Earlier today, I got to speak on the phone with the great actor Mark Strong (IMDb resume), who plays the villainous Lord Blackwood in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Due to our conversation covering so much ground on not only Holmes, but all of the other projects he’s involved with, I decided to break up the interview into two parts with tonight’s section covering what Strong said on Andrew Stanton’s John Carter of Mars, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, and Ridley’s Scott’s Robin Hood.
Trust me when I say, if you are interested in any of the three films I just mentioned, you will want to read what Strong said after the jump:
For fans of John Carter, Strong says he plays Matai Shang and “over the course of the 3 movies that they’re envisioning making, and I’ve seen the synopsis of the 2nd and 3rd, Matai Shang is basically John Carter’s nemesis.” He also confirms the movie is both live action and motion capture and they are filming from January to May in both London and Utah. Tons more on John Carter further below.
On Kick-Ass, Strong says he plays “a character called Frank D’Amico. He’s a New York mafia boss.” He also reveals, “Matthew (Vaughn) was 100% confident that what he was making was going to be brilliant.”
And on Robin Hood, Strong says he plays a character called Sir Godfrey who is “a traitor who basically is trying to stir up enough trouble to create Civil War.” He also talks about the amount of people that worked on the film. For the final battle scene he says, “we had 72 trailers, 1500 people for lunch to be catered for, 500 extras, 120 horses and stunt riders, as well as that there were an extra 200 stuntmen. There were 8 boats landing in the surf. A helicopter. 15 cameras. It was just amazing. So it was old-school filmmaking of the first order and in the middle of that was Ridley like a general conducting his troops.”
But before getting to what he said on these three films, I need to say a big thank you to Mark Strong. While we were only scheduled for a little bit of time this morning, he was beyond gracious and talked with me for a lot longer than he needed to. Also, he couldn’t have been nicer. While there’s always a steady stream of salacious and negative talk about various folks in this town, I want to make sure everyone knows what a class act Mark Strong is. And with that, here’s what he said on Kick-Ass, Robin Hood and John Carter of Mars.
A few friends of mine saw Kick Ass over the weekend at BNAT in Texas. People seem to be exploding with anticipation for this film and the friends I’ve seen that have seen it have just completely raved about it. Obviously you’re in it. Can you talk a little bit about who you play in the film and did you get that vibe on-set that you were making a very special movie?
I play a character called Frank D’Amico. He’s a New York mafia boss. He’s basically been dealing drugs and running rackets all his life. He’s achieved a place now in his life where he’s very well feared and he’s starting to wind everything down and just at that point a bunch of teenagers who want to be superheroes seem to be messing up his business, so he decides to go after them with everything at his disposal. That’s the character. Were we aware we were making something? No not really, because Matthew, you know, it’s only Matthew’s 3rd film. He’d gone around the studios with the script and they all turned him down. We were making it on a very small budget that he’d been able to raise himself, so we weren’t sure. Having said that, Matthew was 100% confident that what he was making was going to be brilliant. I mean, he said he never felt like that about a film since “Lock Stock”. He just knew what he wanted to do with it and he knew he could make a success of it. Personally, I mean I found beating up small children very difficult to cope with. Going to work and strangling 10 year old girls is not what I imagined I would be doing at my age, but having seen a rough-cut of the movie it’s really exciting and very different and that’s, I think, probably what people are responding to.
Yeah, as I said, people who have seen it have just really gone off on it saying how much they loved it.
That’s great. I’m so pleased about that because obviously we make the film, the film goes off into the edit and then you don’t really know much about it. Except the version I saw didn’t have finished graphics and things and not the right music. So I haven’t actually seen the final version, but the thought that people are watching it and it’s living up to everybody’s expectations is perfect.
Well, if you don’t mind talking about another one of your future things, you worked with Ridley Scott on Robin Hood, which is another monstrous film. Can you talk about your experience working on that film and who you play?
