A Galaxy of Possibilities: Lucas Museum of Narrative Art Director of Archives Laela French talks Star Wars Identities

For F*** Magazine

F*** talks to the art historian and curator about bringing the blockbuster Star Wars exhibit to Singapore

From 30 January to 13 June 2021, Star Wars fans in Singapore can make the jump to hyperspace and into a galaxy far, far away at the Star Wars Identities exhibition at the ArtScience Museum. Originally slated to open in April 2020, the exhibition was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has finally opened in Singapore

This exhibition contains over 200 artefacts, including costumes, props, concept art and models that were used in the production of the Star Wars Original Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy, the Clone Wars animated series and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The exhibition debuted in Montreal in 2012 and after touring cities including Paris, London, Brussels, Sydney and Tokyo, the exhibition makes its 12th and final stop in Singapore, before the objects on display return to the Lucasfilm Archives. Highlights of the exhibition include screen-used costumes of characters like Darth Vader, C-3PO, Boba Fett, Princess Leia, Padmé Amidala and Chewbacca. The exhibition also contains original concept art created by artists including Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston, as well as models of ships like the Millennium Falcon, the Mon Calamari Home One, The Slave One and the Devastator Star Destroyer.

Visitors will not only be able to see these elements from the Star Wars saga before them, but also embark on a journey themselves. Each visitor wears an RFID wristband, and via ten interactive stations, will craft their own unique character within the Star Wars universe, choosing their character’s species, home planet, personality traits and making decisions when faced with various scenarios. At the end of their journey, visitors will meet the character created via these choices. Through the lens of Star Wars characters, the exhibit examines how our origins, the influences on us and the choices we make shape our identities.

Laela French at the launch of Star Wars Identities in Munich

Lucas Museum of Narrative Art Director of Archives Laela French was part of the team that initially designed the exhibit in 2012 and has overseen its world tour. Speaking to F*** over video call from Los Angeles, French shared her insights as an art historian and museum creator, discussed what the exhibit has in store for die-hard fans and neophytes alike, and explained why Star Wars has maintained its resonance and hold on popular culture across decades.

(The following interview has been edited for clarity)

F*** Magazine: Hi Laela, thank you for talking to us! Please let our readers know what your work as the Director of Archives at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art entails, and about your history with the Lucasfilm collection.   

LAELA FRENCH: I am the Director of Archives for the Lucasfilm archive collection, which is now under the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. What that really means is that I oversee and caretake all the props, models, costumes and concept art that were used in the making of Star Wars. Of course, the archive is more than just Star Wars. It includes Indiana Jones and any other film productions that George was involved with or was a producer for, such as Willow… 

Tucker, the Man and his Dreams?
 

Tucker, exactly, yes! So it’s a great collection, but of course it’s always all about Star Wars, and sometimes a little bit of Indiana Jones. It’s like a museum collection: we make sure that it’s stored correctly, we’re cataloguing it and caretaking it, we do research sometimes on the collection with partners or with Disney and Lucasfilm. And we mount and tour exhibitions, as Star Wars Identities is here in Singapore for you. And my background is in museums and collections care and exhibitions.  

Star Wars is a franchise that many people have different relationships with. How does this exhibit cater to fans of different ages who may have gotten into Star Wars at different points in their lives, or have varying degrees of intensity in being a fan of Star Wars? What are the levels at which different people can experience this exhibit? 

One of the things that I love so much about this collection, and I’ve been with it for so long, is that it is so meaningful to so many people around the world, it’s woven into our cultural and social fabric. We can communicate through Star Wars language and iconography. Doesn’t matter if you’re eight or 80, at this point, everyone knows about Star Wars at some level, even if they haven’t seen the movies.

We always mount our exhibitions with education and museum visitors in mind. With our Star Wars fans, we’re always wanting to put surprises in the exhibition for our super-nerd fans, because we know that they know so much already, so we always want to give them a little extra surprise. But we always think about the non-Star Wars fan who’s coming to an exhibition at the museum, so we want to make sure that even if you’re not a fan, this exhibit is still for you. It’s like if you were going to a Monet exhibition or a fine art exhibit, you didn’t know about the artist, but you’re going in to learn something. We also design our exhibitions so that different age groups can really explore and enjoy it. So I always say, kids ages eight to 80. But truthfully, I’ve seen four-year-olds go through this exhibit and they recognise the characters in Star Wars, they just see Yoda and they’re instantly engaged. So it’s a very generous exhibition for all kinds of people, all different ages, whether you’re a superfan or you haven’t even seen the films yet. 

How does this exhibit combine the experience of entering the world of Star Wars, through the “identity” component, with looking at the movies from a real-world behind-the-scenes perspective? 

What we’re looking at in this exhibition is the science of human identity and trying to answer the question, “What makes humans unique, what makes us each unique?” and we worked with a very deep and exciting group of scientists [in the fields of] psychology biology, genetics, across the gamut – anyone touching on human identity in some capacity we had on our committee, and we debated how to organise this using Star Wars. This exhibition is really built on the idea that we can tell the story of human identity through Star Wars.

We can break down personalities into five basic groups, and this is science, not fantasy stuff here, [it’s] psychotherapy. Those [types] are really well defined by Star Wars characters so we can find someone that’s very neurotic in C-3PO and see someone who’s brave and maybe a little reckless in Han Solo. The idea is that fans will recognise Star Wars characters, and we can talk about that what’s underneath that character and identifying who they are and what they represent.

And then you get to actually do your own Star Wars identity quest through the exhibition, creating your own Star Wars avatar. In that sense, you’re answering these different questions learning about the science of human identity in building your own Star Wars character. What I love is adults tend to answer the questions honestly and earnestly; they’re really serious about it. Kids are just like, “I’m all bad. I’m all good,” they’re just having Fantasyland, but they’re still learning while playing and that is just one of the best things about the exhibition. 

Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie

Filmmaking is a collaborative art form. We often talk about George Lucas’ original vision, but many artists and technicians over the decades have helped bring that vision to life. Which artists, whose work is displayed in this exhibit, would you single out for their contributions? 

Well, I have to start with Ralph McQuarrie. To me, there’s no Star Wars without George Lucas, and there’s no Star Wars without Ralph McQuarrie also. We have a heavy display in this exhibition, we have over 100 pieces of art and so much of it is Ralph McQuarrie’s paintings. His visual designs for the different planet scenes really created the look and feel of Star Wars from the get-go. So, I have to say he put the biggest mark on Star Wars feeling and looking like the way Star Wars does. He was behind the design of Darth Vader, he was behind the design of so many characters in the first go-around: Chewbacca, for example. Even Han Solo in his character design, he really put a touchstone all of that. After that, I would think that it’s Joe Johnston right behind him, creating a lot of ship designs and some of the other characters. So those two artists really created the visual look of Star Wars that we know and understand today. 

Schematic by Joe Johnston

Star Wars is a gateway in many ways; fans have discovered the different mythological, literary and film influences on Star Wars by starting there and going backwards. Do you hope that visiting this exhibit might be a gateway for kids to discover the artistic influences on Star Wars? 

I really hope so. And while this is really an exhibit on science and identity, we still are pulling right back into the hero’s journey and mythology. And so kids get really excited about that, and it leaves a little bit of a seed in them, then they’re going to go back and realise how much mythology influences all the stories that we’re telling, from the early days of Homer and The Odyssey and The Iliad. Then you go on over to the Norse mythology, like Ragnarok, those stories, and how there’s the same thread through all of them, the hero’s journey is really central to so much of our human experience. On the other side, they’re really excited by what they see in terms of design, that kind of artistry, the paintings, or the model-making or the costume design, which is exquisite, I mean truly, it’s just the best thing about Star Wars. I hope it inspires a whole new generation of artists and filmmakers and storytellers as well. 

I think there can still be a snobbishness about art, this divide between “high” and “low” art, which is why I love the approach of pop culture as a gateway into exploring different art forms. As someone who has worked in the worlds of fine art and of pop culture, how does something like Star Wars bridge those worlds? 

Well, I think that Star Wars not only bridges it but hopefully just obliterates the gap entirely. George Lucas is a filmmaker and a storyteller, and he’s also an art collector. Now he’s building a museum for visual storytelling and art collecting, so for him, it was never snobbery or elite art, it was always storytelling. I think what he’s doing through Star Wars, and through all the visual art is at the centre, it’s the story that you see in the artwork. If that painting tells a story, and it resonates for you, it counts, and there is no high art or low art. It’s what each visitor gets out of the painting in front of them. And you might get a whole masterpiece out of one story or painting and another person next to you goes “meh” and it doesn’t resonate for them and that doesn’t make it good or bad. It’s just that the story doesn’t work for that person, and they go and find a different painting that maybe tells a great story for them. So I think that’s for me what I hope Star Wars has contributed to high or low art and sort of changing the whole conversation and getting rid of the terms “high” and “low”. And just coming to the idea of “Do you enjoy this art?” If you don’t, it’s okay. We don’t all love every movie ever made, right? Every year, I go “I love that movie; didn’t love that movie.” It’s okay. 

Star Wars fans don’t even love every Star Wars movie ever made.  

Exactly, that’s right. We all have our favourite moments and our least favourite ones. It’s not “good” or “bad”. It’s just enjoy what you enjoy, and then you move on from there. 

You worked at the Autry Museum. Can you shed some light on the specific influences that the Western genre has on Star Wars, as can be seen from the objects on display at this exhibit? 

I mean, honestly, Star Wars is a space Western, right? And George Lucas, who’s the storyteller of Star Wars, he grew up a fan of cinema, he would go and watch all kinds of movies, and he’s a fan of the Western serials that were popular when he was growing up. And that idea is that you go to the theatre, and you’d watch the movie, and then it would leave you on a cliffhanger. And then you’d be waiting for the next week to go back and see what happened. He grew up on all of that kind of cinema.

And it’s not that he set out to make this a Western in space, per se, but he wanted to do this adventure and journey, and part of what his cinematic background was infused with was those Western stories. But there is something similar between the Western and the Kurosawa films from Japan. These other stories that are told, they all share a similar underlying adventure, where the lone wolf rolls into town and becomes the good guy. That’s what Han Solo is, and he’s your character in Star Wars that really pulls in the identity of the American West. And right down to his gunslinger holster and his Western shirt and everything, he really could be dropped into a Western film and fit right in. I love that. 

One of the things I love about Star Wars is that it’s the first successful pastiche franchise. It pulls from all of these varied influences that impacted George Lucas in one way or another, but synthesises them in an interesting way. It’s at once very familiar and very novel.  

