Toby Jones: The “Spirit Of The Cinema” On The New ‘Indiana Jones’, Dancing With Sam Mendes & How He Packs A Punch In Apple And Marv Films’ ‘Tetris’

EXCLUSIVE: Toby Jones says he initially had concerns of being “bored out my mind” working on summer blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, but the actor tells Deadline that he’s “so relieved that I had done it” because “actually, I absolutely loved working on that film.”

The fifth instalment of the Indiana Jones franchise is “so different” from the flow of more recent films he’s appeared in such as Sam Mendes’ heartfelt drama Empire of Light and Sebastián Lelio’s thrilling Irish tale The Wonder. “It’s so massive!” he says.  

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Neal Street Productions and Searthlight’s Empire of Light and Netflix and Element Pictures The Wonder both are in the running for Best British Film at Sunday night’s 76th British Academy Film Awards. 

Empire of Light’s star Micheal Ward, who shot most of his scenes with Olivia Colman and Jones, is up for Best Supporting Actor. Cinema knight Sir Roger Deakins is nominated for his cinematography.

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Jones explains that his concerns going into Indiana Jones were that “you work so incrementally and you work beat by beat, moment by moment with special effects. Twenty seconds might take two weeks to film! I thought I’d be bored out of my mind, but I found the whole thing so fascinating. And in the end, I was so relieved that I had done it.”

He also felt pleased that he’d gotten the opportunity to do some of his own stunts, even though he’d thought a stuntman would some of the more trickier ones.

“All I can tell you is that as time wore on with that film, we came to various action-like moments and I’d think, ‘Well, that’ll be a stuntman thing, and a stuntman will come along for that.’ And days would sort of arrive and they’d go, “Toby, do you want to come on set?’ and I’d come on set like, ’Right, I thought they were doing the stunt, the big thing,’ and he’s sort of like, ‘Yeah, so you’ll walk along here,’ and I kept thinking that at some point someone’s going to tap me and go, ‘But we’ll let the stuntman do that and that,’ and it never happened,” he says, eyes widening.

He was on his own, ”And I thought, ‘Oh,no!’”

But “I loved it,” he adds, his eyes brightening as he spoke.

However, Jones was steadfast in his refusal to reveal any details of the scenes involved, all of them with the film’s legendary star, Harrison Ford. “Working with Harrison was great,” was all that he’d allow.

“I’m not allowed to say anything,” he shrugs.

“Baz, it’ll be good. If it’s like the script, I think it’ll be really brilliant,” Jones says of the much-anticipated action thriller helmed by James Mangold.

Jones plays Basil, a close pal of the whip-cracking, Nazi-hunting archaeologist. The Lucasfilm-Disney production is out wide on June 30.

The Indiana Jones picture is just one of a long list of movies and television Jones has shot during the past three years. Along with the aforementioned Empire of Light and The Wonder, the lineup includes The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, A Boy Called Christmas, The Pale Blue Eye, Worzel Gummidge, The English and Detectorists. 

Jones laughs and says, “You’ll have heard this many times, but it’s so weird that suddenly it feels like there’s loads of things coming out, but you’ve made these projects over a period of time.”

There’s more. The Apple TV+ and Marv Films feature Tetris, directed by Jon S. Baird (Stan & Ollie, Filth) receives its world premiere at SXSW next month.

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Written by Noah Pink, Tetris is based on the true story of American-Dutch video game salesman Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) and his discovery in 1988 of the console game Tetris. It had been developed by a Russian designer working for a government department behind the Iron Curtain. Baird’s movie is a delicious cat-and-mouse game to see who can acquire the copyright to bring the game to the masses.

Jones portrays Hungarian games negotiator Robert Stein, a cunning operator who wants the prize for himself. It’s a hilarious portrait because Stein is a one-man band up against crooked magnate Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and his associates. “I get deals, then I get screwed on it. It’s a classic story,” he explains.

It’s not giving too much away to say that the actor’s performance packs a mighty punch. Indeed, there’s a spectacular moment involving Stein that elicited a roar of approval from the audience I saw the film with in L.A.

Tetris producers are Matthew Vaughn, Gillian Berrie, Claudia Vaughn, Len Blavatnik and Gregor Cameron. 

