In the action thriller I Am Number Four, directed by D.J. Caruso and currently in theaters, actor Kevin Durand plays the imposing commander of the Mogadorian army that is in pursuit of the nine Lorien teenagers who have escaped their own planet with their guardians and come to Earth. It is his job to track them down and eradicate them, one by one, wherever they are hiding.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Kevin Durand talked about getting offered this unusual role, developing the character into something more multi-dimensional and playful, learning the complicated Mogadorian language, and trying to keep his make-up from melting off during a Florida summer. He also talked about his role opposite Hugh Jackman in the upcoming action drama Real Steel, opening in November. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
How did this film come about for you?
KEVIN DURAND: It was a phone call that they were offering the role. I was very, very fortunate to get the phone call, and I went in and sat down with D.J. [Caruso] to ask him more about it because I didn’t really get what they wanted from me for it. And, D.J. explained to me that they had this character and they wanted him to be more multi-dimensional than what was on the page, at that point in time, and more playful. So, I had a very fun, specific idea of what I could do with it and they dug it and we ran with it.
Was the development of the look a collaboration, or did they already have ideas for that?
DURAND: We were all on the same page. They wanted him to be more playful, so I went off and started thinking about things. I had a lot of ideas and a lot of things that I brought to the table, that didn’t end up in the film, but you get the overall sense of what we were after with the playfulness that he had.
Was it challenging to find the balance between making this character dangerous enough to be scary, but compelling enough to keep people interested?
DURAND: Yeah. To try to make somebody scary usually ends up not being scary. I wanted to come from a different place. I’m already 6’6″, and they had me in ankle boots that made me 7’5″, and I had gills on my face and tattoos all over my head. It was already scary to look at, so I figured I could really go ahead and play ‘cause no matter what I did, it was still going to be scary. The more playful I got with it, the more diabolical it would seem. It was cool to be able to balance that out.
Was there anything that you had determined in the character’s backstory that didn’t make it to the screen, but that you would like fans of the film to know about?
DURAND: There was more of the Commander really being fascinated by humans and Earth. He really, truly loved it there and was very intrigued by human behavior, the media and junk food, in a way where he would have been in love with them, but at the same time, they were more like his pets. I feel like we got a sense of that, but there definitely was a lot more that we had played with, that extrapolated on that.
DURAND: Oh, yeah, I was very familiar with his work. I’ve been a fan for quite awhile, so it was really cool to get to sit down and meet him and talk. He was what I had hoped he would have been. He was very, very open to exploring the character and playing and finding moments of spontaneity. It was a real pleasure to do that with him. It was really great. It’s cool when you have a character like this and you don’t have someone trying to push you in a corner, saying, “It’s gotta be like this. No, you’ve gotta be scary.” He was totally cool with experimenting and just letting it run and seeing how it showed up. Luckily, we were very much on the same page. It was just fun, man. It was like a couple of kids, playing.
What was this make-up process like for you, with everything you had to do? And, how difficult was it to work in the summer weather with the make-up?
DURAND: It was about two hours, I would guess. There was one point where, at the very end, we were shooting in the Keys in Florida and, with the humidity index, it was 119, so they were really, really sweet to me. They were trying to do whatever they could to keep me cool, and I was very committed to that. As soon as I started getting too hot, my face would melt and then we’d have to do it all over again. That would waste a lot of time. You have to be as expedient as possible and be moving. I was constantly trying to run to stay cool, so that my face didn’t melt off. But, it was all fine and dandy. I watch those scenes and I’m like, “Wow, I don’t even look that hot.”
How challenging was it to learn the Mogadorian language and how long did it take you to feel comfortable with it?
DURAND: There was a lot more Mogadorian when we shot it than what actually showed up, so I became very obsessive compulsive with it. I’m that kind of actor. I get really OCD about things. I probably worked on it for about eight weeks, so that when I showed up, we could use any of the speeches and just throw stuff out. I wanted to understand it enough, so that I could go in and improvise with some of the words. That took awhile.
Between the make-up and tattoos, the costume, the boots and the language, have you ever gone through such a complicated process for a character before?
DURAND: It’s always complicated. If it’s not complicated, to some degree, you should always be trying to ask questions and figure things out. But, this was definitely challenging, from learning to walk in those boots to learning speeches in Mogadorian. I’ll probably be speaking that, for the rest of my life, with as many times as I repeated it. I would definitely say it’s up there. But, if an actor’s doing his job right, he’s always stuck in prepping and trying to juggle things.
What was it like to get to work with Hugh Jackman again for Real Steel, after you guys did Wolverine together?
DURAND: Getting to work with Hugh again was a real gift. We just got along really well on Wolverine. It’s funny how it came about ‘cause I went and auditioned and (director) Shawn [Levy] apparently called him and said, “This guy just came in and just killed it, and I want to cast him as this character.” Hugh was like, “Well, what’s his name?,” and he said, “Kevin Durand,” and Hugh was like, “Yeah! Get him. Line him up.” It was really cool, the way that worked out. We just got to take our level of playing to another level with this one. Shawn was really cool and open to improvising and just finding the cool, funny moments within the darkness that we were actually playing. He gave us a chance to find a spectrum within the dark stuff.
Who are you playing in the film?
DURAND: I play a guy named Ricky. Hugh and I are ex-rivals, of sorts. We used to box against each other and, cut to years later, boxing has been replaced by this huge, ginormous, awesome robots. He’s still in that business, and I’m a fight promoter, of sorts. Our relationship is still interesting and edgy. I don’t know how much I can actually go into it. I’ve been briefed.
DURAND: No. I was a hockey player, growing up. Being a big guy and being imposing, I had to use my size to protect my teammates. I’ve always had that job. As an actor, I’ve been all over the map, but since I’ve moved to Hollywood, people tend to cast me in these more imposing characters, which is actually really fun for me. I’ve always been way more attracted to playing that than the hero. I’ve always been more intrigued by Iago in Shakespeare than playing Romeo. That was always boring to me.
Are there any types of roles that you’d really like to do, but haven’t been given the opportunity to do yet?
DURAND: Yeah. I’m always excited to carry more and more weight and responsibility within a story. I’m looking forward to someone giving me a shot to carry something like this. It’s all about putting my time in and showing people that I’m good and responsible and, hopefully, kicking ass in every frame. I’m really open to anything that’s good. If I read something and it’s good, and I like the director, it never really needs to be a specific type of character.
Do you think that your experience in the theater and really letting go on stage, in front of an audience, has helped in crafting some of these more unusual characters that you’ve played?
DURAND: Yeah, absolutely. I did stand-up for a long time and I did classical theater. As much time as you could spend on a stage will always inform you and your job, as you evolve. I feel the freedom of being able to find comedy in the darkest moments because it makes it way more interesting, I think. Otherwise, you’re just cruising down a path that’s been traveled millions of times. It’s cool to find the strange truth in those moments.