'John Carter' Set Interviews: Andrew Stanton, Taylor Kitsch, Willem DaFoe, Lynn Collins And Thomas Hayden Church

While on the Utah set of John Carter, a group of journalists (including myself) has the opportunity to interview to the cast and crew. On the following pages, you can read the interviews we conducted on set, transcribed in full:

Interview with Andrew Stanton

Stanton: It's kind of overcast now. We've switched to setting up for dusk.

Q: Isn't that a good thing?

Stanton: No, because you can always change — You can't add shadows. If you really want to get dimensional lighting, you want nice, hard shadows. Overcast isn't our friend. You can always make the sky a little different or tone it down, but you can't do that much. We wait for bright sunlight. Hard, hot Martian sun.

Q: I think you're the first person we've talked to that's not completely beaten up.

Stanton: Really?

Q: And you seem so energetic. How do you keep that up with everything that's going on?

Stanton: Everyone says that and I think you caught me actually a little less energetic. But I don't know. I just sort of accepted my fate before I went onto this that it was going to be hard as hell. It's sort of like saying, "Okay, we're going to go sail around the world." There's nothing really easy about that and there's something mental about just accepting that up front. I've been through blizzards in the UK and volcanoes delaying staff and cold nights and hot mornings. It's been fine.

Q: How does it compare going from the studio to the outside world where you can't control the elements?

Stanton: Well, again, I knew that was going to be the case and certainly that's the biggest change. But it's not as different as I thought it would be. People think — and I know they don't really think this, but their unconscious knee-jerk reaction is — "Oh, you work with computers. Therefore you don't work with people." The truth is that I work with 200 artists every day that are incredibly talented at their jobs and they've been good at it for two decades. I have great DPs, great costumer designers, great set designers, great actors and I've had to speak the language and move lights around, move sets around. All that stuff that you have to do out here. It translates pretty much directly out here. It's just how they do their job is different.

But what I have to do in telling them what to do and how the shot should look when it's actually on frame in the camera, is not that different. They're actually quite impressed that I can hold so many elements in my head because it has yet to challenge me to the level of Pixar. There's something about CG animation where nothing comes together for weeks or months. You have to hold all these disparate jigsaw puzzle pieces for such a long time. You're the only one who is hoping and crossing your fingers that this is what the picture will look like when it all comes together. I'm only asked to do that for a couple of hours here or a day. Then I get to see what we've all come up with. They're very impressed with that mental strength or capacity. All the other animation directors are like, "What's it like? What's it like?" and I go, "Guys, you'd be fine." Pixar is like a massive boot camp for that.

They're also very shocked that we can picture images in our head before seeing anything. Before we see rehearsal or anything like that. That's all we've ever had the option of doing. We have to come up with it before we make it. I didn't realize that it was such a weird muscle to have. It's been very advantageous on something like this. But I've also been incredibly spoiled. I realize that one of the reasons that it's easy is because I've been given some of the best people in the industry on the crew. I couldn't have a better, more talented and more cooperative cast. They've made what is a very, very hard shoot seem doable and sometimes downright fun. I've lucked out on that and I can't take credit for it other than saying yes to accepting all these people.

Q: What's been a challenge for you, then?

Staton: It's interesting to see the system and how the live-action system works. It's based on a lot of things that maybe made sense in the day or decades ago or are holdovers from the studio system. It's unionized and there's a lot of rules that don't make a lot of sense logically. Pixar has none of that. I realize that one of the reasons it's Nirvana is that we didn't realize how a movie was made and just used — god forbid — logic. We figured that if we made a movie the way it should be made, that was the way they were being made. Our system is very logical and we keep improving upon it. We criticize ourselves and we have post-mortems every movie to improve the system. Out here, nobody questions the system. It's just the way it is with all its faults and everything. We don't have unions. Steve was very smart. He said, "Let's give them why there was unions. Let's give them great healthcare. Let's treat them extra special and there's no reason to have that." There aren't these weird byproduct rules that actually cause problems in one area when they think they're helping another. We have a very clean system, Pixar. After you've worked in that, it becomes very obvious how things should work and very obvious how things don't work the right way here. I get a little frustrated at the haphazardness of it. The world of moviemaking, since the studio system broke down — and this is my guess — lives and breathes off of triage. It lives off disaster planning. People feel comfortable in the disaster. "Oh! I know how to deal with this. This is chaos. Somebody's on fire. Let's run and get an extinguisher." That is not Pixar. Pixar is planning to avoid every disaster possible. It's a very opposite experience to the extreme and that took my awhile to get used to, the embracing of the chaos. There's a certain level of it that I feel is necessary. I feel like a parent having their first kid and I can't wait to have to the second one because I'm going to do the parenting a bit differently. I'm somewhat half observer and half participant in watching how this whole things happens.

