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.

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