Toby Jones talks about his roles in Wit­ness and also Sherlock…

Crime Scene - - ON SET -

How did you en­joy work­ing on this Christie adap­ta­tion?

Agatha Christie’s stuff is of­ten very plot-driven. This feels slightly dif­fer­ent. Sarah [ Phelps] has taken on­board the fact that the First World War had fin­ished five years be­fore, what that had done to a re­cov­er­ing Eng­land and how that might play out, in a re­sponse to what you might call just an­other death af­ter mil­lions.

Why do you think Agatha Christie’s work en­dures?

It’s kind of in­ge­nious and some­times even ab­surd the game that is be­ing played with you. But hav­ing said that, you know, this one is not like that. That’s what I was ex­pect­ing to read but it is very un­fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory.

Is your solic­i­tor char­ac­ter, John May­hew, es­sen­tially the in­ves­ti­ga­tor in The Wit­ness For The Pros­e­cu­tion?

It cer­tainly felt like that. He al­most goes be­yond his re­mit be­cause there’s some­thing about Leonard Vole that goes be­yond a nor­mal re­la­tion­ship for a solic­i­tor with a client – he seems al­most pos­sessed by the need to de­fend him. It’s to do with their pasts – there’s al­most a pa­ter­nal re­la­tion­ship that he takes on with Leonard.

Does the race to stop Leonard be­ing hanged in­tro­duce a thriller el­e­ment?

Yes, and also a cer­tain con­fu­sion. It seems a hope­less case, but ac­tu­ally there’s a kind of manic need in May­hew to prove that isn’t so, as a re­sult of cer­tain things that hap­pen to him dur­ing the course of re­search, hunt­ing the case down. So, yes, he’s ob­vi­ously try­ing to avoid cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment – that clock is tick­ing – and the ev­i­dence is ranged against Leonard.

May­hew’s re­la­tion­ship with Ro­maine is the crux of the short story. Is it im­por­tant here too?

Well, all my hopes rest on Ro­maine. Naively, [ as May­hew] I kind of put all my eggs in that bas­ket.

How did you get on with your co-star, An­drea Rise­bor­ough?

Very well. The sched­ule was such that you don’t have much time when you’re not on set, so I didn’t get to know her. But that wasn’t a prob­lem be­cause, in a way, her re­mote­ness is both her glam­our and her mys­tery in the piece, and that was very, very use­ful. And you know she’s a fan­tas­tic ac­tress.

How does this com­pare to Mur­der On The Ori­ent Ex­press [ ITV, 2010]?

That was a Poirot one. I re­mem­ber be­ing stabbed by most of Eq­uity in that one – Eileen Atkins, David Mor­ris­sey – then Euro­pean ac­tors com­ing in, ev­ery­body had a go at stab­bing me. That’s my abid­ing mem­ory of that job.

Are you in­trigued that Ben Af­fleck may be play­ing May­hew in a movie ver­sion?

In­trigued is one word for it. It’s a ha­bit­ual thing – any job I do, I’m al­ways look­ing to see who else is do­ing it. Like with Tru­man Capote? Very much so, yeah, that’s ex­actly why I’m look­ing. You’ve had a won­der­ful year with The Se­cret Agent, Way­ward Pines and now Sherlock and Wit­ness. Are you drawn to thriller roles? It’s usu­ally the char­ac­ters that in­ter­est me. The Se­cret Agent is slightly dif­fer­ent be­cause it’s a favourite book of mine and it would be hard to turn it down. But I don’t know that I look out es­pe­cially for mys­te­ri­ous [ char­ac­ters] – I look out, re­ally, for con­trast­ing char­ac­ters.

Were you ap­pre­hen­sive about play­ing char­ac­ters who are well-known to read­ers of Christie and Co­nan Doyle?

No, be­cause they’re both done so ex­pertly. The Sherlock thing is in­ter­est­ing be­cause they’ve clearly hon­oured Co­nan Doyle by adapt­ing him us­ing the spirit of Co­nan Doyle and find­ing a new way to do it. And that’s ex­actly what Sarah’s done with Agatha Christie – she’s hon­oured the spirit of that story and she’s pushed it out into an area that is much darker than you’re ex­pect­ing. Steven Mof­fat de­scribed Cul­ver­ton Smith, in the new se­ries of Sherlock, as the “dark­est vil­lain we’ve had”… I couldn’t pos­si­bly comment. I have to em­pathise with these peo­ple!

How was your Sherlock ex­pe­ri­ence?

It’s come as a bit of a shock to me that I thought I was just do­ing an episode of a TV show, but clearly I’m part of a world event. I don’t feel ap­pre­hen­sive, I feel kind of ex­cited. I re­ally love that episode and I was re­ally flat­tered Mark Gatiss said “I’ve writ­ten this thing for you”.

I’m con­stantly mov­ing be­tween projects and I’m lucky enough to have been in­volved in things that are very, very im­por­tant to peo­ple – you know, the Dobby thing [ the Harry Pot­ter fran­chise], Cap­tain Amer­ica, The Hunger Games. They mat­ter to peo­ple a great deal. My job is not to get caught up in it – to play the char­ac­ters not play the event.

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