Q: This film has an extensive post-production phase –

Stanton: I don't call it post. I call it "Principal Digital Photography". Once you look at it like that, you realize, yeah, I'm not done with this shoot at all when I finish in June. Four of my leads are CG and I'd say three or four supporting cast members are CG. Then half the world — not half literally, but the extension of worlds and the extension of sets. These things that are so massive and fantastical that you can't build them — have to be done. The movie always was planned to be half CG and half live action. Not in look, but in the attempt to build this vision we had. Hopefully, if we do it right, when it's all done, nothing will look CG and you'll just accept it. That's all I ever wanted. I always came to this just as a fan. I've spent 40 years of my life just wanting to see somebody make this movie and just see it as a fan and only four realizing, "Oh my god! I can maybe be the one to do that." All I ever wanted was to just believe it and see it on the screen. That's really my goal, to not be showy or spectacle for as much as there is, but just believe that I'm really there. Because I've spent a whole lifetime just wanting to go there.

Q: Can you talk about approaching it as a fan and what it meant to be able to bring it to life as a super-fan of the property?

Stanton: Well, I've been a fan of movies longer than anything else. One thing I learned a long time ago is that you can't translate a book literally to the screen. It won't work because it's a different medium. And it would be the same in reverse. There's this naive belief by some people that, if you do exactly what's in the book, it's going to be good. I would say that that's false thinking. I would say that even movies you think are great adaptations of the book, if you were to compare them, you would suddenly realize, "Oh my gosh. They changed a lot."

Q: What would you say that, at the core, was the most important aspect to maintain?

Stanton: Well, the books were serials. The thing that people don't realize is that the books were originally written as serial chapters in magazines. They all had a three act structure in each chapter. You can't make a movie like that. It'll just be this episodic series of train cars going together and it'll annoy people. How can you keep the spirit of what it felt like to be in the book and to be in these scenes and to be with these characters and to make it work in a three act structure for an overall film. That's where I came at it. Believe me, there's a million scenes that I just imagined in my head reading a million times over in the book since I was a kid. Now that I'm older, I still want to see them and I'm trying my hardest to see that they exist in the film, but the thing that has got to work first and foremost is that the story overall works. And that I invest in the character. To be honest, I never actually invested in Carter 100%. He was always a kind of Prince Valiant, did-it-right-from-the-get-go kind of bland, vanilla guy. I think it was his situation that was more fascinating to me. It was a stranger in a strange land, guy thrown out to circumstances. Also, there's the oddity of the time period. I really love that somebody from the Civil War gets thrown into what we would consider the antiquated past of Mars. That's been something that I've really tried to embrace on this and give it its special thumbprint. Its been such the touchstone for so many things since 1912. It inspired, either directly or indirectly, things like "Flash Gordon", "Star Wars", "Superman" all the way up to "Avatar". If you literally made the book, people would think I was ripping off everyone else and that's the catch-22 about it. So I thought, "What's the spin into it that will make it feel fresh and stand on its own ground?" The approach that I finally decided on was that it should feel like a period film. It should feel like it's historically accurate to everything that really does happen on Mars, as odd as that sounds. It's the same way that I might watch a film about a civilization that I didn't know about in the deep regions of South America or the Middle East of Asia. If it's done in the right way, maybe I'll go, "Wow! Maybe that's how it really is on Mars." I'll sense these layers of history that go behind it and that go unexplained. I've already gotten to see a bit of what it's like to juxtapose New York City in 1888 against suddenly cutting to Mars and cutting to Arizona in the same time period. It really has a nice, period spin on it. Cross my fingers, I hope it'll go in that direction if not nail exactly what I was going for. I think that's what's needed to make it stand out on its own. If you really nail out the bones of it, it's a structure that many films have done.

