“YOU WANT A COFFEE?” Toby Wallace should not be asking me this. As the person in charge of picking him up and transporting him to our photoshoot on time, it is technically my job to buy him coffee. But Wallace is running early, and I am running on time. I text back and insist that coffee is on me; he insists I can pay him back. Ten minutes later, outside a cafe on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, he greets me with a latte and the kind of embrace you’d expect from a good friend. Wallace is wearing jeans and sneakers; a pair of small silver hoops pierce his ears. As promised by his agent, his hair has been trimmed into a ‘soft mullet’. But he’s not travelling with his agent or any entourage to speak of, which strikes me as surprising for an actor with a central role in the hottest Hollywood blockbuster of the moment. 

We jump into my 2006 Subaru Forester and I self-consciously apologise for the modest ride, but Wallace couldn’t care less. As we approach the city, we pass a small collision, which traffic controllers divert us past. I tell him that once, I rolled and totalled my car on the way to a music festival. He laughs. Mortified, I assure him that we’ll make it to the photoshoot in one piece. As we dip into the tunnel that runs beneath Sydney harbour, our conversation switches from road accidents to life in New York – Wallace plans to move there this year – to what it was like acting next to Tom Hardy and Austin Butler in The Bikeriders, and how he managed to hold his own in scenes with such massive stars. 

“Honestly, I don't think it's about going in and throwing yourself around with this sort of bravado in order to hold your own. Sometimes it’s just the strike of nerves, and being pretty scared about doing the job – that's what’s gonna help you do the work that’s needed to be alongside these people.”

Toby Wallace Esquire 2
Maison Margiela jacket and pants from Harrolds; Emporio Armani boots. Photography: Yasmin Suteja. Styling: Hayley Hing.

While some actors arrive on Hollywood’s doorstep oozing charisma and charm, there are other, rougher diamonds who give a breakout performance that’s so instinctual, directors are forced to take notice. Don’t get me wrong – Wallace has charm. But watching him play Moses, a small-time drug dealer with face tattoos in the critically acclaimed 2019 Australian film Babyteeth was uncomfortable for all the right reasons. The scene in which we meet Moses is particularly disarming: he swoops in to ‘save’ a school girl from falling onto the train tracks, even though she wasn’t in danger of falling in the first place. Then, unrelated to the non-fall, the girl gets a nosebleed, so Moses pins her to the ground and rips off his tatty shirt to stem the flow. The girl’s name is Milla (played by Eliza Scanlen), and she’s just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Moses finds this out when Milla’s mother (Essie Davis) busts him trying to steal her daughter’s chemo meds from the family fridge. Milla and Moses begin dating soon after. 

I remember distinctly when [we were] auditioning women for the role of Milla, and not knowing he was cast yet, Toby gave these actresses all his energy and made it about them rather than himself,” writes Babyteeth director Shannon Murphy over email from London, where she is based. “A selfless actor is hard to find. He genuinely sees past his characters flaws and finds a raw empathy and connection to them . . . He drew everyone into his magnetic orbit with his effortless charm and gap toothed grin.”

Before Babyteeth, Wallace, who was born in the UK before he moved to Melbourne with his family as an eight-year-old, appeared in a handful of local projects. The first was 2009’s Lucky Country, a Kriv Stenders-directed film which earned Wallace a nomination for the Australian Film Industry (AFI) Young Actor of the Year. He was 13 at the time. In 2019, he played a high school psychopath in The Society, a Netflix teen mystery-drama popular among fans of Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars. But it was Babyteeth that planted him on the radar of the global film industry. The small-budget indie was a roaring, runaway success; it premiered in the official competition at the Venice International Film Festival, and won the Transsylvania Trophy at TIFF. For his performance, Wallace was awarded the Marcello Mastroianni Award, which recognises an outstanding emerging actor or actress; Jennifer Lawrence and Mila Kunis are past winners. In videos of Wallace walking up to receive the award, he looks visually stunned. 

