Monday, March 12, 2012

Willem Dafoe, Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins on John Carter

Photo Courtesy of Disney

On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel Under the Moons of Mars, the world of Barsoom is coming to the big screen with John Carter. The ten novel series has been optioned several times throughout the century but no one was ever able to wrap their heads around the complex world of the Martian civilization until now.

Director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo and Wall-E) has created a CG world befitting Burroughs' wild imagination in the new 3D action thriller John Carter. The films stars Taylor Kitsch in the title role alongside Lynn Collins as his love interest, the Martian Princess Dejah Thoris. The movie also features a CG version of Willem Dafoe as Green Martian leader Tars Tarkas. At a recent roundtable event, the three actors talked about working in such a visual effects-laden project and doing some of the stunts in the film.

Dafoe may have had the most difficult task of the three stars since his character was completely CG and he did all of his acting tethered to motion capture devices. He was also on 15-foot stilts and had two extra arms. He stated, "That becomes the work, to forget how confining it is and turn it into a good thing... As an actor, you’re always finding ways to find new impulses. Physically my body changes because I’ve got all these things put on me. So I can’t access the impulses that I usually have. So there’s a transformation there. And when you’re transformed like that, that makes you very game for applying yourself to a character or to a new story. So you try to turn it into a good thing."

But he revealed that Andrew did not just set out to make a visual effects extravaganza. He was also focused on the story. Willem noted, "Andrew had a real commitment to realizing the scenes, no shortcuts like, 'You got to do this' or 'We need your voice here.' He really did it in an integrated way. We actually played the scenes, not just to give the animators information... We made the story first. These scenes were not made in a computer. They were sweetened, they were changed in the computer, but the scenes were made in a very concrete, practical way, out in the desert, with some people on stilts and some people running around three feet under."

He said that when he watched the movie, although he was not physically on the screen, he could see himself in the movements. He declared, "I see everything. I say, 'Oh, I remember that.' I remember that gesture. I remember that look... They really honor the material that they’re taking. And the only time that they change anything is for purely if there’s some sort of technical hiccup or they’re trying to make something more fluid... They were very true to the actors. They honored what the actors gave them."

Taylor did not have the cumbersome motion capture elements to his performance but one aspect of his character was particularly challenging. When John Carter arrives on Mars, he finds he has some special abilities including the capacity to perform a standing jump of 15 to 50 feet. Taylor recalled,  "It was just so incredibly technical. And that’s something, hopefully, if we do another one, that we’ll have down. We will now."

He mentioned how important it was to get the jumps to look natural. "The last thing you want is it to take you out of the film. And there’s so many times." He also divulged, "It takes about, five, eight people to do a good one, because it’s all timing."

He admitted that when they first did the jumps they looked terrible. And after they wrapped they decided to go back in and get the shots again. "There’s that negative stigma with reshoots, but why wouldn’t you want to go back and make anything better? If you had an opportunity, regardless of any film, but just if you have an opportunity to make it better, do it. It’s as no-brainer."

Lynn also had to become accomplished in jumping for the film. She recounted the last time she filmed some of the big moves after getting more comfortable with the mechanisms. "I did them by myself. It's when I’m falling and they raise me all the way up... to the top of this building as far as they can get me to where literally I’m at the top of studio. And then just drop me as fast as I let them and I said, 'Drop it as fast as you can, just don’t make me the judge, just drop it.'"

She acknowledged, "I got crazy by this point. They drop me and I was like.'Oh my godn now they’re going to keep doing this.' My adrenaline was so high. It’s a drug surging through your body and so I was like, 'I don’t know if I should do another one because I’m already so shaking.' I did like six then I was just like. 'Let’s do it on the other side. So we flipped over, changed the costume and did like a couple of them. It gets fun but it the fear factor, the fear energy, you have to mutate, you have to transform it."

Lynn also has her share of swordsmanship in the film, a skill she was prepared for. She revealed, "I spent my summers in Japan where my parents were getting their fourth and fifth and sixth dawn in Shitaru, which is in Okinawa style Karate. And my father had a ton of samurai swords and I just remember playing with one of them and they say that the soul of the samurai is in the sword. And I was like, 'wWw, this would be amazing to know how to move this, how to you know work with this.'  So I had this childhood thing that I was going to be a samurai warrior."

She said that her love of karate and samurais fizzled when she discovered acting and now this is "the first time that the two have married." She noted, "It was really emotional at the beginning, really emotional — hard to bring it up and the memories of it. It's like it was a childlike feeling to turn that into something forceful, feminine and adult and not hurt people was a real challenge but once you do it, once that stuff is married, it's there. It's completely a part of me now."

John Carter is now playing in theaters. Check local listings for a theater near you.

For related stories check out:
Angelina Jolie's Directorial Debut In the Land of Blood and Honey
Filmmaker Carl Colby on The Man Nobody Knew

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