Q: Burroughs goes into great detail about the setting and the creatures. How loyally did you follow those designs?

Stanton: Well, he's very description, much like Tolkien. Sometimes to a fault. I remember reading "The Lord of the Rings" and getting to a whole chapter about a hill. But it's really helpful for us for our direction and how we want things to look. Again, what I would do is try to follow the basics, but what was really the rule book was, "Do I believe it? Do I believe it really exists?" I don't want anything to look — for lack of a better term — fanboy. I don't want it to look like it's something that I've been drawing on my notebook my whole life while ignoring the teacher and now I finally get to put the Arnold Schwarzenegger bicep guy up on the screen. To me, I roll my eyes just at the thought of that. I want to go, "What would nature really create if that was the case with Tharks and beasts with multiple legs? What would the architecture have to be for a world that is so arid and desert?" Always using the framework from the book as a jumping off point, but tweaking it the moment we felt it was fantasy for fantasy's sake. For example, I made the Tharks in the height range that they've been described a little bit lower. In the book, they're been nine and fifteen. I made them between nine and ten. But I made them very thin and very ropey because I looked at all the desert-dwelling tribes that we're aware of — the aboriginals and the Maasai warriors and the bedouins — nobody's thick. They're all down to the sinewy muscles and just the essentials. They're the definition of the word "essential". That's what I felt they should be. It was a great exercise because, if we're taking the physiology that literal and trying to make it look like arms weren't just stuck on — How would your pectorals be if you actually had a second set of arms and what would their function be? They ended up coming across as a very noble-looking creature and first impression is a very huge thing, even for the character of Carter when he lands on the planet. That really got us inspired to always take that approach on everything.

Q: We were talking to the dialect coach and she was mentioning that the Barsoom language was concocted the same way Na'vi was.

Stanton: Well, one of my producers, Colin Wilson, was one of my producers on "Avatar". He had a connection to the same dialect coach. I was a little nervous about it, because I didn't want to be ripping off or stealing or anything like that.

Q: Are you worried about people making the comparison?

Stanton: Well, there's nothing we can do. That thing was on reels for a long, long time, but this book has been around for 100 years, I just want to see it. I've had the same pressure with other films I've had to make. "Oh no, someone else is making one just like it!" All that stuff. It all lasts for about three months — it used to be six — and it cycles before nobody gives a crap. It's about "is it a good movie and am I going to pull it off the shelf and watch it again?" I'm in it for the grandkids and I always am. I'm not in it for the short term. I'm in it for who might watch it after all the B.S. about box office and anything else controversial that can be created goes away. And it goes away almost faster than you can say it now. It's not worth getting caught up in. I've got a book that has held the test of time and I'm going to make a great movie out of it and hope it sails.

Q: What was it about the book that has kept you so involved in the characters?

Stanton: Again, not to diss anything, but it was almost in spite of John Carter that I liked the books. That was where we put a lot of our work in. How to make him somebody to root for, not that I wouldn't. But it's not that unique to just this story. It's often that the hero is the least interesting person and that the interesting characters are the people around him. I felt like I'd rather watch damaged goods than somebody who has their act together. I went for someone who pretty much resigned himself to the fact that his purpose in life was over and sort of went with the thinking that it's not for us to say what our purpose in life is. You may think it's done or finished or ended or been missed, but life's not done with you sometimes. It may take awhile to figure out what your other purpose is or what your greater purpose always was. That's sort of the tact I took with Carter and it's really what made Carter perfect to play the role. He's the bad boy/wrong side of the tracks and that really worked a lot better.

Q: Are you able to include any of the quote/unquote savagery that Carter had in the books?

