Page last updated at 17:25 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 18:25 UK

Time traveller lands in Cannes

By Victoria Lindrea
BBC News Entertainment reporter in Cannes

Matt Smith
Smith previously starred in BBC dramas Moses Jones and Party Animals

As he prepares to step into the role of Doctor Who, Matt Smith is just months away from becoming a major star, continuously stalked by the paparazzi, Whovians, et al.

But, for now, he is keeping a low profile in the French Riviera, as he promotes the short film Together, which opened Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday.

The 26-year-old star has bundles of charm. I am under strict instructions not to ask questions about the new series of Doctor Who (his agent hovers close by, growling), so I try a leftfield approach: No, he did not travel to the French Riviera in his Tardis, Smith reliably assures me.

He came on board his private jet with John Travolta in the pilot seat.

OK, so it was a budget airline, but at least he has a sense of humour. On this showing, it can be hoped that Smith will retain David Tennant's ebullient approach to the role of The Doctor, rather than returning to Christopher Ecclestone's darker portrayal.

And no, he has yet to meet any Doctor Who fans on the Croisette.

In fact, there is a quality of mischievousness to the young actor - a lightness and an energy that echo Tennant. Though Smith has plenty of his own style, not least a flock of hair that is rapidly becoming his own personal motif.


Who's in town: New Doctor speaks out

Together - an Anglo-German production from director Eicke Bettinga - is just 14 minutes of screentime, all of it dominated by Smith, 26, as he returns to the family home one year after the death of his brother, and tries to break the emotional deadlock that has sprung up between father and his remaining son.

Smith says he took the role so that he would have the opportunity to see how a short film comes together, with all the time and budget limitations that the genre typically affords.

"In the future, at some point, I would like to get behind the camera - I'm keen to be as collaborative as possible, although, of course, my main passion remains as an actor."

Three weeks after completing Together last autumn, Smith learned that he was to play the 11th Time Lord. It marks a massive step in his career, but he insists he is "ready for the challenge".

"As an actor you have to summon up so much courage. The lights go down, you hear 'action' and there is only one person talking. It's a leap of faith. "

"I will embrace it because what else is there to do? Life is there to be embraced and enjoyed," he says, before adding, with a cheeky grin: "That is all I will say on the matter."

Still in his twenties, Smith has landed one of the biggest roles in British television. So is he prepared for the paps hiding in the bushes outside his house, and more importantly, for the critical onslaught of the myriad Doctor Who aficionados?

"Of course I beat myself up. But you have to roll with the punches and enjoy it all. Criticism is criticism and everyone is entitled to their opinion."

Matt Smith
At 26, he will be the youngest actor to have played the Doctor

"As long as you try your best, what else can you do?

"You hope your talent is rich enough - it's that coupled with hard work. That's what really separates the great people: their work ethic and their preparation."

And it seems Smith's work ethic is not limited to the acting world - he plans to learn the piano and the guitar "between lines".

We speak briefly about the physical demands of playing the Doctor, to which Smith will only respond that June is his "training month".

"There's more to me than an actor," insists Smith, who - like Michael Sheen - had plans to become a professional footballer before injury forced his energies elsewhere.

He also makes a mean spaghetti Bolognese.

While filming begins on the new series in the near future (PR hovering), Smith says he will continue to pursue other film and stage work - time permitting.

"You need a lot of luck because you need the right parts. As an artist you can only ever live presently."

Macbeth and Hamlet are just two of the roles he aspires to play.

Somehow I don't think we will have to wait too long.

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