WHILE teen heart-throb Zac Efron might have all the girls screaming, it is his decidedly less well-known co-star in Richard Linklater’s latest film who is collecting the critical acclaim.

Bury actor Christian McKay is making his feature film debut in Me and Orson Welles, playing none other than the great filmmaker.

Released on December 4, the film tells the story of student Richard Samuels who lucks his way into a production of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre, directed by Welles himself.

It is a part that Efron clearly hopes will move him on from his High School Musical roles into the realms of serious acting.

For Christian, on the other hand, this will be the first time he has appeared on the big screen. But he doesn’t seem over-awed by his famous co-star. “Of course there’s interest in Zac with that fantastic celebrity he commands — but he’s also very humble,” he says. “And he’s introducing Orson Welles to a new generation of people who might not know anything about him.”

Christian can afford to be gracious — he is already being tipped for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the part.

It’s not bad going for a man who initially had no idea how to act on film — or even that he was being considered for the part.

Before being cast, Christian had been appearing in Rosebud, a one man show about Orson Welles.

Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater, the man behind the films Dazed and Confused, School of Rock and A Scanner Darkly, had heard about the show, and approached Christian about the part. “I stood there like an idiot giving him the names of all these famous Hollywood actors who could play Orson Welles,” he says. “It never occurred to me that he would ask me to do it.

“It made it a lot harder for him to get funding because he had an unknown actor in the role, but he really battled for me. He stuck with me very patiently and taught me how to act on film.”

Christian put in hundreds of hours of research, even completely retraining his voice so he could recreate the famous tones that caused panic in 1938 when Orson narrated H.G.Wells’ The War of the Worlds over the airwaves. The Welles that Christian portrayed was only slightly younger than when he made that famous broadcast, but he says he tried not to think about everything the filmmaker achieved in his lifetime.

He says: “Orson Welles was 22 at the time of the film. His Caesar was a ground-breaking production, it is still considered the single greatest Shakespeare production in American theatre. To play him, if I’d have thought of all that genius I would have gone mad — I had to take him off the pedestal. I had to forget everything that he’d done and compare him to me at that age. I had that arrogance and bluster back then — I don’t any more.”

Indeed, for an actor who has received such glowing reviews, Christian finds pleasure in simple things.

“I’ve got a very happy life. I have a beautiful wife, a lovely family — I’m really enjoying the process,” he says. “Walking down the red carpet last night was great, but the best thing was sitting down with my mum to watch the film.”

Christian’s father Stuart, the man known as “Mr Pool” thanks to his involvement with the Bury and District Pool League, died in December 2005, and he says that as they watched the film he felt his father would have been very proud.

“We all got a bit tearful. Getting this part as an unknown was really the most unbelievable and diabolical good luck.”

Despite the lures of a heady film star lifestyle, Christian says that his Bury roots will help him keep his feet on the ground. And he wasn’t the only Northerner in the play — along with Ian McKee and Al Weaver he was part of a “Bolton-Bury triumvirate” wondering what they were all doing playing Americans.

Christian McKee will next be appearing in Mr Nice, the adaptation of the biography of notorious drug dealer-turned-author Howard Marks, as well as a small part in Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A tall Dark Stranger, alongside Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas and Slumdog Millionaire’s Frieda Pinto.

“I would’ve gone and swept the floor for him if he’d asked — no one turns Woody Allen down,” he says.

And with another of his dry northern laughs and a polite invitation to get in touch if there’s anything else we need, Bury’s next big star goes on his way.

Me and Orson Welles is released on December 4.