Stanton: I used to laugh because it seemed like, in every chapter, there was the sentence, "And then I fought the greatest battle of my entire life." I went, "That can only happen once, technically!" We decided, Hey, it's an action movie. It's probably going to be two hours, two hours plus. I don't want to bludgeon the audience. I don't want to make it a gorefest. I don't want people to check out. I want every single battle to move the story forward. I want every single conflict to feel like it's different from another and special. You certainly want it to compound and feel like you haven't blown your wad early. You don't want the best thing to happen in the middle of the beginning of the film. We worked really hard to make tentpole scenes of conflict and saved or combined things to make them that much stronger. Because there was a lot of fighting to choose from. But we're trying very hard to make them feel like they felt in the books. For me, it was equal amount thrill of adventure and equal amount romance. At the end of the day, I felt like it was a romance. I've really tried to make that the bigger thread through the whole thing.

Q: What have you done to the Deja Thoris character to make her more three-dimensional?

Stanton: That was my concern because we don't need another, "Yes, I'm a nuclear physicist." And yet I'm sure this book inspired people to do exactly that. I thought that I couldn't hide that she's technically a princess, but I can make sure she has as much investment and drive and as much of a goal if not more than Carter for why she's in the story. That's what I tried hard to do. But I wasn't going to hide from the femininity. I feel like that would be a knee-jerk, small-minded, male way of approaching it. I went for the tougher one of saying, "I'm going to embrace the sexiness, but I'm going to go at it from an almost asexual approach of, "Why? Why is she doing everything that she's doing?" Fortunately, someone like Lynn was a huge win because she brings such passion and strength and integrity to the thing. If the moment didn't service it, we had to bring it up to that when I was working with her. It's always a fine balance. You can't please everybody. I do, every now and then, peek on these blogs and see everyone saying, [Geek Voice] "Are they naked?! Are they naked on Mars?!" Use your brain! It's a Disney film! [Geek Voice] "Are they going to lay eggs?!" They might! Some might. Not everyone is going to be happy. I'm going to make it as solid a story as I can using as many elements as possible. Because they were introduced to me as a series as a kid — which is a little ironic. I'm the guy at Pixar who is saying, "I don't want to do a sequel. I don't want to see a second 'Nemo'. I don't want to do a second 'WALL-E'" — But I'm the guy saying, "I would love to see a series." Because that's how it was introduced to me. I've tried very hard, me and Mark and Michael Chabon, too, to think wider from the get-go before we ever set out on the first film. So in, touch wood, the event that this film is good enough that they ask for another, we have a plan. It's a good TV show that has meta issues that can evolve. But we also worked really hard to give it closure. Nothing bugs me more than a cliffhanger with the hubris to think that there is going to be a second one. It's been interesting. It's been fascinating to have that going in to something.

Q: Where are the second and third films at at this stage?

Stanton: We outlined three altogether. But the nice thing about not doing anything in tandem is that we can learn from the first and go, "oooH! I like that guy. I like that situation. Let's see if we can tweak that into the second and third." We're constantly growing and constantly adapting. We're trying to stay ahead of it. We're writing the second right now while we're working on the first... You know the cool thing we're doing is Nathan Crowley, who's our amazing production designer — he did 'Dark Knight' and all of Nolan's films — we came up with this idea of going around and finding geographical rock structure that already look like ruins and would just need a tiny bit of CG work to suddenly add a stairwell or a few window holes. It would flop into your eyes and look like a whole ruin, like Petra. We're making it look like it's bleeding off this whole mesa. That whole mesa is going to look like a city. And it you drive over to where we're shooting right now, that will be the entire city in a big, empty harbor basin. We won't need to do more than 20 percent CG work on top of the physical photography. Your eye will see 80% reality. Hopefully people will say, "Where the hell did you find that and where did you shoot it?" I thought it was a very clever way of grounding it reality and not in fantasy.

John Carter Set Visit Interviews:

John Carter Set Visit Interviews:

Interview with Taylor Kitsch

Taylor Kitsch: Hey guys.

[Everyone introduces themselves.]

Taylor Kitsch: Shoot away.

Question: You look pretty beaten up. How much of this is what you actually look like right now and how much is makeup?