“I remember getting sent a screener of Babyteeth before it came out, and I’m pretty sure I cried afterwards. I thought I’d ruined it,” he tells me. “I was pretty convinced that Eliza and Ben (Mendelsohn) and Essie and the film as a whole was pretty amazing, but that I basically ruined it. So I was pretty embarrassed about that. I just thought I was pretty bad in it.” Now it’s my turn to look stunned. “Yeah, I get a bit wigged out by watching myself, it makes me quite anxious. . . But then, you know, the award happened and the film got a fair bit of recognition, and it really took me by surprise. It wasn’t until months later when, because of that film, that all of this work stuff started occurring that I started going, ‘maybe . . . maybe it did work on some level, to some degree?’”

I don't think it's about THROWING yourself around with this sort of bravado in order to HOLD your OWN. Sometimes it’s just the strike of nerves, and being pretty SCARED about doing the job.

WE MAKE IT to the photoshoot location safely. Wallace gives every member of the team a hug, then politely excuses himself for a cigarette. The suburban house we’re set up inside isn’t quite as gritty as the 1960s Chicago apartment Wallace’s character, The Kid, is kicked out of in The Bikeriders, as he tries to save his mother from his father’s beating. But with peeling wallpaper and scuffed concrete floors, it’s not worlds away, either. In front of the camera, Wallace is a natural. His bad boy handsomeness and gap-toothed grin photographs disarmingly well; as he slips into a particularly ministerial long black coat, he holds out his palms and jokingly welcomes us to his fashion sermon. 

Directed by Jeff Nichols, The Bikeriders has been one of the year’s most anticipated releases; moviegoers have been gagging for the film, which is loosely based on a 1968 book that documented the personalities behind a Chicago motorcycle club, from the moment an image of Austin Butler hunched over a snooker table, the name ‘Benny’ tattooed across his left deltoid and a brooding expression on his face, hit the internet. Add Tom Hardy, Jodie Comer and Challengers star Mike Faist to the bill, and you’ve got an all-star cast. Wallace’s part in the film is critical; through a fatal act of force, he transforms the motorcycle gang governed by Tom Hardy’s Johnny into a violent crime syndicate.

His role was also one of the last to be cast. “I think Jeff was trying to find someone to play The Kid, and he actually spoke to [Australian actor-director] Joel Edgerton about it,” Wallace explains. Edgerton sent Nichols’ one of Wallace’s films – he assumes it was Babyteeth – and Nichols gave Wallace the call up soon after. “I was very lucky. Jeff really took a chance on me, you know? Because especially in America, I hadn’t really done all that much stuff before. So when he asked me if I wanted the role, I was like, ‘one hundred percent’. So yeah, I kind of owe this role to [Joel] a little bit.” 

Then he arrived on set in Ohio. “To be perfectly frank, I was pretty scared. Yeah, I get pretty nervous about the whole thing,” he admits, the Australian half of his accent fading out in favour of its British counterpart. “But I think that almost always, it ends up being a good thing, because it means I work harder and I prepare harder.”

Toby Wallace Esquire
Bottega Veneta cardigan, turtleneck and shoes; ZEGNA pants; Bottega Veneta ring. Photography: Yasmin Suteja. Styling: Hayley Hing.

Wallace recalls one scene in The Bikeriders – his first with Tom Hardy – where his nerves were particularly fraught. “I remember walking around behind this fireplace, and I’m watching [Tom] as he gives this spiel to Austin, and then he comes back and starts talking to the fellas and I’m supposed to just sort of eye him off. It was really simple, they were block shooting the whole thing, just moving around the group as we rolled. And I was so nervous that I just went, ‘I guess I’m just going to stay in it’. So for like two hours, I was just there staring at Tom. I stayed in it for probably far too long. I think after a while he started going like, ‘Why is this kid just staring at me? Even when we’re not shooting?’ Admittedly it was out of fear, I think. Then after a while he started making faces at me, and it became a bit of a joke.” 

Later that night, there was a knock at the door of Wallace’s trailer. “I was like, ‘who is it?’ And Tom opened the door. He was like, ‘mate, that was fucking hilarious. That was like, really great man. I loved that’. He came in and we just chatted for like an hour. Yeah, it was really beautiful.” 

