We talk to the actor from ''The History Boys''

By EW Staff
Updated August 11, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT


AGE 23
BIRTHPLACE North Yorkshire, England

His tender, understated turn as a painfully shy 17-year-old anchors the screen version of The History Boys, the Tony-winning coming-of-age drama set in a British secondary school. His melodic rendition of ”Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” — sung whilst gazing adoringly at a rakishly handsome classmate — doesn’t hurt either.

In about two hours, Barnett’s character gets to sing show tunes, come out of the closet, struggle with his Jewish heritage, masquerade as a French madam, and deliver zingers like this: ”I’m a Jew. I’m small. I’m homosexual. And I live in Sheffield. I’m f—ed.” The actor takes some credit for his Tony-nominated performance — ”I have that sort of acerbic wit,” he admits — but saves his highest praise for playwright-screenwriter Alan Bennett. ”I will never be as funny or intelligent as he makes me.”

Though they’ve been together for (off and on) two and a half years — doing the play in London, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Sydney, and now New York — the eight History Boys get on famously, says Barnett. ”We just completely take the piss and wind each other up.” But he draws the line at bunking with them. ”God, no! We’d kill each other.”

More History: The play will go on at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre through Oct. 1.