Wil Marlow finds a refreshing honesty in Toby Stephens' best man's speech...
Toby Stephens found himself being best man twice while filming his latest role.
In front of the camera he was the unhinged Peter - the titular best man at the wedding of Richard Coyle's Michael in new ITV1 thriller The Best Man.
He gives a bitter speech, one that leaves viewers in no doubt he isn't exactly happy about his best friend's marriage to Kate, played by Keeley Hawes.
And yet the 36-year-old actor found that best man speech less difficult than the one he had to make in real life, at the wedding of his elder brother, actor Chris Larkin.
"I think people always expect actors to be really great at getting up and doing things like that," says Toby. "But the thing is, while I am very comfortable at assuming a character and speaking lines that have been written for me, I'm not used to getting up as myself and speaking in public.
"I see it as a very clear divide because in one I'm doing it professionally - it's my job and my craft - and I have somebody to hide behind, but doing it as a real person is just as terrifying for me as it is anyone else. It's easier pretending."
Being best man is not the only thing Toby has in common with his character. Both went to public school, although Toby is pleased to say he didn't enter into an obsessive friendship like the one Peter and Michael embark on.
"It wasn't anything like that, no," he laughs. "But I think everyone has nostalgic feelings for school, especially later on in life. The irony is one spends so much of being at school desperate to become a grown up.
"You think there's going to be some sort of halcyon period where you never have to go to classes. Then when you grow up that period of time seems rather lovely. I think in a way Peter is an extreme version of that.
"He wants it always to remain as it was back in that time, he doesn't want things to develop in a way that makes things change. He becomes severely controlling in trying to maintain this idyllic friendship, as he sees it."
Toby himself has only a couple of friends from his school days, mostly because he led an itinerant lifestyle while his mother, the actress Dame Maggie Smith, moved around the world for work.
"I found it quite easy making friends and then moving on," says Toby, "so I was never particularly sentimental about that. And I think that sometimes one forces those relationships, after a while you do grow naturally apart.
"I don't have to work at the couple of friendships I do have from school. And I was never particularly sentimental about that time. I keep getting emails from people who were at school with me years ago, and I kind of think it's a bit weird."
The son of Dame Maggie and 60s acting legend Sir Robert Stephens, Toby was brought up by his mother and her second husband, playwright Beverley Cross, after his father left when he was four. The thespian background seems to have made it inevitable he would follow the same path.
"Like everyone I went through various career fantasies," says Toby. "But in the end I realised that acting was something I felt I had a skill for. And having that background helped me in that I grew up with a very realistic sense that it was a career.
"It's not some sort of bogus, airy-fairy, spiritual journey or whatever, it's something you do to make a buck. And I'm very grateful for being brought up with that because I think I've had a very realistic attitude towards it."
Toby quickly made an impact on the acting world after leaving drama school in 1992, by starring in Channel 4's raunchy adaptation of Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn. He followed it up with a much-lauded turn as Coriolanus for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
But, as his father did before him, Toby began drinking too much. His career suffered, as did his relation-ship with his fiancee of four years, Alison Fogg. And, again as his father had done, he turned his back on theatre and went to Hollywood to pursue a career in film.
It was there he was finally able to kick his drinking problem.
"I'd seen my dad die of it (in 1995)," says Toby, "and I felt I was going the same way really. I was a heavy, heavy drinker and it's very difficult getting jobs as romantic leads when you look like a tomato and reek of beer and wine. I just thought it was better to stop."
Toby has now been sober for six years, and is married to New Zealand-born actress Anna-Louise Plowman. Despite going to the same drama school, they only met properly when they were both working in New York.
But Toby disliked working in America ("I hated it, absolutely hated it," he says. "I think one's expectations are much more extreme when you're younger,") and after finally landing a big role there - Bond villain Gustav Graves in 2002's Die Another Day - he came back to the UK.
"Doing a James Bond film opened certain doors, I think, but it wasn't really the direction I wanted to go in," says Toby. "I didn't want to end up playing baddies in big budget movies for the rest of my career.
"So I've spent the last two years doing very different things. I did a film in India, then I came back here and did Hamlet for a year, deliberately trying to get away from that. It's sort of been like starting again."
It's going well. Next up is a couple of films, one with Thora Birch and another with Jonny Lee Miller. There's also the pivotal role of Rochester in the BBC's upcoming adaptation of Jane Eyre. And he's just finished a new Sharpe film with Sean Bean for ITV.
"We filmed that in India as well," says Toby. "My wife and my mother came out for a spell so I had about 12 days off where we went around Rajasthan.
"I tried to do as much travelling as I could within the schedule because most of the time we were in Jaipur and there's only so much you can do there.
"I was a bit desperate to get out to other places."
* The Best Man is on ITV1 on Monday March 20 and Tuesday March 21