Matthew Rhys: Salinger showed me I wasn't alone

Matthew Rhys describes his personal relationship with 'The Cather in the Rye' and explains how Richard Burton gave him confidence to become an actor.

Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, 39, rose to fame in the TV drama Brothers & Sisters on Channel 4. Last Christmas, he played Mr Darcy in BBC1’s Death Comes to Pemberley

The Catcher in the Rye By J D Salinger

This may not be a very original choice but, like so many other teenagers, I’ll never forget the impact it had on me. At a time in my life when I felt insecure and uncertain, Salinger showed me I wasn’t alone. Here was an adult who understood me! I was shocked that someone could be so emotionally insightful, yet hugely relieved to have a pat on the back to reassure me that my feelings weren’t weird. I spent quite a lot of time in my room as a teenager—the weather in Wales made sure of that—and the relationship I developed with this book was personal and intense. I felt he’d written it just for me.

Rich: The Life of Richard Burton By Melvyn Bragg

My father sparked my interest in Burton when he and I watched Look Back in Anger together. Burton’s portrayal of Jimmy Porter was mesmerising. I read this biography on the train journeys to and from London for my auditions at Rada—I was buoyed by Burton’s story, so eloquently told. There were many aspects of his character that I found heartening. Like him, I was a little tortured about choosing acting as a career; faintly embarrassed and nervous at the lack of stability it offered. Yet, when I finished the book after my last audition, I thought it could be done. Here was the proof—a man from Wales who’d made it. I’ve never looked back.

The Old Man and The Sea By Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway is the only author whose work I enjoy rereading, and the older I get the more I appreciate his writing. I could have chosen any number of his books. Like Burton he was a complex, macho man, but with sensitivity and an understanding of the human condition. The Kansas City Star, where he worked before the First World War, had a style guide that encouraged its reporters to “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.” Hemingway took that advice and ran with it. I find his efficiency and accuracy of language breathtaking.