresses that Linney, a formidable actress not previously known for playing overtly sexual roles, should not be underestimated. "She's tough. If you think you [already] know what she does, just hang on a minute."

A Two-Timing Champ: Playing a deviant libertine is nothing new to Daniels. "I've done a long line of duplicitous, nasty men," he says cheerfully, ticking off a list of murderers, adulterers and cheats. Does he ever feel he's being typecast? "You know, if I am, I sort of don't care because they're such great parts," he says with a grin. "Even though they're loathsome, you kind of fall in love with them, and then you feel very icky about falling in love with them." English audiences don't feel icky loving Ben Daniels, however: His wooing of Rosalind as Orlando in the Lyric Theatre's As You Like It was cited as one of "Theatre's Top Five Sex Scenes." "It is weird," he laughs, blushing. "I was a fat kid from the midlands who was really shy and covered in zits. That's what I see when I look in the mirror! So of course it's just embarrassing."

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