I think a lot of people who hit that level of artistry and have that reach, like Star Wars has for 40+ years, is because it’s not just one single note. He didn’t just do one thing that made Star Wars amazing. He did many things that pulled together made it off the charts, kind of groundbreaking. The visual effects, right? That right there could have made a great movie, but then it wasn’t just these groundbreaking visual effects. It was the design in Star Wars that was also amazing, and completely fresh and new. And he didn’t just say, “Oh, that’s a good enough design. Let’s go on,” he kept pushing and pushing his artists until he was like, “Yes, that’s what I want.” He had this visual aesthetic that was very, very strong. And then it was based on mythology and the hero’s journey, which is a timeless story that resonates for any generation, so it wasn’t just a movie that worked great in the 70s but that doesn’t resonate anymore, it still resonates even today. Those are just some of the few things that he did that amalgamated together to make Star Wars just become what you call a classic, right? It’s something that transcends time and lives on and is enjoyed through many generations. 

I imagine the Lucasfilm archives must be like the warehouse at the end of Raiders. What is it like in that building, and was there any item in the archives that really surprised you?  

You know, it doesn’t quite look like the end of Raiders. But we used to have a warehouse for the while we were making Episodes, I, II and III [of] Star Wars that totally looked like the end of Raiders and it made us laugh, so in a way, yes, we have that. We have several storage locations. So the main collection’s at Skywalker Ranch, and I think what’s really surprised me is how much material archivally almost from the first memo to the final film shot, how much material it takes to make a film – how much artwork and artistry, and how many artists, from sculptors to painters to costume designers and costume makers, how many different artisans it took to make Star Wars [into] Star Wars today, and how many new inventions that were pushed into Star Wars to make Star Wars what it is that we see today. That’s reflected in the artwork in the collection. So when I see the collection together, and I’m like, “There’s that guy who made that and then there’s the lady that designed and built that,” and it just keeps going and there’s hundreds and hundreds of people. And a lot of film is like that. It’s not just Star Wars, but I think Star Wars beautifully represents the many artists that it takes to tell a beautiful cinematic story. 

One of the things I love about film is that you’re watching a two-hour-long movie, but you’re not seeing the amount of work that goes into it and the iterative process on the way there. That’s for you to discover later. There will be visitors who will look at the concept art of a garden gnome named “Minch” and be surprised that that’s how Yoda began.  

Absolutely, and we have the garden gnome artwork. I think that will be one of the things that will surprise people that come to the exhibition, and even if they’re not Star Wars fans, is seeing the visual journey from first sketch to final character design because really, we’re talking about identity. So part of the exhibition is exploring the identity of all the characters in Star Wars – not everyone, but the primary ones. So you get to study Jabba, from his first sketch and all the different little maquettes. And I love the one where he looks like Fu Manchu with his big moustache, all the way to what he finally looked like in the end. And of course, Yoda is a great one for that. But so is Chewbacca, how Chewbacca came to be who he is as a character. It’s the idea of design and not stopping too soon and keep pushing and pushing and pushing. I think that’s a great visual lesson for so many students today, whether they’re art students, or writers or storytellers or even scientists, that sometimes it takes a lot of effort and layers and layers of repetition till you get to the right answer, whether it’s you’re solving a scientific problem, or whether you’re solving an artistic design problem. 

Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie

The making of Star Wars is so storied that the mythology is not just within that fictional universe, but the real-life behind-the-scenes process has become mythologised in a way, too.  

It’s true. And because there’s such a worldwide fan base, sometimes that mythology gets put into dogma [laughs]. So we always have a little challenge here and there, when we would put something on display, and then fans would get upset because it kind of challenged their understanding of the Star Wars universe that they had come to adopt into their world. So we’re always a little cognisant of that. We always want it to be celebratory, and celebrate the fans and celebrate especially the uber-fans who have been with Star Wars since they were kids, and they’re bringing it to their kids and their grandkids. But at the same time, not every single thing is known about every single aspect of how Star Wars got made.

You know, there’s still some mysteries out there that we’re still being asked, and I don’t know the answer to that. When we’re doing research for different productions, I’m like, “I don’t know the answer to that.” So there’s still mysteries out there. And honestly, I kind of love that. I love that it’s an archive that’s so deep and rich, we have production notes, and binders of production designer notes, that in 100 years, in 200 years, they will have film curatorial historians coming through and still writing new things about Star Wars, even though it’s been 100 years, because not everything is known. So to me, that’s exciting. 

As you mentioned, there are fans who can be very fixed in the way they look at Star Wars, and in what Star Wars means to them. What is the best mindset to have, stepping into Star Wars Identities? 

Honestly, I think the best way to come into any exhibition but Star Wars Identities, especially, is if you’re coming in as a fan, to go back to why you’re a fan. What did that moment feel like? Tap back into that eight-year-old kid, if that’s what it was, and remember that and play, come in and just have fun, because it’s really what exhibitions are for. It’s supposed to inspire and bring joy, and, and be open. In that sense, you’re now opening to the experience ahead of you. The only time I’ve had challenges is when when a visitor will come in with a preconceived notion and expectation, and that that’s where they may find disappointment. But when we turn the tables around and invite them to remember what it is that they love about Star Wars, then that all opens right back up. And honestly, I’ve never really had to do that but more than one or two times. Everyone tends to go right back to why they love Star Wars, especially in the room with all the objects. 

For the non-Star Wars fan coming to Star Wars identities, I think that they’ll be pleasantly surprised to be learning about human identity through the characters of Star Wars, even if they don’t know the films, in a way they’re going to come out knowing a little bit about who those characters are. And what we have found in touring this exhibition is that it’s the non-Star Wars fans who go “Oh my god, I kind of didn’t want to see this movie, or I missed my moment, I got turned off on it for whatever reason, or it’s not my kind of movie, I’m not at all going, ‘Oh my god, I gotta go watch this movie!'” And then we get these letters that go “I had no idea. I just loved the films, but I didn’t watch them until after I went through the exhibition.” So I would say just come and have a good time.

Creating your own Star Wars identity through the exhibition was one of the [most fun] things I’ve ever done. Let me tell the story: when we were mounting this exhibit, it was 2012. I started my job with this collection not as a Star Wars fan. Not everyone believes that, but it’s true. I’m a museum nerd, I’m more of a museum caretaker. Not to say I don’t love the films, but I didn’t come in as like the uber-fan; I’m more of an art historian. So when I when we were doing the exhibit, I helped curate it and design it, and when we were installing it in Montreal for the first venue, we finally got to test the identity quest. And I did it and I was giggling like a five-year-old, going “Oh my god, that was so much fun. I’m gonna go do it again.” I did it 17 times. I just went and had a blast. And I realised, “Oh my god, we did it.” All of our partners, everyone who worked on this exhibit, we totally had a home run because I was having a blast. And I’m like the most jaded [person], too close to the project, too critical of all the details. And I was just like, “Forget it, I’m gonna go do it again,” and I had so much fun. When I got to share it with my kids and my family. They were the same way. They were like, “This is the best thing we’ve ever done!” And again, they put up with me being with the collection. So I think just come and have a good time, then enjoy it. It’s so much fun. It’s such a fun, fun exhibit. It’s really my favourite thing we’ve ever done. 

This exhibit was originally going to launch in Singapore in April 2020, and then Circuit Breaker happened, and it’s been in storage for nine months. Walking through the exhibit was surreal, because we’re all wearing masks, and there’s safe distancing and more frequent disinfection, but it’s a real, largely uncompromised museum experience. What do you think the future holds for museum spaces, post-COVID-19?  

I’m more hopeful. And I love that you guys call it “Circuit Breaker”; I had never heard that before. At least we don’t use. We don’t use that term in America, that’s neat, I like that. I think because it’s just a circuit break, that will get restored. I don’t think we’re going to be stuck in this particular style. I do think things will have changed forever forward from COVID-19. I do feel like that ability to work from home for so many corporations around the world and the flexibility; it’s creating a lot of silver linings. It’s been obviously a challenging time for all of the world, but I think there will be some benefits coming from it. For exhibitions, I feel like we will restore back to how we were before. I don’t see us always stuck in paranoid land of a pandemic. Pandemics do end. Historically, throughout time, they all come to an end, they all come to an end in a two-to-three-year window. I do feel like when it comes to an end, we’re going to have a slow transition back to normalcy. We’re all gonna be a little bit like, “Oh, is it really, really, really over?” but I think we will get there. And then we’ll be back to our crowded galleries and having human experiences the way we used to be with a big, huge sigh of relief. So, I have faith in that and I’m so grateful for all the effort that the Singapore ArtScience museum have brought to this to make this work during COVID. It was Herculean, really for all the teams, but we did it and we’re really thrilled that in Singapore, you guys can have a semi-normal moment going to the exhibition and that’s really a great way to end this exhibit. 

Finally, as an art historian, what do you imagine someone with your job, 200 years in the future, would say about Star Wars 

Well, because we’re going to have this amazing Star Wars archive, as part of the Lucas Museum of narrative art in Los Angeles. The 200-year future with my job, living in Los Angeles caretaking this collection, what are they going to say about Star Wars? They’re going to say that it was one of the most seminal, groundbreaking, moments in cinematic history, like Shakespeare to Elizabethan England. The after-effects will be much better seen and understood in 200 years than we are in the only 40-year window. But if I’m looking at it as a trajectory, with a rocket trail, I see it only continuing and growing and especially now in the hands of Disney, as a global franchise, and with theme parks and Star Wars Land, like I don’t see it slowing down and I don’t see it coming to a full stop. I always see it as woven into our social fabric and vernacular and vocabulary. I just see that 200 years from now they’re going to be really looking at all of the effects of what George Lucas created with his Skywalker story. And in a positive light, I just feel like it’s gonna be really meaningful just like what Shakespeare did. I’m not saying Star Wars is equal to Shakespeare for the literary snobs in the world, I’m just saying the impact will be same felt. They’re already holding classes at universities on Star Wars. So I just see that going more in in the cinema I think cinema has always been looked at as lowbrow. We talked about highbrow-lowbrow, right? I think cinema is going to be seen as a new way of telling stories in high fashion, whatever that really means. Maybe we’ll lose that terminology altogether. 

Visit https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/exhibitions/star-wars-identities.html for tickets and more details

The Biggest Draw: Disney Animation Research Library’s Mary Walsh talks Disney: Magic of Animation exhibit

For F*** Magazine 

F*** talks to Mary Walsh, managing director at the Disney Animation Research Library, at the launch of the Disney: Magic of Animation exhibition in Singapore.

