Toby Jones - Dial him for Hitchcock

His cameo in Notting Hill was cut. Now a turn as The Master is set to make Toby Jones a star at last. Geoffrey Macnab meets the actor

The ground floor of the old Edinburgh Victorian railway hotel is flooded – apparently something to do with the tram system the city has been struggling to build for so many years. Soggy cardboard sits on top of where the carpeting should be. The hotel rooms have a faded Gothic air. It's an appropriately jarring location for an interview with Toby Jones, the brilliant 45-year-old British character actor who has landed a rare starring role in Peter Strickland's very strange new feature, Berberian Sound Studio.

Jones plays Gilderoy, a sound engineer from Dorking recruited to work on a very lurid Italian horror movie. He's a nervous, repressed, lower middle-class Brit adrift in a world of arm waving Mediterranean types. As Jones puts it, he's a "supremely timid, unconfident man who relies on his ears." His job, listening to and recording curses, screams and incantations, slowly drives him mad.

Gilderoy is certainly a departure for Jones. "One of the key benefits of being an actor is that you have to turn unpredictability into a virtue," Jones declares. "That's requires not bracketing yourself into what you do."

We're more used to seeing Jones portray real-life characters. Like Michael Sheen, he is one of British cinema's kings of the biopics. In the last decade, Jones has been on screen as American writer Truman Capote (Infamous), as Eighteenth-Century British artist William Hogarth (A Harlot's Progress), as Marilyn Monroe's agent Arthur Jacobs (My Week With Marilyn), as George W Bush's svengali/pit-bull Karl Rove (Oliver Stone's W.) and as talent agent Swifty Lazar (Frost/Nixon.) Later this year, he will be on our televisions as Alfred Hitchcock opposite Sienna Miller's Tippi Hedren in The Girl, Julian Jarrold's psycho-drama about creativity and sexual obsession.

Jones was drawn to the "poetry" in Strickland's screenplay for Berberian Sound Studio and relished appearing in a film in which narrative wasn't the be-all and end-all. He felt a "kinship" with the harassed and increasingly neurotic Gilderoy. Jones himself grew up in Surrey, not far from Dorking. His father is the character actor Freddie Jones, who appeared in David Lynch and Federico Fellini films as well as plenty of British horror movies almost as cheesy as the one Gilderoy is working on. Furthermore, Jones knows how it feels to be marginalised and persecuted. Years ago, he won a small role in Working Title's Julia Roberts movie Notting Hill, but ended up on the cutting-room floor (the experience, which still rankles, inspired the experimental play Missing Reel.)

The actor's background isn't quite what you'd expect. He is not Rada and the RSC. He studied at the Lecoq School in Paris. Lecoq, like Marcel Marceau, was a master of mime. Jones is intensely interested in the physical aspects of the characters he plays: how they move, their tics and mannerisms. When he speaks about any given role, he sounds like an anthropologist describing a subject.

Gilderoy is a slight and unobtrusive figure who hovers in the background. By complete contrast, when he was playing Hitchcock roughing up Tippi Hedren, Jones had to pile on the pounds (or, at least, endure four hours of prosthetics every day).

"Hitchcock is a big ask. I am playing someone significantly older than me and someone significantly bigger than me," Jones reflects on the task. The actor studied his subject with typical diligence, delving into Hitch's "fantastically interesting interior life" and trying to penetrate beyond "the carapace" that the celebrated English director created.

"The stuff I find very interesting is why certain physical things have come about. How can he be light on his feet when he is so big? How can his weight vary so much? Where does this rather beautiful voice come from?" Jones falls into an uncanny Hitchcock impersonation, capturing perfectly the "woody, cigar and drink" soaked tones with their hint of LA and remnants of Cockney.

"At the end of the day, I will be inventing stuff that isn't in any public domain – how I get out of a chair, how I offer a drink, how I open a door, how I shake a hand," he says of his Hitch.

One key element to Hitchcock, he adds, is the drooping jowl. "That was crucial because his silhouette is crucial," Jones says. "There is something about his silhouette that became his brand."

It's an impressive performance combining creepiness and pathos in equal measure. At one point, we see him leaping at Sienna Miller's Hedren in the back of a car. He moves lithely for a man of his girth and age. We're also treated to Jones's Hitch reciting endless dirty limericks. He's the boss and the predator, but Jones is also able to convey the character's insecurity. The actor is at pains to point out his Hitch is a performance, not a piece of mimicry. Biopics, he adds, are only worth watching if they "tell you stuff you didn't know."Before he was recruited to play Truman Capote in Infamous (2006), he "had only ever been a day player on movies." Even if he had appeared in a Harry Potter film, he was used to playing blink-and-you'll-miss-them roles. In Infamous, by contrast, he was in almost every scene. The film was well received. All of a sudden, Jones was in demand. "A diminutive actor with a titanic talent," said The New York Observer.

"There is this miraculous thing I heard Hugh Grant talking about – the thing about screen acting is that you can read people's thoughts. You are trying to register something inside and usually the eyes in cinema are where you will register that," says Jones. On Berberian Sound Studio, director Peter Strickland acknowledges that there were details in Jones's performance that he didn't even notice until he started editing.

These days, at least, Jones doesn't have to worry about ending on the cutting-room floor. He has just finished Serena, Susanne Bier's new Depression-era movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. "I play a sheriff, which I never thought I'd get to do." Meanwhile, as an antidote to screen acting, he's preparing a West End show inspired by The Crazy Gang.

The character roles in Hollywood movies remain in plentiful supply. However, Jones laments, films as idiosyncratic Berberian Sound Studio simply don't come along very often. "They seem much rarer now, those auteur films that come out of a director's imagination and are elliptical and hermetic. All those films that got me into independent cinema when I was watching it seem thin on the ground."

'Berberian Sound Studio' is out on 31 August. 'The Girl' will be broadcast on the BBC this year

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game