The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of As You Like It proved to be precisely as the critics liked it, especially for the performances of the two actors in the leading roles. In joining the chorus of praise for Alex Waldmann’s Orlando and his winning rapport with Pippa Nixon, as Rosalind, The Oxford Times’s reviewer had the satisfaction of paying tribute to a ‘local lad’.

A former pupil of The Cherwell School, Alex is one of three sons of Prof Herman Waldmann, the former head of Oxford University’s William Dunn School of Pathology and his primary school teacher wife, Judie, now making a new career as a photographer. His wife Amelia, with whom he has a two-year-old daughter Ella, was brought up in Horton-cum-Studley; her father Roger Sears is a retired book editor and her mother Deborah runs Isis Ceramics.

The interview with Alex is fixed at his suggestion at Branca in Walton Street, over lunch. First, at the suggestion of the interviewer, comes a photo-shoot in nearby St Sepulchre’s churchyard, a location that seems neatly to suggest the themes of two of the three plays in which Alex is appearing in the current RSC season. Its trees reflect the woodland romance that is As You Like It; the gravestones the preoccupation with death at the heart of Hamlet in which Alex plays a bookish, bespectacled Horatio, student colleague of the prince.

Still able, with his youthful good looks, to play roles much younger than his 34 years — and now the company’s ‘face of youth’ in a series of high-profile newspaper advertisements — the actor is completing his trio of Stratford duties with the star role in All’s Well That Ends Well.

His portrait of the caddish aristocrat Bertram, on view from next month, should be an interesting one. “He’s a bit of a bad boy,” he says, “And one influence is going to be Prince Harry.” By then, he will be playing all three of these major parts night and night about. It’s a punishing regime, he acknowledges, that demands fitness.

A buffed-up body was required specifically for As You Like It in which director Maria Aberg demanded bone-crunching verisimilitude in the wrestling match where Rosalind first takes a fancy to the pugilist Orlando. He lost half a stone, trimming his five-foot-eight-inch frame down to ten-and-a-half-stone, with significant expansion to the upper body.

Lots of work at the gym? “Some. Though the main thing was not eating too much,” he says, toying with his Branca salad from which all the shavings of Parmesan have been separated to the side of the plate. With a show five hours hence, following the drive back to Stratford, he sips water and not wine.

Alex owns up to being “a bit of an obsessive person”. This makes it a little surprising perhaps, in a profession characterised by fiercely focused career trajectories, that his obsession with theatre did not start earlier than it did. For most of the time before his sudden decision to attend drama school, it had seemed more likely that his career would be as a jazz drummer.

Both his brothers, as it happens, are in the world of professional jazz. Danny, 37, is a guitarist and Adam, 31, plays sax.

The boys were brought up in Cambridge where their father, an immunologist, had worked at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. This distinguished scientist is the son of Polish Jews, both of whom survived the Holocaust. “At around the time my parents had me,” said Alex, “My dad’s dad passed away and then mum’s mother died. Dad’s mum then married my mum’s dad, so I have only ever known one set of grandparents.”

Alex’s first engagement with the theatre was inauspicious. During a year in the US, when Prof Waldmann was on a sabbatical at Stanford University, the eight-year-old made an acting debut in Oliver! as the Who-will-buy? gingerbread boy. “I’m sorry to say I couldn’t sing”, he said, “And then on opening night as a result of a bladder infection I peed myself.”

It was nearly 10 years before he was on stage again, when Cherwell’s English master, Peter Malin, asked him to play the King of France in a production of King Lear in Merton College gardens. His wife-to-be, Amelia, was a school contemporary but it was not until 2005 that friendship flourished into romance following his involvement in a pair of drama productions, (Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound and Ferenc Molnár’s The Wolf) at her parents’ home at Westhill Farm.

Having lived for 16 years in Cambridge and for two in Oxford, Alex ruled Oxbridge out of his university choices and opted instead to read history at University College, London. To assist his finances, he worked extensively at his jazz drumming but found time too for some theatre. He was cast in three productions (Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass, Goldoni’s The Venetian Twins and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which he played Lysander) that went to the Edinburgh Fringe.

At a friend’s suggestion, and just as auditions were finishing, he successfully applied for a place at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. “I’d never thought of it before, and even when I got a place I was not sure I could afford to take it. Then they offered me a scholarship, which paid most of my expenses. I went.”

Two years of study confirmed his commitment to theatre and presumably, though he is too modest to say so, his skill at it. “My feeling is that you can’t be taught how to act. It’s a matter of having energy and passion.”

A critical stage in his career development following his graduation came through work with Declan Donnellan’s Cheek By Jowl in a 2008 production of Troilus and Cressida. It began at the Barbican and toured Europe. “This was a massive breakthrough for me. Declan became a real mentor. He taught me so much; it was like having a life coach.”

Soon after, the director, Michael Grandage, cast him as Sebastian in a Donmar in the West End production of Twelfth Night starring Derek Jacobi. There was further starry involvement a little later with the same company when he played Laertes to Jude Law’s Hamlet (“He was brilliant, very generous and supportive.”) Transatlantic fame was denied him, however, when the production transferred to Broadway but a commitment to act in Rope at the Almeida kept him at home.

It was not until he was 30 that Alex began working in television, with roles in First Light, about Spitfire pilots, and Psychoville from the League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. He and Amelia also set up their own stage production company.

An applauded National Theatre role in Ryan Craig’s The Holy Rosenbergs in 2011 was followed last year by his first casting with the RSC for whom his played the title role in King John, wearing a glittering tuxedo that now features in the advertisement for BP’s £5 young people’s ticket scheme with the company. As with As You Like It, this paired him with Pippa Nixon in a production directed by Maria Aberg. “With both of them, I have a special affinity,” he says. “We inspire each other.”

Thrilled by the beauty of Shakespeare’s poetry, Alex is ambitious to take on some of the other great Shakespearian roles. “I would love to play Prince Hal in Henry IV Parts I and II and, yes, I would like to do Romeo, too, although time is running out for that.”