Taylor Kitsch: I feel worse than I look, so what does that tell you? No, I mean I think getting into it you just try to prep as much as you can and get ready for the adventure, you know? Like I said, it's just a lot of mental [strain] too. If you keep telling yourself "You're beat" or this and that, you're going to fall into that trap. You just try to stay positive really.

Question: Were you a fan of the source material at all before you signed on?

Taylor Kitsch: Once I had the first meeting with Stanton... I obviously wanted this gig and the opportunity to work with him, so yeah you kind of envelope yourself with it, at least for the job. I wasn't allowed to read the script before I screen tested for it, so you grab little things that you can at least grab a hold of for the character in the screen test and then take [Andrew Stanton's] direction of course when you get there.

Question: So what were some of those kernels of character?

Taylor Kitsch: I think for me personally, for at least the screen test... I don't know, you learn a lot about [John Carter] with how he deals with fighting and stuff and in the books he would smile. It would be very hard for him to turn away from a fight. So you grab onto those things and then for the script it was a lot of... I just enveloped myself in the Civil War and studied with all of these historians and guys who knew the Civil War inside and out. You read the letters from the soldiers and I built a ton of John Carter off of that, where he actually came from and why he went to war to begin with.

Question: John Carter, I guess, is kind of the audience's surrogate, because we go with him and we sort of open up this world. What's it like playing that character whereas all of the other characters are aware of each other and are in that world? You have to go through and figure it all out.

Taylor Kitsch: I think that's just it. It's been a huge experience for me, just because I'm basically the only "human" in the movie, so I'm showing you [the world] and a lot of things just happen to me, so I'm learning to really just let those things happen to me. Of course a lot of it is reactive stuff and absorbing these characters and everything else. Of course it's sci-fi, so it's not like every scene throughout the whole movie I'm going to be like "There's an alien!" You finally have to get a grip onto where you are and that's the journey of John Carter, but I think it's allowed me to learn. There are scenes that I'm able to drive, to truly take the reins and really craft that moment. So that's been a huge experience for me.

Question: The writing has a very old manner of speech. Do you do that much in the film?

Taylor Kitsch: Definitely. You're not going to get a lot of "Kitschisms" or stuff like that.

[Everyone Laughs]

Taylor Kitsch: It's a lot tighter, the dialect of John, especially since he ages throughout, so you will see that too. The look and everything... We just went over it will Bill Corso, who is incredible with the makeup. We have, I believe, eight or nine different looks, so as an actor I'm salivating. I love it. It's great.

Question: Speaking of that, I just read in an interview recently about Polly [Walker] when she was younger. She would show up on a set and think "Oh how nice of the art department. You had to make all of this up, just for me?"

Taylor Kitsch: (Laughs) I don't know if I think that way. That's a bit selfish, is it not?

Question: I mean to play the titular character in this huge production with all of these elaborate sets. Do you ever find yourself having to check yourself?

Taylor Kitsch: Sure. You pinch yourself, man. I don't know, Stants and I get along and we are collaborating an incredible amount and I think that and the journey and the project and maybe the way all of that kind of comes in and makes that bond a bit stronger that we are... You want this to just be a great movie that people come to see and enjoy the character and the ride of it. Once you start immersing yourself with that, then hopefully everything else will just kind of set in the way it should be. If I start thinking about "this, this, and that" and how it's going to do, then you just drive yourself crazy. It's just not work the energy. I would rather put it into John.

Question: John Carter gets to do a lot of incredible things. He gets to literally leap tall buildings in a single bound, but at the same time you're an alien on a world full of aliens. How do you find the balance between action hero and the audience cipher?

Taylor Kitsch: That's a good question. You know, I think... I mean just leaving set right now... Like I said, prep for me is everything and I trust Stanton throughout, so you've just got to take it a day at a time. "Where is he at this point in time?" "Where is he with the relationship with Tars, with Sola?" and "How do I relate with everything that I've gone through on earth?" and "Why is he the way he is?" I just try and let it be organic as possible, let it run its own course, take the direction, and just go with that. If I start to look forward to six months from now "I'll be doing this scene with Tars," it's just too much. Right now, I'm just immersed in this one scene. It's great.

Question: What is it like working with Andrew Stanton on his first live action feature? How is it in relation to other directors you have worked with? How is it different?

