Like Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell, who got quite a bit of attention for his leading role in Guy Ritchie’s underrated crime comedy RocknRolla, will be appearing in two Jerry Bruckheimer action epics this summer, following Prince of Persia with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. In Prince of Persia, he plays Prince Dastan’s military-minded step-brother Garsiv, which allows him to get fully into the action. Kebbell’s previous experience with this sort of big action epic was Oliver Stone’s Alexander but we chose not to hold that against him.
(We also spoke with Kebbell about some of the other things he had planned, but bear in mind that this interview took place in November 2008 with Kebbell not having done much press since then; we have no idea how much if any of this stuff ever panned out.)
Q: The last time we spoke, it was at “RocknRolla” and you were talking about the heat in Morocco under all the armor you were wearing. How is that a contrast to being in the cold at Pinewood now?
Kebbell: It’s lovely now. You know I’ll never complain about the English weather again I swear to God. 54 degrees centigrade. I don’t know if anyone’s ever experienced that in shorts and T-shirt but I was wearing three robes and full armor and riding a horse. Stamina is what you need for this film. I thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew at one point I was like, “Wow, this is really, really massive and not what I’m used to” but it’s a magical gift all the time honestly. It’s lovely.
Q: Who do you play in the film?
Kebbell: I play Garsiv, who’s the head of the Persian army. He’s Dastan’s brother, but I’m a genuine prince, which you’ll find out when you watch the film. I don’t want to get sued by Jerry. (Laughs)
Q: What’s the main difference between the two brothers? I know Dastan was adopted but you’re also brothers with Tus.
Kebbell: That’s right yes. The main difference is if you’re born into that life, it really seems apparent. From all the diaries I’ve read of Persian princes gone by, you’re set into a role so if you’re brother’s older than you, he’s going to be King. It’s not so much like our English royalty where there’s a lot of killing at 7 years old and treacherous behavior and stuff like that. It’s very much you’re born into your role, so if you’re going to be the head of the Persian army because you’re the younger brother you’re groomed for that from Day One. You’re sent wrestling and sent fighting, so there’s a massive difference. Tus is far more regal and well-educated, and Garsiv’s more of a sledgehammer.
Q: Have you played any of the video games at all?
Kebbell: Yeah, I used to play it a long time ago. My brothers had a PC. That’s what they do, my brothers, build PC’s and I played the original. I think that’s what will be good about this is whatever fanbase this film has, the great thing about what seems to be happening with this film is the same thing with “Pirates of the Caribbean.” They’ve taken an idea and then created their own story. I mean there’s legitimacy as to what the game was like you know but it seems like it’s absolutely original now.
Q: Is your character entirely original or was he in one of the games?
Kebbell: He’s original in the sense that he’s a brother. In the game, Garsiv existed, but he was like the furious head of the army that Dastan always tried to outwit by going and being slick and cool. There’s a big similarity, yeah.
Q: What have you been doing since you’ve been back here in England?
Kebbell: Yeah, we’ve been doing a lot of the stuff when you get back into the studio and it’s walking onto incredible sets that feel a bit like Groundhog Day. You feel like you’re back there in Morocco and you get nervous and you get a bit sick thinking, “Jeez, where’s the heat?” (laughs) But yeah, it’s all then surrounded by blue screen so it’s very strange because we’re picking up scenes which we’ve done three months ago, suddenly going back to them and you’re thinking, “Man, what was my energy on that? It’s really weird,” and then you watch a really rough cut and then you feel like hanging yourself because you’re terrible! (laughs) I don’t know if you’ve ever had it but you watch yourself and you go, “Ah, man,” but yeah, the sobs of a sorrowful actor.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about working in Morocco?
Kebbell: Yeah, of course, what would you like to know?
Q: Aside from the heat, what was it like?
Kebbell: Actually, it’s a lovely place. Not to speak badly of somewhere that’s given me so much. It’s very cultureless if you’re not Muslim, because the Islamic centres are locked off to you, so it’s very tough to get a real sense of what their rich culture is. Of course, they’ve got cuisines and they have all their dancing, so you can experience that. It’s like anything (in that) it’s lovely for a week, even a fortnight, for a month even you’re like, “Wow this is lovely” but after two and a half months it’s kind of like, “If I eat another piece of couscous and sultana, I’m actually going to kill myself.” The other thing is this film has been shot in 10-hour continuous days, so when you are doing a scene when you’re riding a horse you’re sitting on the horseback for six and a half hours, seven hours before you get down. So you’re exhausted. It doesn’t really matter what the place is like unfortunately, only matters on your days off you know.
