If you’re over the age of 20, you’ll recognise scene-stealing British actor Toby Jones from Frost/Nixon, Oliver Stone’s W, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll or Doctor Who. If you’re under 20, he’s the voice of Dobby in the Harry Potter films. ShortList sat down with the 46-year-old, who’s starring in new Alfred Hitchcock biopic The Girl, to talk about playing the cigar-puffing, Scotch-glugging master of suspense…
How did you land the role of Hitchcock?
Initially I had to turn it down. There was an element of relief because I thought, “I know how I want to do it, and it’s going to require a lot of research.” Then schedules changed and I could do it. It’s a fantastic role, which is odd because there’s a very dark side to Hitchcock.
In the film he’s portrayed as controlling and lecherous. Have you received any negative reactions?
I personally haven’t, but maybe I am shielded from negative reaction. If you like Hitchcock, it can be an uplifting story as it’s about a man in his pomp, transforming material into unexpected hits. But, yes, a certain arrogance crept into his life.
The script calls for you to grope Sienna Miller, who plays Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds. Slightly awkward?
It was very awkward. With scenes like that, you pray they’re late enough into shooting that you have had a chance to get to know one another. Sometimes you get asked to kiss or simulate sex on the first day of a shoot. Luckily, that scene [Hitchcock forces himself on Hedren in his limo] was in the middle of filming and we’d become friends. But even so, you’re asked to touch [Sienna’s] breast – and she may not want that, you know?
And she gets unwanted attention in real life…
It’s quite clever casting, actually. Sienna comes with all that freight.
Talking of freight, were the prosthetic belly and jowls uncomfortable?
The belly was the least of it – it was actually quite a convenient, lightweight thing. But the jowls… and obviously they had to shave my head and fix the nose. The whole process took about four hours a day. I hope it’s not a caricature – I think we got the Toby-to-Alfred ratio right.
Can a director still ruin an actor’s career?
A director can definitely ruin someone’s career, but not in the same way. Actors are not contracted in the way Tippi Hedren was. Hitchcock didn’t let her work for anyone else for seven years – that’s brutal.
Anthony Hopkins is also starring in a Hitchcock biopic. Have you spoken to him about it?
He called me when I was playing Truman Capote and was very generous in his opinion, but no, we haven’t spoken about Hitchcock.
What is he like?
For a 74-year-old guy, he is incredibly fit. He’s an inspirational figure, for very good reasons.
You also worked with Robert De Niro in Red Lights. What was he like?
Few actors make me nervous, but De Niro did. He’s quiet, until you get him on food. When we were filming in Barcelona, he couldn’t believe I hadn’t been to El Bulli, so he booked us a table.
Nice. Now, you’re a respected character actor, but…
[Interrupts] Oh God, what are you going to say?
Er, we’re just curious why you followed Frost/Nixon with St Trinian’s 2: The Legend Of Fritton’s Gold?
[Laughs] I take it that’s your favourite film, then? Oliver Parker co-directed it, and he’s a friend of mine, so I do pretty much anything he asks me. But if I didn’t think the script was good, I wouldn’t have done it. Plus it’s my job as an actor to be incongruous. If I start getting congruous I’ll become a really boring actor.
I thought you were going to bring up Your Highness [the medieval comedy that bombed at the box office]. We all started out with the best of intentions [on that film] and it escalated out of control. It was written by someone I thought was funny called Danny… erm… what was his name?
McBride. Moving on, which of the franchises you star in has the craziest fans: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games or Doctor Who?
I get a lot of strange stuff, particularly from Doctor Who fans. One person depicts every character I’ve played in incredible detail with felt-tips and crayons. You don’t know what to do with it – it’s not like I’m going to hang up pictures of myself.
Would you like to reprise your role as the Dream Lord in Doctor Who?
Yes. I did it because my kids like watching Doctor Who.
You voiced Dobby the elf in the Harry Potter films. Do fans ask you to do the voice?
I get asked. But as soon as I did [the voice], I knew I’d never be able to do it on cue. I got the job when I was doing a play and my voice was mashed up, so could go high-pitched. But it’s a good escape route when people lurch towards me in bars going, [effects drunken slur] “Do Dobby!”
Drunken fans harassing you? You’ve officially ‘arrived’...
There’s this idea that ‘Oh, so-and-so has arrived’. You don’t ‘arrive’ anywhere as an actor, otherwise Anthony Hopkins wouldn’t bother acting.
The Girl is on BBC Two on 26 December at 9pm
(Image: All Star)