Taylor Kitsch: He's brilliant, first of all. The script is truly remarkable. I keep saying "Prep is everything," he's done it tenfold, so he knows exactly what's going on and with something as big as this of shooting these guys and how technical this can be, the trust has to be just that much more. I have to trust him that much more with what I've done in previous stuff... The technicality, if he goes "I need it again." I just have to trust him. I just trust him, because he's so smart and he's written it and the vision is already there, so really I'm just trying to bring this guy to life as much as I can,

Question: How is the experience of being on location as opposed to in the studio? How much of that gets integrated into the character?

Taylor Kitsch: Yeah, as you were saying it's these sets, you know? A month ago I was surrounded by 360 green on a one-man flyer with wind machines, so you come out here and it really does start to feel like an epic adventure movie. We are on Lake Powell and there are all of these crazy great set designs. It's half the battle, I don't have to envision "this, this, and that" here, it's in front of me, so it helps me as an actor tenfold.

[Everyone thanks Kitsch for his time.]

Taylor Kitsch: Great. Thanks guys, I appreciate it.

John Carter Set Visit Interviews:

John Carter Set Visit Interviews:

Interview with Willem Dafoe

I saw you walking on the stilts. How long did that take you to master?

Willem Dafoe: It's a work in progress, but we got a little time before to rehearse and so you just keep it up. But each time it's a new challenge because the terrain's different, the quality of the sand's different, but it's very important because that height relationship not only helps technically with direct eye lines when mixing effect-oriented stuff with real actors, but also you find the voice much better and you play the scenes much better when you're that character.

What made you want to take this role to begin with? It's so unique.

Dafoe: The truth is, I like the whole project. When Andrew [Stanton] put out a feeler, I said basically, "Yeah, I'd love to play one of the Martians," and then he'd say, "What?" [laughs] I did tip off that I would really love to play Tars Tarkas, which is the role I'm playing, because he's an interesting character. He's not what he appears to be, number one, without giving too much of the story away. He's also got a really good relationship with the John Carter [Taylor Kitsch] character who he kind of takes under his wing and he has a relationship with the Samantha Morton character [Sola]. Plus an adversarial one with Thomas [Haden Church]'s character, [Tals Hajus].

Could you elaborate on the scene that you're shooting?

Dafoe: Right now, basically, I'll shorthand it. There's just been a battle and the John Carter character has helped us in the battle, kind of by accident, unknowingly. So, I'm embracing him as one of our warriors and he's very reluctant. Basically, that's what's happening. And also, it's the introduction...we've taken Dejah [Lynn Collins] prisoner and she comes and asks us to help her rather than take her as prisoner, but we kinda blow that off. [laughs]

So on Mars, at first you speak Martian and then transition into English after drinking that stuff. What does your Martian sound like? Can you say something in Martian?

Dafoe: Sure, sure. [speaks Martian] Like that.

That'll work on the Comic-Con chicks. [laughs] Was there a dialect coach for that?

Dafoe: They had a linguist make a language that corresponded so the sound sounded right. I'm sure it's a hybrid of many things. Then we found a place where we liked it. There's kind of an alphabet and corresponding Martian words with English words, so the syntax is actually all juggled around, but it's based on something actual. And, yes, someone did just be an outside ear for us to speak and see if we were...the important thing was for us all to speak in a similar vein, but also have our individual character voices.

How are you enjoying the shoot here in Arizona and Utah compared to shooting in a studio?

Dafoe: I prefer shooting on location, just because it always helps you. You go some place, you put your life on hold even more than when you've settled in some place. You can make a new life so it opens yourself up to the make-believe and the imagination in a way when you aren't burdened by things that remind you of your life all the time.

After a certain amount of days on the shoot do you past the dots on the face, the way everybody looks?

Dafoe: What dots on the face? [laughs]

Do you just forget about it at a certain point and just get into the imagination of it?

Dafoe: You do and that's the only way to stay invested and to really play the scenes. I look at it as, I don't worry about the scenes so ...different processes. This is like an experiment in recreating information. These performances in front of the camera are sacred pilgrimages in creating fertile material for them to work with, probably in post.

