"As with dancing, sword fights are all about choreography.
The irony is, I can do a complicated fight scene but I can't
dance to save my life!"
Toby Stephens is just pleased his character,
General William Dodd, is a swordsman and not a dancer. "I
love all that swashbuckling stuff. I've done quite a lot of fight
scenes in my time and I really enjoy them. As with dancing, sword
fights are all about choreography. The irony is, I can do a complicated
fight scene but I can't dance to save my life!
"Logically I should be able to
do both but I suppose I'm just not as interested, whereas if
you put a sword in my hand I know what I'm doing. Dramatically,
in both theatre and film, it is so important, as important in
some instances as dialogue. So it is worthwhile working hard
at it because when it works well it looks amazing. I grew up
watching those old movies like the Three Musketeers and even
the old Errol Flynn movies where you have these wonderful sword
flights up and down stairs. In reality sword fights were brutal,
horrible and only lasted seconds but we have stylised them for
Toby is no stranger to elaborate fight
scenes having played Bond baddie Gustav Graves in Die Another
Day. But he says: "It's all about making these characters
as different as possible. We see Dodd and Sharpe meet as younger
men at the start of the film so we know the history to their
relationship. I think the great thing about Dodd is that he has
a sort of charm, an appeal. He's not just this horrible vicious
man, he has a dry humour."
Toby was drawn to the character from
the first reading of the script. "It has everything that
is required for Sharpe a bit of melodrama, romance, fighting,
but it is couched in well-researched history and I was impressed
by the script because yes it is camp in parts but the history
behind it is correct which I liked.
"The fact is British soldiers were
frustrated. They were good soldiers but there were getting nowhere,
whereas if you had money you could buy promotion. So many of
them decided to go over to the other side, to fight for one prince
or another, train up his army to fight against the East India
Company and make ten times the money, get the women and live
a wonderful life. There are many examples of soldiers doing this
and even taking up a new religion, becoming Hindus or Muslims."
Describing his character Toby says:
"He is ambitious and he has an axe to grind. He's fairly
psychotic anyway but I think he feels very bitter about the way
he has been treated by the British army. I think Dodd was a very
good soldier who was kept in his place. He didn't have money
and therefore couldn't get into the British Army so he ended
up in the East India Company and even they managed to keep him
down. What's great about playing a historically correct character
like this is you can understand where they are coming from. You
don't just play psychotic; you can see what made him like that
and portray a complex personality."
This wasn't the first time Toby had
filmed in India. Last year he made the movie The Rising. It was
wonderful to go back," he says. "The great thing about
playing the baddie is you get more time off because they want
to keep you in the background more. So whereas on my last visit
to India I saw very little of the country, this time I travelled