"I'm still feeling very anonymous," the actor admits to PEOPLE
Outfitted in snazzy suits and a swagger, Taron Egerton held his own against industry vets including Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson as spy protégé Eggsy in the action-comedy Kingsman: The Secret Service.
PEOPLE chatted with the breakout Welsh actor about his rise to fame – and what’s next for him.
1. Colin Firth Is a Friend and Mentor – Both Onscreen and Off
Egerton, 25, says his favorite part about filming Kingsman was getting to work with one of the greats: Firth, who played his espionage advisor in the spy flick.
“I suppose by virtue of the fact Colin and I spent a very, very long time together, he and I became quite close. He and I are still very much in touch,” says Egerton. “He was very generous.”
And they’re not just friends: The young star learned a lot from his older costars, too.
“Obviously you can’t learn to be Samuel or Colin, but you can learn a lot about how to conduct yourself with grace and dignity and generosity,” adds Egerton. “They’re all very nice men to be around on set. They’re great colleagues as well as actors, and so yeah, I learned from watching more than anything.”
2. He Played a Woman in His First Role!
Egerton first caught the acting bug when, at 15, he joined a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“I played a character called Flute, and he’s one of the mechanicals, and they perform a play within a play, and my character is made to play a woman,” Egerton recalls. “So my first experience of acting onstage was in a red cocktail dress. I was incredibly nervous, but the moment I stepped onstage and people started laughing, I knew that it was for me.”
“Since then, really, the germ or the desire to do this for my life started then,” he said.
The actor eventually went on to study drama at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. (Notable alums range from Ralph Fiennes and Anthony Hopkins to Maggie Gyllenhaal and Liev Schreiber.)
He landed roles in some British TV shows, and starred in a play called The Last of the Haussmans at London’s National Theatre, but Kingsman is his major cinematic debut.
3. People Don’t Recognize Him Often … Yet
He’s earned acclaim across the board for his turn in Kingsman, but the actor says he hasn’t been recognized very often – at least not yet.
“Things may change, but for the time being, I’m still feeling very anonymous,” he says. “I’m still able to walk down the street. And that’s kind of how I want it really.”
That may be because he’s currently sequestering himself to his home country of Wales: “For the time being, I’m withdrawn to the hills when I’m not working,” he says.
4. If He Wasn’t An Actor, He’d Be
While performing is his passion, the word nerd says he’d probably be an English teacher if acting didn’t work out.
“I’m into books – I love literature, so I toyed with the idea of being an English teacher,” Egerton says. “I had a fantastic English teacher at school. I think great English teachers make the world go round.”
5. Up Next, He’s Working with Hugh Jackman and Tom Hardy
With one box office smash under his belt, Egerton plans to keep the career-launching momentum going.
“I suppose the greatest thing about being involved in a project like this is what it means in terms of future work,” he says.
Up next? A small role in Legend, a crime biopic starring Tom Hardy, about twin British gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray, due later this year. And he’s about to start shooting Eddie the Eagle – about the British Olympic skier Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards – in a starring role opposite Hugh Jackman. Says Edwards: “It’s exciting.”
When it comes to choosing roles, Egerton says diversity is important. And he’d like an unlikable role soon.
“I get cast as a lot of sympathetic characters. I’d like to play someone really unpleasant,” he says, guessing, with a laugh, that he gets the agreeable parts “because I have a boyish face, perhaps?”
For more on Egerton, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now