Toby Jones is experiencing a rather odd career boost at the moment. On the one hand, the British actor, previously best known to American moviegoers as the voice of Dobby the House Elf in the Harry Potter flicks, is enjoying greater acclaim than ever for his performance as Truman Capote in Infamous, a drama costarring Daniel Craig and Sandra Bullock (opening Friday). On the other hand, the praise comes coupled with comparisons to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the very same writer in last year’s Capote. The two movies cover almost exactly the same ground — how Truman Capote researched and wrote his groundbreaking true-crime classic In Cold Blood — so the comparisons are hardly surprising. While arriving last to the Truman show isn’t an ideal situation, Jones has learned to embrace it. Last month EW chatted with the jovial actor (who will appear next opposite Naomi Watts and Edward Norton in December’s The Painted Veil) during the final days of the Toronto International Film Festival.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: For better or for worse, Infamous is known as the second Capote movie. How does that feel?
TOBY JONES: I feel very, very proud to have got the part in such a magnificent script. When I read it, I almost forgot I was reading for a specific part because it had this momentum of a thriller. So to finally go to Venice [where the movie had its world premiere in August] and get the ovation that we got there, what it really feels like is, At least it’s out there, and people can judge it. The thing I find strange is when people say, ”Oh, I came to see your film, [and] I wasn’t expecting to like it.” Why? Because you liked something else? Can you not like two things? I sort of understand it, but at the same time, it’s odd.
At least they are liking it.
Yes, yes. I haven’t heard anyone say, ”It stinks — how do you feel about that? Will you cry for me? Because I’m gonna record everything.” [Laughs]
You’re screening the movie here in Toronto, where Capote premiered last year. Which kind of makes the comparisons all the more apt.
I’m very flattered to be even compared with Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s not something that was happening to me a few months ago. I feel very proud that it’s out there. And actually one of the pleasures that I think people get from the film is the comparisons. And maybe that wouldn’t have been so obvious if [Warner Independent Pictures] had waited longer [to release Infamous].
When you got the part and start filming, how aware were you that there was another very similar movie that had just wrapped?
Well, we knew about it all the time, and I felt heartened by the fact that we were going ahead. It was a testament to the script — we got this cast on the strength of the script. I was confident. I knew that it was very similar subject matter, but people who had read the script in our cast said, ”It’s dealt with very differently.” To be quite honest with you, I didn’t think about it at all because I had so much to think about, and to be distracted by what someone may or may not have done already, there’s just nothing you can do about it. And I was being challenged so much with three comedy scenes followed by a tragic scene — you know, that kind of tonal shift every day. And trying to keep his voice together.
Right. His squeaky voice is so particular.
Yeah. Which is an anatomical challenge… because as you can hear, I don’t much sound like him. [Laughs] The voice coach and I tried to work out how a man came to sound like this. Watching him speak, freeze-framing , the first thing we thought was, He might be tongue-tied. You know, this thing [pulls tongue] is too short. ‘Cause you never see his tongue. But then in the later interviews — I watched everything — he kind of lets it roll out [hangs his tongue out like a worn-out dog] as he’s getting more out of control as a person. I was trying to actually use the voice rather than be trapped by it.
One of the things that differentiates Infamous from Capote is the relationship between Truman and convicted killer Perry Smith (Craig). In your movie, their physical and emotional attraction is spelled out — they even kiss. Was this all director Douglas McGrath’s decision, or did you weigh in too?
I remember having a big say on that. The stolen kiss is one thing that people talk about. People say, ”Oh, do they fall in love?” I’m not sure if it’s love. I think he felt it possibly could have become that. I think that there’s a confusion because he’s suddenly confronted with this impossible future. [Truman] is just kind of giddy and confused. Because he also knows this guy’s gotta die for what he’s done and to make [his own] book good. I think he suspects that this isn’t going to be something that he’s gonna be able to recover from and toss off like some other problem.
What are you doing next?
At the moment, I’m in this Peter Greenaway film about Rembrandt, called Nightwatching.
Who are you playing?
I play this painter — this is a spelling challenge for you — a painter called [he utters a series of strong, guttural Dutch sounds]. I’ll leave that one to you!
[Challenge accepted, Mr. Jones! The painter’s name is Gerard Dou.]