Anna Fang (Jihae)

There are a few characters in Mortal Engines who feel poised to be instant audience favorites, and Anna Fang is one of them. This dashing airship pilot is either a terrorist and a pirate or a revolutionary and a freedom fighter, depending on your perspective. What isn’t up for debate is that she’s a total badass. Jihae, the South Korean actress and musician who plays Anna, explained why this character was such a pleasure to play:

“Well, my initial reaction to Anna Fang was, you know, a really pleasant, happy surprise. I don’t think there’s ever been an Asian female superhero character ever in a blockbuster film who really takes charge and is a leader and is a warrior leader.”

And like so many warrior leaders, Anna Fang had a rough childhood. She escaped slavery, built an airship out of scraps, and traveled the world, eventually finding a corner of the world untouched by war, a natural haven that is “the only place with the trees and nature.”

So how does one protect the last natural haven the world has to offer? With a variety of weapons, of course. “I’m working with that one staff that the longsword, but has, like, click a button and stuff comes out,” Jiahe told us. “And then there’s a twin butterfly knife, but we’re not sure yet how much of that is going to be used at the end. And a few guns; really big, ornate guns. Very big and heavy.”

Shrike (Stephen Lang)

Where does one even begin with Shrike? This “resurrected man” was once a human…a human who died and was transformed into an immortal cyborg killing machine for a war that is just a distant memory now. A relic out of time, powered by instincts and an unreliable memory of the man he used to be, Shrike is a vicious wild card in the world of Mortal Engines.

If you want the basic description of what Shrike is, production designer Dan Hennah sums it up well:

“The logic of Shrike is that he is a machine. He has a human brain and human eyes and he has human skin that has been pretty much mummified by now. So, it was a human skin that was being fed by his internal mechanical organs, you know, oxygen and blood transfer his system pretty much the same as anybody. That element has deteriorated considerably and worn out in places. But the mechanical quality is still going and the brain is still protected.”

Ew. Anyway, Shrike is brought to life by the reliably great Stephen Lang, the grizzled character actor known for his work in Avatar and Don’t Breathe, via motion capture. And while the book describes Shrike’s movements as insect-like, Lang took his inspiration from a variety of sources…after falling down a YouTube hole. Honestly, it’s best to just let him explain it:

“Well, I did look at some insects, certainly. But, I’d say the real inspiration for the character came from predatory birds. And that starts really with the name, Shrike. As it happens in this particular edition of resurrected man, that year, that model, they were all given bird names. It just struck me as there was a predatory bird quality to him. But, I’ll tell you this, a very, very happy accident I had was…as I began looking at birds and listening to birds, I always recalled…and I was looking at all kinds of hawks and falcons and vultures and mostly kind of predatory birds. And shrikes, which are a predator bird as well. I looked at swans because I know swans can be very, very aggressive birds.

So, I was looking at swans and what came up on YouTube was Swan Lake, right? A YouTube. And I googled it and it was Rudolph Nureyev dancing Swan Lake. And I began to watch him. And as I began to watch him, I began to see Shrike, because what he did was the way he moved, the way a ballet dancer moves is, when a ballet dancer moves, he doesn’t move his arms. He doesn’t do the counterweight that we do when we walk, right foot, left arm. Left foot, right arm. He doesn’t do it. He keeps his arms back and he…because he was doing a swan. And he looked like this folded bird and just that sort of powerful thing. And when you think about it, it’s incredibly graceful and at the same time, there’s something slightly robotic about it as well, which is kind of what, you know, right in the wheelhouse of this character.

And so, that’s the kind of thing that is useful to me. You know what I mean? Because even if I don’t end up looking like Nureyev, it inspires something in you, you know? It gives you something to kind of hold on to an idea. So, that’s it. As far as insects go, of course, praying mantis is a beautiful [inspiration]. And all of those wonderful insects that blend into the background and wait patiently either to avoid being eaten or to wait for something to eat. And so, there’s an element a quality of patience that they have, you know? And that’s very much in keeping with this character who also can remain kind of in a state of immobility for centuries at a time if he chooses.”

As the character beyond his movement, Lang fell in love with his contradictions. “I was interested in him from the first line from the first description of him,” he told us. “Ultimately, what got me was that he fulfills all the requirements of tragedy to me. He inspires both pity and terror. And that’s, like…you can’t beat that shit. You can’t do that.”

And about those contradictions:

“Character’s just rife with contradiction because, you know, he’s…for a character that’s been emptied out, he’s really full. For a character who detests memory or has no use for memory, he’s completely obsessed with memory. For a character who is absolutely heartless, he’s got the biggest heart in the world.”

Chudleigh Pomeroy (Colin Salmon)

Because every movie needs that older, wiser character to explain things to our heroes (and to the audience), there’s Chudleigh Pomeroy. And if you need someone to play a role like that, why not cast Colin Salmon, a magnetic British actor with one hell of a voice?

In any case, Chudleigh is perfectly positioned to help explain the weird world of Mortal Engines because he’s a member of the Guild of Historians and Tom’s boss. Salmon relished playing this part:

“You know, I think that thing of being a guardian of history, it’s really part. I feel like I’m a guardian of art, but not producing it; protecting it. Because I just think in a world where are really a premium, so that library is really, really important. I’ve found the Yates’ poetry in there [on the library set] and was just reading it between the scenes and you just realize, well, where there are no books, those things become so precious.”

Mortal Engines arrives in theaters on December 14, 2018.

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