With all the appearances that Jones has made on our screens of late, it somehow seems appropriate that Norman, the theater projectionist he plays in Empire of Light, “is a sort of spirit of the cinema,” he says.  

“It’s like Norman’s almost like a ghostly figure because he has to live up there in the projection booth for so much of his life, almost like a spirit of the cinema in a person, the all-seeing presence,” he says.

Jones says he enjoyed the experience of working with Ward’s cinema usher in Empire of Light, reveling in the scenes they shot. “When you work with a younger actor, it’s not yet become habitual, there’s still a sort of instinctive side to it,” he says. “So you look at their choices and go, ‘Wow, I would have never thought of doing that because I would have thought of the camera or I would have thought of some technical aspect.’

“That’s what you get from working not just with Micheal but with all younger actors,” he adds. “They keep you honest in the game really, because of their spontaneity, just their enthusiasm. It’s not that I’m not enthusiastic, it’s just that I’m going through it.”

He feels that his rapport with Ward both on and off screen was so close “it’s almost like the relationship in the film begins to sort of meld with your relationship offscreen, without you having to work at that.”

There was a closeness with Mendes as well, and with Pippa Harris the film’s producer. “Well, we all grew up near Oxford, and the three of us all went to the same parties when we were young teenagers. So in a  weird way we were dancing to the same music in this film. I remember dancing to the Specials in these village halls outside Oxford where we grew up.”

And Mendes had rhythm, Jones attests.

Bopping around on dance floors is still a big thing for Jones and Karen Jones, his barrister wife.

Jones says he and Mendes had tried for years to work together, mainly on theater projects, but to no avail. “That’s what’s so extraordinary about the job because it’s such a nice way to reacquaint with each other, because obviously we’re in the same industry and we bump into each other. But there’s never enough time to catch up.”

He’s thrilled that the film was shown on the big screen — as will Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

”All I pray for is the survival of films,” he says. “I loved films and films in cinemas. It’s the romance of that. It’s felt like such a bonus in my life. I’ve been part, in my own little way, of being in films in cinemas because I grew up wanting to go to the cinemas, seeing films.”

And Jones is full of admiration for the directors he has worked with. He notes the meticulous attention to detail of directors like Mendes. “The greatest directors are just interested in every single aspect of filmmaking, every little detail,” he says.

Smiling, he recalls working on French filmmaker Michael Haneke’s 2017 film Happy End. ”I remember we did this costume fitting, and the costume designer showed various colors of ties and Michael was there watching and he said, ‘No, not that green one because there’ll be a sofa in that scene that will clash with that green tie.’ We were weeks away on the filming, but he already knew what the color dynamics were. That’s how much he could control every aspect. It’s astonishing,” he says.

Conversations on the set of Happy End were in French. Jones studied acting in Paris and appeared in some plays there.

His last play in London was playing the title role in Uncle Vanya, but its run was halted by the pandemic early in 2020, which was a kick in the teeth for the production that had received five-star reviews. However, Sonia Friedman, the show’s producer, hatched a plan with its director Ian Rickson to bring back the cast and film the production on the Harold Pinter Theatre stage. The film was bookmarked with scenes of the ensemble arriving and leaving the stage door. The place had been empty for months because of Covid. Revisiting was “poignant,” the actor says. The resulting film was shown in cinemas then later on the BBC and BBC iPlayer.

Jones doesn’t much like taking time off work as an actor. “If one’s lucky enough to work as an actor, that is time off,” he shares. “You get to process what you’re experiencing in the rest of your life. You get to explore things that you see in your life, feelings you have, things you see, responses you have to things, and experiment with them in drama.”

One idea he’s been exploring is a film that he’s working on with writing partner Tim Crouch. They co-created and co-wrote dark comedy drama Don’t Forget the Driver for Sister Pictures and BBC Two back in 2019.

Jones is a huge fan of the Sarah Gavron film Rocks and its lead actress, the BAFTA winner Bukky Bakray. “We had a meeting with her, and now we’re working together” on a film with Bakray at the center of it, he tells us. 

Jones won’t direct it, though he might act in it. “But we don’t know yet,” he says. “It’s such early stages, but that’s been really fun working on that already. “You watch the two of us [Jones and Bakray] together in the room. Well, like I said about working with Micheal [Ward], when you’re working with someone that young, look at just how much you gain.”

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