Q: We read that Jake and Reece have done a lot of their own stunts. Do you do your own?
Kebbell: Reece… Ritchie? I thought you meant Reese Witherspoon. Yeah, we have been, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a massive movie, you’ve got the best of the best stuntmen, and my macho side came out a little bit. I wanted to do my own stunts but then it’s people’s jobs. I wouldn’t expect them to deliver my lines and that kind of thing. I hope that doesn’t sound facetious, but you know what I mean? It’s their job and I’m happy for them to do it because they look wicked doing it and I look a bit… (laughs)
Q: So there wasn’t anything dangerous you’ve done?
Kebbell: Yeah, I can’t tell you what it is because it gives away the story, but it was involving a mountainside. I mean we were a good height up; there was a 12-foot drop down one side and we were leaping backwards. It was at 9,000 feet, and (the air) is ridiculously thin. I mean you can completely understand why people go and train, if they’re going to fight in a country or if they’re going to run in a country, athletes, they need to adjust yourself. It’s a massive difference.
Q: You mentioned reading diaries. What else did you do to prepare for your role?
Kebbell: Me and the guy who plays Tus, Richard, he lent me a DVD about the Persians and how they operated when they captured prisoners, for example, or how they conquered places. It was a very strategic operation. It seemed far more organized than a lot of the military documents you read. When I did “Alexander” we were given big booklets when you’re playing a scene where you kiss Val Kilmer and you’re out in Morocco for 2 months, you read it all. What else have I done? I learned to ride a horse, which is ridiculous, it’s incredible.
Q: How has this experience compared to “Alexander” which was also shot there? This is more fantasy-based than that I assume.
Kebbell: Yeah, I mean it actually seems bizarrely more organized. “Alexander” had a weird thing about it. It had a group of actors who were all excited about working on a massive budget Oliver Stone film and really believed that the method was the way to go with it so they tried to act as much like Alexander’s army as they could. It’s a weird thing. Michael was on the same project, and we often talk about how weird it is to do something so epic and amazing and educational and exciting, and it ends up terrible. You know, it’s really bizarre. I can’t tell you how it feels because when I was doing that film it felt pretty similar. I mean I felt like I was on a project that felt really good and it turned out to be terrible. On this I’ve got the same feeling, I’m excited and learning stuff, but it’s far more fantasy, yeah. That felt a lot more historical, trying to historically-accurate. This is completely fantasy, yeah. I’ve got special powers. (Laughs)
Q: Can you tell us what they are?
Kebbell: No, no I’d be sued for millions… (Laughter)… which I don’t have.
Q: Are most of your scenes with Jake or with your other brother?
Kebbell: Well, most of my scenes are with Richard Coyle, the chap who plays my brother Tus, and thus with Sir Ben Kingsley. So I’ve had a lot with those chaps. I’ve had a fair amount with Jake but it’s only because our scenes are taking a huge amount of time. It’s a weird thing to have four cameras. It’s the first time I’ve ever worked with three or four cameras running and yet scenes take an inordinately long period of time to shoot. It’s weird and I don’t know, it’s certainly not a technical problem so obviously we’re all crap. (Laughs) I don’t know what it is. It’s really, really weird. It’s so huge. It’s almost like we’ve got so much time to do something that we really elaborate on it, and of course, every film I’ve ever made I’ve really seen it made in the edit. I’ve been very lucky. Most of my stuff’s been budget British stuff, and I get to go in and sit with the editor while he’s editing. I see how massively the film’s made in the edit. I guess it will be the same with this and they’re just trying to get as much stock as they can.
Q: I don’t know how long you did this after “RocknRolla” but did you have to very quickly put on the weight and get in shape for this?
Kebbell: Yes I did, I had to get into shape, that was the thing. Because I’m covered with armor that makes me look really dashing, I should have come in like that. I’d have looked really handsome, dashing, and you’d all go, “Wow what a change!” As it is, I look exactly like I do at the end of “RocknRolla.” Sorry. What did I have to do? It was the hardest thing about the whole “RocknRolla” losing weight thing was putting weight back on. I’m not a big eater any way so to forcibly eat four times a day, it’s tiring weirdly enough, eating loads of food, quite dull. So great to talk about to people.
