‘Warcraft’: Toby Kebbell on Bringing the Orc Chieftain Durotan to Life

     June 6, 2016


Based on Blizzard Entertainment’s global phenomenon World of Warcraft, played by more than 100 million people since its inception, the epic saga Warcraft sees the peaceful realm of Azeroth on the brink of war, as it faces invasion by orc warriors who are fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As one army faces the other, two heroes – human commander Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and orc chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell) – are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their people and their home. Directed by Duncan Jones, the film also stars Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper, Ben Foster, Ben Schnetzer, Rob Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin and Daniel Wu.

At the film’s press day, Collider sat down with actor Toby Kebbell on the Universal Studios backlot to discuss bringing the orc chieftain Durotan to life. During the exclusive interview, he talked about how advanced the artistry of motion capture is now, what would most surprise people about the process, seeing himself in the finished product, how important it was to show a family side of the orcs, and working with director Duncan Jones. He also talked about the experience of making Ben-Hur and how their story is different, along with what it was like to hang out with Samuel L. Jackson on the set of Kong: Skull Island.

warcraft-poster-durotanCollider: These orcs seem so real, even though you know it’s an actor in a motion capture suit doing the performance. You must be really happy with how it all turned out.

TOBY KEBBELL: That’s the level of motion capture now. They’ve got so many dots on the face, capturing all of the ligature and muscular points, that very subtle moments can come out. The opening sequence sitting and thinking, they thought they couldn’t really use it ‘cause there was nothing really in it. But once they put the dots onto the skin and animated it, they realized lots was going on. That’s very exciting for the animators, and it’s very flattering to be that person helping them out. They’re doing incredible work. I’m really doing nothing.

Do you find yourself looking for yourself in the character, once you see the finished product?

KEBBELL: Yeah, I can see it. When my brothers watched Koba (in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), they were like, “It’s creepy! It’s like you’re a monkey. It’s so weird!” But if you don’t really know me, you’re lost in the character. If your best friend suddenly was in a show, you’d be like, “Oh, I can tell it’s you. You’re just playing yourself.” But for me, I don’t know them, so I’m engaged in the character. So, when I watch it, I’m like, “Oh, okay, that’s that thing I do when I’m just about to lose my temper.” It’s impressive.

When you do a character like Durotan, is there any way not to feel silly? Do you have days where it just all feels completely ridiculous?

KEBBELL: Yeah, every day. Your pride disappears because you’re in grey PJs, and why would you have pride about being in grey PJs. A weird thing happens when you walk on set and everyone is in their cool armor being cool, and somebody goes, “Don’t laugh at them ‘cause you might put them off.” I love when they laugh ‘cause it changes them. Once the laughing and giggling is all gone, and you’re still giving the performance of Durotan, they race to catch up to what you’re offering in the performance. That’s arrogant of me to say, but you can feel very relaxed about being in cool armor and a cool costume. This is about acting. You’re here to perform.


Image via Legendary

Movies like this, that are setting up and creating a world, often forget about character development, but with this, we do get to see families and relationships, so you can feel for all of the characters. Were you surprised at how much of a family side we get to see, especially with Durotan?

KEBBELL: I was glad because when I read the script, that’s what I’d read. That’s what I hadn’t seen in a lot of things. It was things I saw in Prince of Persia, written by Boaz Yakin. Unfortunately, the script for Prince of Persia changed a great deal. Warcraft didn’t. When I read it, the family thing was in there. They didn’t ever go, “You’re the monsters. We don’t really need to see that.” Duncan fought for that, all the way through, behind the scenes, because it managed to stay. It managed to be enthralling enough that you were entertained and the artists were entertained enough that they could do enough with the motion capture for it to be a genuine performance. We kept doing a big version of our performances because everyone thought the big guy had to do the massive thing, but it just wasn’t necessary. It was a small battle, in the sense that Legendary is a company that knows when they’ve got something good on their hands. You can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have taste, you’re never going to spot the thing that’s really interesting. What’s nice about working for that group is that you always feel like the best version is going to come out, and that’s the family. The orcs have family. Durotan is someone in distress who is feeling like he needs to find power amongst all of this greed. What I wanted to create, and what Duncan was so kind in letting me work towards, was making Durotan truly powerful and explaining what that takes.

