Rupert Graves
Rupert Graves
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

With a stage career spanning 20 years, Rupert Graves has worked with a host of esteemed directors including Simon Callow (Amadeus, Theatr Clwyd, 1986), Robert Lepage (A Midsummer Night's Dream, National Theatre, 1992) and Patrick Marber (The Caretaker, Broadway, 2000).

Now, for the first time, Graves takes on the directing mantle himself, helming the premiere of The Ungrateful Biped, Philip Goodhew's adaptation of Dostoyevsky's Notes From Underground.

We caught up with the actor – also known for playing DI Lestrade in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' Sherlock – to find out more about the production, opening at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington this week.

The Ungrateful Biped brings Dostoyevsky's ideas into the 21st century. Philip Goodhew has adapted Notes From Underground into a one-man show, which he also performs. It's a timeless piece, which speaks to a part of our consciousness, our morality, and what we think about life and death and being pawns of life itself.

I think that, especially in these rather odd last couple of years, a lot of liberal ideas have come under attack. Dostoyevsky addressed this back then, he said 'is it worth caring for other people? Is it all just bullsh*t?'. The Ungrateful Biped is timely in that way, politically it's interesting.

Directing wasn't a burning ambition and I wouldn't have done it had Philip not asked me. But it's been really fascinating having to find the imperatives and impediments of a story to give us the impetus to go forward.

It's very intense, there aren't many jokes or banana skin moments. It's about peeling back the layers of the onion and liberating the character – they're in there somewhere and you've got to somehow shake them loose and make them live onstage.

My work as an actor has helped me, I guess. Most directors don't see how other directors work, but an actor sees how loads of directors work. You can see the good and bad things that directors commonly do.

I've had a lot of kids, so at the moment I prefer screen work. Going away for blocks of time, doing a bit of work and then coming back. In the theatre, you're up early and go to bed late, which is just not great with kids.

I saw Benedict and Andrew's Hamlets. They were both very different, I loved them both. I'd quite like to do a bit of Shakespeare because I've done very little of that, perhaps I can do an old Hamlet next.

Being part of the Sherlock team is fun. It's quite easy for me because I don't do very much, I normally come and ask a question and go out. The reaction to that show is incredible, I've never seen anything like it. With social media the relationship between the programme-makers and the audience is much closer now, it's easier for the fans to have a hotline to the creatives.

The Ungrateful Biped runs at the White Bear Theatre until 17 February.