Q: Being in the desert, did you end up losing weight anyway?
Kebbell: No, it’s weird, because you’re swallowing so much water. I mean, I’m literally drinking four and a half liters a day of water, so you’re not actually depleting that much. There’s always people on-hand making sure you’re completely looked after. That’s the bonus of being on a massive mega film, but yeah, I’m covered in armor, so I was definitely not putting on any weight, that’s the truth. I never think until my brothers, when they got thirty, they’ve swollen and gotten bigger, but we’re all pretty scrawny people. It was the fitness, you know I had to get fit because it’s exhausting.
Q: And you were riding horses in Morocco?
Kebbell: Yeah, that’s the day. 54 degrees. You wouldn’t be able to tell, would you? Everyone else looks really cool. If you zoom in on that, my face is scarlet and I have a permanent drip, horrific, but mega, man, truly. I mean (it’s) eye-opening how much work goes into these films compared with anything else I’ve done is ridiculous.
Q: We got to see the weapons yesterday, but we were told that you don’t do a lot of swordfighting, is that true?
Kebbell: That’s right. I mean for me, it’s a scimitar, like a proper blade, and I don’t really use that. I have one scene where I’m in a battle, but I use an axe which is incredibly decorative, but that’s actually very accurate, bizarrely enough. I thought it was all a bit… I was like, “What’s the point of this axe? It’s all covered in decoration,” but the tensile strength of the weapons then weren’t so much for slashing, they were for breaking, specifically with axes, so the axe I have is purely to maim because they knew better than anyone. It it comes from them; if you wound them, they’re going to have to come and take ’em back, if you kill them they’ll just leave them there. So in battle it was all about… the Persians wrote hugely about how they would wound as much as possible.
Q: I can’t imagine it’s fun to carry a big huge axe around.
Kebbell: No, it’s a little hand axe, and it’s mega. I mean I think it looks very cool as I spin it round in my hand. It would probably be absolutely useless and I’d be killed in battle instantly but…
Q: Are you involved in any of the Sands of Time where it rewinds time?
Kebbell: Yes, I am yeah.
Q: What was it like shooting those?
Kebbell: That’s great. Richard the guy playing Tus, he’s doing that now. That’s the time-consuming stuff. That’s the stuff we’re doing now and that’s the stuff that really is very technical and you as an actor, you basically feel a bit like a mannequin. You go, “Was that right?” and the director’s like, “Yeah, brilliant, but we’ve already got it, we’re going back in time. It really doesn’t matter.” (Laughter) We’re trying to get a technical shot and so yeah, it’s really weird as an actor, because that’s all you’ve got really in your armory. (Puts on a gruff voice) “I’m an actor! I’m very impressive at pretending to be other people!” When that’s taken away you feel like a douche, which is weird.
Q: It sounds like quite a fun adventure.
Kebbell: It’s mega, man, yeah, and it’s exactly like an adventure. You often ponder when it might end, but it’s true, it’s an epic, epic journey. I hope it’s alright as well, I think it will be, Mike’s fantastic. By the way, on a bum-licking side, which makes me slightly nauseous, Mike Newell’s genuinely mega and brilliant and like a public school head teacher and calls you “babe,” which is the weirdest thing. (Does a moderately decent impression of Mike Newell) “Toby, baby!” “Yes?” And yeah Lord have mercy, Jerry Bruckheimer, for a dude who has his own private plane, very calm, very power-wielding as he walks around set. He’s like a little boy. He brings his own camera and he’s snapping and we shouted out to him, “Oi! No cameras on set!” (laughter)
Q: What are the chances of you being in a “Prince of Persia” sequel?
Kebbell: Yeah, that’s contracted for, but we’ve pushed the date…
(At this point, the movie had just been moved to summer 2010, so he asks the unit publicist, who mentions that no one will know if there will be a “Prince of Persia” sequel until after May 2010 when the first film opens.)
Kebbell: Wicked yeah, that’s it, it’s exactly that. (Laughs) So you’ve been told.
Q: Is it frustrating as an actor to have to wait this long for your work to come out like a year and a half?
