The son of Dame Maggie Smith and the late Sir Robert Stephens, Toby Stephens was to the theatrical manor born. An accomplished actor in his own right, Stephens, who bears a distinct resemblance to his mother, was born in April of 1969. After his parents' divorce when he was four years old, Stephens and his brother (actor Chris Larkin) grew up traveling back and forth across the Atlantic with their mother for her numerous acting engagements.
After training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Stephens began his professional career as a stagehand at the Chichester Theatre Festival. He had his film debut with a bit part in Sally Potter's 1992 adaptation of Orlando, but it was on the stage that he first made a name for himself. At the age of 25, Stephens won a Sir John Gielgud Best Actor Award and an Ian Charleson Award for his title role in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1994 production of Coriolanus. He went on to perform in a number of plays with the RSC, including Measure for Measure, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Antony and Cleopatra.
In 1996, Stephens attracted the attention of an international film audience with his role as the melancholy Duke Orsino in Trevor Nunn's lush adaptation of Twelfth Night. That same year, he starred alongside Rupert Graves and Tara Fitzgerald in the acclaimed television adaptation of Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, further earning a reputation as a man who could actually make frock coats look sexy. More period attire -- this time early 1900s -- followed in 1997, when Stephens starred as a jaded, grieving photographer who captures a supernatural phenomenon with his camera in Photographing Fairies. That same year, he could again be seen doffing a frock coat for his role in Cousin Bette. The film featured him as Jessica Lange's nephew; coincidentally, he had played Stanley Kowalski to her Blanche DuBois a year earlier in Peter Hall's London production of A Streetcar Named Desire.
In 1999, Stephens again stepped back a few eras -- this time to the opulent St. Petersburg of the Empire Period -- to play Vladimir Lensky, hot-blooded best friend of Ralph Fiennes' Evgeny Onegin in Martha Fiennes' adaptation of Onegin. In addition to his screen work, he continued to perform on the stage, winning particular acclaim for his work opposite Diana Rigg in both Phedre and Britannicus in London and New York.