By Jedd Jong

Disney fans, or ‘Disnerds’ as they like to be known, are in for a treat: more than 500 pieces of artwork used in creating the studio’s short and feature animated films are going on display for the first time in Singapore. The Disney: Magic of Animation exhibition opens at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands Singapore and runs from 26 October 2019 to 29 March 2020.

The exhibition offers visitors a peek behind the curtain at the House of Mouse, highlighting the talented artists and technicians who work in various departments on the studio’s animated films and walking visitors through the process of creating these films. The pieces of art on display include original concept sketches, background paintings, sculptures and models which were created in the making of Disney’s animated films.

The highlights of the exhibition include sketches of Mickey Mouse from 1928’s Steamboat Willie, the first animated short film synced to sound, early designs of Snow White, sculptures of Belle and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast and a model of Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph made from biscuits and candy.

The exhibition also includes artwork from the upcoming Frozen 2, marking the first time that art from a yet-to-be-released Disney film has been exhibited.

The exhibit also includes interactive activities, including a station where visitors can get a taste of what it’s like to be a Foley artist, attempting to match sound effects created using props to a scene from Mulan. A zone of the exhibit is decorated to resemble the Nordic autumnal forest seen in Frozen 2, allowing fans to take photos against a backdrop that brings the film to life.

Disney keeps meticulous records of the artwork created in the process of making its films. The Disney Animation Research Library (ARL) is where the physical art pieces are kept, and the works displayed at this exhibition are drawn from the library’s vast collection, which stretches back to the very beginnings of Disney.

At the media preview of the Disney: Magic of Animation exhibition, F*** spoke to Mary Walsh, the managing director of the Disney ARL, about what it’s like for artists who work at Disney and what fans can look forward to when they visit this exhibition.

F*** MAGAZINE: Great to get to talk to you! Could you tell our readers what you do at Disney?

MARY WALSH: I’m the managing director of the Animation Research Library. The Animation Research Library is the repository for all the original animation artwork that was used to produce our animated short and feature-length films, both from the very beginning, so we’ve got artwork from the early 1920s, all the way up to the present day. We have over 65 million pieces of art in our physical collection. We’re not public facing, but we’re open to anybody in the Walt Disney Company who needs access to that artwork for either creative inspiration, theme parks, new product development, whatever it happens to be. Theme parks, Broadway shows, everything, so it’s really great. Because we aren’t open to the public, we have this huge collection of such beautiful and I would argue really important artwork from an animation point of view, what can we do to share that with the world? We established this exhibition program, and this exhibit is one of the fruits of that labour. We can take this artwork, curate it in a story that we want to share with the world, and then bring it into museums like ArtScience.

What is your personal Holy Grail piece? If you were Nicolas Cage, what would you steal?

That’s funny, Nicolas Cage, I get the reference! I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t have a single favourite piece of art because I’m surrounded by all this beautiful art! I have two kids: it’s like asking which of my two boys is my favourite. Some days I like one boy better than the other because of his behaviour. For me, there is so much beautiful art and it is really the development of the artistry and the craftsmanship from the very beginning to what we’re doing today, and the constant inspiration that the art in our collection provides for our artists. One thing that we really value is we have all this artwork and it’s a fabulous artistic creative legacy that we have, but we don’t look back on it and say “wow, that was great! We’re done.” We’re never done. [The artists] are using that to inspire themselves, to inspire themselves, to educate themselves, so they can create at least that level and hopefully go above it.

Rapunzel by Claire Keane

At this exhibit, there’s a Tangled piece by Claire Keane, who is the daughter of animator Glen Keane. It’s so beautiful that there is that familial legacy. Disney is all about legacy – what do you think represents that idea the best?

The biggest part for the legacy point of view for me is the fact that we can look back at the art that was created. Claire is the perfect example of that: her father is obviously a brilliant animator and draughtsman and a huge component of the artistic output the studio has, ever since he joined in the 1970s. He’s been hugely important in the development and continuing expansion of our creativity and our artistry. Claire’s doing that on her own – she’s following in the footsteps of her father, but all the other great artists who came before him and are coming after her as well too.

Ariel by Glen Keane

For me, that legacy really ties into the idea of mentorship, because all of the senior artists mentor younger artists coming in. Glen Keane worked with Frank (Thomas) and Ollie (Johnston) – he knew them, he could go to them, they were his mentors. He continues to mentor people through his career at Disney. I think that’s really important – the artists joining the studio understand Disney animation because of its impact in the animation industry, culturally and from an artistic point of view. They come in with that expectation and I argue responsibility to create to that minimum level and exceed it. The way you do that in a collaborative artform is to support each other artistically – the mistakes that you made and how you corrected those mistakes. It’s all about sharing that information. I think that’s a true testament to that legacy because it started with Walt and we’re still doing it today.

There is a saying that is attributed to Walt Disney, “everyone has 10 000 bad drawings in them and you have to get them out of the way”.

I don’t know if he actually said that, but the concept I think is actually true. There’s another way that we describe in animation: “pencil mileage”. You have to draw and draw and draw or create on the computer – you can call it “pixel mileage” or whatever you want because it’s based on the tool. It’s an iterative process. When you create something, you’re never perfect the first time out, almost nobody is, but you have to look at a piece and say “how can I make it better? How is that piece going to support the story? How is that piece going to fit in this world? So it’s a very iterative process. You get 10 000 bad drawings before you get one [good one] – that concept I think is very true. It’s all about going out there and being willing to have a bad drawing in order to get to a great drawing.

I think that personally, it’s easy to feel discouraged when I see someone who’s really good at what they do and feel like I cannot measure up to that, so it’s important to know that nobody starts out there. How do you feel this exhibition inspires future artists?

That’s one of the things that I love about this exhibition program. What I hope is that there are artists coming through, maybe young artists, who are like “I never thought about a career in animation.” It’s a viable artform and you can have a really great profession if you’re committed to your craft, if you’re disciplined about it and you’re passionate about it. Hopefully this can show a path to a burgeoning artist who wants to go in that direction and that there are people who came before you and that you can do this too.

I attended the Singapore press conference for Moana in 2016. Producer Osnat Shurer and the voice of Moana Auli’i Cravalho came, as well as Disney artists Roger Lee and Griselda Sastrawinata. There was a sense of hometown pride, “one of our own made it”. What are some stories about the experiences that people from around the world bring to Disney?

I’m glad you brought that up because I think it’s that diversity of thought and experience. We tell global stories. The filmmakers’ intent is to be able to touch the emotional human core no matter where you are in the world, and one way to do that is to surround yourself with a diversity of styles, of thought and of experiences. That is something that we hold very dear and that we’re committed to doing.

A five-year-old will take something different away after visiting this exhibit than a 12-year-old will, than a 16-year-old will, than a 30-year-old will. How will this exhibit speak to those different age groups differently?

That’s a great question because if you step back a little bit, the intent of all the films we make is that it’s for everybody. We don’t target just little kids or just adults. Walt was the one who set the stage, he said “I make films for entire families, not just children or just adults.” With that in mind, when a young person comes in and maybe it’s a child and they’re going to be enraptured and go “oh my god, I get to stand next to Mickey and Minnie and go on this boat and take a photo,” or “I get to see these sketches, what may be very loose drawings, and go ‘maybe I can do that’” and as you get older you can understand and appreciate the artistic integrity of some of the drawings and the sketches and the storytelling.

I also think it ties back to the emotions you have when you see the film for the first time and what age you were. In my case, I’ve watched films now with my children that I watched as a kid. I now look at the film very differently, through their eyes. That is any good art, whether it’s moving images, or a beautiful painting, or a piece of music: if it stands the test of time, it’s going to resonate with you as a human being regardless of how old you are, but your life experiences are really going to inform how you’re viewing or enjoying that piece of art at that moment.

I was in the Little Mermaid gallery and was overhearing the other journalists who were surprised to see the early concept design of Ursula, when she looked more like a lionfish. What are some concept pieces that surprised you?

It was really funny, when I first got exposed to some of the early concept pieces for the character of Snow White, she was blonde, she had braids, she had red hair, so they explored all kinds of different styles. When you think about it, they were developing that film in the mid-late 1930s, so those artists were also reflecting on the societal norms and the fashions of the day and what the concept of feminine beauty was at the time. They were contemporary artists in their timeframe looking out on the world, reflecting on that and bringing it into their designs.

In an early concept, it’s all about creating all kinds of different designs and then really focusing down and narrowing down to what that final design is going to be. Without that iterative process, they wouldn’t have gotten to the final design of Snow White was without all those other concepts. If you don’t give the time for experimentation, sometimes you won’t get the best work. I think the timeframe for that iterative process is really important.

As someone who has spent your career educating people about Disney animation, what are your feelings about the recent live-action remakes? They do bring it to a new audience, but there’s also the school of thought that it’s derivative. Where do you stand on that?

For me, it’s really about the storytellers. If that storyteller and filmmaker thinks they can deliver a different take on it, why not allow them that ability to do it? If it introduces that story to a whole new generation who may not have seen the animated film who may then go back and appreciate it, it can be a gateway, and the gateway goes both ways. From my point of view, if the storyteller is committed to the story they want to tell and the visual realisation of that story is different from the original one, why not give it a go and see what that’s like?

Visit https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/disney-magic-of-animation.html for tickets and more details.

Losers Stick Together: facing fear in IT: Chapter 2

The cast and filmmakers discuss making the horror sequel

By Jedd Jong

In Stephen King’s novel It, the titular entity of pure evil that is most often seen in the guise of a clown menaces a group of characters who form ‘the Losers Club’. The novel alternates between following the characters as adults and as children. The 2017 film adaptation focused on the younger versions of the Losers Club, with audiences being introduced to their grown-up iterations in this sequel, which is set 27 years later when It/Pennywise re-emerges.

The first It film was always intended to be part of a duology. “The big picture, the second chapter, was always in the back of my mind,” director Andy Muschietti said.
“We were always excited about the second part, because it’s really the second half of the story.”

It was praised for how compelling the characters were and how easy it was to be emotionally invested in them, a relative rarity in the world of horror. For Muschietti, breaking up the two timelines was part of creating that emotional investment for audiences.

“I had agreed to make the first movie only about the children, because it would be emotionally more interesting, more compelling without breaking it with time jumps,” Muschietti explained.

With its focus on the adult characters but with flashbacks featuring the young cast also a part of the story, the second movie depicts the “dialogue between the timelines” that echoes the structure of the book. “It’s about the characters’ relationships with the past, looking at events that happened 27 years ago and finding themselves,” Muschietti added.

