There are so many pleasures to be had in Control, the new film about the life and death of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. There's the music, obviously, and the performances. But most of all there is director Anton Corbijn's image-making. So it is slightly disturbing that, just over a month since I saw it during the Edinburgh Film Festival, the one image I think of first when I think of the movie is the sight of Toby Kebbell in his Y-fronts.
Kebbell is, as might already be apparent, the film's comic relief. Playing Joy Division's manager, Rob Gretton, he certainly gets all the best lines. "I did almost see him as the relief," the actor admits over a pot of tea. "I think with a manager in real life they are the relief for the bands. My brother's a musician -- a fantastic musician, I might add -- and when management come in they are very helpful. There's someone else to pick on or there's someone else to argue with."
That said, Kebbell's performance is agile enough to find some grace notes as the story darkens -- and it compares very well with the last actor who played Gretton, Paddy Considine in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People, even though Kebbell thinks otherwise. "It's no contest, man. I can't spar with Paddy. I auditioned for Anton, at which point he told me how well Paddy had done in 24 Hour Party People as Rob Gretton. So I was like, Sweet, so I haven't got the part, then. I'll give you Paddy's number if you want it.'" As anyone who's seen the film could attest, it wasn't needed.
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Kebbell might be a new name to you. So let's do some introductions. He is a 25-year-old actor who gets up most mornings at four and goes for a six-kilometre run ("I do genuinely enjoy it"). He was born in Pontefract and raised in Newark, near Nottingham ("The anagram of Newark is w***er -- as a man of words you'd know that -- and that's very apt for Newark") and started to act at school. "I went to a Catholic primary school. We did the Passion Play and I never got to play Jesus and I was p***ed, man. My ambitions have changed slightly, but that's how I got started. I got to play innkeeper number one, the one who just says no. Not even the one who shows them to his barn. Even at a young age I had the urge to be the centre of attention, that's what it is. And I'm good at lying."
Even during our short time together, this seems a typical Kebbell story -- wry, amused, expletive-laden. Trying to sum him up in a word, the first thing I come up with is "brash", but that's not quite it. He's not arrogant at all. Give me a minute, though, something will come to me.
In the mean time, let's take a quick tour of his filmography. He first came to prominence in Shane Meadows's English revenge movie Dead Man's Shoes, as the aforementioned Paddy Considine's mentally challenged brother. Since then he's been seen in Oliver Stone's Alexander and -- way down the cast -- in Woody Allen's Match Point. There have also been appearances on TV (Peak Practice, of all things), but Control should mark a step-change in public awareness.
Kebbell hadn't even been born when Ian Curtis killed himself in 1980, and wasn't aware of the place Joy Division's record label, Factory, played in British pop-culture history before filming started. He's suitably on-message now. "I had no idea about it. I wasn't aware of how fantastic it was, but as soon as you read about it you can understand it perfectly. These guys knew they had talent and they did fantastically well, and it's a tragic, tragic story." He's thrilled that the surviving members of Joy Division, who went on to become New Order, have expressed their approval of the movie. "They've loved it, they've really enjoyed it. I think it tells the right story."
The next story Kebbell is telling is that of a crackhead, in Guy Richie's new movie RocknRolla. He has nothing but good things to say about Madonna's husband. "He's a fantastic bloke to work with, actually -- a very decent bloke." He says that as if I should be surprised. "Well, some people are surprised." There's also a role in the next series of Jimmy McGovern's The Street for the BBC.
Kebbell looks set to become the centre of attention any day now. Is he ready for that? "I very much choose roles that I find something in. But I want to be disgustingly rich. I do. I'd love to be extremely rich -- and I think if that opportunity arose, I'd grab it."
How do you sum up Toby Kebbell in a single word? How about cocksure? And no, that's got nothing to do with Y-fronts.