Mr Henderson presents   20 Jun 2006

Kaye Holland is seduced by the charms of hot home grown-talent Martin Henderson.

Kiwi actor Martin Henderson breaks the first rule of diva – he rings (as arranged) at midday on the dot. He’s calling to discuss his latest project – Fool for Love – arguably his "career highlight to date".

Sam Shepard’s 1983 award-winning play is an intense but sharply humourous verbal sparring match that takes place in a seedy motel room on the edge of the Mojave desert between two on-again, off-again lovers who debate love, hate and the dying myths of the Old West. That’s not all, to complicate things the star-crossed Eddie and May are related by blood, their old man fathered them both by different mothers.

Despite being thoroughly worn out – "as an actor, the play is a great thing to do but it’s absolutely relentless and physically and emotionally exhausting" – the man on the other end of the receiver is affable, animated and articulated. He’s cocky but not arrogant – I like him immediately.

Thirty-one-year-old Henderson has been making big strides in a (relatively) short space of time. The native New Zealander became an accomplished actor in his teens playing Stuart Neilson in hospital soap Shortland Street before popping up as Geoff Thomas in Home and Away. Then – like Aussie soap stars Russell Gladiator Crowe, Guy Pearce et al, he packed his bags and headed for Hollywood. He hasn’t looked back since.

Henderson claims not to read reviews: "I try not to read them because I feel it’s all kind of relative. I’ve had things written about me that are so glowing, that I’m so great. Then I’ve had things written about me that are really horrible and I think the truth lies in the middle.

So there’s not too much point in getting attached to either opinion."

For the record Henderson delivers a ravishing award- worthy performance in Fool for Love that has had the critics salivating. The Independent went into raptures about the "strong and exciting impression" Henderson makes as Eddie while London’s Evening Standard hailed his West End debut as "remarkable". It says something that Henderson can elicit this sort of response from the notoriously savage London hacks. Clearly he has the looks – lets face it, the bloke is effortlessly gorgeous – and the talent. He doesn’t so much as tick the right boxes as jump out of them.

Having worked in TV, film and theatre, I’m curious as to what Henderson’s favourite medium is.

"I love to explore the various facets of myself so I still enjoy playing different sorts of roles in different mediums."

But when pushed he concedes that "theatre is probably my preference – it helps hone your craft. There is an immediate connection with the audience which reminds me why I am an actor."

One string he won’t be adding to his already overloaded bow is a music career.

"I am a terrible singer," he says.

"I get very enthusiastic and can’t concentrate on the notes!"

So he won’t be doing a Delta or a Kylie then?

"I fantasised about that as a kid, but while the desire is there the ability isn’t. I’ll leave the singing career to Juliette Lewis [Fool for Love co-star]."

Lewis, who has starred in films such as Kalifornia and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and is a former flame of Brad Pitt, is currently in a band called Juliette and the Licks. "I have such jealousy of Juliette’s band career. To me that would be the greatest way to burn off nervous energy – to just get out there and rock," Henderson says. Lewis is merely the latest in a long line of stunning actresses Henderson has worked with to date.

He hesitates when asked to name his favourite female co-star. I guess the trick is choosing from a list that reads like a who’s who of hot young Hollywood talent. After an early brush with Wedding Crashers’ Isla Fisher on the set of Home and Away, Henderson went on to appear opposite India’s sexiest star (and former Miss World) Aishwarya Rai in Bride and Prejudice, lock lips with Britney Spears in the video for her chart- topping single Toxic and share the silver screen with fellow Antipodeans Naomi Watts (The Ring) and Cate Blanchett (Little Fish). Not bad for a boy from Auckland.

Following a considerable pause he plumps for Blanchett.

"Her attitude was easy, she just made everything really enjoyable. Cate doesn’t take herself too seriously."

It’s an approach that Henderson has tried to emulate.

"I try to have fun with what I’m doing and not get too bogged down. My theory is if I’m enjoying myself, the audience will too."

After an awful introduction to London – "I first came to visit 10 friends who were crammed into a flat in Acton. That put me right off London I can tell you!" – it transpires that the charms of the English capital have crept up on him.

"I am really happy to be here right now and at this time of year. I’ve been enjoying London’s gardens, which are a good substitute for New Zealand’s beaches." What other advice does he have for newly arrived New Zealanders?

"London is all about culture. So definitely check out Fool for Love! And the galleries, which are world renowned. For great coffee go to the New Zealand coffee shop Flat White in Berwick Street. It’s awesome."

But despite a new-found love of London, Henderson still hankers for his homeland.

"There are a lot of things I miss. The beaches, the natural beauty, the people and their attitude to life. Everywhere else, everything happens so fast, no one has time for anything – but New Zealand has a slower rhythm."

When his stint in the West End comes to an end, he plans to fly home and visit his new nephew and would like to spend some time catching up with family and friends. Not – if his performance as Eddie is anything to go by – that this will be an option. In terms of Hollywood currency he is rising fast – proven by the air miles he must have accumulated during the past few years – and this time believe the hype. Our man Martin might just be the real deal…

• Fool for Love is on at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue, London, W1D 6AB until September 9. For more information call 0870 890 1101.

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