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Toby Kebbell

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There's never been a truer case of 'you don't know his face but you've seen his work'. It's an age where a growing number of actors (Alan Tudyk, Andy Serkis) are better known for their motion captured characters than their human ones, and Toby Kebbell is just as much a fixture on that exclusive list.

The funny thing is, he's been in some very visible movies since he first appeared on the scene in the mid 2000s including Wrath of the Titans, Woody Allen's Match Point, Ridley Scott's The Counselor and Josh Trank's ill-fated Fantastic Four remake.

But it's his work with dots on his face and body and a virtual camera recording his movements as an ape and a huge, burly orc in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Warcraft respectively that have got the 34-year-old Brit all the attention. He spoke to Moviehole.net in Los Angeles about his latest role as Messala, brother and enemy to Ben-Hur.

Was the chariot race the toughest scene for you?

The chariot race was three months of work. I got a thing called 'trigger finger', but in my swearing finger. They put a needle of cortisone through your tendon to cure it because it's two tendons followed by one tendon, and when the single tendon swells it won't go back up, so my finger was closed from holding the reins. You're pulling four horses. That's your strength divided by four, and I'm not that strong anyways.

Was it scary?

I was terrified, and it was a long journey. It was a month before I could pull four horses, because they're very clever horses, and so you have to really figure out who needs to go where. I had wonderful horses though, they were real thoroughbreds from England and my stunt double had Hungarian thoroughbreds, so they were really phenomenal animals on set, they're very clever.

We had one that I kept changing out for a Hungarian called Matzi and he was lazy, but he's on the inside of the turn. What you need is that lazy horse to the inside because he'll keep trying to pull the rest in.

I had King on the outside, who's a beast, he's massive. You're being sprayed with sawdust and sand and faeces and spit and they're like, 'We can't see your face' and I'm saying 'It's thirty-eight miles an hour. There's literally nothing I can do about it.'

We had to do a couple of takes where we went much less quickly, stood up and shouted at each other and did the lines, so it was a massively long process. But when you get to really let the horses out it's the most exhilarating thing.

How much of what we see is you and Jack [Huston] versus the stunt doubles in the chariot race sequence?

Virtually everything you see is us. The stunt doubles we use for the horses, because the horses get so tired. I had a stable of twenty horses. They're exhausted, because you're running them full pelt.

What we did have, though, which is the secret, is an extra guy between our legs as security, because when you're pulling the horses back and you're holding, if that doesn't work you've got a guy down there with a brake.

What was more important for you, the story or the message?

There's a bunch going on. For me personally it's forgiveness. The story I was there to tell was the brother of the man who takes a journey to lead him to forgiveness, and I have to do the same thing in a mirrored manner. As Messala I have a larger role from what we've seen in previous films.

The original book [published in 1880] contains all that, so it was important to do that and have an actual shared journey so there could be forgiveness, because it was weird without it. That's what that story's about for me.

What kind of relationship did you have with the 1959 movie?

The connection is I watched it afterwards. I remember watching it with my mother when I was younger, but I felt like if I watched it [when preparing for this movie] I was either going to steal something (and people are going to be all 'he stole that') or I'm going to be irritated and arrogant, and go 'I'm going to make this better'. I thought it was just better to read the script I was given and do the role I had.

Was there a lot of conversation about the 1959 movie while you were working on it?

It came up a great deal, and it's a perpetual conversation that will keep going on. That film is owned by someone else, so we're not doing a re-make. [Our writers] read the book, they scanned it. They said, 'How can we re-tell this story?' In re-telling that story how are we telling something different?'

No, that film stands alone, and it always will. I don't think there's a competition for that.

How was it playing yourself with your own face and your own body rather than a motion-captured ape?

Weird. It was horribly weird, my hair was Jim Carrey's hair in Dumb and Dumber, so I'm not sure that it's the best. I love motion capture, though. It's a hell of a craft, it gives you the best costume you'll ever have.

Is it a totally different kind of acting?

Completely, because you're bare. You don't have the cool costume. You don't have the great helmet or the horses or the chariot. It was a phenomenal thing.

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