Words by Mr Jonathan Heaf, features director of GQ
The first time I spied Mr Ben Whishaw in the flesh - out in the real world, actual size, in original 3-D - was on the streets of Manhattan, almost three years ago. The actor was, back in 2010, starring alongside Ms Andrea Riseborough - a rising talent herself - in an off-Broadway production of The Pride, written by playwright Mr Alexi Kaye Campbell and involving two parallel love stories between a man (Mr Hugh Dancy) and a woman (Ms Riseborough), and a man (Mr Dancy again) and another man (Mr Whishaw).
Looking half lost, half stoned and just a sprinkle self-conscious, Mr Whishaw shuffled apologetically past that day, eyes drilling down into the New York pavement in a manner that might be described as a little like Mr Kevin Spacey's cripple, Verbal, in The Usual Suspects. It seemed to me that Mr Whishaw was going to some pains to slope past unnoticed; happy to observe, rather than be observed. Still, I clocked him. Or thought I did. And prior to meeting him again three years later in a more official capacity I felt proud - no, sure - that this sighting confirmed all my assumed preconceptions of this most British of British actors: short, boyishly handsome, a little jumpy, a lot introverted, nice eyes and about as brazen and as bawdy as a newborn foal.
I do get stopped on the street, and they always have something lovely to say. Someone was talking to me about that poor girl in the Twilight films - Kirsten, is it?
Of course, that's what everyone always thinks about Mr Whishaw: reluctant, fame-weary, bookish, and unfathomably thespian. Well, we're all spectacularly wrong. (Mostly wrong anyway; he is very thespian. And quite bookish.) And if his brilliantly erudite, assertive turn in the BBC's The Hour (across both past seasons as the wily Freddie Lyon) failed to convince you of such collective misreadings of the man, then his excellent reincarnation of James Bond's gadget guy, Q, in Skyfall last year will have confirmed what you already suspected deep down: that there's more to this boy than meets the eye.
"I just keep myself to myself, mostly," says Mr Whishaw. "Perhaps that's why people don't see me as this larger-than-life... celebrity." To his credit, the way in which he almost retches out that last word like a cat coughing up a fur ball shows you his disregard - or rather, what little interest - he has in our cultural obsession with the famous for being famous.
"I do get stopped on the street, although rarely. And they always have something lovely to say. Someone was talking to me about that poor girl in the Twilight films - Kirsten, is it?"
"Kristen, that's right. I wouldn't like that. Not at all. Living in hotel rooms and being mobbed. A terrible state of existing. Terrible!"
Mr Whishaw as Q in the critically acclaimed 23rd James Bond film, 2012
From left: Mr Jim Broadbent and Mr Whishaw in the Wachowskis' epic sci-fi drama
Mr Whishaw as journalist Freddie Lyon in the 2011 BBC Cold War drama
Despite not enjoying the trappings of fame and glossing over the globe-spanning, box office-demolishing juggernaut that is the Bond franchise for just a second, 2013 could well be Mr Whishaw's most prolific year yet. First, in February, comes the Wachowskis' epic adaptation of Mr David Mitchell's purposefully rudderless Cloud Atlas - "I still don't know whether I understand all of it. Although I'm happy not to have every plot line sewn up neatly" - and come March the Bedfordshire-born actor will be seen in Peter and Alice at the Noël Coward Theatre in London, alongside none other than M. That's right, his new, old boss, Dame Judi Dench.
"We actually never met on set for Bond, Judi and I," says Mr Whishaw. "I think it was at the premiere that we first managed to say hello to one another properly. That whole Bond experience pretty much blew my mind - if only for my realisation of the insatiable global appetite for James Bond. His legacy will go on far longer than any of ours."
And there's more to come - although MR PORTER couldn't possibly spill any details of the rumoured role in Mr Steven Spielberg's Robopocalypse, slated for 2014, alongside Ms Anne Hathaway and Mr Chris Hemsworth. "Nothing is nailed down yet," says Mr Whishaw, ever the diplomat.
Still, there's no doubt of the admiration for Mr Whishaw, especially if Twitter is anything to go by. The morning I meet him, both the author Mr Bret Easton Ellis and journalist Ms Caitlin Moran tweet their lustful adorations of the good-natured boy-child - Ms Moran going so far as to say she'd like to "bang" him.
"I'm not aware of any of that stuff," he smiles, stifling a grin the size of a canoe. "But thank you for telling me. It's always nice to be appreciated.
Cloud Atlas opens in the UK on 22 February.
Peter and Alice runs at the Noël Coward Theatre from 9 March to 1 June. michaelgrandagecompany.com