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Gavin & Stacey actor Mat Horne returns in Rain Man

Brotherly love: Mathew on stage with co-star Ed Speleers and (below) Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in the 1988 film

Gavin & Stacey actor Mat Horne is Dustin’ off Hoffman’s famous film role for the stage. He explains why the project is so personal

FEW get to see the serious side of funnyman Mathew Horne, best known for his comedic coupling with James Corden in TV hit Gavin & Stacey. But when he talks about his latest role — as autistic savant Raymond in the stage adaptation of Rain Man — the laughter stops. And it is little wonder, for this story is very close to his heart.

‘This is an intense and important show for me,’ says Mat, 39. ‘It has a real pertinence because my older brother is autistic with severe learning difficulties.

‘Through growing up with him I’ve met hundreds of people with similar challenges to those Raymond has in the play. I’ve drawn on those experiences to inform what I’m doing on stage.

‘I’m also an ambassador for Mencap who have done several sessions with us as a company — so hopefully we’re pretty well armed going into this.’

The play, and the 1988 film on which it is based, tells the story of selfish car dealer Charlie Babbitt, played on stage by Ed Speleers, who checks his brother Raymond out of a care home in an attempt to gain control of an inheritance.

The film was a huge hit — winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (for Dustin Hoffman as Raymond), Best Director and Best Screenplay. So how difficult is it not to try to replicate Hoffman’s portrayal of the character?

‘Quite difficult — I know the film very well,’ says Mat, who studied it at university in Manchester as part of his drama degree. ‘It’s good to pay homage and respectfully derive some of the characteristics from him, but do something different at the same time.

‘It’s a challenging role — it’s full on,’ he adds. ‘Raymond is a unique, idiosyncratic character who is at a very specific place on the autistic spectrum. We’re doing it in a different medium and it has a bit more intimacy and nuance as a play.’

In light of his personal experiences, how far does Mat think the general understanding of autism has changed since the film’s original release?

Safe bet: Mathew as Raymond

‘We’re doing a piece that’s set at a particular time when people knew a little bit less than they do now — but it hasn’t come as far in 30 years as people would hope,’ he says.

‘I hope the autistic community will understand the compassion and sensitivity with which we’ve approached this play — but Charlie’s story is at the heart of it and it’s about how meeting someone with Raymond’s challenges changes Charlie as a person. His experiences with Raymond change him in a positive, hopeful way.’

Mat is now a successful stage and TV actor but he had an unorthodox route into the profession.

He formed a comedy double act with friend Bruce Mackinnon, turning down a place at drama school after finishing his degree, as his stand-up career was doing so well.

From stand-up, he landed a lead role in Channel 4’s 20 Things To Do Before You’re 30, but found fame as Gavin in sitcom Gavin & Stacey. He and co-star James Corden became so popular they fronted their own sketch show and presented the 2009 Brits together.

Now Corden is singing in cars with A-listers on American television, does Mat think they’ll ever work together again? ‘I’d love to if he ever comes back from America,’ says Mat. ‘He’s very busy but we talk quite a bit. We’re still close.’

Mat remains grateful to the show that raised his profile. He says: ‘It was a huge turning point for me and I hold that show very dear to my heart. It’s amazing to have that under my belt as I continue to have challenges I never thought would be presented to me.’

Today and tomorrow, Theatre Royal Windsor, theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk, and then touring