Catching Up with the Baby from 'Labyrinth'
Thirty years after David Bowie brought him to the goblin kingdom, Toby Froud has become the goblin king.
Baby Toby among the goblins. All photos courtesy of Insight Editions from Labyrinth: © 2016
Adulthood has to be hard for iconic pop-culture babies. The Nevermind baby never had any say as to whether or not his peen would grace the CD shelves of tens of millions of grunge fans. The baby who played the sun on Teletubbies definitely had no idea she'd be captivating and terrifying college-age stoners for the next couple decades. And it's hard not to feel bad for the girl twin who played the Hangover baby in parts of the movie—her brother got to reprise the role in The Hangover III while she gets to look forward to years of answering questions about Zach Galifianakis.
So when we found out about this new Labyrinth Ultimate Visual History book, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of the film, we had two requests for the publicist: Can we talk to Jennifer Connelly... or the baby? We got the latter.
Turns out that Toby Froud's path from Labyrinth baby to grown-up Toby is a bit of a unique one when it comes to famous infants. First, his connection to the 1986 film goes far beyond having his 18-month old striped-pajama-wearing self whisked away by David Bowie's Jareth the Goblin King to be subjected to magic dances and goblin babysitters. Froud's father was the conceptual designer for the film, having worked with Jim Henson on The Dark Crystal, and is an all around fantasy art master. Which means that the goblin kingdom where the younger Froud found fame in his infancy wasn't just a fortuitous bit of casting, but something of a birthright.
And it's a birthright he's fully embraced, thanks to a career in creature design and puppeteering that has appeared in films like The Chronicles of Narnia and ParaNorman, as well as his own works. VICE caught up with Froud over the phone from Portland, Oregon, where he talked about life after Labyrinth, growing up in a house full of goblins and fairies, and peeing on David Bowie.
VICE: I know that your dad worked on the film, but what's the whole story of you coming to play the fictional baby Toby?
Toby Froud: It was really being in the right place at the right time. My father, having done The Dark Crystal [where he also met] my mother, in talking with Jim [Henson], they decided to do another film, which turned out to be Labyrinth. My father created the baby and the goblins painting, [which] was the first true concept for the film. He did that six months to a year before I was even conceived. He always felt that he was painting on sort of a cosmic level, because it turned out that it looked like me in the end. And then I was born, but because my father was designing the film and my mother was working on it, I was always around the workshop with them. I was used to the puppets—I loved the goblins and squishing their noses, and I knew the people there as well, and it sort of transpired that I was the right age to be the baby.
Obviously there's the famous story of you peeing on David Bowie while making the film. But did you have any contact with him growing up afterward?
Really I didn't. And that was my one regret, that I never got to meet him later in life, because I was a huge fan and grew up with his music. I loved it as much as anyone and still do to this day. That was the interesting thing where I had this strange connection of not really knowing him and yet having photographs of me with him and the world going nuts about that.
And it's such an iconic photo of you two together.
That's the funny thing, because the world has responded to that, so when he passed it was strange to have so many condolences because people connected to that fact and thought that I maybe knew him later in life.
When did you first understand that you had been a part of this film?
It's kind of funny—I just kind of grew up with the idea or the knowledge that I was in this film. And then probably from four onward I remember seeing the film at home or something. It's a weird thing to always know you were a part of something like that. At our home where I grew up in England, my father's art, paintings of fairies and goblins, was all over the walls, and my mother's creatures were all over the house. So going from the set of Labyrinth to my home wasn't a big stretch. It just sort of continued on in a way. We had armor and weaponry and other stuff from the film—all these bits and pieces—so it was always a part of my life without me even really trying.
Did the knowledge that you were in the movie come in handy as you were growing up?
It's certainly a great bit of trivia. It served me well. Simply by having the parents that I did, I got to meet such amazing artists and people in my life, through the name Froud and being connected to the Hensons in that way. But my friends would sometimes use the fact that they were friends with the baby from the Labyrinth more than I would, especially in college. It certainly happened [that my friends would use me to meet girls], but it was never for me. It was always for them. I was always off somewhere else. But they used me and that line.
What about the opposite? Did you get teased by jealous classmates?
Yes, absolutely. That was the interesting part of the progression of it. Certainly when I was younger at the beginning of secondary school, ten or 11 and onward, I was teased by the older kids. The weird thing is that people get called names, and I was called "Labyrinth Boy," which isn't very insulting, but it is strange. I didn't have any control over it. It was just something that happened for a few years. But I took it in stride. So it's been a good thing, but also a weird side note of kids being jealous of the things that they think I have or might have been able to get out of it. I believe I turned out alright, though I do make puppets for a living [Laughs].
Fandom for movies like Labyrinth is often pretty intense. What's been your experience with that?
It's been in later years, people still ask me "Are you Toby from the Labyrinth" or "Are you baby Toby?" Little kids will meet me now and be awestruck at the fact that I was a baby in this movie—that I exist. But the fans and people who adore that film and Dark Crystal—the idea that those are held in such reverence and hold such magic for people in their lives growing up, and continue to this day, that's fascinating [to see the] the journey of the film getting bigger than it ever was now. People are still connecting with the film and connecting with the idea, but now that I've grown up and I build puppets myself, I'm continuing the tradition and I work in the Froud style, and I'm trying to push and create that way. So the Labyrinth is a connection, and then they're excited to see where it's going.
Growing up around the "Froud style," did you rebel against that at any point?
I did. I had to. There is a certain amount of being in my parents shadow growing up. I loved horror growing up, and I tried different styles. I went to art college and tried to figure out what I was passionate about. But then there was this progression coming full circle and coming back to fantasy and Froud and goblins and trolls. I can do special effects stuff, but it's not what I'm passionate about. Doing a severed head doesn't excite me, but creating a fantasy fairy or a goblin is really fun to me. But I could never really rebel against my parents because they always pushed me to do whatever I wanted in that sense of art. My father would actually play his lute music louder than I would when I was at home.
There were a few articles a little while ago that were like "Toby turned out to be the Goblin King." I guess you're OK with that?
I am. I had never really thought about that at all until earlier this year. Especially with David Bowie's passing. It's an interesting thing to think about. But maybe I can live up to that some day.
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