Monday, July 31, 2006

Toby Stephens Interview

A villain with a past; Toby Stephens is a new kind of Bond baddie - handsome, flashy, unhinged. The actor tells James Inverne how he discovered that spying is squalid and alcohol a deadly trap.
(Review) James Inverne.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2002 Sunday Telegraph

The actor Toby Stephens is hot. Very hot indeed. Orange flames are creeping up his shirt, which he has just set alight while brewing up a pot of tea on his kitchen stove. Cue panicked slapping of the fire (by him, I'm afraid - I just stare open-mouthed) and a volley of choice swearwords. Finally putting the blaze out, he removes the blackened garment altogether and mournfully observes: "Well, that's the end of that shirt." This, charred but not burnt, is the new Bond hard man.

James Bond owes his enemies more than he'd probably care to admit. In his 40 years of film stardom, 007 himself - as played by Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton - has sometimes looked distinctly ropey. But it's mattered less than it should, for all that really counts is the Bond world and its key elements: the girls, the gadgets and the baddies. So for Stephens, 33, whose film CV is decent but underwhelming (including Onegin with Ralph Fiennes and a brief turn as a young astronaut in Space Cowboys), the role of villainous entrepreneur Gustav Graves in Die Another Day is at last a chance to put his film career on the map.

As his chaotic tea-making might suggest, there's nothing creepy or villainous about Stephens himself, who couldn't be further from the bad-boy image if he tried. The son of Dame Maggie Smith and the late, legendary Robert Stephens, he has an impeccable pedigree; when he played Shakespeare's Coriolanus for the RSC aged only 25, the adulatory reviews confirmed him as a blazing talent in his own right. He's warm, funny and quick to laughter - a full-bodied thespianic chortle that, along with his fruity voice, puts you in mind of his father's luxurious way with language. He's also thrilled as a schoolboy to be in Bond.

"As a kid I used to wish I was 007," he remembers, "because I wanted to be that cool and debonair. And that kind of lone-wolf figure who's completely self-sufficient. That appeals to the male psyche, especially when you're young and reliant on other people's affection." (Toby was brought up by his mother and stepfather, Beverley Cross: he only got to know his father in his teens.)

Although he insists that he never wanted to play the part of Bond, Stephens picks out all the parallels between the hero and the villain, suggesting he has given the matter careful thought. "In the earlier films there tends to be some evil overlord who is much older than Bond. But the fashion now is for someone who is a nemesis or mirror image of him. Gustav Graves is a young, Bondesque figure, but slightly twisted and without Bond's taste. He's also got the fine suits, but they're all a bit too flashy. Bond gets a car, I get a whole fleet of Ferraris."

Are there certain prerequisites for a Bond villain? "I was determined to bring something new to the game," he says, "I wanted to be a force to contend with. The audience must believe I could kill Bond. And there are various ways of doing that. Either you can be scary because you've got a patch over one eye or a metal arm or something, or you can be slightly but unnervingly unhinged, which is what I went for. There's a latent malice there, just brimming under the surface."

His only regret is that he never utters the immortal "Goodbye, Mr Bond." "They took it out," he shrugs. "I think it became obvious how much I enjoyed saying it."

The role's challenges were physical, too. Stephens has a long fencing sequence with Pierce Brosnan which took a week and a half to film. He put in hours of preparation, far more than Brosnan. But when it came to it, Brosnan was disconcertingly good. "And even though I'd rehearsed it more, the truth is that people look at your face, not technique. If you look like you want to rip the other guy's head off, they'll buy it."

He is relaxed about the effect the role will have on his film career: "We'll see when it comes out." He's courted Hollywood before, moving there between 1998 and 2000, and found the whole experience soul-destroying.

"I hit a brick wall out there. I got close to various projects where I was the director's choice, but in the end studio executives get nervous of someone they don't know. They don't care about my theatre background, they're investing millions and want a rock-solid name. Besides, I'd go along to these auditions and see all these actors who were better looking and spent all their time in the gym. Actors are very much products in Los Angeles, and I was uncomfortable feeling like that."

So he returned home empty-handed to the life of a busy West End player - he acted opposite Judi Dench earlier this year - and took consolation from watching jobbing actors such as Tom Wilkinson and Ian McKellen reaping film rewards later in life.

It must have been hard, after hearing himself tipped as the next big star during Coriolanus, to see other actors come along and become vastly more famous?

He grimaces: this unlocks unpleasant memories. "I did buy in to the sense of being on an elevator going up. I believed people around me saying I'd be the next Ralph Fiennes. So I allowed myself to coast. I didn't feel I had to work at getting the big film parts. I felt that was vulgar and if I sat back they'd come to me. It can be seen as arrogance, but I think it was naive. Of course it didn't happen and I saw other actors like Ewan McGregor and Rufus Sewell shooting past me to get all these film roles I wouldn't have minded playing."

He smiles sadly, "I got so tired of cab drivers asking what I do, and when I told them, asking if I was famous. I'd say, `Of course not, otherwise you wouldn't be asking what I do!' In the end I started pretending to them that I was a lawyer to avoid the conversation."

That frustration was one of the reasons Stephens started drinking heavily. He recalls, "I'd think, `F--- it, my career's out of control so I might as well get pissed and dream of what I should be.' A lot of drunks do that. It was an incredibly nihilistic and wasteful attitude."

It got so bad that he once overslept and almost missed a matinee of Racine's Britannicus at the Almeida: the director Jonathan Kent had to drag him out of bed while Diana Rigg started the play without him.

