A few months ago I got to visit the set of The Thing (the prequel to John Carpenter’s classic film with the same name) and while on set I got to speak to almost the entire cast – along with a few other online reporters. As you might imagine, getting to visit the set was an awesome experience and you can read all about it here.
Anyway, the lead in The Thing is a great Australian actor named Joel Edgerton. If you saw the movie Animal Kingdom, he was one of the leads in that. But since most of you probably missed it, perhaps you recognize him from Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith as he played Owen Lars.
During the on set interview, Edgerton talked about why Australians are playing American alpha male characters, doing accents, if he feels any pressure being the lead in a big science fiction film, what he remembers about the original Thing, who his character is, the practical special effects, how he prepares for each scene and the film, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what he had to say:
Since I know some of you like listening to an actor talk rather than reading a transcript, you can either click here for the audio or read the complete transcript below. The Thing gets released April 29, 2011. The trailer should be online soon.
Joel Edgerton: I dunno. I can’t answer that question. I dunno. I always think the same thing. I always wonder why people cast me in anything. (laughter) I’m joking, but I think most actors… I always wonder why. I back myself up, I think I know what I’m doing, but I always sort of wonder that thing myself, “Why me?” (laughs)
Not you specifically but there has been a run of…
Edgerton: Oh, you’re talking about the Sam Worthington factor and all that.
When you meet a manly American actor these days, you have to go to Australia.
Edgerton: Yeah, right. I don’t know about that. I don’t know, I really don’t know. I’m glad that exists (chuckles) Who knows? I can’t analyze myself but I look at Sam and go, “Yeah, I can understand why he’s a bit of a movie star.” In fact, I always wonder why it didn’t happen a while ago, ‘cause he’s been around for a while, but then again, he’s just sort of in his mid-30s which is a good time for a guy to become to become a bit of a man’s man, to play those less boyish roles and step into the shoes of being a guy, a man, you know?
Mary said that not only do you have an American accent but you have a very specific 1982 American accent.
Edgerton: She’s just winding me up. (laughs)
Can you talk about playing an American from that particular period?
Edgerton: I don’t necessarily think that the accent has evolved in the last 20-25 years in a way that I would be able to pick up. No, but moreso, the case is that for me, it’s the case of playing that particular mold of character than where the character is from. I’m talking about that particular mold of playing a heroic character, which I realized—it wasn’t until I was a couple weeks into shooting this—I’ve never really played a character like that before in a movie of this scale. Even in any of the Australian movies I’ve done, I’ve never really played that guy that steps up to the plate when the shit’s hitting the fan and acts in a heroic way, which is kind of interesting.
Can you talk about that? Because this is a big science fiction movie and you’re the male lead. Do you go about it the same as any other role or is there any more pressure?
Edgerton: I think so. I mean, it seems to me like there’s always certain archetypal roles and there’s certain templates for characters almost. You can look at the history of types of movies. You look at broad comedies and there’s a sort of type and I guess there’s an archetypal heroic character that runs along the history of American cinema, but then again, they’re all different types of that archetype, like there’s the type that I grew up with that was all Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, the muscley hero who always seems capable of defeating any foe, which is what I grew up with, but to me, it’s a less interesting type of hero. I have more of a love for the Harrison Ford type hero that sort of manages to scrape through by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin and always has that sense of fear facing a situation. Then again, I always question, “What is a hero?” But anyway, that’s what I am in this movie, I guess, is…
Or you could use Kurt Russell as an example.
Edgerton: Yeah, definitely. My character is cut from the same cloth as his character in the Carpenter film.
What was your experience with the original Carpenter movie? When was the first time you saw it and what was your reaction when you heard they were doing another movie and wanted you to be in it?
Edgerton: The first time I saw the Carpenter film was on VHS. It would either have been a VHS or Beta tape from my local video store in Drural in New South Wales and my brother and I were writing horror movies and of course, we devoured this movie and also the first “Alien” film. I thought this was a fucking cool movie, and I saw it again about five or six years after that, and then the third time I watched it was after I spoke to Matthijs and I watched it a couple times since getting involved in this. But I had seen it twice before and I remember thinking it was a really great movie, and I think even analyzing it now with my adult head, ‘cause at the time I was a kid… or younger.. and I think the second time I saw it and even watching it the third time, I wondered watching it the third time, “Is this one of those movies that I think is a great movie because I watched it in context of being a younger person?” and “When I watch it now as an adult am I not like it?” and I think it’s a fucking cracker movie. It really is. And the sense of doom. Like I keep talking about this real sense of dread, and what I loved about Matthijs is this real emphasis in the spaces in between the violence, the spaces in between the gore and the happenings. I think that’s where the money really is in terms of really unsettling an audience or gripping an audience, is that sense of dread, and I think that’s what the Carpenter film had in spade. As much as it had buckets of blood, I think the stuff that really frightens you all the time is waiting for the next thing to happen, and hopefully, our film will reflect that same quality.
Can you talk about where your character is when we first meet up with him in the movie? How he got to where we are? (i.e. the Antarctic base)
Edgerton: Well, you know, Carter when you first meet him in the film is at the Murdoch Base Station, so what he and Jameson and the other American character Briggs are doing is basically running a supply outfit to all the other stations, so on a nice day without an alien involved, Carter would be taking food supplies and whatever medical supplies to the different base stations. So he’s basically like a private outfit I guess. But Carter and Jameson, you have this real sense of a back story that they both would have served in Nam together, and in my mind, he’s kind of a guy who’s just sought out almost like the ice version of the wild West in a way, this really icy outpost to not necessarily escape anything sinister, but escape perhaps the past demons of the Vietnam War, to just kind of be somewhere isolated and do something relatively simple and inadvertently finds himself in this situation. So yeah, we’re basically a mule to character these Norwegians out to their base station, to this mysterious find, and we get sort of snared or caught up and then stay the night and we’re going to be employed to bring back whatever it is they found in the ice. We’re kind of the last to know what that thing is until it’s all too late.
So you get to hang out with a lot of Norwegian actors. What’s that like?
Edgerton: Well, I already had my taste of… a slice of Norway, because at the end of last year, I did a stage production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and it was directed by Liv Ullman, so there was a couple Norwegians. She was there and the assistant stage manager and then I found out I was doing this job and I got really excited because she spoke so fondly of the fraternity of actors there, through the history of her experience, and what was going on in Norway now on the stage and on screen. I kind of had this high expectation which has definitely been lived up to by these guys, and a couple of the Danish actors who are involved, too. I was very well aware of Ulrich’s work, having watched “Vikaren“ and “St. Brothers” and I was really excited to work with these guys. I do feel like—I don’t mean this to sound in any simple-minded way—but I do feel like we’ve got a cream of the crop bunch of guys from Norway who also happen to be the right collection of heads to be in this movie. That’s one of the coolest things about the way Universal and Mark and Erik and Miles and Matthijs the director have gone about casting the film in a way. If you look at all the faces and all the bodies, it’s like they really belong in the environment in which the film is set in. I think the wrong way to go with this film is to go in any kind of, “Let’s get a half a dozen girls and half a dozen guys, good-looking people and pretend they’re all scientists.” The casting just feels organic to what the film is, and it will really show I think.
How do you enjoy working with the practical FX where you get to see the creature in front of you?
Edgerton: It’s interesting isn’t it? I always thought approaching this, which really is my first big CGI outing, because I’ve involved with “Star Wars” films but my involvement was really minimal, and a l lot of what I did in “Star Wars” was very practical, so I never got to do any massive green-screen stuff. My fear coming into this is that it was going to be so much green screen that I’d really have to put my imagination to use, and I think actors do have good imaginations but nothing compares to having the real thing to look at or at least a sense of the real thing. I’m really impressed that the film is going to be a really good percentage of both practical FX and CG, that there’s always been something to look at. I think there’s only been one day out of the whole shoot where I’ve heard J.J. the first with a tennis ball at the end of a pool cue going “Okay…” imitating the movies of the tentacle of the Thing, but other than that, we’ve had these great practical FX. They’ve gone to great measures to make sure that even on days when they know that what eventually will be on the screen is CG, that someone’s been out there with the tentacle showing us where it’s moving and how it will look. I think it’s important, you know, because otherwise some actors are good at placing things that aren’t there and some aren’t. I’d much rather have something there.