That scene didn’t make it past the cutting room floor. When Wallace finally watched The Bikeriders, he didn’t have a Babyteeth-level meltdown, but he admits that seeing himself on screen was still somewhat uncomfortable. “I’ve figured out it’s usually healthier if I don’t see my own stuff,” he laughs. “There’s something about it – at least for me – that’s a little bit unhealthy. I think whatever you do on the day is just what it is. And then maybe some years go by and you can finally watch it . . . but watching something objectively when you’re in it is so difficult to do.”

Toby Wallace Esquire
Prada top, pants and belt; Maison Margiela necklace from Harrolds. Photography: Yasmin Suteja. Styling: Hayley Hing.

“JUST WATCH OUT on your left.” Our photoshoot has wrapped, and as I turn back onto the freeway, Wallace alerts me to the white Tesla I’m veering towards. I slow down to slot in safely behind it as Wallace continues chatting about his family down in Melbourne. “None of them are in film or theatre,” he informs me. “My older brother used to do some acting classes, and I was just like ‘maybe I’ll give that a try’.” 

Save, perhaps, for the footloose young Charlie he played 2023’s Finestkind, a film about a crew of fisherman facing precarious circumstances, which also starred Tommy Lee Jones and Jenna Ortega, there is a common thread to Wallace’s last few roles. The 29-year-old plays a superb antagonist; all it takes is one scene for his ocker character Matty to scare the living daylights out of a pair of American backpackers in the 2023 Julia Garner-starring thriller The Royal Hotel. But the parallels between Moses and The Kid are particularly strong; they are damaged young men with volatile personalities who, desperate for power or acceptance, put up a bulletproof front. If Babyteeth landed him The Bikeriders, it’s clear that directors are fond of what Wallace brings to this kind of role. 

“I wouldn't say there hasn’t been an amount of awareness about consciously, uh, tailoring my career a little bit in that direction,” says Wallace when I put the question to him. “Those are roles I find really fun to do, so when those auditions come in, I’m going pretty gung-ho with it. I enjoy meddling with those characters, because it’s fun to show two sides of them. And often, it’s the antithesis to what you'd think it would be. There’s usually a lot of vulnerability and weakness there, and then there’s all these layers and masks that are over the top of that.” 

He nods to The Kid as an example. “You read that character on the page and there's some pretty erratic and violent behaviour going on there. But really, at the heart of that character is someone who's clearly been so beaten down by their childhood, and feels so small. His violence comes from a place of feeling pretty weak and sensitive.There’s also always a clear objective. They’re always going after something, or trying to gain something or get something out of some other person. 

“Honestly, I just find I can be really playful with it. And if I don’t find the playful nature of a character, sometimes I get a little bit stuck. But when I do, I think it’s when I’m at my best.”

I enjoy MEDDLING with those characters, because it's fun to show two sides of them. And often, it's the ANTITHESIS to what you'd think it would be.

Wallace’s next big role, however, will mark a departure from the rough-and-tumble types. Based on the remarkable true story of a group of Germans who, in the 1930s, moved to the Galapagos island of Floreana to start a utopian society, in Eden, Wallace plays a young gigolo and lover of Ana de Armas’ character, the Baroness. The survival thriller is directed by Academy Award-winning Ron Howard, the auteur behind A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13 among other cinematic masterpieces. It also stars Sydney Sweeney, Vanessa Kirby and Jude Law. 

“It’s unbelievable, because the entire thing is true,” says Wallace, recommending that if I want to brush up on the storyline, I should watch the 2013 documentary series that was made about it. It’s called The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden. He can’t say too much about the film yet – having wrapped filming on the Gold Coast recently, it’s currently slated to premiere in early 2025 – but what he can say is “the Baroness was pretty manipulative”. “She brings these two lover boys, who were pretty servile to her, along to the island with her. It’s a bizarre power dynamic.”

