In the TV mini-series Pistol about the Sex Pistols, Toby Woolf plays Young Steve (Steve Jones) and attended the premiere at Leicester Square, with the series being directed by Danny Boyle. Toby played David in the short film On the Beaches alongside his on-screen sibling Bella Ramsey, and in Rare Beasts (the directorial debut of Billie Piper), he played Larch and attended the 2019 BFI London Film Festival, making an appearance on stage with Lily James and Billie. Previous roles for Toby have seen him play Sasha Petrukhin in Summer of Rockets – working closely with Keeley Hawes (Mrs Shaw), Maxi in an episode of Curfew, and for his first regular role on screen, he played George Markham in The Last Post. Answering our questions, we found out from Toby about filming as Young Steve in Pistol, playing Larch in Rare Beasts and his time on set of Summer of Rockets.
What was Young Steve like to play in the TV mini-series Pistol and how did you find the experience on set?
It was an amazing experience and one that I learned a lot from.
Because the Sex Pistols were an actual band and it was based on fact not fiction, a lot of painstaking research had been undertaken to ensure that every detail was correct to the period in time – from the costumes to the set decor to the props. Being on set felt like a portal back in time.
The cast and crew were amazing, great fun and we had so many laughs! One day I particularly remember was when we were filming at the 100 Club in London, where the Sex Pistols had actually played. It was the same day as England v Germany in the Euros – most of the cast and much of the crew gathered round a laptop ready to watch the game but, just as it kicked off, we got called onto set. Luckily, we made it back to the laptop in time for the second half!
How did you prepare for taking on the role of Young Steve and what was it like being directed by Danny Boyle?
In preparation, I read Lonely Boy, Steve Jones’s autobiography and listened to his podcast Jonesy’s Jukebox to get a feel for Steve as a person, his mannerisms, and how he speaks. Being directed by Danny Boyle was amazing, he is such a kind and down-to-earth person. He also gave me a lot of advice and always had a clear picture in his head of what he wanted each scene to look like.
How much did you know about the Sex Pistols before auditioning and do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role?
Before entering the audition process, I knew very little, but I made sure during the process that I familiarised myself with the genre of music and the era in time. I listened to a lot of punk music and even walked around the neighbourhood where he grew up, including seeing where he lived and went to school.
What was it like attending the show’s premiere at Leicester Square and walking the pink carpet?
The premiere was incredible and very overwhelming. Whilst I had been to screenings before, this was my first big premiere. There were so many people and press there and it was lovely to see everyone again after having not seen them for a while. It was great to see the first couple of episodes of the series, as I had not seen them before that night. I will remember the evening forever.
You played David in the short film On the Beaches alongside your on-screen sibling Bella Ramsey, can you tell us about the film and what was it like to be part of?
On the Beaches was great fun to film. It was a small cast of five and we filmed it in Dorset – literally on the beaches! The story involves a brother and a sister in 1933, whose father was a First World War veteran. Basically, they were playing on the beach, pretending to be on the lookout for German spies when they stumble upon Albert Einstein and accuse him of being a spy. It was very interesting to film as it was based on a true story.
I really enjoyed filming with Bella; we seemed to mess about more than we acted – Bella is a brilliant actor, but also a great footballer. We kept getting into trouble for messing our costumes up as we played football in between takes. Bella has been doing some incredible acting and they are so very talented! I learnt so much from filming alongside them.
How was your time filming for Rare Beasts as Larch and how was it working on a Billie Piper film?
Larch was the most challenging role I have ever undertaken. Larch himself was a troubled, angry character and this was difficult to convey as he’s not at all like me in real life. At one point I had to have a full-scale meltdown on The Southbank, which was really embarrassing as loads of tourists were watching.
Rare Beasts was also my first experience of an independent film and we were shooting to a very strict six-week timescale, with night shoots, which was demanding, physically and mentally. But it was an incredible experience.
Billie is an amazing actress and gave great direction. It was hard to believe that this was her directing debut as she always had a clear picture in her head and could convey it easily. I was always very aware that she had written the script and I hoped I brought Larch to life as she imagined him.