With everything he had to tackle with this film, what was it like to work with Duncan Jones, as a director?

KEBBELL: He’s one of those people who knows when to let something go. If he trusts someone to do their job, he can let it go. He doesn’t worry himself about the details he really shouldn’t have to worry about. You’ve been paid to do a job, and it’s really not his job to support you through that. I know he’s the captain of the ship, but wouldn’t it be great if you were paid and you came prepared to do your job. He’s also very good at saying no. There were a lot of times when it was important to have a certain moment or bit. Sometimes that ends up cut out of the film, but sometimes it’s so important and it managed to stay. A grown orc holding his green baby and his wife probably isn’t the most important bit in an action movie, but Duncan fought for it and it stayed, and it became very important.


Image via Universal Pictures

You also shot Ben-Hur. What was that experience like?

KEBBELL: The guys who taught me to horse ride were the guys that taught us to do the chariot racing. I was like, “I would love to do that!” And then, I went through the audition process and they said yes, and I was like, “Wait! Okay. All right. Should I have chosen this just off of horses? Maybe I should have thought about this one.” It turned out all right. When your passion is there, that’s the right way to do it. That’s what I always think. It’s hard when your passion is there for something that’s had such a long history attached to it. You give it everything, and then somebody gets crucified who actually made a really good picture. That’s just unfortunate. So, you have to go through this with passion and ambition to achieve something impressive without thinking, “Oh, shit, they did that 60 years ago. I don’t think I could do that again.” Ours is a story about forgiveness. It’s a story about two brothers who are foul to each other, and then end up trying to find forgiveness.

Have you finished your work on Kong: Skull Island?

KEBBELL: Yeah, we finished all the live-action. I play a human being that you can see the face of. We’re vets, post the Vietnam War. We’re employed by a government agency to take some scientists to an island that’s very close by, to plant a satellite beacon. It turns out that there’s a giant ape on that island. It’s really well done. Basically, my job was hanging around with Sam Jackson and learning to fly helicopters. It was one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had. He is a cool motherfucker! He just is a cool human being, and he had me in giggles. Between takes, every time, I was smiling way more than I should have been. He’s a sweetheart. I’ll see him when I’m in London, hopefully, ‘cause he’s there shooting. It feels so nice for a veteran to say, “Call me, man. We had a good time. Come, let’s eat some food.” It’s a real blessing, and it doesn’t feel show biz, at all. That’s what’s nice about Sam. There are a bunch of people I could go and meet, but it just feel like I’m doing a show biz thing. With Sam, I’ll turn up, and it could be at his house or the finest restaurant in town, and I’ll be crying with laughter, at some point. He’s a good dude. And he’s been in some incredible films. I was amazed by Fresh. Sam was already famous from being the guy in Pulp Fiction, but he’s incredible in Fresh. It’s such an interesting film. So, not only is he a wonderful human, but he’s also done some incredible work, and he’s always willing to talk about it. He’s just a bright human being.


Image via Universal Pictures

What do you think will most surprise people about what motion capture entails?

KEBBELL: They think I did the voice for Koba, or they think I did the voice for Durotan. They don’t realize it’s a capture of performance. It’s just a performance with the best costume. Everything Durotan does, I did. I wasn’t sweating. That’s the artists. My hair wasn’t blowing in the wind. That’s the artists. But the artists are there to make that environment work with the performance. When Koba movies or runs on all fours, that’s me running on all fours, to the point that I broke my arm doing that. It will come around in time. Andy [Serkis] will hopefully still be alive, by the time people catch on to what motion capture has meant to film and he gets the awards he deserves. It’s just a slow process. There’s a digestion period.

When they include behind-the-scenes footage on the Blu-ray, do you think that helps give people an understanding of that process?

KEBBELL: Often, they screw you with that. They’ll show a scene where you’re chatting away in the mo-cap gear, and then they’ll show the big orc fight. You’re like, “You could have shown me doing the fight! You’re not helping us out here!” We’re still the cheapest employment on the set, as motion capture. You’re paid for your imagery. If you’re not the image, then you don’t get that portion of your wage. At the moment, we’re in the early brackets of wages, but at some point, people will be paid like the handsome actors. It’s a fascinating craft. It’s a real beautiful thing.

Warcraft opens in theaters on June 10th.


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