First Gig Worst Gig

Toby Williams does First Film, Worst Film

Toby Williams

Short films are great aren't they? They're like feature films but without all the awkward commitment and concentration we find so tricky nowadays. A quick shot of goodness, that's the spirit.

For a lovingly curated bunch of quality, comedy shorts, we should direct you to the Short Com Festival, which this year happens online from November 30th, for a week. And a star of that line-up is Toby Williams, who pops up in two films. Now you will definitely recognise Williams, if not for his roles in cool stuff like Netflix's Sex Education and Ben Wheatley's High-Rise, and lots of prime-time telly, then for the bits between those TV shows (he'll get to that below).

Connoisseurs of live comedy should fondly recall Toby's character work, too - you can watch his special The Worst of Dr George Ryegold on NextUp - but we've gone film-themed for this week's episode. First though, Toby, tell us about your shorts.

"Don't Walk is a horror/comedy about a harmless and ever-so-slightly boring couple on a walking holiday who are lured into the local woods as sacrifices to a deadly ancient evil," he explains. "The idea came about when myself and Hannah George (co-writer/director) went walking in the Highlands with a guide book we'd found in our Airbnb.

"The book had a self-published vibe with a picture of the author surveying a broad, sunlit valley on the cover. Strangely the route in the book lead us away from Ben Nevis, through an industrial estate and into some scrotty woods with youths lingering about and it felt like we were walking into a trap set by the author, who we expected to see lurking in the bushes ready to pounce."

Thankfully he lived to tell the tale though. And that other tale at the Short Com fest is called Wormhole Bumhole. Any similarities, between the two?

"Wormhole Bumhole was an idea that frequent collaborators Ben Mallaby, Paul F Taylor and I had about a guy who avoids everyday awkward situations by disappearing into a wormhole that's up his bum. So Don't Walk and Wormhole Bumhole are practically the same film."

If they don't whet your appetite, nothing will. Right, let's First Film, Worst Film.

Toby Williams

First film, TV show or ad??

My first professional acting job was on the Sky Living sitcom Trying Again in 2013 - I was an unhelpful Yorkshire corner shop owner who stand-up and actor Alun Cochrane was attempting to buy condoms from.

Joining a shoot for only a day or two always feels like starting a new school in the middle of term but star and co-creator Chris Addison and Alun were really friendly and welcoming, as were the rest of the cast and crew. Chris, co-creator Simon Blackwell and brilliant producer Caroline Norris had no idea this was my first proper job, so really my first role was pretending to be a professional actor.

Favourite acting gig, ever?

I worked with Ben Wheatley briefly in 2013 and I was over the moon when he offered me a small part in High-Rise the next year. All the cast were supremely talented actors and everyone was really friendly and it was incredible to be around actors like Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, Peter Ferdinando, Enzo Cilenti and Sienna Guillory.

I'm not sure I fully appreciated how amazing it was at the time, but I definitely had a hefty dose of imposter syndrome. In a past life I worked at a celeb photo agency that did studio shoots for TV publicity and one of the first shoots across my lightbox was Sienna Guillory, so when she came over to talk to me I was so starstruck that I couldn't speak much and I think she thought I was really rude.

Sorry Sienna!

Your worst audition?

At my first ever ad casting I came very close to making a prize twat of myself. I stood in front of the camera and the casting director asked me for my profiles. I thought she meant some kind of paperwork like my CV or something, but then I took a chance and stood side on, fully expecting to get called an idiot.

It seemed an eternity before the casting director then said, 'And the other side please'. I was really chuffed with my daring and courageous gamble, but I still get a hot flush when I think about how I nearly said, 'I haven't got them with me'.

What's the oddest part you ever played?

Richard 'Dickie' Bliss in Holby City. Jemma Redgrave pulled a huge mixer tap out of my arse. A Redgrave no less!

It was really great fun on set with Jemma, Catherine Russell and Alex Walkinshaw and I must congratulate the foley artist and dubbing mixer for the spectacular sound effect they added for when my lubed b-hole finally relinquished its covetous hold on the bath tap - which was enormous by the way.

Which one person influenced your comedy/acting life most significantly?

I loved watching Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers when I was a kid, and still do. It's a great ensemble cast and Oliver Reed's intensity and screen presence are immense. I also remember watching Alan Parker's Bugsy Malone on video at a friend's birthday party when I was about six years-old and thinking that it looked great fun. So I started acting nearly forty years later.

Is there a film/show you did that deserves more attention?

Apart from a squelching bathroom fixture being wrestled from my bunghole by a member of a beloved British acting dynasty you mean?

Porters. Terry (Toby Williams)

I would have to say Dan Sefton's sitcom Porters on Dave. I was the mortician Terry Grimm with the amazing Jo Enright and an incredible cast of Ed Easton, Susie Wokoma and the legendary Rutger Hauer, with the fantastic Daniel Mays joining for the second series.

I was honoured to meet Rutger who I'd been a massive fan of since obsessively renting and re-renting his Ladyhawke, The Hitcher and Flesh + Blood films in my youth. Porters was a really funny, really well-made series that deserved a wider audience.

Your most memorable review or viewer response?

I came off stage after a stand-up gig and Nick Ewans - the actor who played the zombie in the dressing gown who bites Shaun's mum in Shaun Of The Dead - described my act as, 'Like seeing a rat in the street. You're repulsed but you can't stop looking at it'. That review is hard to beat.

Which part are you most often recognised for?

Unbelievably it's not having two feet of plumbing yanked out of my sphincter by Jemma Redgrave on BBC One, it's for being the vet in the Specsavers ad. It's a great ad and I'm lucky it's one that people really seem to like. It could have been a lot worse, I know the guy from the Top Cashback ad.

How has your 2020 been - have voiceovers/audio gigs been a lockdown lifeline?

The beginning of the first lockdown was tough as the entertainment industry was totally left out in the cold, so getting a job when you're starting to feel that you might never work again was a godsend.

A few months into lockdown I got a voice job for a new Warhammer game - I've done a couple in the past and love it as it involves shouting, spitting and screaming in a soundproof box which is incredibly cathartic and was just what I needed.

Share this page