He doesn't drink at all these days, out of fear that family history might be repeating itself. Robert Stephens was destroyed by alcoholism, prompted, his son says, by frustration at Laurence Olivier's barring him from the great Shakespearean roles at the Old Vic.

Stephens the younger has no intention of falling into the same trap. "No one has complete control, and I'm lucky to be where I am." He even dared to play an alcoholic in Simon Gray's 2001 play Japes. "Too often we just laugh rather than face the grim reality of what being an alcoholic is. Simon addressed the reality of drunks. They're boring, not funny, distressing and worrying. I tried to be as honest about it as I could and it was good for me to confront that."

Life is more stable for Stephens these days. Last year he married the New Zealand actress Anna-Louise Plowman, they live in a smart West London house and they are both in a big BBC drama about the Cambridge spy ring in which he stars as Kim Philby. "If we did a play together it would drive us both mad, because we'd never stop talking about work. But here she plays MacLean's wife who left him for Philby, so we've got a couple of scenes together and that's lovely."

He has found the project an intriguing complement to Bond. "This is about the realities of spying. And the truth is that for Philby it was squalid and boring. He lived with the neuroses of being a double agent for so long. Because he thought that Communism was the only antidote to the fascism sweeping Europe. By the time he realised Stalin wasn't so great, he couldn't get out."
So after all the spying, what's next? "I'd love to get my teeth into some more classical theatre at some point." he says. "If the RSC can freshen itself up under their new leader Michael Boyd and stop being so arrogant and treat actors as one of the team again, then I'd love to go back there."

As much as he criticises the company that gave him his big break, he clearly cares. About the RSC, about theatre, about acting. And if Bond makes Toby Stephens a bona fide film star, you can be sure the West End won't be without him for long.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Ah, last episode has been and gone and I'm going to miss this little show. Ok, so Benoit isn't dead, just in a coma. Why he's in a coma after being stabbed, I don't know, but maybe that's the french way. And he also turned out not to be a slimy toad, just slightly in love and covering his own back from a Romanian criminal, who was justifiably nasty, seeing as he did try to shoot him and got the hired help instead. Poor Aline. No lines, she just had to look pretty, and then look dead.

I loved the way Pierre stumbled at the end and Laure put out her hand to help him up and they held hands very briefly, lovely and understated.


Our apricot tree has just ripened and I spent half an hour yesterday picking them. My dad was in the tree, picking what he could reach and knocking off the others with a stick. The time spent was notable for my fathers unerring talent for knocking apricots off the tree in a direct line with my head. He got a direct hit right between my eyes. Ouch.

The apricots if you were wondering, tasted absolutely gorgeous.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Spiral a.k.a Engrenages

Is anyone other than me watching "Spiral" on BBC4 on Sunday evenings, if not, you have one more chance to see it on Sunday (tonight!) at 9pm.

It is stylish and very french: the female police officer upon being presented with a man resisting arrest, solves the problem by hitting the man on the head, exactly like a mother would to a recalcitrant child.

It also has some serious hotness in Gregory Fitoussi and Guillaume Cramoisan.

Talk about Lust!

Guillame (the one in the tie) plays Benoit Faye, Gregory (the one in the t-shirt), plays Pierre Clement, he's Benoit's friend. Clement is the Procurator (the equivalent of the counsel for the prosecution). Benoit is a slimy toad (but the hotness!), we know this because his apartment faces the Eiffel Tower. He may or may not be involved in the murder of a student.

Mm, nice pictures below.

Is it me, or does he look a bit like James Purefoy?

^ This is Fred Bianconi (Insp Fromentin), who gets an honourable mention, for being lovely too.

^ Clement and Insp Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust), the aforementioned thwacker of recalcitrant criminals.

One of the cast, looking French and attractive, in a tunnel.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I do listen to Radio 4, I admit it. No not "The Archers", instead I'm a fan of the comedy half hour at 6.30 weekdays: Just a Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, The News Quiz, The Now Show. This is where The League of Gentleman honed their skills, as well as other writers and performers of such little known programmes such as: Little Britain and Dead Ringers.

Go here to listen to Vent. A comedy about a man in a coma. Which is funnier than it sounds believe me. It stars Fiona Allen (Smack the Pony), Josie Lawrence (Whose Line is it Anyway) and Neil Pearson (Drop the Dead Donkey and Trevor's World of Sport - which was a seriously underrated comedy), as Ben, the guy in the coma. It also stars Leslie Ash (Men Behaving Badly) as Ben's two year old daughter, who is an alcoholic 35 year old. It'll make sense.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Wonderful: on holiday at the moment.

What have I been doing? Sunbathing in the Bahamas? Scuba diving in the Maldives? No, I'm at home, watching my Dad spot weld his car. Scintillating, not least because everytime he upped the voltage, he blew the fuses. Right when Baghdatis was match point against Hewitt. I had to change the fuse (I'm a hands on girl like that!) three times!

Yesterday, I took my niece out of school (ooh, truanting) and took her to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. Wow do my feet ache. We saw dinosaurs, medical implements, a biplane suspended above our heads with string and lots of clocks and other things besides.

As is customary when visiting a museum, you buy a pencil/sharpener/rubber (delete as applicable) to remind you of your day. Unfortunately the plastic bag they were placed in had air holes in it, exactly the right size for a couple of pencils to gently slide out. If you were in London on Wednesday and found one silver and ond gold Natural History Museum pencils, they were mine. Blub.