LONDON — Early on in Istvan Szabo’s “Being Julia,” Jeremy Irons asks Annette Bening if, on the way in, she noticed the handsome young American. The man in question is played by Shaun Evans, 27, who is not American at all. A working-class lad from Liverpool, he landed the movie’s pivotal role barely two years out of London’s prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Evans’ disarmingly charming young chancer who persuades married Bening into bed exudes a winning glow. Coupled with a flawless American accent — off the set his voice is strongly Liverpudlian — the performance put Evans on the map.
Since then, alongside roles in the BBC TV miniseries “The Virgin Queen” and “The Project,” a two-part docu-drama on the rise of Tony Blair, and a lead role in Joe Penhall’s stage play “Blue/Orange,” Evans has concentrated on film.
After the 2006 dramatic comedy “Cashback,” he appeared in Philip Haas’ Iraq-set “The Situation” (2006) and played the lead in “Gone” (2007), a psychodrama from Working Title.
In “Gone,” an Australian road movie crossed with “Dead Calm” on dry land, much of the strength of Ringan Ledwidge’s debut feature stems from Evans’ unruffled assurance in situations of ever-increasing intensity. As happy-go-lucky Alex, befriended then terrorized by a friendly-seeming dude, Evans portrays creeping doubt and galvanizing fear without ever showing the effort. It’s a skill Evans says he learned from working with Bening.
In “Sparkle,” his most sophisticated work to date, Evans brings engaging guilelessness to the lead character of naive, on-the-make Sam, who befriends Bob Hoskins, tumbles in and out of bed with Stockard Channing and wakes up to real emotion.
Co-writer-directors Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter praise Evans’ invaluable mix of diligent preparedness while appearing utterly relaxed. “Shaun doesn’t work so much with his face as with his eyes,” Hunter says. “He draws you in so that some part of you wants to forgive him whatever he gets up to.”
Claim to fame: Playing Annette Bening’s younger lover in “Being Julia” (2004).
Career mantra: “Keep changing. Keep people guessing about what I’m going to do next.”
Role model: “Mickey Rourke — he’s masculine and heartbreaking.”
What’s next: “Sparkle,” due in August. Currently shooting John Crowley’s “Boy A.”