Directed by Steven Spielberg, the Roald Dahl beloved classic tale The BFG tells the imaginative story of a young girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance)who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country. While there, they come face-to-face with Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), the most fearsome giant, who also happens to be a 52-feet-tall bully and coward with a big ego and who would rather eat Sophie than get to know her.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Jemaine Clement talked about how he got involved with The BFG, his familiarity with the book, working with a movement choreographer, how he found the process of motion capture, and working with a filmmaker like Steven Spielberg. He also talked about his role in Humor Me, and going back out on the road with Flight Of The Conchords.
Collider: The BFG has that balance of light and dark, and the scary and the redemptive that Disney family movies are known for, but it’s also a bit quirky. When you first read the script, was all of that in there?
JEMAINE CLEMENT: A lot of that is from the book. The book is even quirkier, but it’s hard to bring all of that stuff to a movie. With a book, you use your imagination more and create your own way to make it all make sense. I’m glad that some of the quirkiness of the book is still there.
When this opportunity came up and you learned that you could be playing a character named Fleshlumpeater, who’s over 50 feet tall, and that it would be a Steven Spielberg movie, what was your reaction to that? Was it an immediate yes?
CLEMENT: I didn’t even have the option of saying yes or no. My agents just said that I was going. They just called and said, “You’re doing this,” which is unusual. That’s the only time that’s ever happened. Usually, I’m asked to have a meeting with the people. I remember the book very well. So, when they said, “Spielberg wants you to be in this movie to play one of the bad giants in The BFG,” I knew the book very well and I kept hoping for Fleshlumpeater. He really stood out for me, probably because of the name and because he’s particularly horrible. I was hoping that would be the character, and I was lucky.
How did you find the physicality you wanted this guy to have and how did you go about making the language sound natural? Did working with a movement choreographer really help with that?
CLEMENT: Yeah, that helped, a lot. Your own movement becomes even more obvious when you see another character do them, but can still recognize yourself. When I see this animated character doing what I did, I can recognize my movements. He helped pick out those things that a 50-foot giant wouldn’t do. I did things like have my arms swing around, very relaxed. When walking, this guy would be hefting this huge weight everywhere, so we had to learn what that would look like. Some of it came naturally, but there were little things that I had help with. I had weights on my ankles to make my legs heavier, which would affect how I moved.
What do you think Fleshlumpeater most enjoys about being a giant, and what do you think he most dislikes about it?
CLEMENT: The giants in the film are scared of water, which isn’t a part of the book. For the film version, they don’t like being exposed. I think of Fleshlumpeater as very insecure. He just wants to be in charge of this group, and he fears anything new. He’s jealous of The BFG. The BFG is quite advanced, compared to the rest of them. He’s built a house, for instance. Those giants would be envious of having a shelter, but they’re not clever enough to be able to do that.
How did you find the process of motion capture?
CLEMENT: I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to doing motion capture, but I really enjoyed it, in the end. I wouldn’t hesitate to do other motion capture roles. It looks scary. You’re actually put into these machines that take hundreds of photos of you, and it feels very strange, at first. But then, when you’re actually filming, it can be very natural and organic. The job is just to forget that the technology is there. You wear a bicycle helmet that has a camera on it, the whole time, that’s recording your face and mapping the movements of your face onto the animated character. You have to learn to look past the camera, but in a few years time, I bet they won’t even need that.
What was it like to work and collaborate with a filmmaker like Steven Spielberg, who is so iconic to the art of making movies?
CLEMENT: I loved watching him work. This was also pushing some new technology, and I was dying to see how he dealt with that. He doesn’t need to keep pushing the technological boundaries. He could do something else. But, it was good seeing him learn something that he hadn’t done before. I loved watching him work in a general way because he planned the film, a year beforehand, but he also made things up on the spot and had ideas on the spot. It was good to see that he could still be free and creative and enjoy it. He seems to really have fun, and it was good to see that.
What’s next for you, as an actor? When you do a project that’s so fantastical, do you want to follow it up with something that’s very grounded in reality, or does something like The BFG feel like it opens up a whole new world for you?
CLEMENT: I’m on tour now, but just before this tour, I did a film, called Humor Me, which was grounded. I play a man who has to go and live with his dad. He’s broken up with his wife and he’s forced out and has to live with his dad, who’s played by Elliott Gould, in a retirement village.
What’s it like to get back out on the road with Flight Of The Conchords? Does it feel any different, this time around, or has it just been fun to get back out on the road again?
CLEMENT: It’s been very fun. The way it feels is that, at first, you don’t know the stuff very well, but it’s exciting because of that. You just try to get through the show. But then, over the course of a month on tour, you start getting really good at music again. You have to keep practicing the music, and we’ve kind of let it go a lot because we don’t have the time. So, it feels nice to learn the instruments again.
Had you and Bret McKenzie been talking about getting back on the road again, before now, and the timing just didn’t work out?
CLEMENT: Yeah, we were going to go last year. But then, The BFG came up, so I decided to do that instead.
The BFG opens in theaters on July 1st.