Based on Blizzard Entertainment’s global phenomenon World of Warcraft, played by more than 100 million people since its inception, the epic saga Warcraft sees the peaceful realm of Azeroth on the brink of war, as it faces invasion by orc warriors who are fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As one army faces the other, two heroes – human commander Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and orc chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell) – are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their people and their home. Directed by Duncan Jones, the film also stars Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper, Ben Foster, Ben Schnetzer, Rob Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin and Daniel Wu.
At the film’s press day, Collider sat down with actor Ben Schnetzer on the Universal Studios backlot to discuss playing the rebellious young mage Khadgar and bringing magic to life. During the exclusive interview, he talked about why this narrative is a really good entry point into this world and mythology, working with green screen and CGI on practical sets, his favorite moment in the film, and how infectious Duncan Jones enthusiasm is. He also talked about working with Oliver Stone on Snowden, and shooting the true story of The Grizzlies.
Collider: How would you reassure movie-goers that Warcraft will be both recognizable to fans of the game while also being accessible to people who have never played the game?
BEN SCHNETZER: The narrative told in the film is a really good entry point into the world and into the mythology of the game. It’s a world to which so many fans are dedicated. Duncan [Jones] was just really diligent about being faithful to the mythology of the canon. There’s just a lot of rich source material there. It’s super layered, textured and intricate. I had never played the game before. I was aware of it, but I was not a video game guy, growing up, or a computer game guy. My introduction was through the script and through speaking to Duncan and the team, and then the script was my launching point into the world.
Did you try playing the game, at all?
SCHNETZER: A little bit. I mostly watched people play it. I think you have to play it for awhile, before you get the experience of it, and I didn’t have the time to get to a place where I felt like it would be able to inform the work, at all. Whatever the genre of film you’re doing and whatever the source material is, you have to adapt to the different genre, but it’s the same work, as an actor. You’re just trying to ground it in reality and find your truth in it.
Did it help that you did have a lot of practical sets and stuff for you to work off of, along with the green screen and effects?
SCHNETZER: Yeah, I think that was a huge step in grounding it and making it feel real and concrete. It was tricky and it was challenging, at times, doing stuff on green screen. A lot is left up to the imagination. There are a lot of dots that you have to connect yourself. We knew that we were in amazing hands with ILM, with Duncan, and with the whole VFX team. It was a leap of faith that I think we were all very willing to make.
Because so much of what your character does is visual, did you ever have any moments where you just felt silly, acting that out with nothing there?
SCHNETZER: Oh, totally! It’s all or nothing. You really have to go for it. It will feel a lot sillier if you half-ass it. You really have to just dive in and commit to it. And working with Ben Foster, he’s such a committed performer that I felt lucky to be able to follow his lead. You just go for it and make it real for yourself. Having such faith in the VFX team, the more I bring to it, the more the spectacle will work and the more it will play. The finished product is not going to be you alone, in a green room, yelling at nothing. It’s going to be a spectacle. So, once you get over the initial bashfulness of it, you just embrace it and dive into it, and you trust that the more you give it, the more it will work. They would show us pre-vis outlines of what it was going to look like and what the dimension would be, and then they would show us a graphic of what it would actually look like. It was like theater. When you’re doing a play, you don’t always have a practical world that you’re working off of. You have to create it for yourself.
With all of the cool stuff that you get to do in this film, do you have a favorite moment?
SCHNETZER: I think the first battle in Elwynn Forest. That was the first battle sequence we shot and it was the first time we did any magic. For me, that was the major band-aid getting ripped off. It was like, “Just do it and commit to it and trust that they’re going to make it work.” It was weird, seeing that almost felt like a different movie. A lot of times, when you’re seeing something that you’ve done, you’re thinking about the experience you had making it, not about the experience of the product. With this, seeing it back was like watching a whole different movie. It was emotional because you were like, “Oh, my god, that’s what they were talking about!” It’s tricky because when you’re dealing with CGI and stuff, it’s such a developing art form. Every film that comes out that incorporates CGI or performance capture is a little bit ahead of the last film that came out. You’re on the cutting edge for a certain amount of time, and then the new technology comes out. I feel like it’s good enough, specific enough and real enough now that it’s not going to feel outdated in ten years. It still looks real.
With everything he had to tackle with this film, what was it like to work with Duncan Jones, as a director?
SCHNETZER: He’s not just the nicest director, he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I have so much respect and appreciation for him. I never saw him lose it. He was just always supportive, receptive, encouraging and excited. His enthusiasm for the project was so evident and so infectious that it was just a joy. I would work with him again, in a heartbeat.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to follow up Warcraft with?
SCHNETZER: I have no idea. [Warcraft] is the biggest budget spectacle film I’ve ever done, but we shot it a couple years ago. It’s interesting getting to revisit it and talk about it now. It’s like, if you help someone make a collage as a piece of art, but you couldn’t see it, and then they put it in storage for three years and were like, “Okay, so we’re going to put it in an art gallery and everyone is going to come see the collage that you were a part of.” Right now, I’m working on something in Canada. Beyond that, I’ll see what’s next.
What are you shooting now?
SCHNETZER: It’s called The Grizzlies. It’s about a community in Nunavut, Canada, in the Nunavut province called Kugluktuk. It’s based on a true story about a group of high school students and a teacher of theirs from southern Canada. At the time, the town was battling with a very high rate of suicide, teen suicide and alcoholism. It’s a story about this group of kids and this teacher and this community.
What was it like to be a part of Snowden and work with Oliver Stone?
SCHNETZER: It was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun making that movie. It was a real education. I’m a total luddite when it comes to technology. Pretending I know how to use a computer is a challenge. But, it was an amazing experience. It was amazing working with Oliver. I really admire people who concern themselves more with how they perceive the world, rather than how the world perceives them. I think, as an artist, it’s very important to do that. You can limit yourself a lot, if you spend too much time caring about what people think of you. And I think Oliver is at a place, in his life and his career, and he has been for a long time, where he wants to tell stories that mean something. The last way to get someone to like you is to try to make them like you. You just can’t. It’s impossible. So, you have to just trust yourself, shoot from the hip and go for it. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Ed Snowden in the movie, is someone I grew up being a fan of and looking up to and admiring his career. Getting to work with him and seeing how committed he is and how genuinely nice of a guy he is really set the bar, as far as what I want to do. It was an interesting experience. I’m excited to see the film. I haven’t seen it yet.
Warcraft opens in theaters on June 10th.