The 10-episode Netflix original series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, released 37 years after the original film, is a breathtaking, beautiful and terrifying return to the world of Thra. When three Gelfling – Rian (voiced by Taron Egerton), Brea (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy) and Deet (voiced by Nathalie Emmanuel) – discover the horrific secret behind the power of the Skeksis, the fires of rebellion are lit and an epic battle for the planet begins.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, British actor Jason Isaacs (who voices skekSo, The Emperor and ruler of Thra) talked about being a part of such an extraordinary project, finding his performance, how he viewed his character, what made this experience unlike anything he’s ever done, and whether he ever got to visit the set. He also talked about the disappointing cancellation of The OA, how much he’d been looking forward to continuing to tell what had been envisioned as a five-season story, and how his head was spinning with the possibility of getting to play a version of himself, as well as the voice recording experience for Scoob, the animated Scooby-Doo movie in which he’s voicing the villainous Dick Dastardly, and how his passion for storytelling has been rekindled with the projects he’s recently been doing.
Collider: What’s it like to not only get to be a part of a project that is just so extraordinary and spectacular, but to do so under the Henson name and to have Lisa Henson be a part of it all?
JASON ISAACS: Well, one of the challenges, as an actor, on every project and not just this one, is to try to forget everyone’s expectations, whether you’re on a mini-budget movie and you go, “Oh, my god, we’ve only got a half an hour to shoot the scene, before they come kick us out of the public library,” or you’re on a big budget movie, and you go, “Oh, they’ve invested $300 million dollars and people are going to lose their jobs or houses.” When I did Star Trek, there’s this massive community out there, waiting for you to fail, with their knives sharpen. Similarly with this, you have to completely forget the fact that it’s this extraordinarily brilliant, iconic film that has legions of fans, who’ve had 30 years to foment their passion and go, “What’s this story? How do I tell this story well?” But it was apparent to me, early on, just looking at the footage, when I first went in to do the first days, that the level of artistry on display was incredible. Before you can get into the story itself and how well the story is told, just the sheer skill and stunning imagination that’s gone into creating and expanding the world, and all of the creatures, the places that they live, and the houses they live in, and what the puppets themselves look like, is so jaw-dropping that immediately it just relaxes you. Your shoulders come down and you think, “Okay, we’re in safe hands.” And then, the story unfolds, and it’s everything.
It’s an epic quest that’s got romance, terror, thrills, politics, peril, triumph and disaster, and it’s completely resonant, politically and contemporarily, but without ever shoving that [in your face]. I thought, “Okay, these people really know what they’re doing, and they’ve done it properly. No one’s exploiting anything. They’re celebrating something.” And then, there’s [Louis Leterrier]. Louie’s an amazing man. How one person could take on all of this, with Lisa’s help, obviously, and amazing craftsmen, in every department, and hold all of this in his head, and shoot a gigantic, high-budget, fantasy, epic adventure series, but with the puppets, and make that authentic and real, I can’t even begin to describe to you the torture that he put himself through, to get all of the voices right. A lot of the actors were in England, and Louie was in Los Angeles, finishing this thing. I would go in to voice The Emperor and my sessions were always between 9:00 pm and 1:00 in the morning, which means Louie was there between 1:00 and 5:00 in the morning, in his house, in Los Angeles. Having worked a full day, and then going home and seeing his family, he then sat on the couch and dubbed with me, and a series of other actors, through the night and day, and then he went back to work. I don’t think he went to bed for two years. I don’t quite know what evil elixir he’s been taking to stay alive, but it’s something else. To be as exacting as he was, about making sure that every syllable sounded like it was being said and that it meant something, I can’t imagine how much he must’ve been praying for it to be over, so he could close his eyes for five minutes. It’s just a tribute to his ambition. So, I rode on everyone else’s wave, and Lisa’s desire to honor her dad’s legacy, and make this better, bigger, richer and more complex, and Louie’s desire to make it perfect. If you didn’t bring your top game, when the other people had designed and built this world to such an extraordinary level, it would feel like negligence. The whole thing felt like a fast-moving giant wave, and I just rode it.
Since this is a bit of an unusual project, where you’re not on these sets to do the work, but you’re instead recording your voice performance, how did you find that performance? Did you have a puppet to look at, or any drawings?
ISAACS: It was unlike any voice recording that any of us have ever done before. They’d shot the scenes already. Someone else had decided the body language for your character, where he or she interrupts and stands, screams, shouts, sits down, is cross, or whatever it is, and they’ve recorded the dialogue and the mouth flaps. So, you’re not doing what you normally do with animated projects, which is going in and dreaming and improvising, and doing a bunch of stuff, which they then animate to. The voice was already done. I was watching the scene, and I had the puppeteer’s voice and guide track in my ears, at the rhythm which I had to match it exactly because that’s where the mouth flaps were, and they were not using CGI to cheat. That meant the creativity, as it were, and having some input in actually building a character happened within very narrow parameters because it’s essentially all done for you. The challenge was not falling into that and going, “Okay, I’ve matched the flaps, and it sounds like it’s coming out of that creature, so that’s enough.” Luckily, I wouldn’t settle, and even if I would’ve, Louie didn’t settle for anything, ever. He would go, “Those are the puppeteers’ performances, vocally, but we’ve asked you to do it.” So, you had to try to find some way of building something interesting, exciting and emotional, whatever that was, while ticking all of these technical boxes. That’s not something any of us had ever done before.
This whole thing just sounds like such an incredible experience because it was such an unusual experience. Did you ever get to visit the set, or see your character puppet in person?
ISAACS: No, it was all shot, before we started voicing. I think it was all finished. The first day that I went in and met Louie, he was in London. He was always in Los Angeles, after that. The first time, I said to him, “Look, I’m thinking about what kind of voice would be right. I don’t want to do an impression of whoever did it last time. I’m looking at this huge alligator-like and dragon-like snout, but with a hole in it, because he’s got a fake nose on and those rows of extraordinarily jagged teeth, and I’m trying to figure out what kind of sound would come out of it. Can I hear some of the other voices, so that I can work out what kind of universe we’re living in?” He said, “No, you can’t.” And I said, “Well, I won’t tell anyone.” He said, “You can’t, because you’re the first person to do it.” And I said, “Oh, damn.” So, we just tried to come up with something that we thought belonged in that world. It’s an amazing world, and I laid down a little marker, which is what we stuck with. I don’t think there was a single day recording, where I didn’t lose my voice. It’s a very unusual discipline. The other thing that’s hard to do is that, normally, when you’re an actor doing ADR and replacing your own voice, which happens all the time, on every film and television series, because there will be some car horn going off, you’re trying to match what you did in production, since that was good enough on the day and you were emotionally present. But here, we weren’t trying to match what the puppeteers had done. God bless them, maybe they’re a thousand times better than me, but they’ve asked me to do it instead. So, whilst completely adhering to their rhythm, I had to make sure that it was my own, and that I wasn’t singing their tunes.