From director David Yates, the action-adventure epic The Legend of Tarzan picks up with John Clayton, the man once known as Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) after he’s left the jungles of Africa behind for a gentrified life with his beloved wife, Jane (Margot Robbie). When he is invited back to the Congo under the guise of being a guest of Parliament, Tarzan quickly learns that he is a pawn in a murderous plot of greed and revenge that was masterminded by the King of Belgium’s envoy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), and he will stop at nothing to protect those that he loves.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, filmmaker David Yates talked about why this take on the story of Tarzan appealed to him, how this final version is not that far off of his first cut, what he added into the film, deleted bits and pieces for the Blu-ray, and the trickiest scene to put together. He also talked about what he thinks Harry Potter fans will be most excited about with his next film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and how things are going with the editing and post-production process, with the film is due out in theaters on November 18th.
Collider: You’ve said that, after doing the Harry Potter films, you were looking for another project that was epic and had action and spectacle. What was it about this take on the story of Tarzan that satisfied those things for you?
DAVID YATES: Well, it was the love story. I like the notion of a character, as well, that has to figure out where home is. And I like the notion that, ultimately, home was with the family and the tribe who embraced him and gave him a home when he needed it most. I found all of those scenes with the Kuba moving, when you see them sitting around the fire, talking about the legend of Tarzan and singing. Every time I walked on that set, both the sound guy and I, and a lot of the crew felt it, there was a really beautiful atmosphere. I liked the fact that they adopted him, really, and made him feel like he belonged. I love that. And ultimately, it was the love story between Tarzan and Jane. Margot [Robbie] and I would often joke that it wasn’t actually Tarzan saving Jane. She didn’t really need saving. She could save herself, frankly. We figured that, if Tarzan hadn’t have gotten to her and we’d put another reel on, of just Jane and Rom, Rom would be toast, by the end of it. What was really interesting to me was that, unless Tarzan saved her, he would not be complete and he would not survive without her. So, in trying to save her, he was actually saving himself ‘cause he couldn’t live without her.
How long was your first cut of the film, and how much of a challenge was it for you to get it down to what we see now?
YATES: Do you know what? I can’t remember how long that first cut was. I might be making this up, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t hugely longer than the movie now. In fact, I would argue that the movie that we’ve got now is just a slightly more refined version of the movie we started with, despite all of the recruits and testing that we went through. It’s just a slightly tighter, neater version of it. But, I never log the numbers. My editor, Mark Day, has got this lovely chart in our editing room. Every time we would do a cut, he writes a little number down, so he’s got a log of everything, but I never really pay much attention. I just want to see if the film feels like it’s working.
Did you have to cut any storylines out, or was it just about trimming what we see?
YATES: It was really tuning what we see. What we did do, actually, in the process of making the movie was that we added some things. In the original version of the film, there were a couple of lovely flashback sequences of Jane and Tarzan that still exist in the movie. But once we showed it to an audience, they just really loved the origins of the story and that surprised us. That was one of the things we were trying to pull away from a bit, but the minute they saw Tarzan as a kid, or Tarzan with the Mangani [gorillas], it seemed to fulfill some classic element of the story that they liked. And so, we added a scene, primarily to build that up a little bit. But, that was the only thing. That’s probably why the length didn’t go down too much. By the time we tuned it, and then I added that scene, it balanced out.
Are there any special features that you’re already planning to include on the Blu-ray release?
YATES: You bet. There will be lots of deleted scenes. There are little scenes that we’ve taken out, bits and pieces. I haven’t given it much thought yet, but I will.
In Tarzan, the humans interact with the CGI animals so seamlessly. Was there a moment or an action sequence that was particularly challenging for you to put together so seamlessly?
YATES: The whole movie was quite challenging, just because we weren’t filming in Africa. We were bringing Africa to us, and it was a challenge to make that all feel believable. But, there was no one thing. Maybe the Tarzan-Akut fight ‘cause that was quite tricky. Other than that, it was all fun.
Harry Potter fans are very excited about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. What are you most excited for fans of the book and for fans of Harry Potter to see, with this new film?
YATES: The new characters. We’ve got a fantastic cast, and the characters that Jo [Rowling] has created, she’s got this amazing ability to create characters that you immediately empathize with and fall in love with. I think that’s the strength of this new episode, this new world, if you like. You’ll want to spend time with these characters. I think you’ll regret leaving them behind when you walk out the door of the cinema, and you’ll be longing to get back to them. Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) is a bit awkward, socially, but loves these extraordinary strange beats of his. And he’s got a lot of compassion and a lot of love. He’s a marvelous creation, and the other characters that Jo has created are terrific, too.
Where are you currently at in the editing process? Are you close to finished?
YATES: We’re quite a way ahead in the editing, and it’s all going very, very well. We lock the movie in about ten or twelve weeks. I’m working with James Newton Howard on the score, and I’m working with a visual effects team to get all of the pieces ready. So, we’re in that big post-production phase of actually getting it all finished, and it’s going very well.
The Legend of Tarzan opens in theaters on July 1st.