THEIR last collaboration was a huge hit, now Toby Jones is keeping up standards with Peter Bowker on new drama Capital. The actor tells Susan Griffin about the timely thriller
It’s no surprise Toby Jones and Peter Bowker have reunited on a new project, following their success with last year’s Marvellous. Telling the true story of Neil Baldwin, a man who refused be defined by his learning disabilities and, among other things, was appointed kit-man for Stoke City FC, the drama - penned by Bowker - scooped a TV Bafta and earned Jones a Best Leading Actor nomination too, for his portrayal of Baldwin.
Now the duo have teamed up for Capital, a three-part thriller, set on one single street in south London.
“I was a bit worried I was putting a curse on things by working with Peter again, as we’d just finished working on Marvellous and it had been such a success, but this was such different material,” admits 49-year-old Jones, who also received a Golden Globe nomination in 2013 for his portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock in The Girl.
The actor applauds Bowker for his adaptation of the critically-acclaimed novel by John Lanchester. “It’s a huge achievement of Pete’s and I really enjoy the way in which he’s done it.”
Once a modest street, Pepys Road has been transformed by soaring property prices and now boasts multi-million pound houses alongside impoverished flats, including that of Quentina (Wunmi Mosaku), a Zimbabwean refugee with a PhD, who’s working as a traffic warden, and “retro” houses owned by ageing residents such as Petunia (Gemma Jones, who also starred in Marvellous), who’s lived on the road for decades.
Jones, who was born to actor parents in Hammersmith, London, plays Roger, an investment banker with his eye on a million-pound bonus.
“Roger isn’t an evil banker, he’s a slightly complacent banker,” he explains. “He’s become used to a certain way of life and has a self-imposed pressure to live that way. He spends a lot of money on things that other people don’t spend money on - for example fixtures and fittings - but that is normal to him and his wife [Arabella, portrayed by Rachael Stirling]. He is not totally in charge of his life or his work.”
Father-of-two Jones, who studied drama in Manchester and Paris and started out with roles on the stage, reveals that although Roger is a well-educated, functioning human being, “there is something happening to him internally that he doesn’t have the language to articulate”.
“Something is shifting and changing within him, and what happens to him in the story makes him realise that his life is not all it might be,” explains the actor. “It’s a creeping dissatisfaction, a creeping sense of loss and directionlessness. He has no way of expressing that or even understanding it himself.”
Although he might not sympathise with his alter-ego, Jones admits he can identify with his situation. “Roger has two kids and his work takes him away from home a lot, as mine does. I can identify with the challenge in life, of the transition of going from the work space to the domestic space.”
As part of his preparation for the part, the series’ executive producer Derek Wax arranged for Jones to meet with a city banker, an experience that was “invaluable”.
“He was in charge of handing out the bonuses, so had seen some of the more wayward reactions of bankers, who live and die by the numbers they make,” notes the actor, who’s also currently filming new series The Secret Agent in Scotland and will appear in the big-screen adaptation of Dad’s Army next year.
“I thought it was interesting that for all of the opulence and brilliant design in these offices, they are really sterile environments. There’s a monastic and slightly sinister silence, with this huge traffic of vast sums of money surrounding everything.”
One day, the street’s residents all receive an anonymous postcard through their front doors bearing a simple message: ‘We Want What You Have’.
Soon, more postcards arrive emblazoned with pictures of the houses and residents, followed by DVDs, before the first episode finishes with characters walking out one morning to see a message splashed in red across their road.
Being part of an ensemble cast was “a bit like actually living on Pepys Road”, says Jones. “You know what some people are doing and you don’t know what other people are doing, some people you know very well and some people you get to know better over time. So in that way, the form matched the content.”
Keeping charge was director Euros Lyn, who’s previously helmed episodes of Happy Valley and Last Tango In Halifax.
“He’s one of the most passionate directors I’ve worked with on television. It’s extraordinary to be a part of an ambitious show like this, as there is never much time, but he was so focused in the midst of rapidly shifting scenes and locations,” says Jones. “Although all the characters are connected, they are also very disconnected, and yet Euros found a way to bind it all together.”
He doesn’t live far from the book’s location and wandered the street with Lanchester ahead of production, talking about how the area has changed.
“John [Lanchester] told me that he would see people wandering up and down it and try to work out who they were and why they were there. At that point, it felt very specific, like John has looked down out of his window and seized upon what he could see,” recalls Jones. “However, streets like that exist all over now.
“One of the great strengths of the book is that it doesn’t see things, and people, as good or bad, it just observes and presents the facts.”
• Capital is a three-part drama beginning on BBC One on Tuesday, November 24