Actor Ralph Ineson shudders at the idea of what Chris Finch - his repulsive and arrogant alter ego in the hit comedy series 'The Office' - would have got out of three years at Lancaster University, had he gone there.

"It does not bear thinking about with so many young women around," laughs Ineson, his gravelly voice an octave lower than usual following a late night flight back home to London from filming a documentary in Scotland. "He would probably have come out with a few convictions and not much else,  although he could well have come out with a 2:2 and a few long words to stun people with."

He admits that he is now resigned to being seen as synonymous with 'Finchy,' the crude and offensive sales representative in the 2001 series, even though he rejects everything about the character, except the fact that they are both Yorkshiremen and share a passion for Leeds United FC.

"Finch was such a tiny role - not much more than a week's work in the end," he muses. "But he did amazing things for my career."

Following that role he has gone on win many roles on TV and film, such as Dagmar Cleftjaw in Game of Thrones, in Playing The Field, Coronation Street, Great Expectations and in the last three Harry Potter films as death eater Amycus Carrow. He also does a great deal of voiceover work for adverts and acts as a continuity announcer.

At the time of writing, he was making a video game in Montreal, playing a pirate, and involving wearing spandex and rushing round in what he describes as 'almost like primal scream therapy'.

If his three years at Lancaster did not specifically train him to do this, it trained him to be versatile and adaptable. He chose to come to Lancaster to take Theatre Studies, because he'd promised his parents he would go to university and his loyalties as an 18-year-old northerner prevented him from considering southern establishments.

He came straight from a boarding school in Yorkshire, where he had done more sport than drama, but had decided he would like to be an actor and initially approached it with great naivity.  He chuckles as he remembers volunteering in his first year to take part in a production of Another Country about the gay spy Guy Burgess and ending up spending the entire performance as one of four homoerotic statues - naked bar a loin cloth and a painted head.

That year he also went to the Edinburgh Festival in a play by Lancaster lecturer Pete Brooks called Excaliber, which he describes as "one of the best things I have ever done". Another production that sticks in his memory is Jackets, by Edward Bond, which was written for the Theatre Studies department at Lancaster.

Outside lectures and theatrical productions, Ineson enjoyed himself to the full.  He moved out of Furness after the first term to live in a flat in Lancaster itself, where he played cricket for the town team and had a job as a security man at the Dukes Theatre, looking after outdoor performances at Williamson Park. This was the time when Manchester was the focus of the music scene, and The Sugarhouse hosted a succession of top bands including the Happy Mondays and James, before they played the big city.

"I and my friends were almost like roadies," he recalls. "We were always helping out at The Sugarhouse."

Ineson praises the facilities at Lancaster, with its adaptable performing spaces in which he was inspired by teachers such as Peter Brookes and Geraldine Harris, to tackle every aspect of theatre, including writing and directing and putting on his own plays.

Talking to colleagues in later life who had gone to drama school, he realises that he had benefited from an experience that was much less formulaic than theirs. "I feel I got a more rounded experience of the theatre," he says, "Perhaps not the classical training of an actor, but I had more understanding of how drama works than I would have done in drama school."

He and a group of friends used this experience in their third year to set up a theatre company called Interference, which continued in Leeds after they graduated. But he had been discouraged from becoming a full-time actor during his time at Lancaster, and took a job as a teacher in a sixth-form college in York, straight from university.

Although he acted in the evenings, it was not until two years later that he was persuaded to take it up full-time. He was playing in the York Mystery Plays, alongside the only professional actor, Robson Green, who told him: "With your big broken nose and your gravelly voice, you can do it and make a go of it!"

It was all the encouragement he needed.  He handed in his notice and four months later found himself working in the film First Knight, starring Richard Gere.  He has not looked back.

Surprisingly, one of his least satisfying experience was in the Harry Potter films.  How can that be? "Well, it is quite embarrassing," he says. "I ended up having been in three of the films without uttering a single line."

The scenes in which he was to have spoken were cut between book and script, so he did not manage to spit dramatically in grande dame Maggie Smith's face.  His character also died in the first few seconds of the last battle scene, and for three weeks he had to dress up and don full makeup to lie dead whilst the rest of the scene was filmed. "I shouldn't be ungrateful," he laughs. "but it was not a lot of fun."

However, he admits that acting is a 'funny world'. Harry Potter might not have been the most creatively interesting for him, and in the case of The Office, he says he feels a bit of a fraud in receiving acclaim for its success, given his small role -  but both have contributed significantly to his career and his bank balance.  They have also opened doors to more satisfying roles such as the medieval saga, Game of Thrones, in which he relished hours on horseback filming in Northern Ireland - despite the rain.

He was trained to cope with all weathers at Lancaster, but most of all he says: "It taught me to take risks as a jobbing actor.  At Lancaster you really could be yourself."