WHEN it comes to the monarchy, Tobias Menzies has to admit he’s ‘probably more on the republican end of things,’ he says. Yet this hasn’t stopped the actor from taking on a highly sought after regal part: later in the year, he’ll be seen as Prince Philip in the new incarnation of Netflix’s The Crown, opposite Olivia Colman as the Queen, no less.
Acclaimed as he is, did Tobias feel any pressure to raise his game when his screen wife bagged the Best Actress Oscar in February?
‘I may well not be allowed back for the next series,’ he jokes. ‘I don’t know if I’ll have to walk out of the room backwards now.’ Embodying the Duke of Edinburgh has involved total immersion: Tobias describes how, in the run up to filming, he ‘drowned’ himself in footage of Philip during the 1960s and 1970s ‘until I went almost mad’. In the process, he was left with a newfound admiration for the Prince. ‘I think what’s very affecting about the show is that while there’s obviously huge privilege, there’s also loneliness; royal roles can be challenging to inhabit.’
Before his crowning moment, though, comes his return to the London stage this summer in The Hunt at Islington’s Almeida Theatre. An adaptation of Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s award-winning 2012 film, it sees him play a primary school teacher who’s accused of sexual abuse by one of his pupils and becomes a pariah of his local community. Addressing the power of the mob, the play has an obvious forebear in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
‘That’s a hard play to compare oneself to, being one of the greatest plays ever written! But yes, my character Lucas definitely has parallels with Miller’s John Proctor,’ agrees Tobias.
As good as the original film was, Tobias promises audiences can expect a fresh spin on the story, which will be more mythic. ‘I think we are trying to heighten the theme of the individual versus the group — that feels like the exciting thing to reach towards in a theatrical space.’
Tobias was last seen properly on stage in Uncle Vanya at the same venue in 2016 and, after three years of solid screen work, he’s glad to be back treading the boards. ‘Theatre keeps you fit,’ he says. ‘You can’t get too much ahead of yourself. Audiences will teach you what’s wrong and what’s right.’
When it came to deciding to be an actor, north London-born Tobias was a bit of a late starter. He only set his sights on the profession after school.
He wanted to be a tennis player. ‘I was a little bit good for a few years when I was ten, 11, 12. I used to play a lot of tournaments, and I was absolutely obsessed with it,’ he explains.
Since graduating from RADA in 1998, he has been much fêted by those in and around the industry, but it’s in the past five years that he’s become a publicly recognised face, thanks chiefly to his role in the historical epic Outlander.
For three series, Tobias played a dual role: emotionally stunted 20th century academic, Frank, and his dastardly 18th-century ancestor Black Jack Randall. Getting to play such a sadistic villain was perversely ‘joyous’ he says. ‘And it was exciting that they let us go as dark as we did, partly a result of it being a cable show in America. I don’t know whether that would have been allowed on TV here.’
He recently finished Game Of Thrones, playing the ineffectual Edmure Tully. In the final episode Tobias was responsible for its funniest moment, when his character put himself forward to rule the Seven Kingdoms and was immediately told to stand down by his cousin, Sansa. The scene went viral on social media, with many suggesting Tully represented mediocre white men everywhere. How does he feel about becoming such an unfortunate symbol? ‘I’ll take it,’ he laughs. He’ll also be seen very soon in Channel 4’s much-anticipated comedy, This Way Up.
As for the future? He fancies playing a cowboy at some point but in general he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. ‘I find it easier to concentrate on getting this bit right now. But yes, I’m in a good run. Long may it continue.’
■ The Hunt is at the Almeida until August 3, almeida.co.uk