DAVID Hare was lucky enough to meet Rudolf Nureyev. This was in the late 1960s when Nuryev almost a decade after the Soviet ballet dancer had defected to the west in Paris in 1961. Hare had a university friend whose mother was Russian and Nureyev would visit her in Pangborn when he was performing in Covent Garden.

“I was absolutely terrified of him,” Hare recalls some 50 years later. “Everybody was. He was one of those people who had an effect on the temperature of the room. The mood of the place was entirely according to whether Rudi was happy or not. I’ve met a few people in my life who have had that effect, but he had it more strongly than anybody.”

Nureyev, the “sacred monster” is not the subject of the new film The White Crow. No, the story happens before that. It’s the story of Nureyev up to and including the defection. Hare has worked on the screenplay for director Ralph Fiennes (yes, that Ralph Fiennes) with Ukranian ballet dancer Oleg Ivenko giving a very creditable performance as Nureyev.

It’s the story of a young boy born into what Hare describes as an “astonishingly bleak and austere childhood” to become one of the true greats of 20th-century ballet. And the dedication and wilfulness that required from him.

“We just wanted to show – and I think Ralph does this brilliantly – how hard Nureyev worked,” Hare tells me as we sit in the restaurant of the Dakota Deluxe hotel in Glasgow. “Ralph is an expert on Russia. He speaks Russian. He’s hugely popular in Russia because he’s the only actor really who cares about Russia.” Fiennes is also, Hare adds, “an absolute terror for detail.”

Hare is in town for the Glasgow Film Festival screening of The White Crow. It’s a kind of homecoming in a way. Hare’s mother and father, after all, met at a dance in Greenock when she was in the Wrens and he was in the navy. Hare would spend many summers growing up staying with his grandmother in Paisley.

Later this year he is tapping into those Scottish roots for the Edinburgh International Festival. He’s written a version of Peer Gynt for the actor James McArdle set in Dunoon. Hare’s version, Peter Gynt, will be the first time he’s written in a Scottish voice, he says, since Bill Paterson’s Archie MacLean character in Hare’s 1978 Play for Today, Licking Hitler (for which Hare won a Bafta).

Hare is 71 now and can look back on a career of huge achievements in theatre and cinema. His plays have been staged in the National Theatre and have won him Tony nominations, while his screenplays for The Reader and The Hours were both nominated for Oscars. He has written successfully for TV too.

And yet, anyone who has read his memoir The Blue Touch Paper will know that success has been accompanied by a huge amount of self-criticism, self-loathing even.

We’ll get to that. In person it should be said he is entertaining, chatty company, a world away from the touchy, spiky character he’s sometimes portrayed as.

Watching the film, I tell him, I could see parallels between Nureyev’s often absent father and Hare’s own. Nureyev’s father fought in the war and missed the dancer’s earliest years. Hare’s own father, a sailor, was at sea while Hare was growing up. And you get the sense that he never came home in any real way.

“The difference with my father is he never really returned until he retired,” he says. “He’d spend three weeks a year with us.” Was he something of a mystery to you then? “Oh totally, yeah.”

Hare grew up in surburban Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex which he once described as “the most boring place in the world.” He inherited an interest in theatre from his mother who had been stage manager of an amateur dramatics society in Paisley and had once acted with Duncan MacRae on the stage of the Citizen’s Theatre. “That was sort of the highlight of my mother’s life,” he says.

He suspects his interest in theatre comes from her. “I think she probably did instil a little bit of that in me. And undoubtedly in a lower middle-class childhood in Bexhill fantasy is the most powerful motivation. All you want is to get out.

“And so, when I first went to the theatre in London, it was so glamorous and I have never ever lost that sense that it’s unbelievably glamorous to be doing what I do.”

Hare arrived at the tail-end of the sixties youthquake. He was part of a generation that wanted to shake up the bourgeois nature of theatre as they saw it and make it reflect the social and political issues of the time. “50 years later can I honestly put my hand up and say that’s happened?” he wonders now.

That’s rather downplaying his own input. Hare has been instrumental in putting women front and centre in theatre and in plays like Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges and Absence of War he has addressed the politics of contemporary Britain. He tells me he has finally got around to writing about the Tory party but he can’t give me any details.

Does he recognise the young firebrand he once was? “I can’t see that I have significantly changed. It’s absolutely terrifying. It’s true that when I met my second wife Nicole Farhi I had wasted many, many years disliking myself. I had been fuelled by self-hatred which, actually, artistically was quite useful.

“And yet once Nicole arrived in my life, I acquired perhaps a measure of self-confidence which may or may not have been good for me.” There is English middle-class self-deprecation at work.

Hare married Farhi, the fashion designer in 1992. But by then he was well established as a man of the theatre. Did success not ameliorate that self-loathing he is talking about? “No, not in the slightest. I always felt embattled.”

Is it true, I ask, that he once phoned up a theatre critic to berate him about a review of one of Hare’s plays? “No, I’ve never done that. Is that a story? Really? No, I don’t think I’ve ever done that. It’s just that,” he says laughing, “it’s so impossible for me to not feel that what I have written is incredibly important. That’s just what I need to operate.

“I never do anything that I don’t at the time believe is fantastically important. Years later I may see that I was completely deluded. So, if anyone comes along who dissents, it’s like hitting my child. That’s how it feels to me.

“Nicole always says, ‘Can’t you be pleasant to that critic?’ And I just say, ‘It’s impossible for me. I can’t trust them because I’m waiting for them to lash out at me.”

And yet you have a career stretching back over four decades, David. “But that’s often been in the face of critical denigration. I just wrote I’m Not Running [for the National Theatre]. I didn’t read the reviews but certainly the press office told me they couldn’t find a single good one. And yet it played to 45,000 people without well-known actors in it. And it took, I think, £1.5million.”

He is, as you might expect, both fascinated and appalled by the current political impasse we find ourselves in. The return of a kind of imperial delusion advocated by Boris Johnson and others is, he says, one of the most shocking aspects of Brexit.

“And why Corbyn imagines he should have any truck with such a movement is just a major delusion and a real shame for the future of the Labour party.”

But, on the whole, he feels in social terms we are still moving forward.

“The crude story is that the first 35 years of my life were years in which political parties broadly accepted the idea of a National Health Service, broadly accepted the idea of public education, broadly accepted the idea that the state was a good agent.

“And obviously in the second 35 years of my life they have been moving away from those ideas. However, if the politics has regressed, the social side of life has hugely improved.”

He points to the Bexhill he grew up in. “People were literally going mad and killing themselves because they felt the level of repression – particularly sexual – in 1950s England was so horrendous. As indeed it was in Paisley. And so, the way people live now is so much for the better.”

Personal freedoms are greater, he adds, and the sense of disapproval has waned. “My grandmother in Paisley was just the single most disapproving human being I ever met. She disapproved of everything, be it hanging out your washing or going to the cinema. And that kind of terror spread by disapproval was really harmful. I think a lot of that has gone from British life.”

At 71, I wonder, does he hear time’s winged chariot drawing near? “Oh yes. It’s absolutely awful. And now you really want to make sure that everything you choose to do is going to be worth doing because you haven’t got many things left to do.”

As a result, he balks now at the time needed for researching new projects. “Somebody was trying to get me to write the history of the British occupation of India the other day and I just go, ‘Am I supposed to disappear into a library for two years?’ I just don’t have that kind of time.”

The White Crow is in cinemas on Friday.