Toby Stephens: Why British scripts often make my heart sink

The British actor is fed up with "football violence", "gangsters" and "some depressing estate"...


Actor Toby Stephens has a bone to pick with British script writers.


“Generally when I get sent British scripts – and this isn’t a generalisation – nine times out of ten my heart sinks after about three pages,” he told BBC News, while discussing his latest project, The Machine – apparently a rare exception to this rule…

“This script came through and it blew me away. It’s not about football violence, it’s not about gangsters, it’s not about some depressing estate.”  

But despite his gripes with British filmmaking, the London-born actor and son of Maggie Smith is no stranger to home-grown work after spending most of his 20-year career working in Britain – his best-known role coming in 2002 when he played Bond villain Gustav Graves in Die Another Day. He has since gone on to star as 007 himself in a series of dramas for Radio 4 and plays the lead in new American show Black Sails, executive produced by Transformers director Michael Bay. 

“We need to stop trying to imitate America,” added Stephens. “We need to stop trying to do the same movies over and over: the gangsters and the football violence. 

“We do these intelligentsia movies about married couples in Hampstead or whatever. I think there’s a place for all those things but we can’t keep on repeating ourselves. We need to start writing cleverer and better scripts. I read a lot of scripts and I find there’s a paucity on quality. 

“Whenever I’ve been sent American scripts they tend to be much better. I don’t know why that is because we’ve got a lot of good writers here. When we make good movies we make really good movies.”