THERE'S a sharp rap on the door of David Thewlis's hotel suite and a stunningly imperious Eastern European girl swishes in. She is carrying a tray upon which is balanced a tiny black box. She carefully lays the box on a side table and smiles mysteriously at him. "A little something for you." She all but winks.
As soon as she leaves, he jumps up excitedly from the bed to see what she's brought. "Jesus Christ, I think they're condoms!" he exclaims. "She must be a very cheap date. I wonder if she's coming back."
Disappointingly, the box contains chocolate nuts, not condoms. Thewlis is tickled that the nuts are called Equinox. "I mean, come on, with that name they had to have known people would get the wrong idea!"
Thewlis is amusing company, whether he's telling you about airport security officials recently insisting that his two-year-old daughter (with Anna Friel) put her shoes on the X-ray belt ("How much semtex did they think we could fit in her little sandal thingies?"), or getting married simply because he wanted to have a big party. It seems he has a knack of looking back at things that were probably annoying or painful at the time and laughing.
Unlike many actors, he's also admirably blunt about his back catalogue, which ranges from the ridiculous (Basic Instinct 2, for which he received a Worst Actor Nomination at the aanual Razzie awards) to the sublime (Mike Leigh's Naked). He hates the theatre: "I can't handle all those fake hugs and air kisses," and asks me not to call him a renaissance man, "just 'cos I've written a book and been in a few films." It's undeniable though that his various talents have fed off each other. His new novel, The Late Hector Kipling -- a sly and sometimes brilliant satire of the London art world -- came about when a literary agent read his thinly fictionalised account of what he describes as "a nightmare experience" on The Island Of Dr Moreau, in which he co-starred with Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando.
"It was in trouble before I even joined it," he remembers, sighing. "The original director had been fired. One of the other stars had had a breakdown. I took the lead role and then Brando showed up. It was just a few months since his daughter had committed suicide. He didn't want to do Richard Stanley's script, which was the original thing I saw. It was supposed to be a spoof. When [director] John Frankenheimer came on board he threw out all the intelligence and tried to turn it into a horror film without the comedy, so you had these girls with six tits and a chimp in a baseball shirt."
When it became clear that this was going to be the worst experience of his professional life Thewlis picked up the phone and called his agent. "I think I just said 'f*** you', into the phone for about three minutes straight."
His new book is autobiographical and draws particularly on his early life. Thewlis had no family tradition in show business. His parents owned a toyshop in Blackpool and as a kid he was more interested in music than acting, joining a band while in his teens. "It was my band mates who wanted to go to drama school in London, I just sort of tagged along." While Thewlis discovered he had a talent for acting, his friends soon tired of drama school and wanted to go back to Blackpool to re-form the band. "And I thought f*** that. There's no way I'm moving home after coming all this way."
Thewlis's decision to stay in London was a source of bitterness for his former friends. "When you start to do well there can be a sense of rivalry. I don't necessarily even mean the band mates. Even when I went to drama school there were people there who looked at how well I'd done and would go, 'Oh, you just got lucky.' Some people just can't be happy for you. That's one of the themes of the book, I guess."
You get the impression it might have been difficult for the old mates to survive in a circle of friends that now includes a host of A-List actors and directors and Thewlis concedes that it's "easier to relate to people who are in the same line of business". Fame, he says, brought him into contact with "more interesting people. Before, I'd just be going to the same bars with the same people talking the same old crock of s***."
One person he was glad to leave behind was his first wife, Sara Sugarman, a Welsh film director whom he married in 1992. "It wasn't a proper marriage," he says. "It was to the wrong person for the wrong reasons. We ended up getting married just because we wanted to have a party, and the s*** thing was, it was a shockingly bad party."
He met Anna Friel on the same night that he finished the first draft of The Late Hector Kipling. He had just signed the mortgage for a new place and went out for a drink with a film producer friend and they bumped into Anna. "It was more or less love at first sight," he says. "I was buying this big place in London but I stayed with her for a while." He says that Anna is a good influence. "She's more gregarious and vivacious than me. I like being on my own. I hate being the centre of attention. Which is probably one of the reasons I hated my wedding and probably why I'm dreading this book launch. It just seems so up yourself to go 'here's my book, have you read it? It's brilliant!'"