What have been some of your personal challenges for working on this film compared to other movies?

Dafoe: Personal challenges for this? I don't know. I'm having fun. I think with something like this...is not to get cynical... in the scene even with all of these technical applications. I think, partly because I'm really more of a theater actor, that's my background and I've made a lot of movies like that, I'm used to that.

Was your balance pretty good before this or is it something you've had to practice?

Dafoe: I think so, I think so. I shouldn't be bragging, not yet. But, it's always something that's there, that possibility.

All about the core strength?

Dafoe: It is, it is. And I've got good core strength.

I know you probably don't get a lot of downtime, but what do you do for fun around here?

Dafoe: We haven't been here long enough to tell you that, but I would imagine sightseeing. [laughs] It's beautiful country.

How's it been working with Taylor? What's it been like?

Dafoe: He's great, he's great. He's a workhorse on this thing, he's perfectly cast. I enjoy him a lot. I like how he works. He's the center of this.

Have you been able to teach him a lot?

Dafoe: I don't teach nobody nothin'! [laughs]

[Thomas Haden Church joins]

What's it like working with Willem Dafoe?

Thomas Haden Church: He's great. He was really an inspiration for me when

I was younger and even though he's not a lot older. ... He's so grounded and

at the same time, so genuine. It's been great, really great.

John Carter Set Visit Interviews:

John Carter Set Visit Interviews:

Interview with Thomas Haden Church

Can you talk about what you're role is in the movie and in this scene?

Church: Well, I don't know how much you know, but we're part of a warring tribe on Mars. There are different factions...I have to keep it on the down low as far as information. Willem and Samantha [Morton] and myself and Polly Walker, we're all members of the same tribe. Then Taylor, as you can tell, is a dude. [laughs] An Earth dude. And then Lynn [Collins], if you've seen her, her appearance is a lot different than ours.

On a technical level, how does this compare to Spider-Man, for example?

Church: It's a completely different concept because this is all motion capture. Everything we do. Now, the whole world is apprised of how it works because of Avatar, but you just act everything out. For the most part, our physicality is captured by the cameras and then all of our facial maneuverings and manipulations are caught by the headset cam. There are two of them. It's a different process because, on Spider-Man, so little of it, so little of the animation was available to me as a physical actor, whereas this, you're completely embedded in it. My whole body and my head and

everything is going to be in motion capture with an infusion of my body and, as I already said, my physicality and expressions and emotions of it.

Do you have a pretty good idea of what it's going to look like, in your head?

Church: You guys have seen the concept art, right? That's what they're going to look like. They're giants, but they have their own, for lack of a better word, they have their own humanity, a tribal humanity and a social order. That's a pretty good representation of the way they're going to look.

Can you talk a little more about your character?

Church: Willem is the leader of the tribe. My guy is sort of his pit bull guard dog. He's very aggressive when it comes to violence and fighting. He's probably a little bit too aggressive because Willem is trying to lead by example, his character. There's, at times, a little friction.

Do you get to do any fighting in the film?

Church: I do.

Do you have to do that on stilts? How is that handled?

Church: A lot of it is going to be...again, as I was saying, it's all melded. We rehearsed fighting. We had a stunt camp in January in England and we rehearsed fighting on the stilts. I prefer being on the stilts, I think Willem does too because it's just become the character to me, to be 8'7” and still independently mobile. I spend a lot of time rehearsing on them by myself at the ranch where I live in Texas. They sent me stilts probably in November and I just started like a baby, just started getting up on them and moving around and getting better and better and better. Then at the stunt camp in

January, I had a greater awareness of what was going to be expected as far as manipulating and movements, that sort of thing. I still can't run. It's disappointing because I thought I would get to where I'd be able to move with the facility of my normal kind of stature. It's really difficult.

Can Willem run in them?

Church: I don't know. I haven't seen him run in them. I'm assuming the stunt guys are really good in them. They also use, I think they're called "leaping stilts" where it's a completely different

energy. "Powerisers." It's completely different. They can run in them, they can do layout flips.

With all the stilts and the motion capture and the facial recognition, was this more challenging than a normal live-action production or less so? Does it free you up?

