Toby Stephens, the scion of actors Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens, is best known as Starz’s swashbuckling pirate Captain Flint in “Black Sails,” and he can be seen in Michael Bay’s actioner “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” which opened Jan. 15. But some 50 credits ago in 1994, Stephens was just 17 when he received his first Variety mention for his role in the play “Unfinished Business.”
Do you remember how you felt when you found out you were mentioned in Variety?
There was this feeling of being recognized, certainly by the American side of the industry. In the U.K., you’re part of it because you’ve had reviews in the Guardian or the Times or the Telegraph. When you’ve got something mentioned in Variety, that’s a big deal for anyone.
Did you ever receive any advice from your parents?
My mom’s not so vocal about it. She’s incredibly supportive and comes to see me at everything I do, but she kind of lays off on acting notes. I can tell very clearly when she likes something or doesn’t like something, though. My dad, before he died, would say exactly what he thought. I have to say, a lot of the time they were great notes. He really knew stuff.
What did you learn from your experience with “Unfinished Business”?
It dealt with fascism-sympathizers in the U.K. during the war. I played an aristocratic young man who has this fling with a maid, but the plot was about the power games between the classes. It was a great opportunity for me as a young actor: The more that I got onstage, the more I learned about my craft.
What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I knew that less is more, always and in whatever you do. I remember when I was younger always trying to having a sense of a scene, and what I wanted to achieve in it. What I realized was that once you rehearsed a play, the whole thing is to just relax and be simple with it, and never try to hit a note. Don’t try to go out there with a set game plan. The only way to be creative is to be relaxed.
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