Around the same time as Eden hits cinemas, Inside, an Australian prison drama Wallace stars in alongside Guy Pearce, will also premiere. “It’s almost always the writing,” he says of why, despite the stateside tug of Hollywood, he wants to stay involved in Australian productions. “Like one of the main reasons Babyteeth was so amazing was Rita [Kalnejais]’s script. People often ask how much improvisation was in [Babyteeth]. And I don’t think there’s any. That’s just how well written it was.”

Toby Wallace Esquire
Emporio Armani jacket, pants and boots. Photography: Yasmin Suteja. Styling: Hayley Hing.

A FEW WEEKS AFTER our drive around Sydney, I catch up with Wallace over the phone. By this time, I have seen The Bikeriders, and we chat about its shocking ending, which The Kid plays a pivotal role in, as well as that tough Chicago drawl, which Jodie Comer excels at – unsurprising, given that as the psychopathic assassin Villanelle in Killing Eve, the actress masters at least 10 different accents. Our conversation veers back to how he got his start as an actor, and I tell him I’m curious as to when he figured out acting was something he didn’t just like, but was good at. 

“It's something that I’m still trying to figure out, to be honest,” he says after a brief pause. “It’s confusing, because I think acting is one of those things where if you feel like you did well, often, you probably didn't do that well. Like, sometimes you think you’ve nailed it and you finally watch the take back and you think, ‘wow, this is the most predictable performance I've ever seen’. And then sometimes you’ll walk off scene and go, ‘I don't remember one thing that I just did. I think I've probably ruined it’. And then it comes out and people are like, ‘oh, that really worked’.

“I haven't really figured out how to approach something and be able to predict exactly how it's gonna go. But I’m not actually sure you can, really. Because if you're giving something too much attention, it takes away from the spontaneity and the collaboration of it. It can be a bit of a dead end.” 

It’s a Thursday in May, and Wallace is at his brother’s house in Melbourne, packing to head overseas. He informs me that he landed a role in a project that requires him to be in New York, and he’s going to base himself there for at least a year after that. “It's a little bit like being a carny and going from circus to circus,” he smiles of his itinerant lifestyle. “But I’m excited to be in one place for a while and, you know, have those little things like your coffee shop down the street that you go to every morning, and your partner that you come home to at the end of every day.” 

By the time you read this, The Bikeriders will have premiered in the UK and the US, with its Australian release set for July 4. Early reviews called it “sharp and seductive” (The Guardian) with a “superb ensemble cast” (Deadline). While he wasn’t able to attend the Australian premiere of the movie due to filming commitments overseas (Universal Pictures flew Austin Butler out for the occasion), Wallace was on the red carpet at The Bikeriders’ London premiere, where fans queued for selfies and journalists lined up with questions. It’s highly probable that soon, this kind of attention will become par for Wallace’s course; that he won’t be travelling to shoots without an entourage, in a journalist’s old Subaru. “Toby has exceptional taste, so he’ll have a long and surprising career if he wants to,” adds Murphy, his Babyteeth director. “We’ll never tire of watching him on our screens, and he’ll never stop challenging himself as a performer and an out of the box thinker.”

Is the loss of anonymity that comes with Hollywood success something he thinks about? 

“I do,” he replies, a thoughtful look on his face. “I don’t think it’s something I would be very prepared for. I’m not quite sure anyone is.”

Realistically, Wallace would be wise to prepare. If he continues to land roles next to Hollywood’s heaviest hitters, and give performances that stick with you long after the credits roll, it’s only a matter of time before we’re asking the next big emerging actor what it’s like to hold their own in a scene with Toby Wallace.

Toby Wallace Esquire cover
J.W. Anderson sweater from The Outnet; Feng Chen Wang blazer from Harrolds; earrings, Toby's own. Photography: Yasmin Suteja. Styling: Hayley Hing.

Toby Wallace is Esquire Australia’s July 2024 digital cover star.

Photography: Yasmin Suteja 
Styling: Hayley Hing 
Grooming: Michelle Daniela 
Digi Op: Declan May
Gaffer: Deniz Celik
Producer: Raeanne Chami 
Styling Assistant: Isaiah D’Angelo 
Production Designer: Annika Kumarr

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