I play a character called Sir Godfrey who like Blackwood doesn’t really exist in the source material of Robin Hood in the way Blackwood doesn’t in “Holmes”. In fact, the similarity between Holmes and Robin Hood is that they are both a re-examination of the source material. “Robin Hood” isn’t the story that we’ve come to know, you know with the archery contest in which he’s so brilliant that King John recognizes it’s him and captures him. The original legends of Robin Hood, I think, come from the 850’s or something. It’s way back and all these myths and legends over the years have just been interpretations of an original myth. So within that, Ridley has made a story about a character called Robin of Locksley. It’s really about the period that he lives in and about his particular personal journey coming back home having been the way of the Crusades for a long time. Within that I play a traitor who basically is trying to stir up enough trouble to create Civil War so that he can encourage the French to land and consequently achieve power. But yeah, it was a massive movie on an enormous scale. There was a scene where we were on the beach-the final battle scene we were on a beach in Wales for 2 weeks-and the numbers, I had to ask the producer what the numbers were just because I was fascinated. He said we had 72 trailers, 1500 people for lunch to be catered for, 500 extras, 120 horses and stunt riders, as well as that there were an extra 200 stuntmen. There were 8 boats landing in the surf. A helicopter. 15 cameras. It was just amazing. So it was old-school filmmaking of the first order and in the middle of that was Ridley like a general conducting his troops.
Did you ever sort of take a moment to take a step back and say I’m making a movie with Ridley Scott and this thing is going to be amazing.
Yes, definitely. I’m old enough and wise enough now to realize that you have to take those moments when they come. I mean the world premiere of “Sherlock” in London was a real event for me and I enjoyed every moment because I know what that means. The same is true of doing a film with Ridley of that scale. And there was one particular moment, I have to say, when my character…I’ve got 150 French soldiers in a line on a beach and I’m trotting my horse behind them looking across their heads-they’re all kneeling-looking across their heads at the enemy cavalry the British 250 people all lined up and there’s a moment where suddenly I wheel my horse around, draw my sword, gallop around, my line of men opens up and throw there I gallop towards 120 horsemen galloping towards me as fast as they can and 100 men on foot with spears running at me. And it’s just me facing them. And in that moment, I just thought my God this is fantastic. You know, nobody has this experience or very, very few people get to have this experience. It was incredible.
JOHN CARTER OF MARS
I actually saw Andrew Stanton when I was in London and spoke to him. He said he’s filming at Shepperton ’til April or something like that. So can you talk a little bit about…have you worked at Shepperton before? And are you looking forward to being in this crazy production?
Yeah, I mean I’ve worked at Shepperton and Pinewood. They’re the most famous British film studio lots. And Andrew wooed me with the storyboards that he had at the interview. He showed me his vision for the thing and it’s just mind-blowing and the knowledge that he’s made these “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E” and he wrote “Toy Story”, so he’s a master storyteller and I think the fact that he’s been given the opportunity to direct live-action and a motion capture film together and in the light of “Avatar” knowing that these Pixar guys like to be in the vanguard of everything. You just know that he’s going to turn up something even better. So the opportunity came. I’ve very lucky to be in position to say, yeah I’d love to come and do this. There was no option really of turning it down. So it does feel like I’m doing a lot, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing because I’m gathering so much experience.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. I don’t know if I’ve said to you before, I really enjoy your work and I’m very excited to see you in these projects. Can I ask you who you play in “John Carter”?
I play a character called Matai Shang and he is the ruler of a group of people called the Ferns who are like the old Olympian Gods. They exist….people aren’t really sure if they exist, but basically he’s a master of the Universe. They travel ’round keeping order in the Universe. So basically he exists over and above the Martians that exist on the planet. Like I say, he’s like an Olympian God. I mean getting to play Mati Shang Master of the Universe, it doesn’t get much better than that.
I think you’re right on that one. Is this a bigger part than say Eagle of the Ninth or The Way Back or is on that kind of a level for you?
No, no. He’s integral. He is, over the course of the 3 movies that they’re envisioning making and I’ve seen the synopsis of the 2nd and 3rd, basically and in the novels, Princess of Mars that Rice Burroughs wrote, Matai Shang is basically John Carter’s nemesis. So he comes into his own during the 2nd half of the current movie and then just basically gets bigger and bigger in the 2nd and 3rd.
