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Warcraft: How Toby Kebbell became the next big performance capture star

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VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

After breaking out with portrayals of human characters in films like Dead Man’s Shoes, Control, and RocknRolla, Toby Kebbell found his career taking an unexpected turn. Like his Dawn of the Planet of the Apes mentor Andy Serkis, the 33-year-old Brit has become one of the go-to performers for motion-capture characters. Now, with Warcraft, Kebbell brings the noble (and 900-pound) orc Durotan to life.

What originally drew you to acting?

I’m an attention seeker. Even as a kid, I wanted to be in the nativity play, but I didn’t get to play Joseph next to Stacy. I got to play the innkeeper. I didn’t even get to play the innkeeper who shows them to their rests and helps gentle Jesus have his crib. I was Innkeeper No. 1, who gets to go, “No, we don’t have any room.” Even back then I was changing the line to “No…no…”

Doesn’t being hidden under CGI get in the way of your attention seeking?

The interesting thing about motion capture is that, for me, it’s easier. You kind of have this presence on set, where you’re the one in the stupidest outfit. You’re in pajamas. People can tell what your religion is, it’s so skintight. You’re really capable of being the buffoon, so you get the buffoonery out of the way.

When you first tried performance capture with Apes, were you nervous?

Stupidly, I figured anyone could do a monkey. I was like, “Oh, yeah. ‘Ooga-booga.’ I know, a little scratch under the armpit. I’m good.” Little did I know that by week 2 of working with [motion coach] Terry Notary, I would be barely able to walk after crouching for 10 hours a day.

What did it mean to work with Andy Serkis on that movie?

It’s like working with a grand master. I had an apprenticeship. He’s not a hands-on, “This is how you do this” teacher. It’s there if you’re smart enough to pick it up.

I read that you hurt yourself from running on all fours as Koba.

I got this thing called an ulna fracture, which is when your tendons are stronger than your bone. The tendons literally pull the bone apart at its head, and then I got two dislocations in one fell swoop. But I did it to myself.

How do you create a character who isn’t human?

In a sense, you have to do a very mannered performance and then make it look as if you’re not being mannered. You spend that time at home, so you’re a bit of an idiot, cooking some eggs and talking like your character and calling your agent’s secretary or calling your mum, pretending to sell them something in the accent you’re doing.

What’s the orc version of calling your agent’s secretary?

It’s weird, the different muscles you have to use to stand as if you were 900 pounds — not leading by the head and not leaning forward. You have to stand so upright. You cook that way, you walk around, you sit down in your living room, and in a private manner you sit on the lavatory that way.

A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly issue #1419, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here – and subscribe now for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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