From left: Ben Ryan, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Isaiah Mustafa, Chosen Jacobs, Jaeden Martell, Jack Dylan Grazer, James Ransone, Sophia Lillis, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard, Andy Bean, Wyatt Oleff

In casting the film, the filmmakers had to find actors who were believable as adult versions of characters whom audiences had grown to love over the course of the first film. “For us, of course, the first thing we wanted was great acting, then physical resemblance to the kids,” producer (and Andy’s sister) Barbara Muschietti said. “We just think we got the perfect cast of grownup Losers,” she enthused, adding that the filmmakers “never had Plan Bs” and went with their first choices for each role.

The ensemble cast is led by James McAvoy as Bill Denborough. Bill has always been haunted by the death of his brother Georgie, the first onscreen victim of Pennywise we saw in the first film. Speaking about how Jaeden Martell’s performance as the younger Bill inspired him, McAvoy said “I suppose I stole Jaeden Martell’s emotional vulnerability and his openness. As a kid, I think Bill is a strange mix of suppression and complete vulnerability, and Jaeden nailed that.”

Bill has become a successful novelist and screenwriter and is in many ways patterned after Stephen King himself. McAvoy pointed out that while the members of the Losers Club have generally moved on, there is a curse that still follows them. “The Losers that leave [Derry] all become arguable winners, but they all have this tainted side to their success—none of them seem to be able to have children, for one,” McAvoy remarked, adding that each character deals with “emotional issues that darken all of their, what seem like, perfect lives.”

Jessica Chastain portrays Beverly, the one female member of the Losers Club. Beverly hasn’t quite been able to outrun the spectre of her abusive father, seeing as she is now stuck in an abusive marriage. “For Beverly, she’s still living with her ideas of what love is,” Chastain explained. “The first person she really loved is her father, so this idea—that love means someone you love can hurt you at the same time—has lasting impact on her.”

One of It Chapter Two’s most memorable scenes places Beverly in the middle of a literal bloodbath. The scene required over 17 000 litres of fake blood, something Chastain was game for. “I love horror films, I love Carrie, and I said, ‘Let’s make Carrie on steroids,’” Chastain recalled, referencing another film adaptation of a Stephen King novel.

Chastain called Lillis’ performance as the younger Beverly “beautiful,” and emulated one specific aspect of Lillis’ physicality. “I hadn’t told Andy [Muschietti] I was doing this, but I was holding my hands the way she did,” Chastain revealed. “When he saw me, he said, ‘You’re walking with her hands.’”

Bill Hader plays the trash-talking Richie Tozier, and his performance has been called the standout of the film. Hader said he “worked within the character lines” that had been drawn by Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, who played Richie in the first film.

“Like a lot of comedy people, you deal with stuff by joking about it,” the former Saturday Night Live star said about Richie, who in this film has become a stand-up comedian. “He’s the first guy, when they realize what’s happening, to say, ‘Oh, I’m outta here. F*** this.’ He has deep, deep repression.”

The most dramatic physical transformation is that of the character Ben, played by New Zealand actor Jay Ryan. “Ben, once he leaves town, he starts running, physically and emotionally, for 27 years,” Ryan said. “He learns how to say no, to stand up to bullies, and he becomes a leader in his profession.” Ben, who has become an architect, still holds a torch for Beverly, whom he had a crush on as a kid. “It seems to the outside world that here’s a man who has everything, but he doesn’t really have any real human connections,” Ryan elaborated, saying that Ben is “ready to go back to Derry and really reveal his true self.”

James Ransone plays Eddie, who was portrayed by Shazam! star Jack Dylan Grazer as a kid. “I thought, ‘That kid talked really fast. If I can keep up with him, everything’s gonna be fine,’” Ransone joked.

“He’s probably spent a lot of his time pretending to not think about his childhood by focusing on his wife,” Ransone said of Eddie. Eddie winds up marrying a woman who is reminiscent of his constantly nagging mother. “You get in those type of relationships, where it’s a constant project that needs fixing. You focus on that so that you don’t have to think about yourself,” Ransone mused.

Isaiah Mustafa plays Mike, the one character who has stayed behind in Derry. Mike has spent the last 27 years researching It and coming up with a plan to defeat the monstrous creature. It is Mike who summons his friends back home and reconvenes the Losers Club. “I believe he felt a responsibility to stay in Derry, to be the custodian of this energy that they cultivated as a group,” Mustafa said. “So, once that evil returned, he could call his friends and say, ‘Let’s do this thing again.’”

Andy Bean plays Stanley, who was played by Wyatt Oleff as a kid. Bean described the character as having a good marriage and leading “quite a beautiful, content, comfortable life.” The horrible childhood memories he has been repressing come bubbling back to the surface when Mike calls. “I think he had buried his memories so deep that he didn’t really remember anything until he heard Mike’s voice—it’s his voice,” Bean said.

Just as the Losers have grown and evolved, so has Pennywise, played once again by Bill Skarsgård. “He wants them back, in a way,” Barbara Muschietti said of Pennywise, adding that he’s “also angry, because they defeated him before, and in coming back, they are showing brave behaviour…which he can’t stand.” To fight the Losers, Pennywise must “become a more evil, bigger monster,” manifesting in startling and dramatic new forms.

Speaking about how Pennywise is different in this film, Andy Muschietti said “He’s changed in the sense that the fears are more about things that frighten us as adults.” While said fears are rooted in traumatic events from the Losers’ childhoods, they take a shape that is more threatening to them 27 years after their initial encounter with Pennywise.

“This is a journey that the Losers need to take back to their childhood, to access the power of belief,” the director said. The mission for the Losers is to take that horrifying entity of their past, “to be able to confront it, understand it and ultimately, overcome it.”

One of the film’s central themes is that of facing one’s fears, and how there is an unspoken power to the bonds of friendship. The Losers “return to face their past—it’s a brave and powerful thing to do,” Barbara Muschietti opined. “Your fears go with you until you really face them, and that’s when you grow.”

Interview transcripts courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Home is calling: Invisible Stories set visit

For inSing

HOME IS CALLING: INVISIBLE STORIES SET VISIT

inSing meets the director and actors of HBO Asia’s new original series on location 

By Jedd Jong

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

HBO Asia has begun principal photography for its latest original series Invisible Stories, which is being shot on location in Singapore. The six-episode half-hour drama series revolves around the lives of everyday people living in the fictional housing estate of Sungei Merah.

The series is created by Singaporean writer-director Ler Jiyuan, who worked with a team of local writers to realise Invisible Stories. Ler has directed episodes of local TV series and TV films including Zero Calling, Code of Law and Gone Case, and recently wrote and directed episodes of Grisse for HBO Asia.

Invisible Stories is produced by Singapore-based company Birdmandog as part of HBO Asia’s partnership with Singapore’s Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Showrunner and director Ler Jiyuan. Photo credit: HBO Asia

“80% of Singaporeans live in HDB flats. I myself grew up in an HDB flat in the 90s, a three-room flat back when there were still gangsters,” Ler told the press during a break on the set. “My father was a taxi driver. Invisible Stories is the universe I came out from as a child,” he revealed, adding “I feel that it will be interesting for international audiences to see this side of Singapore, the non-crazy rich side.”

The stories being told in the series include that of a taxi driver who moonlights as a spiritual medium by night, and a banker who is a family man but lives a secret double life by night. The series features a regional cast comprising actors from Singapore, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

inSing was on set at a coffeeshop or ‘kopitiam’ in Chong Pang, a quintessentially Singapore location. This is the partial setting for the first episode, starring Yeo Yann Yann. Malaysian actress Yeo has starred in notable Singaporean films including 881, Singapore Dreaming and Ilo Ilo. In Invisible Stories, Yeo plays Lian, a single mother working at the drinks stall in a coffee shop to support her autistic teenage son.

Ler wrote the role of Lian with Yeo in mind. She was initially hesitant to take on the role, for fear of it being too emotionally taxing, but later accepted. “The first thing I felt is that it would be very heavy for me. As a mother, I am also struggling with my child and my work,” Yeo confessed. “I’m juggling between taking care of my child and my work, I was trying to avoid something that was so heavy for myself. I was scared, because once you’re in it, you have to dig [into] the pain. Of course, there’s joy, but the pain is so much deeper.”

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Yeo said she was inspired by an interview she watched in which actress Meryl Streep said she felt a responsibility to take on roles that would give voice to the voiceless. Yeo said of participating in a project that will represent Singapore on a global stage, “I’m proud of it, and I’m proud of giving voices to the unheard.”

Photo credit: HBO Asia

Yeo was sporting bruises, including bite-marks, that she assured us were mostly makeup. Yeo had shot a scene the previous day in which Lian’s son Brian had a meltdown. “A meltdown for an autistic child is when they don’t feel right. You take something away from them, they have a meltdown,” Yeo explained. The cast worked closely with a special education teacher to ensure that the life of an autistic person and their caregiver were portrayed sensitively and accurately. “Many things that we perform were approved by the advisor. The advisor was very happy that we didn’t over-exaggerate it or under-represent it,” Yeo said.

Director Ler Jiyuan. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

The issue of caring for an autistic child hits close to home for director Ler, who has two cousins with non-verbal autism. “I put myself in the shoes of a caretaker, Ler said, adding that “for them, it’s a really hardcore commitment. It’s emotionally draining, financially draining, especially for those of the lower rungs of society.” He emphasised that “the story is a very painful one, but one I still feel is necessary for us to see.”

Devin Pan on the set of Invisible Stories. Photo credit: HBO Asia

Taiwanese actor Devin Pan plays Brian, Lian’s son. Speaking in Mandarin, Pan called the meltdown scene the “most challenging scene” he has ever filmed. “You need to be very physically and mentally strong to make it through scenes like that,” he said.

Yeo Yann Yann and Devin Pan. Photo credit: HBO Asia

Yeo and Pan worked during rehearsals to form the mother-son bond their characters must share, and it carried over into the interviews with Pan holding Yeo’s hand when he felt nervous about being surrounded by the media. Speaking about working with Yeo, Pan said “I think this is the most fortunate thing that’s happened to me since I’ve left Taiwan to take on this job.” Both Yeo and Pan have a theatre background and he commented that they have similar personalities, saying “We’re both relatively carefree and easy-going but we focus on the performance, so we find it easy to play off each other when we’re acting.”

The series was born out of a desire to tell the stories of people whom we pass by on the street everyday in Singapore and wouldn’t necessarily give a second glance. “Every coffeeshop has a drinks stall aunty, but you never really think about who she is,” Ler explained. “That’s what I’m trying to do, to tell a story about people like that whom you’d walk by and never really notice; in regular dramas they’d just be extras,” he remarked.

