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Toby Jones, the Second Face of Truman Capote, Is Ready to Be ‘Infamous’

“I never met Toby Jones,” says Sandra Bullock.

The actress, who in the new film Infamous plays Truman Capote’s research assistant and closest friend since childhood, To Kill a Mockingbird author Nell Harper Lee, claims that she did not truly encounter her co-star who, though diminutive in real-life, towers in every frame of film he appears in.

“We had so little time on the film that I met him as Truman, he met me as Nell,” Bullock explains. “There was so little time we had to stay who we were and bond that way, because getting back from us to our characters was a little bit of an effort, so we pretty much stayed in those places. But I liked him as Truman.”

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Indeed, Jones seemingly channels the spirit of the eccentric author in a tour de force performance entirely different but every bit the equal of that other Capote you may have heard of earlier this year, Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. In an exclusive sit-down with Hollywood.com, Jones dropped the famous nasal voice, but like the author was never at a loss for words as he discussed Infamous.

The film covers some of the same territory as 2005’s Capote, but explores other facets both light an dark, including the comedy-of-manners surrounding the flamboyant Capote’s arrival in Kansas to report on the brutal murder of a family there, and his more shadowy relationship with one of the imprisoned killers. “We want the audience to not feel that because they’ve seen one film you can’t see both and enjoy both of them,” says Jones.

Hollywood.com: Did you know very much about Truman Capote before getting involved with Infamous?
Toby Jones: No. I sort of remember seeing pictures of him in his declining years in Studio 54 and I remember this amazing name: Truman Capote. We don’t have names like that in England. It’s a tremendous kind of romantic name, but I knew very little about him and to my shame I didn’t even know In Cold Blood. So I had to go on two journeys simultaneously. One was to understand the significance of Capote, and the other journey, obviously, was finding out who he was and finding out why he was the way that he was. I read anything and everything that I could read, and there is an awful lot of stuff out there. As an actor, this one last bit of information could be the key bit of information for you. You’re getting glimpses of the character through all of these different sources, really.

HW: Infamous and Capote portray him in differing lights. What did you think about him after conducting all of that research?
TJ: I think that he was a man who had an extraordinary life. He went on a journey in his life that few people go on. To start from these lowly beginnings and to rise to an area where he’s mixing with not just celebrity actors or movie stars and stuff like that, but beyond that—on the floor above that is the kind of jet stream of tycoons and tycoons wives. He became this kind of jet-setter and a celebrity—as much a celebrity as possible in an age before celebrity as he was known as a writer. He was constantly appearing on chat shows and sounding off about anything and everything. Apparently, he did that, too, without any fear at all. So I admired that fearlessness. It’s not something that I feel. There was also a sadness about him. I was very struck that when you see him on those chat shows being very funny there’s a laughter that comes from people, laughing at what he’s saying, but there was also a laughter at him that people never quite got used to—his clothes, his voice in particular. That gives you a chink into the vulnerability that we all have, and also there was the idea of who this man was when he was at home and not performing. Who was he when he went home to bed on his own, when the clothes were off and the voice was in a different place.

HW: Do you find it easier or harder to take on a role in which you’re portraying a real person and have their whole life to look at rather than only the screenplay, or can that be a bit overwhelming—especially when that person is well known?
TJ: Well, I found it very useful as a distraction, in that I constantly never felt that I had done all of the work that was possible to do. Someone wrote that the danger of actors is that they read a part and they go, “Oh, I know who this person is.” In a way it’s very easy to think of the character on the page, or I find it very easy to think that the character is much bigger to me. That I’m smaller than the character and I just have these little bits of evidence to go on that will draw me towards the character. I found that very useful because it means that you never stop reaching. You don’t ever feel that sense that you’ve got the character down. You’re always revisiting the character every time you play him.

HW: How did you deal with Capote’s voice, which is, um, distinctive, to say the least?
TJ: One of the things that I did to keep a hold of Capote was this warm-up that we devised for the voice. I would do it everyday for about an hour and a half at the beginning of the day just get my mouth into a position where I could not just speak like him, but use the voice flexibly. And that became a thing that I would do everyday and I’d watch a bit of film everyday and you develop these rituals that sort of remind you where your plans were as you had laid them out when you first structured the role. You had these different ways and the great thing about playing a real character is that there is a lot of stuff to keep feeding that portrayal, new stuff. Sometimes with a new character you sort of have to invent all of that material. I would keep the voice all day, which created some hilarious situations. People would think that I was deep in character when I was having my lunch, but I was just using the voice because I’d done the warm-up once, and I wasn’t going to do that all the time, every day.

