Toby Kebbell makes an impressive feature film debut in Shane Meadows's Dead Man's Shoes. The 22-year-old was discovered by the British director at a Carlton TV workshop. Stepping into his role at the last minute when another actor pulled out, Kebbell plays the naive and vulnerable Anthony, whose torment at the hands of a thuggish gang motivates his brother (Paddy Considine) to take revenge.
You got involved with Dead Man's Shoes at the last minute, through an acting workshop.
All the boys from [Shane Meadows's first film] Twentyfourseven were from [the Carlton TV workshop]... I'd never auditioned for him because he'd done all of those things before I joined the workshop. But then he came in and I did a little improvisation and got involved with Dead Man's Shoes, very last minute. The day before [shooting] Shane rang me up and said: "Listen there's this small part, I'd love you to be in it, one actor has already turned it down." I turned up and read the synopsis, knowing it was a young boy who gets high on drugs with this gang. And then I read that he was slightly simple, and it came to me. Acting for me is an exaggeration of yourself, and children have a difficulty in social situations because they're naive about certain things, and that's what Anthony is. He's older, but he's still got that naivety. And I tried to exaggerate the childlike in myself and that gave me Anthony. It was all improvised, which helped me, because I got to build [the character] every day.
So, joining the production that late, you didn't have much time to be nervous?
No, not at all. Just straight in. The day before we started filming, I went and met the boys, so that was our day of workshopping with the characters and then we were straight into it. Shane had workshopped with [the rest of the cast], and they were just becoming the gang by being together and living together. When I came in and dropped into that, they'd give me everything [to react to], so it just worked out really well, it made everything easy for me.
Playing someone with a mental disability is a very challenging role for your first film part. It would be easy to play Anthony in a clichéd way, were you worried about that?
I was worried about that. I was worried about being over the top and offending people. I didn't really have too much time to over-worry about it - I had to get this job done and do it to my best ability. Thankfully keeping that in my head I managed to get what I wanted out of it, and hopefully Shane got what he wanted. But I was working with Paddy Considine, which is just amazing. He's a hero of mine from A Room For Romeo Brass, and Shane is a hero of mine for making Romeo Brass, and I was just in safe hands. By exaggerating myself I think that's how I kept it as natural as I could.
Anthony's relationship with his brother is at the core of the film, you and Paddy Considine also look like brothers.
Absolutely, which was weird! We only sort of discovered that in the last week, when Paddy himself said it. It's true, there is that brotherly similarity. That was a fluke maybe, but it worked out to our advantage. We got on really well, we share a sense of humour. Paddy's really hilarious [and he's also] a very quiet, private guy. But I think that's what's cool about him. When you spend time with him you feel more appreciative of it because it's genuine. He's not trying to outdo anybody, he's just there to do his job. At times [when I was saying] "I don't know what I'm doing", he would say, "I feel the same", and we'd chat about what we want to do and the reasons we're acting. We shared that, he's just a brilliant guy.
Some of the scenes where Anthony is bullied must have been harrowing to perform.
They were emotional. The crew really felt it, but for me I was just trying to give it as much as I could without being over the top. It needed those situations, and I had to react with truth to them. The crying came because that was the situation I was in. There was no thought about it, that was the great thing about the improvisation.
What was it like seeing the film for the first time?
It was amazing, because I'm really critical of myself. The immediate [feeling] was, I hope this isn't over the top, I've got to go in there and see how I can improve - this is the start, and this is where I want to move on from. And then [there was] this film that just locked me in... it's just a brilliant film, and everybody's so good [in it] and that's what makes everything work. I was so so nervous about what it would be like, but in the end was just so chuffed.
You've since been working with Woody Allen on his London-based film.
Yeah it's a blink-and-you’ll-miss-me, but I play a policeman. Prior to that I worked with Oliver Stone on Alexander the Great, working with Val Kilmer as his page. That was another massive learning curve. And I did eight months in the West End in Journeys's End - I learnt so much from that. Geekily, all I want to be is a storyteller and tell good stories. Oliver Stone, Woody Allen and Shane Meadows are all amazing people that I admire, that are true to what acting should be. That's what I want, and I hope I can work in a bigger role with [people like that who] just want to tell these stories. I hope I get to do that in my career.