What was it like watching Rare Beasts for the first time and attending the 2019 BFI London Film Festival?
The BFI Film Festival was amazing. I was privileged enough to be called to the stage alongside Billie and Lily James at the premiere, but I was too young to watch the film, so waited outside the auditorium; it turned out that Billie and a few other actors waited outside as they had seen it so many times before, so it was quite fun missing the film!
What are some of your favourite memories from playing Sasha Petrukhin in Summer of Rockets and how would you describe your character?
Sasha is my favourite character that I have played. He is a sensitive boy who has just been put into boarding school and is not really fitting in, but he finds comfort from the interest Mrs Shaw (Keeley Hawes) shows in him. Sasha had some great scenes and I loved bringing him to life.
I will always remember filming Summer of Rockets as it was the most amazing shoot, in the wonderful English countryside. I had the privilege of being directed by Stephen Poliakoff and working alongside some incredible actors, such as Timothy Spall, Keeley Hawes, Rose Ayling-Ellis and, of course, Toby Stephens, Lucy Cohu and Lily Sacofsky, who played my parents and sister. It was a six-month shoot, so we all got to know each other very well.
One of my favourite memories was filming a scene inside the boarding school where Mrs Shaw came to visit Sasha. We must have done the scene about 50 times! I was also wearing full school uniform with a thick wooly jumper and the weather was boiling! We also filmed a summer fete, which was incredible and meant I could eat lots of candyfloss!
What was it like filming for an episode of Curfew as Maxi?
Curfew was so cool. It was so much fun seeing the cars and filming with the other actors. The director Colm McCarthy wanted us to be really natural, so whilst we rehearsed the scenes, we also improvised as we went along. It was also fairly terrifying as my character gets bitten by a monster, so I needed to have some great fake wounds applied.
What do you remember most from being on set of The Last Post and how was it having George Markham as your first regular role on screen?
Filming The Last Post was an amazing experience – not only because it was my first time ever on a film set but also because we were filming in South Africa. The crew were amazing and for lunch would produce these incredible barbecues. The cast were so much fun and, as we were all away in South Africa, everyone got to know each other. Our trailers were placed in a large circle, like a camp, and we could all see each other. I always had a football and on breaks would often play football or cricket with some other actors.
How did you get into acting and was it something you always wanted to do?
To be honest, acting was not something I had ever thought about doing – I never went to stage school or even a drama club.
I got into acting via an open casting in the newspaper, which my parents thought would be a good experience – I also had nothing else to do that Sunday as rugby had been cancelled that week! I went along to the open casting and just kept getting called back. In the end, I did not get the part I went for, but the casting director asked me to audition for George Markham and I haven’t looked back!
Now, I love everything about acting and can’t imagine it not being part of my life. I am so glad I fell into it!
Is there anything you enjoy most about working as an actor?
I enjoy being able to research and learn about the character I will be portraying. I like to be able to embody the character and I like the feeling of escapism that comes with it. It’s a chance to bring someone’s story to life and, if it’s a period drama, then it’s an amazing opportunity to step back in time and experience history.
I have made some great memories and friends whilst acting.
Do you have any favourite films and TV shows to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from acting?
Away from acting, I love playing sport. My favourite sports are rugby, judo and athletics. I enjoy action movies or comedies. I love James Bond films and really anything MARVEL. I have recently watched Fight Club, which I really enjoyed as it was a very thought-provoking film.
Have you been given any advice over your career so far that has stuck with you?
Ouidad Elma (who I met on the set of The Last Post) has given me lots of advice over the years, which I am massively grateful for, but the one that has stuck with me the most is that if you get one role for every ten auditions you do, you are doing well. This could help if you are feeling discouraged or feel like quitting, as there is a lot of rejection in the industry and everybody has to face it and deal with it.
What are you hoping the upcoming months bring for you and do you have any projects coming up that you can tell us about?
Nothing I can tell you about, but I hope that 2023 and 2024 will be busy with interesting projects and new characters for me to portray.
Follow Toby on: