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The ever-shifting life of Toby Jones

Be it as Truman Capote or Karl Rove or even the voice of Dobby, the British actor has enjoyed a diverse career.

October 05, 2008|Cristy Lytal | Special to The Times

Most people probably remember British actor Toby Jones as the star of the other "Capote."

You know, the one that came out after Philip Seymour Hoffman won the best actor Oscar for his performance as the "In Cold Blood" writer.

"No one ever believes me, but there was nothing disappointing about it at all," says Jones, who played Truman Capote in 2006's underrated "Infamous." "I'd been doing a lot of really good theater in London, and the idea of leading a film in England, let alone America, was not on my radar. So going over and acting in such a remarkable script with such an incredible cast -- at the risk of over-incrediblizing all of this -- there's no way I could be disappointed about it."

Given the spate of roles Jones has landed since, his optimism is quite apropos. Between now and the end of the year, Jones will appear in three highly anticipated films: "City of Ember" on Friday, "W." on Oct. 17 and "Frost/Nixon" on Dec. 5.

Previously, the London-born, Oxford-raised son of two actors lent his talents to films including 2002's "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," 2004's "Finding Neverland," 2006's "The Painted Veil" and 2007's "The Mist." "I get mail about ['Harry Potter'] every other week," says Jones. "Because the character I voiced, Dobby, bangs his head against walls and punishes himself for various sins, I've had a couple [of letters] from S&M enthusiasts as well. It's neat to have that broad a church enjoying my voice work."

"City of Ember," based on the middle-reader book by Jeanne DuPrau, should appeal to a much tamer demographic. In the post-apocalyptic drama set in a crumbling underground metropolis, Jones adds mild menace as the chief henchman of the gluttonous mayor, played by Bill Murray. In the face of these bureaucratic foes, two youngsters (Harry Treadaway and Saoirse Ronan) attempt to escape the city's walls before the power generator fails and humanity perishes.

The elaborate steampunk set was built inside of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland. "The entire world of Ember was created in the hangar that they built the Titanic in," says Jones. "It was amazing."

Other true-life figures

Jones played a henchman of a different sort, Karl Rove, in Oliver Stone's biopic "W." "It's rare to get the opportunity to play someone who, even as you act it, is being loathed so much," says Jones.

Even though Jones did his research, reading books like "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential" and "The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power," he found the man to be highly enigmatic. "I suppose one of the characteristics of Karl Rove and a lot of politicians is that it's very hard to read what they really think," he says. "And the other thing that struck me very quickly with him --and it's one of the most annoying things about him for his enemies -- is there seems to be something happening in his eyes which suggests he's laughing. It means that, in some way, however you're quizzing him, attacking him, subpoenaing him, he appears to be not listening or listening to some other track."

Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon" may not be quite as timely or controversial as "W.," but Jones feels it's no less relevant to today's political scene. "If you're making points about the way Bush has delivered his campaign message and the way politics have been run from a PR perspective, then here's a film about the media meeting politics," he says.

Based on the play by Peter Morgan about the 1977 televised interviews with British broadcast journalist David Frost that culminated in Richard Nixon's tacit confession of his guilt in the Watergate scandal, "Frost/Nixon" features Jones as legendary talent agent Swifty Lazar, who represented Nixon as well as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Tennessee Williams, Vladimir Nabokov and even Capote.

"A while ago, I did a play, and one of the guest stars we had was Roger Moore," says Jones. "I e-mailed him about Swifty Lazar, and he gave me a nice paragraph about what his memories of Swifty Lazar were. Swifty Lazar left him the gold buttons from a jacket or something. Ever since then, I've been cutting gold buttons off my jackets and deciding who I'm going to distribute them to."

Jones won't have too much time to devote to button gifting, as he's already signed on to two more films: Jon Amiel's "Creation," based on Charles Darwin's great-great-grandson Randal Keynes' biography of his famed progenitor, and Steven Spielberg's motion-capture film "Tintin," based on the classic series of comic strips by Belgian artist Herge.

"It's always tricky to say, 'Yeah, because I did play Truman Capote, it's led to a change in my luck,' " Jones says. "But clearly what it's led to is a lot of work in the States. And the gratifying thing for me is that it hasn't led to playing Truman Capote in every film about Truman Capote that could possibly be made. It's led to a lot of very diverse roles, which is the career that I always wanted."

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