Photo credit: HBO Asia

Yeo gained a new appreciation for what it’s like to work at a drinks stall in a coffeeshop. “Even just staying there for five minutes is not an easy thing, it’s very hot inside, it’s really not easy,” she said.

Yeo also took her seven-year-old daughter onto the HDB flat set the previous night. “She saw us struggling, melting down, fighting,” Yeo said. “I asked her ‘are you afraid of it?’ and she said ‘no, it’s fake!’” Yeo said her daughter does have some interest in acting, but that her dream job is an art teacher.

Ler Jiyuan, Yeo Yann Yann and Devin Pan on the set of Invisible Stories. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Invisible Stories is set to premiere later this year on HBO Asia’s on-air, online and on-demand platforms.

 

Positively Preposterous Prosperity: Crazy Rich Asians set visit

POSITIVELY PREPOSTEROUS PROSPERITY

inSing witnesses the wealth and wackiness first-hand on the set of Crazy Rich Asians

By Jedd Jong

Sprawling mansions, multi-million-dollar weddings, a bachelor party on a converted container ship, private jets, limited edition supercars – oh, to live as the top 0.1% does. inSing got a whiff of that rarefied air when we visited the set of Crazy Rich Asians in Singapore. Besides taking in the luxury, we learned that, yes, rich people have their problems too. Please contain your outpourings of sympathy.

Crazy Rich Asians is based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel of the same name. Kwan was born in Singapore, and his family relocated to the United States when he was 11. The story’s protagonist is Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American economics professor at New York University. Rachel falls in love with Nick Young (Henry Golding), who hails from Singapore. Nick takes Rachel back to Singapore for the wedding of his best friend Colin Khoo (Chris Pang) to Araminta Lee (Sonoya Mizuno). It is only then that Rachel realises that Nick belongs to one of the wealthiest families in Asia, and as the girlfriend of an extremely eligible bachelor, she draws the ire of scores of Nick’s would-be suitors.

Rachel also butts heads with Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who disapproves of her son’s choice. Rachel finds herself drawn into an intricate family drama, with players including Nick’s beautiful cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan); Astrid’s unfaithful husband Michael (Pierre Png); Peik Lin (Nora “Awkwafina” Lum), Rachel’s best friend in Singapore, rowdy groomsman Bernard Tai (Jimmy O. Yang); social-climbing Hong Kong soap opera starlet Kitty Pong (Fiona Xie); and various other colourful characters.

When we visited the set along with other members of the press, it was the penultimate day of filming in Singapore. It was a night shoot, which tends to be arduous on the cast and crew. The scene being shot that night was set after the wedding reception at the Gardens by the Bay in Marina Bay Sands. In the shadow of the towering Supertrees was a cluster of banquet tables, each with a roasted pig as its centrepiece. Food stylists would occasionally spritz the pig with oil to keep its skin glistening. A stage sat towards the front of the garden, with an ornate fan-like backdrop and a bandstand on it. The laminated dance floor before the stage was kept covered with a grey carpet. The scene of the dinner itself was shot the night before.

Observing from a distance through a bank of monitors, we watched a heated confrontation between Nick, Rachel and Eleanor, with Nick’s grandmother (Lisa Lu) witnessing the argument. In between takes, director Jon M. Chu rushed over to speak to us. While he was perspiring heavily from the muggy Equatorial weather, Chu appeared to be in good spirits. To keep the cast looking picture-perfect while shooting outdoors, Chu told us that the makeup department alone was 30 strong. “That’s the biggest makeup crew I’ve ever had, and I’ve done bigger movies,” he remarked, quipping “sometimes dressing nice to a wedding takes more effort that being ninjas on the side of a mountain” – referencing his earlier film, G.I. JOE: Retaliation.

Chu’s credits also include two Justin Bieber concert films, two films in the Step-Up series of dance movies, Jem and the Holograms and Now You See Me 2. He explained that after helming several sequels, he was ready for a change of pace and sought out material that would be more personal to him. “I grew up in a Chinese restaurant with my dad and mum who came over – my Mum is from Taiwan, and my Dad is from [Mainland] China,” Chu said. “There’s that side of me, the traditional part of it, but I also grew up in California, as a California boy my whole life, so I have this other side.”

It was the director’s sister who introduced him to the novel, which struck a chord with Chu. “It says everything that I feel, but in the most fun way, not so dark and deep or trying too hard,” Chu observed. He added that he was excited to showcase Singapore in his film, proclaiming that “The world has not seen this world on the big screen in a big American movie.”

Chu was effusive about his cast, saying “they’re hilarious, they’re amazing, they’re talented, they’re fresh, they’re excited to tell a great story.” Over the course of the night, we would consistently hear about the actors’ camaraderie on and off the set. “Our cast gets along better than any other cast. They go for karaoke every night,” Chu said, adding jokingly “Almost too much, I think it might be a problem.” He added that he wished he could hang out with them more, but alas, a director’s work is never done. As if to demonstrate this point, Chu was whisked back to work and away from the media, returning to direct another take.

Crew members were stationed across the Gardens by the Bay complex, with personnel shuttled to and fro on buggies and golf carts. A function room had been converted into a green room, where we would meet several cast and crew members when they weren’t needed on set. Producer Nina Jacobson ducked behind the partition curtain in the green room where we were waiting. Outlining the film’s appeal, Jacobson described Crazy Rich Asians as “a universal story but told in a way we haven’t seen, in a place we haven’t seen.” Jacobson co-produced the blockbuster Hunger Games franchise, so she knows cinematic potential in a book when she sees it. “When I first read the book, I couldn’t put it down,” Jacobson recalled, adding “I very much identify with Rachel, but I was also fascinated by this world.”

According to Jacobson, the film examines cultural attitudes in a way that hasn’t yet been seen on the big screen. Jacobson said one of the themes in the story is “Tension between family and duty and happiness and love,” and the film deals with negotiating those tensions in a global economy in which “increasingly, people have a foot in two worlds.” Jacobson credited Malaysian-born co-screenwriter Adele Lim with providing “insights into generational conflict,” and assured us that there would be nuance to the conflict presented in the film. “It’s not just everyone being mean to the American girl,” Jacobson clarified.

According to Jacobson, Constance Wu was the first choice for Rachel. Jacobson described her leading lady as “funny, smart, casual” and “a breath of fresh air”. Wu actively pursued the part, and didn’t even have to audition. Similarly, Michelle Yeoh was the top pick to play Eleanor.

Jacobson insisted that the filmmakers were “mindful about people’s heritage,” and were aiming to accurately represent the characters as written in the book. This led to the elephant in the room: leading man Henry Golding, born to an English father and a mother from the Iban tribe in Sarawak, Malaysia, plays Nick Young. The character is ethnic Chinese and is described in the book as resembling “Cantopop idols”. The casting received its share of backlash, with critics decrying the film as committing ‘partial whitewashing’. This seemed hypocritical, given that star Constance Wu has been an outspoken opponent of whitewashing in media.

Jacobson called Golding “by far the best person for the part,” adding that “he felt like how we always imagined Nick.” Jacobson justified the casting by pointing to how “Singapore is a very multicultural place.” Clearly prepared for the topic to be broached, Jacobson said “There are many people whose families have mixed backgrounds and we could get away with it here, especially with Michelle as his mother, who has a Malaysian background as well.” The producer explained that due diligence had been done, and that author Kwan and Warner Bros.’ international partners had all been consulted about Golding’s casting and given their approval. “He had to be both the kind of guy a girl wishes she could be with, and a guy wants to have a beer with,” Jacobson reasoned, saying that Golding struck that balance.

While Crazy Rich Asians can be loosely classified as a romantic comedy, Jacobson insisted that there is dramatic heft to the story too. “Oftentimes in romantic comedies, there’s a major contrivance or misunderstanding,” Jacobson said. “To me, a movie is as romantic as the conflict between the characters is great.” Jacobson broke down the components of the film, saying “There’s the comedy of manners, there’s the romantic comedy, but at the heart of it, there’s a real dramatic conflict.”

Production designer Nelson Coates gave us a sense of the logistical undertaking that making Crazy Rich Asians was. Principal production lasted a mere 40 days, with shooting taking place in three cities in Malaysia and in Singapore. Despite the stressful schedule and the daunting task of re-creating staggering opulence on a limited budget, Coates was easy-going and friendly. He described working with a crew from 18 different countries, saying “you have to tune your ear to different kinds of English.” He remarked on some of the challenges of working in an unfamiliar environment, saying “Singapore does a funny thing in that they blend metric and Imperial. You might get a 4’ by 8’ sheet of plywood, but it’s 16 mm thick.” Coates seemed to take it in his stride.

To create Tyersall Park, the Young family mansion, Coates turned to the Carcosa Seri Negara, formerly a luxury hotel in KL. The historic complex had been abandoned for some time, and the production team gave it a makeover to turn it into the stately home befitting the wealthiest of the wealthy. “There were bats and hornets and feral dogs, we had to do major cleans,” Coates recalled. Some movie magic was required to make multiple locations feel like they were part of the same mansion. Coates built the Tyersall Park kitchen in the Kuala Lumpur Craft Museum, earning the approval of one key cast member. “Michelle Yeoh walks in and she goes ‘how did you know?! How did you know about all the food?!’ She was so excited to see it,” Coates beamed. The gates were built near Champion’s Public Golf Course in Singapore, in a stretch that the production nicknamed “monkey road”.

Coates’ eyes lit up as he described a central set piece – a container ship that had been converted into a party yacht to host the bachelor party. “When you get in, you come down the stairs from where the helicopter’s landed, and there is the basketball court, and the pit that you can dive and do stunts into, and the cars that have been cut and turned into pool tables on the top, and a climbing wall, and a series of Ducati motorbikes in front of a huge electronic wall that has all the streets of Singapore going past you as fast as they can, so it looks like you’re in the ultimate videogame. Then there’s the gambling area, and the arcade area, and a stage where all the beauty queens from all over the world come out and do a little dance.” All this was built in a parking lot in Kuala Lumpur.

While striving for a fidelity to the source material, certain changes had to be made to accommodate filming. For example, a scene that takes place in the Lau Pa Sat hawker centre in the book is relocated to Newton Circus for the film. “I know it’s not the one that’s in the book, but we chose it because it’s triangular,” Coates said. “Everywhere you look, you see vendors. We wanted that full explosion of foods.” Coates became a big fan of Singaporean food, and was fond of one particular snack, exclaiming “I love those ice cream sandwiches!”