Church: That's a good question. Probably a little of both, because you're always aware that, especially with the helmet, the mo-cap helmet on, you're always aware that it's there. The camera's right there with the lights. I know that it's going to take it to another kind of level of menace and vitality that's going to be in Andrew [Stanton]'s domain. And the production team, it's not just him. There are literally hundreds of people working on this project.

John Carter Set Visit Interviews:

John Carter Set Visit Interviews:

Interview With Lynn Collins

Collins: I'll let you see part of the costume. As you can see, there's not much of it. The tattoos are being rubbed off because of the armor. Here's the armor. A beautiful breastplate. So yeah, hit me. It's amazing. It feels so different. It's like we're in a different movie now. We shot for three months in green screen in London. Now that we're outdoors and dealing with the natural elements, it's totally different. Utah and Arizona, this area that we're in is just awe-inspiring. There's an unforgiving beauty to it all. It was helping me, I'm sure, get into it more.

Q: We hear you did some sword-fighting. How are you enjoying the staged combat?

Collins: Several sword-fighting scenes! I'm a trained martial artist. My parents were both martial artists. I came into this project with a little extra Umph. I've been boxing with my trainer and there's something so gratifying wielding the sword. We just don't have that in this day and age unless you're going to the renaissance faire and getting dressed up. It's so empowering and fantastic. The people that are coaching and teaching me are just wonderful. Andrew Stanton, he's so wonderful and created such a great group that everything is so fun.

Q: Do you have a lot of mobility with that armor?

Collins: You know, they have several different pieces. This is the classic version and they've got a hero version which is metal. They've had to adjust the arms, which are detachable, so that I can move. One of the things about Dejah — and I don't know if this makes sense to you all — is that, when she's fighting, she's operating on a diagonal so that it doesn't look like a normal sort of fight. It's sort of on a spin. We had to adjust, because it was rubbing me raw. As you can see, it's rubbing the tats right off.

Q: Can you talk about the tattoos and what it means for your character?

Collins: Yeah, the makeup people decided that the red men would, instead, be these beautiful tattoos. And then you can see my blood. We've got blue blood as red men. Instead of painting people crimson. Nobody looks good that way. Everyone, instead, has what I call a "hyper-tan" with different shades and hues that separate them from Taylor's character, who is all white.

Q: What's the prep time when you come to set?

Collins: Three and a half hours. Underneath this, I have freckles and very light eyes that aren't blue. They're green. And my hair is a dirty, dusty blonde. It's really so fun to go through this transformation every day. I could complain about the hours but, when everything is said and done, I look in the mirror and think that this is what I dream about. Playing characters that are benevolent, powerful females. They're doing such a great job making the image something that everybody can bite into.

Q: Can you talk a little about your character?

Collins: Yeah, Dejah Thoris is the regent of science and letters on Helium, which is sort of the peaceful city of Mars. But she's also the Princess of Helium. That's sort of revealed in the movie. There's an incredible masculine/feminine combination that I'm working with. It's just dealing with that personally, myself. Every role that you accept makes you grow in some way. It's part of the creative process. She's just a benevolent, powerful feminine force. I feel like I'll be able to take so much of that away with me and filter that into the next roles I play.

Q: She's not just a princess that the prince fights for her?

Collins: No, she gets right into the fights. And may fight even better.

Q: What's the interaction like with the actors wearing motion-capture suits?

Collins: Oh, it's fantastic. Their job is so difficult, especially here. It's one thing to be against a green screen in London. To be out here in this environment in the green suits must be so difficult for them. But Samantha and Polly and Willem and Thomas — what they're doing is really so difficult. They're having to create these characters that have multiple arms. They have to rely on so much. We have to rely on so much as well. Really, creativity is blossoming on this set. Because we don't have a choice! (laughs)

Q: How is the acting against looking at the fake head?

Collins: I'm horrible at it! We keep doing takes and everyone keeps pointing above his face. "Look up! Look up!" It's really difficult. Especially because these actors are so fine. I want to be engaging with their faces! I don't want to look at the grey head. When they're on stilts, it's a lot easier.

John Carter Set Visit Interviews: