Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Interview with Toby Kebbell

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

Shane, Oliver, Woody… and Toby

transcript of an interview with Toby Kebbell, star of Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes

Edinburgh Film Festival, August 2004

Neil Young: Introduce yourself, please.

Toby Kebbell : I was born in 1982 in Pontefract, Yorkshire… Then I moved to Nottinghamshire where I grew up… sort of dropped out school when I was 15, became a painter and decorator, worked in a hotel, got into a group called Central Television Workshop. It’s now called something else since Granada took it over. Amazing place where you can learn everything, but it’s not forced upon you, it’s there for your opportunity.

Not like a stage school?

Not at all. We did a lot of improvising there. That’s where Shane found me for Dead Man’s Shoes. I didn’t really work much while I was there but I enjoyed every aspect of what Central had to offer. And then from that I did Dead Man’s Shoes, and then I went and worked on Oliver Stone’s new film Alexander.

Who did you have scenes with?

With Val Kilmer. Because I play his page, and then his bodyguard… there’s a five-year separation between. Fuckin’ amazing experience, unbelievable. In Morocco.

How do you compare working on Dead Man’s Shoes, where presumably it’s not a big-budget film…

Not at all – you’re talking like bus-fare and carrot-sticks as payment… Very small pay, and then on to this huge film. My pay wasn’t any different – I didn’t have an agent at the time. So there was no-one to barter that for me… I got basic Equity on both things which i was totally happy with – it’s the work for me. I’ve got to pay my bills – but I do voice-overs also.

You don’t have a strong Nottinghamshire accent.

My mother’s very well-spoken. Which made me too posh for my friends, but not quite posh enough for my family. We kind of lived in a shoe-box… But it was cool. I’ve got three older brothers and a younger sister… What can I say about myself..? I love acting, love being someone else. ‘Antony’ was true hard work, a true test – that’s what I love about it, what I love about acting. My upbringing was not a bad one, but at the same time, sometimes the question wasn’t “what are we going to have for dinner” it was “are we gonna have dinner”. I love my family, love my brothers – had a lot of fighting elements in my life, a bit of a rough house…

The relationship between Antony and Richard in the film is obviously a unique relationship in many ways, but are there any parallels with any brothers of yours?

The weird thing is we all fought when we were young, but when we hit our twenties we became best mates… There isn’t a parallel in that way, though…

How would you describe the film?

It’s a black comedy in parts – funny in parts, moving in parts, that’s what’s beautiful about the film. I’m amazed by how well people are receiving it… we all are…

You weren’t expecting bad reactions, surely?

To be honest, I got the part a day before we started filming, I did this weird sort of character, wasn’t 100% sure about what I’d done. Left it in the incredibly safe genius hands of Shane Meadows – I’d already worked with a personal hero, Paddy Considine, and there was nothing left for me to do. It was three weeks of very odd… madness… of Shane sitting on my bed, singing me songs, feeding me carrot-sticks, putting Nutella on my toes… Odd things like that.

Presumably Oliver Stone didn’t do those things.

(laughs) No, he didn’t, no…

Paddy Considine – what do you say about Paddy Considine. I interviewed him last year, and I’d seen him play some scary people, but in real life he’s the nicest guy in the world.

Truly, truly.

Then you watch this film and he’s the scariest man in the world!

Yeah – the thing is, Paddy’s got this great “draw” of his father. If you ask him that’s where he draws on, really personal to him. He’s a great actor, plain and simple, that’s what Paddy is. It was amazing to work with him – amazing at improvisation.

On set is he… intense?

Nah, not at all. We share the same humour – me and him and Shane. Basically I spent more time laughing than I did any… tragedy or intenseness or odd situations… He was wicked. We chatted loads, just had a fuckin’ wicked laugh. That’s really what it was – just such a good laugh with Paddy. He wasn’t patronising, trying to take anyone “under his wing”… He’s totally just… himself.

The script is credited to Shane and Paddy.

They came up with the idea. The idea of what happened was written by them. My whole character was improvised, as I think most of the other guys’ were. But they had this workshop to make “the gang” what it was – they really were “the gang”. So by the time I came in and dipped in to that everything I said was reacted to perfectly, and they gave me everything to react to.

So it was like a Mike Leigh situation… was there a written script to adhere to?

There was no dialogue for Antony. Antony was a very small part in the beginning… But thankfully I got to ‘do’ Antony as well as I could, and Shane used it, in this great way. I’m really lucky because I got used – for an any actor, you can do great stuff, but if you’re in the wrong hands, you know…

How did he come to choose you?

He’d cast me in a film that he was originally doing which got cancelled. This idea where Paddy’s a vigilante, a youth-club leader, but then at night he goes around beating up druggies on the park and stuff, in a costume. I was just a hooligan who sort-of befriends him.

Bits of that have fed into this…

Absolutely – that revenge thing, the costume, all those sorts of things. But then when it comes to somebody being mentally handicapped or “simple”… they wanted him older, because they thought that might be more poignant. He said to me ‘Another actor has turned it down, how’d you feel about this?’ I said ‘I’d love to come and read it.’ Came and read it, gave him what I thought Antony should be from reading the script and thankfully he used it. It was three weeks of very crazy situations, but I ‘became’ Antony – that was what was so cool about it. I “had” him – I worked as hard as I could to get him to where I wanted to be.

The whole shoot was three weeks?

Yes – my element was a week, the last week. They called me ‘standby Kebbell’. I had to be there on set just in case, literally a standby. Even the days I was filming I was known as “standby”.

When did you know about the Alexander part?

It was a while after – I worked with Gary on this film and he was in Alexander. He put me in contact with the casting-agent, because I had no agent at this time. And I met Lucinda Siston, the casting-agent – she basically took me in, gave me an interview, then I auditioned with Oliver Stone, got the part, went out to Morocco, had an amazing time doing a “boot camp” – all blokes, they’d been out there a week, ’cause I got that late as well. So I met like a squadron of 400 deprived men… Colin Farrell in with them, and Jared Leto, Jonny Rhys-Meyers, everybody was there. It was all us guys together, everybody there for the same purpose. The same heart, feeling as lucky as each other.

Did you say ‘I just worked with Shane Meadows.’

Yeah I told people – “What have you done?” I said “I just worked with Shane on this small British film,” I didn’t know what it was going to be like.

Did the American actors know Shane Meadows, Paddy Considine…

Colin Farrell knew them, but he’s Irish, obviously… But I don’t think people really do – this is Shane’s third or fourth feature…

I wasn’t keen on the last one, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands.

I don’t know how proud everybody was of that… but it was a different story for Shane… a different chapter, trying different things. That’s why he wanted to come back to his roots for this one. He’d had that experience – you’ve got to look for the silver linings on those clouds. It wasn’t an atrocious film but I didn’t enjoy it as much as those ‘Shane Meadows’ trademark films.

Partly it’s because he’s always been hailed as ‘the great British hope’ – do you detect that pressure on him?

I think Shane holds himself in such high expectations of himself anyway that what anybody else thinks probably isn’t as important as how much he thinks…

But when the box-office comes out… no disrespect to Shane, but none of the films made a penny…

Shane’s heart is in this… I believe in him – I think his films are amazing… and I think that’s what he works for.

We know that Meadows is a very hands-on director – literally in your case, hands on feet with Nutella. I imagine Oliver Stone directing from some kind of remote-control TV studio type set-up.

Not true! Not true! He’ll sit in there, let the scene run through. He’s dealing with millions of pounds and hundreds of different people. Shane was dealing with us and a tripod! It’s a totally different way of working. But they’re both so… independent… in the industry. Both “actors’ directors” – they know what they want, don’t want any bullshit, want the job done.

Would they get on if they met?

I think they’d get on… Truly, when there’s respect there there’s always that respect and acknowledgement of each other. I think they’d get on really well. Oliver Stone… fuckin’ incredible, such a genuine guy, made you feel so comfortable. I got a bit nervy because he didn’t really talk to me when we were filming – I thought “Oh shit, I must be doing something wrong!” But then at the end I figured, if I was, he would have said – and he was so appreciative at the end. Said the most beautiful thing: “I hope to work with you again.” I hope upon hope I get to do that. I hope I get to tell stories, be a story-teller…

So you’ve done two movies so far?

Three – I just finished Woody Allen’s film. It’s like a mouse-fart of a part…

Shane, Oliver and Woody: this adds a new dimension… would they all get on, if you put them in a room?

They would! I don’t know how much talking Woody’d do. I think they’re all very independent, that’s what I love about them. There’s no shit, nothing else in the air bar what we’re hear to do.

There can’t have been many actors whose first three films have been Shane Meadows, Oliver Stone and Woody Allen…

Yeah – even the West End theatre piece I did for three months, which is eight shows a week, was with an incredible director, David Grindlay, who’s superb, he’s going to go on great things, because he’s superb, he’s just brilliant, so I’m “lucky as”.

Is it true with Woody that you only get the pages of the script that you’re in?

Yes, that’s it. Then at the end I didn’t even say the words that were on the script, he just wanted me to impro this little thing. That was beautiful!

You must get asked this a billion times: what is Woody like?

He’s an extra-cool super-geek, because he’s just so focussed on what’s happening… He’s a beautiful character, man – he’s just brilliant. You want to be his best mate, but at the same time he’s so private. I really like that. What’s he like? I couldn’t tell you, I don’t know the man. To work with he’s superb.

Who are you with in your scene?

The guy from League of Gentlemen, the plump one… Chris? I’m so bad with names. Try and slip it in so it looks like I remembered the name! We got on with our scene, in Chelsea, we were done in like half an hour…

Dead Man’s Shoes premiered here last night in Edinburgh, world premiere – what was the reaction?

I saw people crying, and I was amazed. And I heard people laughing, and I’ve never heard people laughing like that. Amazing. I was trying to critique my performance while enjoying this amazing film…

Did you do the ‘red carpet’ thing?

Yeah that was beyond bizarre… I’m from Newark, you know…

There must be a cinema in Newark.

There’s one called The Palace. I think it has one film a year, I think they’re still showing Karate Kid II.

You’ll have to have a word with them and have the Newark premiere of Dead Man’s Shoes.

Maybe I’ll skip that one. Not a great place to grow up…

What’s it like for somebody who’s never experienced that – to have done a movie where you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, suddenly it’s Edinburgh Film Festival, red carpet…

I’m a mate of Mark (producer), and a mate of Shane – I like to think – and I’m a mate of everybody in the cast and everybody in the crew. It was cool, I was with my friends. But then when people drag you aside, want to take a picture or interview you I get nervous. I cack my pants! Acting is what I do because I want to be somebody else.

This is going to sound really crawly, but when I saw the film I wondered if you really were mentally handicapped.

No, that’s perfect. Absolutely fuckin’ brilliant.

Where was it actually filmed – at the end it just says ‘Derbyshire Dales’.

Matlock, in and around. The castle we went up to is somewhere everyone should visit, amaazing place. This millionaire wanted a zoo – live in a castle and have a zoo in it, it’s now fallen into disrepair. A beautiful couple live there, sort of let it out.

The first credit on the poster is ‘Location Manager.’

Richard Knight is pristine. Everywhere was perfect, every location he sound. That’s a sign of Shane’s appreciation of how hard Richard worked. I love that about him. I don’t give a fuck if I was last on the credit list – it’s Shane’s appreciation and I think it’s beautiful that he could do that.

It doesn’t bother you that your face doesn’t appear on the poster? Because you’ve got Gary Stretch with the gun, Paddy with the axe…

Paddy with the axe! Paddy’s face doesn’t appear on it but everybody knows Paddy. Them’s the breaks. But… I’m in the film! If they watch it, hopefully, they’ll… You know, the fame element of acting doesn’t have any bearing on me.

How did the dynamic work on set between the actors.

It was very much “the lads” sticking together. Paddy’s very personable. I lived with Shane, because of the way I wanted to do Antony. And it wouldn’t have been right otherwise because they were becoming ‘the gang’ – I was coming in late and they were already in that arrangement. We all tied together – hilarious – we had some wicked night outs in and around Matlock. Not a great “night out” place but everybody was so wicked, no matter where we were we had a good time.

Was it the same in Morocco?

We went out, had food, then we all enjoyed each others’ company.

Oliver Stone?

Every now and again… But he’s quite a private guy himself… the director works like a motherfucker! Every now and again you’d see him down by the pool, or out having a bit of dinner.

He’s not going to be out all night raising hell…

Not at all, and I don’t think he appreciated it if ‘certain people’ were…

Certain ‘stars’ of the film which aren’t Hopkins, or Kilmer…

Who knows…

Any “Colin Farrell stories”?

Not at all – I really enjoyed him. Decent bloke, did me no harm. He’s another actor, another person in my industry.

Who are the actors you look up to particularly.

It’s got to be Paul Newman, one of my favourite actors. Morgan Freeman for his storytelling abilities, his style. Brad Pitt for the characters he chooses for himself – he’s got that pristine. And obviously the greats, the big-boys, I don’t have to say. Through doing this I’ve learned to appreciate a lot more about acting that I didn’t before. But everybody has got their place, I suppose – and I want to be in that “character” thing. Daniel Day-Lewis, man – My Left Foot… Johnny Depp, I love Johnny Depp…

Would you like to make films in Hollywood?

Well I just worked with Oliver Stone on Alexander the Great, that’s Hollywood. Nice on the CV. And Woody Allen, he’s obviously American.

Paddy last year was wary of getting sucked into American films – he seems very focussed.

The great thing about Paddy is that he’s his own person. The thing I share with Paddy is that if the story’s right and I want to tell it, then if the budget is  £1 or  £50m, makes no difference – the story’s there and that’s all I’m interested in, whether it’s in Hollywood, Manchester, anywhere.

You’ve gone from Meadows, Stone, Allen. Who’s next – who would you like to work with?

I’d love to work with Vincent Gallo… To be directed by, or possibly act with him… Woody Allen or Oliver Stone with bigger characters. Obviously people like Martin Scorsese, Spike Jonze, the Coen Brothers. They’ve got to want to work with me, I suppose.

I think Dead Man’s Shoes will do well in America. But what about the accents? Will they be able to understand you all?

That’s the difficulty – we get the American accents here. Maybe some of the slang they won’t get. Maybe not, but I don’t think that’s so important – I think the story that it’s telling through all of the other elements is what you’re watching it for rather than getting every word. It’s one of those films that you watch and pick up the little bits that you didn’t catch before, and it’ll improve it for you each time you watch it. That’s something I hope.

Were there lots of takes?

Shane would say “This is where we want to start and end in this scene.” It’s like lying – if you’re lying to your girlfriend you know the ground rules. Not that I lie to my girlfriend… So we had ground-rules to make it convincing. Every now and again he’d say to one character “Try this”, or to another “Try this”, and just let it run over and over and over… And just did an amazing job with making it with what we were shooting. It was very free and easy.

With Alexander presumably you had to stick to the script?

Not at all – the beautiful thing was, I had this little line that I was supposed to say at the “pinnacle” of my part in that, which is very small… And I just thought “I don’t wanna say anything”, he just needs to go in and do what he’s there to do and fuck off. It cut down one of Val Kilmer’s lines but he was so cool about it, and he went and chatted to Oliver on my behalf, and we did it that way. It was fucking amazing that that happened but I thought “If I’m not comfortable then I’m not gonna do this right.” And nerves are something you can get over – a performance on tape you’re kind of stuck with.

What is Kilmer’s role?

He plays King Philip, Alexander’s father. He’s wicked, man – really cool.

Kilmer has obviously had some bad press in the past…

He’s had bad press but that’s personal, not to do with the acting.

But then there was an article recently where he was being compared with Brando.

That’s someone’s opinion, but I rated him. I really like him, but I’d rated him before. I mean Willow for me was fuckin’ wicked! Me and my brothers loved that. Doc Holliday in Tombstone

He seems very intense…

He’s quite intense. I don’t want this to sound bad but he’s “Val Kilmer”, you know. And that’s what he is. But if you just try and talk to him – we’re people, we shit and fart do the same things. So if I’m gonna be scared of that I might as well just not live!

Sounds like you’ve learned fairly fast in the business.

I think so. I’ve had to in life so…

Do you think if you hadn’t done the ‘Shane Meadows experience’ you wouldn’t have had the nerve to say ‘hold on, Oliver…’

I don’t know. I’m not a “cocky twat” but at the same time I’m confident in what I can do, so I like to think I’d have played it like that either way… But you’re right – knowing that I’d worked with Shane was a blessing for me, and everything on top of that was a bonus.


transcript by Neil Young
22nd September 2004

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