When actress/rapper Nora “Awkwafina” Lum swung by, the room lit up. Energetic and personable, Lum quickly put everyone at ease. Rocking a necklace shaped like an avocado, it was clear that while some characters in the film were bound by strict decorum, Lum’s Peik Lin was a little on the wacky side. “She’s fashionable, but not classy,” Lum said of her character, adding “she wears bunnies all the time”. It was easy for Lum to relate to the character. “She’s a little bit of myself – I’m crazy, I’m very eccentric, and I’m a different kind of Asian female for people to digest,” she proclaimed. “She’s not a stereotypical character – she’s not the brooding mother-in-law, she’s not the classic beauty, she’s just a little crazy – so I feel like I connect with that a lot.”

Lum’s onscreen dad is played by Ken Jeong, whom she was thrilled to work with. However, filming scenes with him was challenging in its own way. “He’s so funny that when we run takes, I can’t keep a straight face. I break character every time,” Lum laughed. “In America, we have a very limited icon list, and he’s one of the most famous prominent Asian-American entertainers that we have,” she said of Jeong. “He literally called Jon and was like ‘I don’t care if I get paid, I just want to be in this movie,” Lum revealed, adding “it’s that important for our community back home.”

The actress considers it a privilege to be part of the first Hollywood studio film in 25 years with a predominantly Asian cast. “It’s something I didn’t think I’d see in my lifetime, and definitely not something I thought I’d be a part of,” she admitted. Lum stated that it was “important for the next generation to understand that this is possible,” hoping it sets a precedent in the American entertainment industry. “I look at the cast and realise that we’ve all, at some point in our lives, been the minority on a set full of white people,” Lum said, turning vulnerable for a moment. “We’ve been ‘that Asian’ on set. And now, that dynamic doesn’t exist.”

Stay tuned for more of our coverage of Crazy Rich Asians! Up next – interviews with stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh.

Oscars recap: The Shape of Water wins Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards

The Shape of Water wins Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards

A politically-charged but somewhat sedate Oscars nights caps off awards season

By Jedd Jong

Many presenters and winners at the 90th Academy Awards made impassioned calls for inclusivity and acceptance in the filmmaking industry and beyond, so it seemed apt that a film helmed by a Mexican director about a romance between a woman and an amphibian monster took home the top prize. The Shape of Water was nominated for 13 Oscars and took home four.

The Oscars were held at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 4. The stage was framed by a proscenium arch studded with a whopping 45 million Swarovski crystals. The stage design incorporated geometric art deco elements morphing as the night went on.

Jimmy Kimmel took on hosting duties for the second consecutive year, making repeated references to the infamous Best Picture mix-up that took place at last year’s ceremony, when La La Land was mistaken announced as the Best Picture winner when it was Moonlight that had won.

Kimmel spoke pointedly about the Me Too and Times Up movements, joking “We will always remember this year as the year men screwed up so badly, women started dating fish.” He quipped that the Oscar figure is “the most respected, beloved man in Hollywood,” because he “keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word, and most importantly, [has] no penis at all.” Kimmel added that it was “literally a statue of limitations”.

Just as it was last year, the ceremony was a political one, but the sentiment of giving platforms to new voices and opening the playing field came across as heartfelt. Some of the lighter moments included Kimmel’s promise that the winner who gave the shortest acceptance speech would take home a Kawasaki jet ski. Later in the ceremony, Kimmel led some attendees, including Gal Gadot and Mark Hamill, over to the TCL Chinese Theatre across the street from the Dolby Theatre to surprise moviegoers who were attending a preview screening of A Wrinkle in Time.

Following the drama of the Best Picture kerfuffle last year, nothing at this year’s ceremony was quite as dramatic, and things felt a little low-key. As this was the 90th anniversary of the Oscars, there were tributes to past winners. Living legends like 93-year-old Eva Marie Saint and 86-year-old Rita Moreno were among the presenters. Moreno made a throwback fashion choice, wearing the same skirt she wore to the Oscars when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for West Side Story in 1962.

The show itself might not have been too exciting, but there were several rousing speeches from the winners.

One of the night’s most memorable moments came during Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech. McDormand, who won Best Actress for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, asked all the female nominees in every category to stand, sharing her spotlight with all of them. “Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” she said. She ended her speech with the words “inclusion rider”, encouraging actresses to demand that projects draw from a more gender and race-inclusive pool of talent.

The contribution that immigrants make to America and its culture was also highlighted. “With Coco, we tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do,” director Lee Unkrich said. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.” Coco won the Oscars for Best Animated Film and Best Original Song for “Remember Me”, which was performed at the ceremony by Miguel, Natalia Lafourcade and Gael Garcia Bernal.

Allison Janney, who won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of LaVona Golden in I, Tonya, left audiences everywhere in stitches thanks to her opening line. “I did it all by myself,” Janney said immediately after accepting the statuette. After sustained laughter from the crowd, Janney added “Nothing further from the truth”. She made special mention of screenwriter Steven Rogers, who wrote the role specifically with her in mind. Rogers and star/producer Margot Robbie got teary-eyed at Janney’s speech.

Jordan Peele, writer and director of Get Out, made history as the first African-American winner in the Best Original Screenplay category. “I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie,” Peele said. Peele said that he started and stopped writing Get Out 20 times, often convinced the sharply satirical horror-comedy could never get made. He dedicated the win to his mother, who taught him to “love in the face of hate”.

Roger Deakins has often been called the Leonardo DiCaprio of cinematography: after 13 previous nominations, he finally won for Blade Runner 2049. Deakins’ impressive body of work also includes The Shawshank Redemption, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Skyfall and O Brother, Where Art Thou. “I really love my job. I have been doing it a long time as you can see,” Deakins said, motioning to his white hair. “One of the reasons I really love it is because of the people I work with in front of and behind the camera,” he continued.

The Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro got to make two speeches, one for his Best Director win and the other when the film won Best Picture. “I think the greatest thing that does and our industry does is erase the line in the sand,” del Toro mused, exhorting that “we should continue doing that, when the world tells us to make it deeper.”

The film doesn’t fit the usual awards bait mould, but this fairy-tale for grown-ups has resonated with audiences thanks to its message of embracing the other, its beautiful visuals and its sensitive performances “Everyone that is dreaming of using fantasy to tell the stories about things that are real in the world today, you can do it,” del Toro said. “This is the door. Kick it open and come in.”

The full list of winners and nominees is below:

BEST PICTURE

The Shape of WaterWINNER
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriWINNER
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Gary Oldman, Darkest HourWINNER
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Allison Janney, I, TonyaWINNER
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – WINNER
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

BEST DIRECTOR

Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of WaterWINNER
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Jordan Peele, Get Out – WINNER
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

James Ivory, Call Me by Your NameWINNER
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, The Disaster Artist
Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green, Logan
Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game
Virgil Williams and Dee Rees, Mudbound

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Roger A. Deakins, Blade Runner: 2049WINNER
Bruno Delbonnel, Darkest Hour
Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk
Rachel Morrison, Mudbound
Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of WaterWINNER
Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Carter Burwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Remember Me,” CocoWINNER
“Mighty River,” Mudbound
“Mystery of Love,” Call Me by Your Name
“Stand Up for Something,” Marshall
“This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman

 

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

CocoWINNER
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Dear BasketballWINNER
Garden Party
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

IcarusWINNER
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Last Men in Aleppo
Strong Island

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 WINNER
Edith and Eddie
Heroin(e)
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

The Silent ChildWINNER
DeKalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
Watu Wote: All of Us

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

A Fantastic Woman (Chile) – WINNER
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, and Lucy Sibbick, Darkest HourWINNER
Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard, Victoria & Abdul
Arjen Tuiten, Wonder

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Mark Bridges, Phantom ThreadWINNER
Jacqueline Durran, Beauty and the Beast
Jacqueline Durran, Darkest Hour
Luis Sequeira, The Shape of Water
Consolata Boyle, Victoria & Abdul

BEST SOUND EDITING

Richard King and Alex Gibson, DunkirkWINNER
Julian Slater, Baby Driver
Mark Mangini and Theo Green, Blade Runner 2049
Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira, The Shape of Water
Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

BEST SOUND MIXING

Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landarker, and Gary A. Rizzo, DunkirkWINNER
Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin, and Mary H. Ellis, Baby Driver
Ron Bartlett, Dough Hemphill, and Mac Ruth, Blade Runner 2049
Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern, and Glen Gauthier, The Shape of Water
David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, and Stuart Wilson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Shape of Water (Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin) – WINNER
Beauty and the Beast (Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer)
Blade Runner: 2049 (Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Alessandra Querzola)
Darkest Hour (Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer)Dunkirk (Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Blade Runner 2049 (John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert, and Richard R. Hoover) – WINNER
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, and Dan Sudick)
Kong: Skull Island (Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, and Mike Meinardus)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan, and Chris Corbould)
War for the Planet of the Apes (Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon, and Joel Whist)

BEST FILM EDITING

Lee Smith, DunkirkWINNER
Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos, Baby Driver
Tatiana S. Riegel, I, Tonya
Sidney Wolinsky, The Shape of Water
Jon Gregory, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

 

 

The man within the monster: five memorable Doug Jones roles

For insing

The man within the monster: five memorable Doug Jones roles

Gaze upon the many faces of the star of The Shape of the Water

By Jedd Jong

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Todd Williamson/JanuaryImages/REX/Shutterstock (9225445l)
Doug Jones
The Shape of Water film premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA – 15 Nov 2017

If Andy Serkis is the actor most closely associated with performance capture roles, then Doug Jones is the actor most closely identified with the more old-fashioned ‘men in rubber suits’ technique of portraying movie monsters. Jones has over 150 credits to his name, and has often played characters under layers of prosthetics.

Director Guillermo del Toro with stars Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones

Jones co-stars with Sally Hawkins in director Guillermo del Toro’s new period fantasy romance The Shape of Water, in which he plays a humanoid amphibian creature known only as ‘The Asset’. Jones’ lanky proportions make him the ideal canvas on which special effects makeup artists can work their magic: the former contortionist comes in at 1.92 metres tall. He got his start in advertising, playing a mummy in a Southwest Airlines commercial and the moon-headed piano player in the McDonald’s ‘Mac Tonight’ ads.

The actor’s association with del Toro began in 1997, when Jones was brought in for reshoots to play the humanoid cockroach creature in Mimic. “He loves creepy monsters and wants to talk about them,” Jones recalled. The two formed an instant connection, with del Toro excited to learn about the various famous makeup artists with whom Jones had collaborated.