Kebbell: Yeah, it is, because you kind of want the perception… you know, you have no idea. When you don’t have a publicist and you don’t really deal with promoting yourself as Toby Kebbell you don’t really have any idea of what your perception is except for the people shake your hand and go, “I really enjoyed your performance.” And that’s all you really want as an actor, so what you also want as an actor, is for your films to seem like there’s a steady trickle of what you’re doing. I personally never want to be in a movie on the side of the bus and all my new movies coming out next month as well. I think that’s overexposure, I don’t know but then, that’s too much. I would certainly like to feel like there’s a steady trickle of work coming out and because this has taken such an inordinate amount of time, there’s nothing coming out. I’ve got Stephen Frears’ thing, it’s a tiny little segment, I’ve got this, but this is 2010. You know, that’s a long time.
Q: As far as “RocknRolla,” do you think there’ll ever be that sequel promised at the end?
Kebbell: I hope there is yeah. Poor guy, he’s getting divorced and as much as possible, he wants to work, that was certainly the case for the last few months. But yeah, I’m desperate to do it, because it would mean a lead role for me in something that I’ve already established. So yeah, I hope so. He’s already written it, and we’ve already discussed it.
Q: So have you seen the script and you already know what happens?
Kebbell: No, not 100%. Guy’s a big fan of ringing you and being excited about a certain piece of dialogue so you’re walking along and you’re about to go to a dentist appointment and he goes (does a REALLY bad impression of Guy Ritchie) “So you say…” and you’re like, “Yeah, brilliant” but it’s really hard to be enthusiastic just before a dentist appointment.
Q: Did that movie do well here in England?
Kebbell: Well, the message I got… Joel Silver was very chuffed – he’s a bizarre man, but a lovely, lovely guy but very bizarre and he’ll sit there and say stuff like (an even WORSE impression of Joel Silver) “So, we made our money.” And you’re like, “Alright, nice one, what does that mean?” It was box office #1 for five days and apparently, that cleared the cost of the film, then we were #2 for four days here in the UK. We got like a 12 cinema release in America, and we got 26 when we were released in Canada! We got more theatres in Canada, yeah, so I don’t know.
Q: Maybe they can use some of the “Sherlock Holmes” money to make a sequel. (Mind you, this statement was made a YEAR before the movie even came out and became a hit.)
Kebbell: Hopefully so, yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think I should have been playing Watson in that.
Q: It sounds like you were busy.
Kebbell: I was busy, yeah ridiculously busy, busier than I’ve ever been. (laughs)
Q: Any chance you might work with Shane Meadows again?
Kebbell: I’m dying to yeah. Shane’s got a project that’s tied up in legal problems, it’s about Bartley Gorman. If you go on YouTube, you can watch a short film that Shane made called “King of the Gypsies” and it’s about a bare-knuckle fighter from Nottingham, where I grew up, called Bartley Gorman. If you know Shane’s work, Paddy does a voice where (starts changing his voice into a really animated hyper-stylized British accent) he talks like that, ’cause that’s how Nottingham gypsies talk. It’s f*ckin’ bizarre, you’d never catch it.” Very strange accent and Paddy used that for Murrell and Bartley was the ultimate of that, and Bartley talks exactly like that. He wants to make that into a film, so I hope that either I get to play Bartley as a young man – because I feel there’s quite a look correlation between me and Paddy and perhaps with the right make-up we could play the same person at different ages. (Doing that voice again) “A bit like Brando.” Not at all like that, so I’m hoping “King of Gypsies” will be the next thing I work with Shane on, which would be good.
Q: Have you been to L.A. trying to do more American movies?
Kebbell: There’s a great film I’ve been trying to do for a year and a half called “Ocean Beach.” It’s a director called Joel Plotch, who you may never have heard of but he’s been an editor for people like Sidney Pollock for a huge long time and he’s directing a film it’s the same producer, Orian Williams, who found and approached me bout “Control,” he’s doing this film, and it’s a mega film. This is bizarre, and I’m probably giving too much away, but it’s about incest, but weirdly enough, when you read it, it’s so well-written, it’s actually about any relationship that’s never ever going to work ever. It’s about that and it’s a beautifully-written incredible thing. I wouldn’t be playing the lead, I’d be playing the friend whose sort of his confidante and he’s slightly older, and he’s a bit of a stoner but it’s a great character. It’s fantastically written and it would be in an American accent but a really good one, so I hope to do that.
Q: Those are all some of the things of you might be doing next?
Kebbell: All stuff’s possible, but yeah, nothing confirmed but yeah, that’s what I may possibly be doing.