How is that for you to sign on for a project that may or may not be a trilogy? I mean, is it a little nerve wracking or are you sort of like because it’s Andrew and their track record it’s 100% I’m in?
It’s extremely nerve wracking because what you have to do is understand that you’re committing to something in the future and if the first one is a huge success and they want to make the 2nd and 3rd, basically they have first call on you for a number of years. And basically you have to go back to Disney to make sure that they’re not planning on making their 2nd or 3rd installments so that you can go and do other work. So in a strange way it means there’s somebody hanging over you slightly, but in practice it means that if they are making it, it means that the 1st one has been a success and you’ll probably want to be involved so you won’t mind going and shooting it. And practically again, if they’re not shooting it they usually give you permission to go do something else. So it was a little nerve wracking because I’ve never signed up for a trilogy before, but I had to think about it and there was no reason to turn down this film. I mean, I couldn’t turn it down on that basis. On the basis of what might be. I just wanted to work with Andrew full stop.
Are they shooting John Carter, pardon me I don’t know if they’ve announced this or not, but are they shooting it in 3D?
I don’t believe so. Not that I know of, no. I’ve certainly never heard that or been told that. No, I know it’s a combination of live action and motion capture. That’s all I know for right now.
I spoke to Andrew after the Avatar screening Thursday night. And we were talking to him-a few people and I-about specifically Avatar and I could see the look in his eye about him seeing Avatar and he was mentioning something, you know like now he has to raise his game or now he has to sort of…I don’t want to say alter plans but you know I think Avatar is going to influence every filmmaker who’s working in motion capture of any kind because how could it not.
Do you think when you saw the test stuff for John Carter did it already look like it was pushing the boundaries for you at the time?
Oh my God yeah. I mean it looks phenomenal. I mean his conception of it is extraordinary. I mean it’s “Avatar” type territory and I think the point I was making before about these Pixar’s guys are always wanting to be in the vanguard. They want to be leading from the front. They’re giving the public stories that the public don’t even know they want. I mean a story about a fish? A story about an old guy keeping his house? On paper, these must seem like, you know, how on earth are you going to carry those things off. Talking toys? Come on. But they I think Andrew said they’re in the business of giving the public what they want before they know they want it. So I can totally imagine he’s gone to see “Avatar” and that’ll just set the cogs whirring in his brain and the twinkle in his eye because he’ll just want to surpass it, no question.
I’m curious with John Carter, when do you start filming and is this going to be one of the bigger sort of productions for you, because he is filming ’til April?
Yeah, I mean it’ll be enormous. I think it’s something like a $200 million budget. It starts in January and I actually go through to May. I think some of it is also filming in Utah, so it’s a 5 month production based largely in London with some exterior scenes in the desert I assume in Utah. So it’s a massive production.
Is that the biggest…will that be the biggest as far as shooting schedule will this be the biggest project you’ve worked on?
Probably yes, because you know I think “Sherlock’s” budget was $80 million and it took about 4 months. “Robin Hood” was up to about $150, I think. And that took 5 months. And “John Carter” is taking 5 months but the budget is even bigger. And I think the fact that it’s a science fiction movie and that it’s going to spend 2 years in post and not come out ’til 2012 means that the vision for it is enormous. And as you pointed out, in the light of “Avatar”, I think they are planning on creating something extraordinary.
Yeah, I can’t even imagine. So does this mean you actually have nothing scheduled past May? Does this mean a vacation is in order?
(laughter) It means exactly that. I do have to say though I’ve got a number of scripts that I’m reading. It’s that far in advance but people are still just checking on whether I’m available, so I feel in a very fortunate position but I think after “John Carter” I will just slow down a bit and pick and choose the best rather than gather all these various, you know cherry pick all these various things like I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. Simply because I’ve got about 5 or 6 movies coming out over the next year or two, and that’s plenty to be going on with. So I think the trick now is to find something really interesting and maybe a little different if I can.