Special effects makeup artist Shane Mahan, designer Mike Hill and Doug Jones

Jones went on to co-star in del Toro’s Hellboy movies, and has worked all del Toro’s films since then except Pacific Rim. Jones’ other projects include Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Bye Bye Man, Batman Returns, Hocus Pocus, and Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story, in which he played The Operator, a character based on the Slender Man internet mythological character.

There’s more to what Jones does than putting on a rubber suit and walking around. “Acting is acting,” he stated. “So whether I’m wearing a light dusting of powder that day on a sitcom, or wearing heavy rubber prosthetic make-ups, I still have to find the heart and soul of the character. That’s really where it starts with me.”

The Shape of Water has become something of an awards season darling, nominated for a whopping 13 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Del Toro also won a Best Director Golden Globe for the film, and the film took home best picture at the Producer’s Guild Awards. Lead actors Hawkins and Jones were praised for their physicality, and for making the outlandish, weird relationship between woman and fish-man beast feel plausible and emotional.

Here is a look at five of the most memorable roles Doug Jones has played throughout his career as the go-to guy to give monsters some heart.

#1: ABE SAPIEN in HELLBOY and HELLBOY II

Early glimpses of the Asset in The Shape of Water immediately attracted comparisons to Abe Sapien, a similar-looking character Jones portrayed in the two live-action Hellboy movies. The thoughtful, reserved aquatic humanoid blue-skinned Abe serves as an ideal foil to the brash, red-skinned Hellboy (Ron Perlman). The character was voiced over by David Hyde Pierce in the first film, but Jones voiced Abe himself in the sequel. Jones also voiced Abe in two animated Hellboy films. Referring the trio of Hellboy, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Abe, Jones said “between the three of us, I think we represent the freak in all of us, in all of humanity, we all feel, even supermodels that I’ve known, feel insecure and freaky at times.”

To play the intellectual Abe, Jones drew inspiration from his older brother Bob, a college professor with a PhD in molecular biology. “Abe has always been something of a lost soul, as is Hellboy, and I think that’s why people can relate to them is because we all feel like freaks in our real life at some point,” Jones said. The Abe Sapien makeup application process took seven hours for the first film, which was streamlined to five hours for the sequel. In Hellboy II, Jones also played two additional characters: the Chamberlain and the eerie Angel of Death. Jones said the mechanical wings he wore as the Angel of Death “weighed as much as a Vespa”, and even left him bleeding. “Those are small sacrifices to make when you look at the final product and say, ‘Okay, that’s what we made,’” Jones remarked graciously.

#2: THE FAUN in PAN’S LABYRINTH

In the haunting, lyrical Spanish-language dark fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth, Doug Jones portrays the Faun. The Faun guides the young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) into a fantasy world where she must complete a series of quests. Jones, who doesn’t speak Spanish and had to learn the screenplay phonetically, received an email from del Toro, in which the director proclaimed “You must be in this film. No one else can play this part but you.” For research, del Toro gave Jones specific advice, telling the actor “Dougie, I want you to study the back end of barn animals’ — like cows, goats, you know, how do their hooves meet the ground, and how they shake their tails.”

“I read it within hours of getting it…I couldn’t put it down,” Jones said of the screenplay. “I turned the last page closed, wiped a tear and said, ‘I do have to be in this movie.’” During the five-hour long process of putting on the makeup and animatronic effects components to play the Faun, Jones would practice his Spanish dialogue and the makeup artists would help him. Jones’ voice was later dubbed over by Spanish theatre actor Pablo Adán.

The Faun also ages in reverse – he starts out looking decrepit, with moss growing all over him, but his hair eventually turns an auburn colour and he looks more youthful as Ofelia progresses in her quest. Jones had to cooperate with various others artists and technicians to bring the Faun to life. “A lot of things had to work in concert with them together and with puppeteers operating half my face and all, so he had many various elements that had to be screwed on mechanically and zippered and pinned and snapped and Velcroed,” Jones explained.

#3: THE PALE MAN in PAN’S LABYRINTH

In Pan’s Labyrinth, Jones also portrayed the exceedingly creepy Pale Man, one of the various obstacles Ofelia must overcome. The Pale Man has a bloodied mouth and an eyeless face – his eyes are instead in his palms. The fact that Jones plays both roles is intended to suggest that the Pale Man is a creation of the Faun, or even the Faun himself in another form. The Pale Man’s pursuit of Ofelia through his palace is one of the film’s most heart-stopping moments. “I have had the great honour to sit next to Stephen King during the Pale Man sequence and to see him squirm like crazy,” del Toro said, comparing the feeling of having frightened the renowned horror author to winning an Oscar.

The Pale Man’s sagging skin indicates that at one point he was plump – when he had plenty of children to eat. Ofelia is the first child to enter his lair in eons, and the Pale Man is sure she will not escape his grasp. Del Toro’s direction to Jones for the chase scene was to move like “a George Romero zombie”. To save time and allow the makeup team and himself to get more sleep, Jones would leave part of the Pale Man makeup on and wear it back to the hotel. “I didn’t tell anybody this during the shoot because I knew that Guillermo would have my hide for it because he wants me to relax and out of this all. But I had them take my head and neck off and my hands off but leave the arms and the torso on,” Jones revealed.
#4: LT. SARU in STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

We leave the realm of movies for a bit and beam over to TV, where Jones is currently a regular cast member on Star Trek: Discovery. The long-running Star Trek franchise has introduced a multitude of iconic alien species to audiences, including the Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Andorians and the Borg. In Star Trek: Discovery, we meet a new race: the Kelpians. Kelpians are a prey species, used to being at the bottom of the food chain. Cmdr. Saru, played by Jones, is the first Kelpian to rise through the Starfleet ranks, becoming the science officer and third-in-command on the USS Shenzhou. One of Saru’s distinguishing features is his ‘threat ganglia’, an organ at the back of the head that helps him sense oncoming danger.

Saru has a somewhat contentious but generally friendly relationship with the show’s heroine, First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), which Jones compares to a brother-sister bond. “We annoy each other, but we have a deep love and respect for each other as well. Saru thinks she’s the smartest Starfleet officer he’s ever worked with. So that’s where the intimidation and the competition really comes from,” Jones reasoned. The makeup application process was initially four hours long, but makeup artist James McKinnon has gotten that down to two. “His detail and his finery of getting this on to me every day is amazing, but he’s getting faster at it. Mercifully so,” Jones said. “When you’re doing a long-running series, you don’t want to be in makeup four hours a day. So, getting it done in two is very helpful.”

#5: THE ASSET in THE SHAPE OF WATER

And now, to the man – or the humanoid amphibian, rather – of the hour. In The Shape of Water, set in 1962, Jones portrays a mysterious creature brought back from South America and held in a top-secret government lab in Baltimore. Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor at the facility, becomes fascinated by and eventually falls in love with the Asset, who is tormented by the sadistic ex-soldier Strickland (Michael Shannon). Elisa eventually hatches a bold plan to break the Asset out of the underground lab in which he is held.

The Asset has become something of an unlikely sex symbol, and that was entirely by design. “A note Guillermo gave me, as far as [the Asset’s] physicality goes, he kept pushing the sexy,” Jones said. “This character has to be sexy. When watching the film you have to believe that someone could actually fall in love with him and find him sexy and want to take their clothes off in his presence.” Del Toro said he set out to create the ‘Michelangelo’s David of fishmen’. He collaborated with fine artist Mike Hill, whom del Toro met at the Monsterpalooza trade event, in designing the Asset. Del Toro was unsure if Jones, a practicing Christian, would be comfortable performing some risqué scenes. “I asked what could possibly be the problem and he goes, ‘Well, there’s a f*** scene.’ As only he could say,” Jones recalled with a laugh.

Addressing the physical similarities between the Asset and Abe Sapien, Jones said “Guillermo was very specific, he did not want Abe Sapien in this film at all,” and that del Toro wanted The Shape of Water to stand alone as “its own piece of art”. While Abe is intelligent and articulate, the Asset is animalistic, and cannot speak – which is a way in which Elisa relates to the Asset, since she is mute. Jones said that the relationship between the two characters was “so lovely to explore on film.”

The Shape of Water opens in Singapore theatres on 1 February 2018

SGIFF 2017: Looking for Lucy – Josh Hartnett Interview

For inSing

SGIFF 2017: LOOKING FOR LUCY – JOSH HARTNETT INTERVIEW

Josh Hartnett tells inSing about his role in Atsuko Hirayanagi’s Oh, Lucy!

By Jedd Jong

Josh Hartnett’s face graced the bedroom walls of many a teenage girl in the late 90s-early 2000s: Hartnett’s career began with a leading role in the crime drama series Cracker. He then appeared in the teen-aimed horror films Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and The Faculty, and achieved stardom after starring in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, which were both released in 2001.

However, Hartnett was never quite comfortable with how he was packaged, and had always been intent on pursuing artistically-driven, less commercial projects. This was at odds with the studios’ desire to sell him as a teen heartthrob. Hartnett took a hiatus from acting to do a little soul-searching, returning to his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. Hartnett returned to the scene with a starring role in the British-American horror drama TV series Penny Dreadful, and has been focusing on independent film projects. Hartnett has worked with international film directors including Roland Joffé, Tran Ahn Hung, Robert Duvall and James Franco.

Hartnett stars opposite Shinobu Terajima in the comedy-drama Oh, Lucy!, written and directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi. The film is Hirayanagi’s feature film debut, and is based on the short film of the same name which she directed and which made the film festival rounds in 2014.

Hartnett plays John, an American working in Tokyo as an English teacher. Terajima plays Setsuko, a middle-aged Japanese woman who feels invigorated after attending John’s lessons. John’s unconventional methods include giving Setsuko a blonde wig and renaming her ‘Lucy’. Setsuko soon becomes attached to this persona, and develops a preoccupation with John. When John vanishes, Setsuko travels to California in search of him.

Kaho Minami and Josh Hartnett in Oh, Lucy!

Oh, Lucy! Is being screened as a special presentation feature at the 28th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF). Hartnett and director Hirayanagi will be in Singapore as special guests of the festival. Ahead of his trip here, Hartnett spoke exclusively to inSing on the phone from Los Angeles. He discussed making the film in Tokyo, the unique tone of the movie, his hopes for his career when he was a young actor, and passing on roles in major comic book films.

INSING: Tell us about John, your character in this film.