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HW: Now that you’re making this big debut in Hollywood, do you think about celebrity and how it might affect you?
TJ: I think that it’s hard nowadays not to think about celebrity because as much as one would like to be an actor—I love my job and I love transforming myself which is the great thrill of being an actor—you are dependent on publicity, and so there is this other self that has to come out. This persona has to come who can talk about what you’ve just done, and yet there is a mysterious side to what you do which is the very reason why you do it. You do it for that mystery and the more that you try and demystify it the more somehow you’re sort of taking the allure out of it. I totally accept it as a very important part of the job. I understand that. Particularly with this film, we won’t be able to go see this film. So I feel that there is a whole area of celebrity that has to be addressed. There is just too much of it.

HW: There have been more than a few instances of actors being nominated for Academy Awards for playing the same part, but never different actors nominated for the same role only one year apart. Can you imagine yourself in that situation?
TJ: It’s very hard for me to talk about that, because I’m obviously thrilled that people compare it. Two years ago to even be compared with Philip Seymour Hoffman would’ve been amazing for me. I really hope that this film wins awards, because it’ll bring people into the cinemas to see it. I rarely have come across a script this good, and I think that you wouldn’t get the kind of actors who are in the film being in the film if the script wasn’t that good. Everyone knew that there was another film. It wasn’t like no one knew. But I do think that you get to see people do stuff in this film that shows a sort of acting quality that’s great. It’s economy. You think about Gwyneth Paltrow, who is onscreen for such a short time and yet she does some of the stuff that I like more than anything else I’ve ever seen her do. So you see such skill in this film, all over the film, and I think that’s a testament to the quality of the script.

HW: You have yet to see the film Capote. Will there come a time when you’ll feel compelled to pop it into the DVD player?
TJ: Oh, definitely. I think that for the audience and for the critics, part of the stimulus of a new film about Capote so soon after the other will be the pleasure of comparing and drafting the weight the different ways that the story is weighted. What everyone talks about is how both portraits seem to be very different and yet consistent at the same time. I look forward to seeing the film, but I just can’t make those comparisons.

HW: Have you encountered Philip Seymour Hoffman anywhere?
TJ: I’ve been in the same room as him, but I’ve never met him.

HW: Would you be interested in comparing Truman notes with him?
TJ:
Yes, yes, of course. I think that he’s a fascinating character to try to bring to life.

HW: From speaking with Hoffman, I’ve always gotten the impression that he ultimately couldn’t summon a lot of respect for Capote, felt he made the wrong choices or found him a tough character to love. Did you have any problems with passing judgment on him?
TJ:
Yes, I certainly had moments of that. You’re constantly in this sort of detective work of trying to retrace a series of decisions that are made both by Capote and by Doug [McGrath], the screenwriter. You’re trying to retrace the steps and go, “Why does he do that? What makes him do that and that?” And you’re trying to find, if you like, positive reasons for why he does certain things, because the way to act it would be like, “I’m making a decision to do this. It’s not because I’m a nasty person, but it’s because I’m confronted with this paradox or this dilemma as a person.” I’m trying to figure out why he would do that. I don’t know that Capote was always the best person that he could possibly be, but I think that he was also thrown. I think that we see his isolation, in our film, that he had from being in the world of New York and society and being adored and loved as a sort of mascot, and being witty and catty and sort of thriving on the heady mix of all of those women and that kind of high life. We see him thrown into the middle of nowhere, and that personality is suddenly very exposed. I think that even though he’s at his most confident in his life at that point, he’s like this boy wonder writer, he stumbles on this story that he thinks is going to be an article. But what happens to him afterwards is that in researching a personality and trying to be cold blooded about it, I feel that that personality rebounds on him and cracks him open so that he gets the masterpiece. He wins. He does the thing. Whatever costs he’s confronted with, how far would you go for your art – a long, long way. You will pursue your art a long, long way, but at the same time there is a sort of mythic dimension where you will lose something in that hunt. No one can want that to happen, and I think that there is that as an artist. I think that anyone though can sympathize with that sort of paradox that he finds himself in, and it’s one that he sees in Perry Smith. He identifies and sympathizes with that in Perry Smith. He sees almost a twin in him. So I think that there are reasons for his behavior. Do I like him? In a way it’s neither here nor there, but I have my answers as to why he did certain things.

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HW: Sandra Bullock says the two of you never really “met” because time constraints kept you in character during your time together shooting in Austin?
TJ:
Well, she was able to be my tour guide, because she was obviously working from home in Austin. She lives there ,and that was fantastic because I