SO BAD HE’S GOOD
TONY KEBBELL – THE STAR YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF
He has worked for Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg, playing lead roles in some of the biggest blockbusters of recent years, but you might not recognise Toby Kebbell in the street.
Many of the British actor’s most high-profile characters – a vengeful ape, a Marvel supervillain or an eight-foot Orc chieftain – are camouflaged by heavy makeup or computer wizardry.
The 34-year-old has been Agenor in Wrath of the Titans, Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Dr Doom in The Fantastic Four and Durotan in Warcraft, amassing big pay days and approving reviews when the films often haven’t.
With his lead role in the hotly-anticipated remake of the 1959 epic Ben-Hur, Kebbell’s career is tipped to go stratospheric, but he’s keeping his feet on the ground.
“I’ll see you on the down side of things,” he says at the end of an interview at a Beverly Hills hotel to discuss his latest role as Roman soldier Messala.
He may have swapped his rented council flat in London for somewhere rather more palatial in LA, but Kebbell doesn’t feel like a film star, and hopes he never will.
“I don’t do social media for that exact reason, because that’s a thing that really promotes you as a star. I’ve no interest in being important to anyone,” he says.
He is not trying to be “overly humble”, he says, but doesn’t want to build a pedestal from which he could one day fall.
“I know it’s going to stop. It has to stop, it always does – all those good things come to an end,” he insists.
Kebbell dropped out of school as a rebellious 15-year- old and began attending weekly acting workshops.
His big Hollywood breakthrough, playing Garsiv in Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: Sands of Time in 2010, was a formative, “heartbreaking” experience.
“I was given a bad guy and he was nuanced and he was interesting and I thought: ‘Wow – how fantastic that you get this!’” he recalls.
“And that got diluted and diluted to nothing. So my ambition from then on was that if I get a bad guy again I want him to have what I know to be true, which is that people make terrible mistakes, but they’re still people.”
Kebbell evidently drew from this lesson for his interpretation of Messala in Ben-Hur, portraying the Jewish prince’s adoptive brother turned deadly nemesis, a man who made some poor choices but isn’t evil personified.
Ben-Hur opens today
Toby Kebbell as Messala Severus and Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur in a scene from film Ben-Hur.