Gugu Mbatha-Raw still remembers boarding the Number 100 bus from her home in Witney, and heading to Oxford to go to the cinema.

“I went to see Titanic seven times, and yet I never thought about being in films, or even considered it as an option. It’s funny isn’t it?”

Little did she know it would soon be her own face gracing the screens, most recently in Belle, A Wrinkle In Time and Disney’s Beauty And The Beast.

Which is why it is so fitting that the 35-year-old has become a patron for The Oxford Playhouse, because this too was her stomping ground, where Gugu’s passion for acting put down roots and she could indulge it to her heart’s content.

“To be asked to be a patron, along with a few Dames, is a real honour and I’m very proud.

“It feels very authentic because I really did spend so much of my childhood up on that stage. It was so much part of my upbringing and who I am.”

Can she remember what she starred in? “I was a tap dancing penguin in Aladdin and had a part of the kids chorus in Dick Whittington.

“They were really collaborative productions and I really loved the life, being part of a group and making new friends. It was really exciting. The Playhouse pantos were such fun.

“Coming back year-after year really gave me the chance to be in the fore of a performance, and to face a happy audience, as opposed to just my mum,” she laughs.

“But even then it was a big commitment because you couldn’t miss a rehearsal and had to take things very seriously.

“It was such invigorating stuff, to be part of a theatre gang. I was just really lucky to be supported and encouraged.”

So was her acting gift a result of nature or nature? “All I know is there was a mums’ taxi network, and my mother took me to my first ballet class aged four which I loved, and then tap and jazz aged six, and it went from there.

“I spent so much of my childhood in theatre, either at the Henry Box School in Witney or with Oxfordshire Youth Music Theatre and as a result the theatre always feels like home. I still find it really invigorating because it’s so immediate.

So what’s the attraction? “You don’t have to wait one and a half years to see if your ‘performance has landed’,” she laughs. “Film can be quite disempowering sometimes. You can feel like you have no control, but being on stage is the complete opposite.”

It’s 9am in LA when I speak to Gugu, who is taking a break from filming new blockbuster Motherless Brooklyn directed by Ed Norton, before heading off to Rwanda for a week with the UN Refugee Agency.

It’s seven years since we last spoke, as Gugu was about to get on a plane to star in Larry Crown with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts - Hollywood royalty - and therefore hugely excited at the prospect.

“I remember that,” she laughs. “I had to learn to ride a scooter before I’d passed my driving test, so I had to be driven to my scooter lessons.”

In that time Gugu has not only become less star-struck and more confident, but as A List as the stars she revered, remarkably down to earth, easy to chat to and as giggly as I remember.

Yes she’s grown up, learned to deal with the industry and stayed true to herself, but she’s also quick to laugh and remarkably unaffected by the whole experience. “I really don’t think I’ve changed. Other people treat me differently but I think I’m still the same person,” she says. “I mean I still get really excited about different jobs and working with people I admire, but I’m much more used to America now.

So how does she stay grounded? “You have to remember to be good to yourself - that’s the most important thing because the industry is always evolving and moving, which keeps things interesting. To survive you have to be centred and not take things personally.

“It’s a process - being thick skinned helps - but looking after the things still affect you, the squidgy bits, is important too. You can’t act if you’re not sensitive to things, but you still need to be resilient at the same time.

“It means you have to be skilled at brushing yourself off, so having the right attitude, being positive and motivated is key. Which is why I’m so into yoga. You need to have something like that.”

Did she feel discombobulated then when she first got to The States? “I’m a naturally enthusiastic person so I enjoy that ‘can do’ energy. It suits my personality. But when I first came to LA I didn’t believe anything that anyone told me or know who to trust. It was a bit of a culture shock, just because it was so different to Witney,” she giggles.

“I’ve learnt to decipher it all now - to speak American. We think we all speak English but we really don’t. The USA has a very different culture but I’ve learned not to be wowed by the salesmanship. So if I ever feel overwhelmed with the business side of the industry I just try to reconnect with the essentials of the story and how best to communicate it to an audience.”

And yet despite her film heavy schedule Gugu returns to the stage time and time again, most recently playing an award-winning Nell Gwynn at The Globe. “I still love the theatre, it feels like home.”

As for returning to Witney, Gugu says: “I try to come back between jobs and never leave it more than a few months. I still think of myself as a Brit although the amount I travel I’m more a ‘citizen of the world’ these days,” she grins.

With WW2 drama Summerland released in September, her workload shows no sign of slowing down. “I don’t value my work based on a film’s budget. It’s about the depth of the characters and the story, the experience, the process and the journey, not the box office. I need to connect with it on an emotional level too. I’m just excited about the future and always curious, so we will see.

“But honestly I don’t feel any different. I still feel like I’m 11 years old.”