A.S.H. SMYTH talks to Sam Crane whose promising acting career sees him appearing at the National Theatre

On a freezing, windy afternoon, I bundle into the South Bank's BFI café, to be greeted by Sam Crane's affable smile and properly actorish tousled hair-do.

He's on a break from rehearsing DNA and The Miracle at the National Theatre, and keeping the world at bay with a cappuccino (alas for us, it's a little early for anything else).

By way of an ice-breaker, I tell him he needn't worry too much, since I met his mum recently and she wasted no time in giving me the blow-by-blow Sam Crane CV.

"Really?" he says, somewhat nervously. "You don't want to run that by me, do you?"

On reflection, a cruel thing to do to any chap. But it soon becomes clear that she was pretty much right: mother, as they say, is a boy's best publicist.

Twenty-eight-year-old Sam is the son of playwright Richard and director Faynia Williams, so "I kind of grew up with theatre".

But despite having parents established in the trade, an agent of his own, and a tally of school plays behind him, Crane chose to put professional performing on hold, choosing instead to study classics at Oxford and do his acting part-time.

He is full of praise for the city's drama scene and the choices open to determined young actors.

"It's quite incredible really, the amazing opportunities you get in Oxford without there being any kind of drama course. So much goes on and you can do productions in such a variety of theatres: the Playhouse, the Burton Taylor, the OFS Studio . . .

"I think the amazing thing is the number of people who are so ambitious to get things put on . . . And the fact that it's completely separate, in a way, from the academic world - I guess it's good, it gives people a kind of freedom."

A freedom of which the student Crane certainly took full advantage, notching up an impressive portfolio which he modestly summarises as "a bit of Shakespeare, bit of absurdism, bit of new writing".

These bits included Equus; the role of Berenger in Ionesco's Rhinoceros (with Rosamund Pike); playing the Fool in King Lear; and the great Dane in Hamlet. And then there was the new writing . . .

Thinking, somewhat disbelievingly, of the infamous classics workload, I ask if he was one of those (really infuriating) guys who was in eight plays a term.

"I did some of that, but I also did some professional work separately from the university scene - a day here and a day there, in the holidays."

In Crane's fourth year, things really gathered pace.

"I've always been interested in the work of the Polish film-maker Tadeusz Kantor, and I remember going to this conference about him in Aberystwyth. I'd really wanted to go and I got a grant from my college and when I was there I met a Polish woman Zofia Kalinska who'd acted in Kantor's company for 20, 30 years . . ."

Kalinska told Crane she thought he'd be perfect for a part in A Little Requiem For Kantor, a show she was putting on at the ICA. "It was the year of my finals, but I thought I've got to do it.'"

Of course. I mean, it's not like classics is tricky, or anything.

In the Easter holiday immediately preceding his exams, A Little Requiem went on tour, to Brazil.

"I took my Pindar with me, to read on the beach: I think I opened it at least twice."

Two years at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art saw Crane pick up the Nicholas Hytner Award for the best actor of his year and then he was straight into his first job, in Rabbit, followed quickly by roles in Major Barbara, Ghosts and Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, where he garnered plaudits for (the right kind of) dying horribly on stage.

What was his big break, then?

"I don't know if I've really had it yet!" He thinks Rabbit did pretty well for him, and after Frank McGuinness's production of Ghosts "got pretty amazing reviews I noticed suddenly . . . quite a lot of people wanting to meet me".

There's also the small matter of last summer's widely acclaimed appearance at the Globe, in Othello. Crane's ludicrously over-romancing Roderigo was variously described as "superlative", "highly amusing", and "a poopy-pants" - though I maintain I meant that in the nicest possible way.

Now he's at the National in The Miracle, Lin Coghlan's new ensemble piece about a 12-year-old girl who receives magical powers from a washed-up Virgin statue; and as Phil in Dennis Kelly's DNA.

In DNA a group of youngsters do something terrible and try to cover it up.

"Phil's generally a quiet, reserved outsider . . . but then he's the one who suddenly, out of nowhere, comes up with this plan . . . So then he becomes the centre of the group." Hmm. Verbal Kint comes to the South Bank.

Off-stage, Crane has appeared in a few TV episodes, some minor films and a handful of radio plays. His participation in the Royal Court's Young Writers Programme yielded a play called Lost Property. And he recently turned his hand to sound-recording, on his wife Pinny Grylls's double-award-winning short film Peter and Ben, a rather touching movie about a man and a sheep, shot in an (extremely) remote part of Wales, in 2006.

Where next, I ask: is there a plan?

"It's difficult to set out an exact plan of what's going to happen. For the last couple of years I've been doing a lot of theatre, which is brilliant and I really love doing that. But I'd like to do some more film work, as well. I'd love to do a horror movie. I think that'd be a lot of fun."

For the moment, though, it's back to rehearsals. I wish him luck for DNA and The Miracle, and tell him I'll see him on press night.

Baby Girl/DNA/The Miracle Normally only two plays per evening, until April 10. Tickets: £10 to £29. Box office: 0207 452 3000 (www.nationaltheatre.org.uk).