You mentioned before the mix of women and men and on this one, you really have all men except for Mary Elizabeth, so can you talk about how she’s blended in with the guys? Has she fit in automatically?
Edgerton: Yeah, it’s great. We do have another girl there and I joked the other day that we still don’t know the gender of the alien so maybe there’s three. (laughs) So no, it’s been great. Look, I’m a big enough fan of the movie to be a little bit sensitive to what the real fans are saying out there. I think you’ve got to be sensitive to that, and I was well aware that there was a little bit of a murmur, “I hope they don’t turn this into some naff romance kind of thing, while the aliens trying to chomp people, two people are trying to kiss in a corner.”
They might do reshoots so I wouldn’t put that down just yet.
Edgerton: Not that I haven’t put my hand up for it. (laughs) But it’s not that case at all. It’s really about having the right balance of characters and the real lion’s share of heroic action in the film really sits on Mary’s shoulders, and the character of Kate. I think she’s kind of perfect for it, too, because she is incredibly beautiful and she’s a very good actress, but she also to me is very believable in the role that she’s playing, which is a young eager scientist who combats the alien, not only physically towards the end, in terms of actually sort of goes to battle, but strategically is at the front battling the alien in terms of determining how to test who is who in a scientific way. So her journey goes from being this naïve fledgling scientist to standing on her own two feet battling the more dominant scientist in terms of her ideas, but then actually having to abandon science and pick up an axe and a flamethrower, yeah.
Does your character’s military background come into play during this crisis or is this character so otherworldly that your character can’t even be prepared?
Edgerton: I definitely have a real sense that Carter and Jameson particularly have a real capable response to chaos, and you know, I think that will show through. The good thing is that there’s nothing really overstated in this film. You won’t get some long-winded speech about, “Remember when we were in ‘Nam,” but hopefully you’ll feel that through our characters that that’s the kind of guys we are.
Can you talk a little about your process as an actor and how you prepare for each of your roles?
Edgerton: It’s always different how I prepare for stuff. I mean, it’s interesting what relates to this in a way is I always like to have some sort of sense of familiarity with what I’m doing in order that I can relate to what I have to do on screen. I always look for a challenge as well when I do something, and it was really interesting going to this, because I realized it was more of a challenge than I expected because of a lot of the technical aspects of it, but it’s also a real challenge for me to draw a line between my own experience and find a relatability to my character’s situation here, and because it’s so otherworldly, that’s quite difficult to do. Then it becomes about becoming the right inspiration I guess to find the right thing. I don’t find that incredibly difficult, but it’s definitely been a bit of a challenge. I have enjoyed more than anything else, some of the more physical aspects of it, because coming from Australia, you know, most of the films we do are very much actory… local actory movies… like people walking and talking and that’s pretty much it. It’s all about the drama that exists between two people. We don’t get a lot of action movies because there’s not a budget for it, so there’d never be a movie with this much action in it in Australia. So I actually enjoy the days where I just come to work and strap on a flamethrower and dive behind a pool table and do all that stuff. I never thought I’d favor that stuff over the more talky scenes, but I actually really enjoy it.
Have you had any close calls with the fire or the flamethrowers because it seems there’s a lot of that going on in the movie?
Edgerton: No, you always have to stay on your toes. I did have a gun, like a blank, go off, really close to my (taps his crotch)… but no fire. It’s been pretty safe all around but this sequence that you guys are seeing today is going to be amazing, just from the amount of shit going on.
Several of the producers have mentioned that the “Streetcar” production was the thing that brought you to their attention. Did you realize while you were doing it that it was going to be a major profile raiser for you?
Edgerton: The play? Yeah, in a way, I was just hanging on for dear life, ‘cause it was stepping into the shoes of that role, and the whole shadow of Marlon Brando, but working alongside Kate. I sometimes have an awareness of the opportunistic side of choosing certain roads, but I think more so, my choices are about what I’m going to get out of something artistically or what satisfaction I’m going to get out of something, so I wasn’t really doing “Streetcar” wondering where it might lead me. In a way, some people say that by doing theater, you’re kind of keeping yourself out of opportunities, but that was something I was never going to be able to say “no” to.
For More Coverage on The Thing:
And look for more on set interviews later this week