JOSH HARTNETT: John is a guy who’s escaping from a lot of stuff in his life. He’s living in Tokyo at the beginning of the film working as an English teacher, but he doesn’t speak much Japanese, so he’s not a very good English teacher. He has a policy that attracts certain types of people. He’s very tactile, very huggy, and he makes them speak English when they’re in the classroom. He attracts a few lonely people to class, one of which is the lead of the film whom he renames ‘Lucy’, and she becomes a little bit obsessed with him, and the story moves on from there.

Did you base John on any teachers or instructors you have had as a student?

I look at John and think he is trying his other to escape the responsibilities in his life, and he is doing anything he can to survive. He winds up in a situation, not really knowing how to teach in this way, and he’s a bit of a charlatan. I’ve lived in New York for the last two years, where there’s no shortage of charlatans, and I now I’m in Los Angeles where they’re everywhere. I’ve seen a lot of people within this industry who prey on people who are getting started as actors. They represent themselves as acting coaches or voice coaches, some managers even – people that find a sort of Svengali approach to separating young people from their money, under the guise of helping them with their careers. I think that John has no qualms about doing that. I don’t think he’s particularly ambitious – he doesn’t necessarily want to hurt anyone, but he’s not against taking money from them for doing very little. I’ve come across a lot of people like John, but nobody in particular that makes this character who he is.

Andrew Barker, writing for Variety, called Oh Lucy! “a chocolate trifle with an arsenic core”. Do you agree with this description of the movie?

Yeah, in a sense. Chocolate with arsenic inside…there’s definitely a poison core to Lucy herself at the beginning of the film. But I think the film is incredibly honest about not only what this character is going through, but what can happen to a person who’s inverted their own expectations of life to fit in, [finding] themselves depressed and not knowing which way to turn. I do think that there’s a lot of comedy in the film, but it also is dramatic. That tone is difficult for a director to find, you don’t see a lot of films that ride that knife’s edge well. I think that Atsuko does this perfectly with this film.

Josh Hartnett and writer-director Atsuko Hirayanagi

Leading on from that, what was Atsuko Hirayanagi like as a director? Seeing as she also wrote the film and it is based on a short film that she made, I assume that her vision is very strong and pure.

Yes, that’s what attracted me to the project to begin with. She had a very clear vision for what she wanted to achieve, and looking at her short film, I was able to see what she wanted to achieve. To work with Atsuko is to work with someone who’s very open to your ideas, very interested in having conversations about your character or about the story. In the end, she knows the parameters of what she wants to achieve, and that to me is the perfect director, a director who will take the time to listen to tell you, and tell you either “you’re right on” or “no, that’s not what we’re looking for”. It just makes thing so much easier as an actor to come in and be clear about what you’re going to be doing.

What insight did you gain into Japanese culture and societal attitudes working on this film?

There are things that I already knew – I’ve been in Tokyo before doing press for movies that had come out there over the last 15-20 years. I had been around Tokyo before, but I’d never spent as much time there, and never as much time at my leisure, wandering around the city. I’d never been on a set in Japan before. The set was extraordinarily efficient, of course, but there was a sense of importance, a respect for the work that sometimes is missing from American films. It’s not necessarily that people don’t respect the work, it’s just that there’s a casual approach at times.

Like they’ve gotten used to it?

Maybe that’s it, maybe it’s just day-in day-out work, and in Tokyo there aren’t as many films being made in this way, so there was a real sense of importance that people were bringing to the set. To me, that was very exciting. It’s always exciting to be on a set where people feel like they’re a part of something special.

Woody Harrelson and Josh Hartnett in Bunraku

You starred in a very different film that incorporates elements of Japanese culture: Bunraku. How would you compare that experience with working on Oh, Lucy!

[Laughs] That’s entirely different. Bunraku was the brainchild of an Israeli writer director [Guy Moshe] who has a great affinity for Samurai films and for Westerns. His view of Japanese culture was cinematic. This film is maybe the opposite, in a way it’s trying to pull back the curtain for all of these characters about their misconceptions of what the other culture is like. Entirely different, from that point of view. Also, that film was so physical, and this film, I did almost nothing but smoke pot [laughs]. There was nothing physical about this film. Apples and oranges, for sure.

Josh Hartnett in Pearl Harbour

Starting out in Hollywood, it seemed like the studios wanted to package you as a teen heartthrob, but perhaps that wasn’t the image you wanted for yourself as an actor – you’ve spoken about being self-conscious after being on the cover of every magazine. What was it like re-evaluating your life and career after that period, and looking back now, what are your reflections on that time in your life?

In a way, I wish I hadn’t taken it so seriously, but I couldn’t have done anything else when I was that age. I was a very serious young man. I wanted to prove both to myself and to the directors and producers of Hollywood that I was an artist, and always wanted to be a part of artistic films. I also was always attracted to that when I was younger.

I worked in a video store when I was 15, 16 years old, and became a gigantic fan of independent cinema and foreign cinema. If I was going to have an opportunity to express myself in film and work with the types of directors I wanted to work with, I was going to take it. It wasn’t necessarily the career path that people within the industry wanted for me, because they wanted to me to fulfil the image they had set for me, which would make everybody some money.

I was always clear about what I wanted from the industry, and I had to be true to who I am. I couldn’t tell that young man anything about which way to go, because he was too strong-minded, and I’m sort of proud of myself for that.

There’s a difficulty as an actor in balancing big studio projects with independent films, is there a tendency to place actors in one box or the other?

In a way, yes. It’s somewhat more just what my expectations were of myself at that time. I didn’t necessarily think about that balance between the system, I was more about “how do I get to work with people like Tran Ahn Hung?” At the time, I really wanted to work with Wes Anderson, and I almost did a film with David Fincher and that film fell apart. To be able to work with these types of people was what I wanted all along. I spent some time talking to Julian Schnabel about working with him on a film. A lot of films didn’t quite come together the way I hoped they would, but I was always pursuing the films that I was interested in as a moviegoer and as a fan.

Josh Hartnett in Penny Dreadful

Following Penny Dreadful, will you be pursuing more arthouse films like Oh, Lucy!, are you planning to go after roles in studio movies, or a little bit of both?

Right now, I’m pretty much doing independent films. I’m reading everything that comes across my desk. I’ve done four independent films since we finished Penny Dreadful, and I’m about to start the fifth in 2 weeks. Then I might work on a play – John Malkovich and I worked on a film last year [Valley of the Gods] together and he asked me to do a play that he’s directing in London, I might do that.

In order to make a good living in this industry, you have to do something within the system. I’m not unaware of that, so I will try to find something that’s good within the system. I thought that Penny Dreadful was right smack dab in the middle of the Hollywood system, but it was also very interesting and way outside the box. I’ll try to find something else like that if I can.

That was John Logan’s wheelhouse, where he has done artistic, interesting stuff within a studio context.

Yeah, he does that quite well. If you can find someone to work with who can pull that off within the system, then that’s the perfect place to be.

You were offered several roles in comic book films, and you said you regretted passing on the role of Batman. What are your attitudes towards the genre, given how prevalent comic book and superhero movies are today?

At that stage in my career, I was being offered everything. I was, as I explained before, very focused on working with certain types of directors. I didn’t know Chris Nolan was going to be able to pull off that type of work in that film. I think the way that people interpret interviews is sometimes a little off-based. I don’t have enormous regrets about that, it was an off-hand comment. I wish I would’ve seen the forest for the trees at the time, having a relationship with a director, and I used him as an example. Sometimes, that’s a better choice than just worrying about the film itself. Sometimes, a great director can take a genre piece and elevate it, that’s all I’m saying. The way John Logan did Penny Dreadful, he elevated a horror genre piece to something that was special. I’m more aware of that now than I was at the time, and that’s all I’m saying.

Josh Hartnett and Shinobu Terajima in Oh, Lucy!

You’ve been politically active. How has your activism been affected by the big changes in US politics over the last two years?

[Sighs] The bizarre thing in my life that’s occurred is that since the western world has lost its mind, I’ve been having children [laughs]. So my focus has become more internalised and focused on family while these big events have occurred. That being said, I’ve become very interested in how these current events will affect the future, for my kids’ sake. There’s a time for outrage, and there’s a time for expressing one’s hopes for change. We’ve gone through a cycle of both over the course of the last couple of years.

My girlfriend [Tamsin Egerton] is English, and we’ve spent time in England after Brexit. There’s a real long slump where people feel their country has been taken away from that, a lot of people in London felt that way. Then of course, the election here, a lot of people feel that way as well. It is important to remain engaged, and I feel like I am engaged, but we need to affect change within the system in a positive way, otherwise it won’t last.

As far as I can tell at this point, the best way forward is to keep doing what we’re doing, and continue to stymie Republican efforts to take away people’s rights, and hope that in the next couple of years, elections will swing things back towards sanity. You just have to remain focused on the end goal, which is just not letting people be persecuted in your country.

I absolutely agree. Before I let you go, have you been to Singapore?

I’ve only been to the airport in Singapore so far, but we are coming in for the premiere, so I’m looking forward to it.

What are your impressions of the country, and what have you heard about us so far?

Okay, so I have a lot of impressions that I know from people who’ve lived there. The producer Han [West] went to school there. Recently I watched a BBC show about extraordinary hotels, and a lot of that was based in Singapore, so I learned about the culture through that. I think I have a pretty interesting perspective, I have a lot of expectations for it, but I’m sure I’m way off base. It’s not a culture that I know enough about, I’ve just heard stories from people. I’m excited to come take a look.

 

 

 

Thor: Ragnarok – Meet The Characters

For inSing

Thor: Ragnarok – meet the characters

Get reacquainted with the God of Thunder and meet his new allies and foes

By Jedd Jong

This week, the Norse god of Thunder/Avenger Thor returns to theatres in Thor: Ragnarok, which promises to be a wild and woolly cosmic adventure. Under the direction of New Zealander filmmaker Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok looks set to be crammed with humour, action and eye-catching visual splendour.

This adventure finds our hero stripped of his armour and his magical hammer Mjolnir, imprisoned on the other side of the universe and forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena. Meanwhile, Hela, the goddess of death herself, makes a play for control of Thor’s home Asgard and the realms beyond it.

Before watching the latest Marvel movie, here’s a quick rundown of some of the characters we’ll see again, and some whom we’re meeting for the first time, in Thor: Ragnarok.

#1: THOR (Chris Hemsworth)

The God of Thunder is a cocky, self-assured character, so it’s no surprise that many stories see him being humbled and brought down to earth. That was a key part of his original arrival on earth, and in this film, Thor is defeated by Hela and held captive on the planet Sakaar. Hemsworth had considerable say in shaping the story, saying “I got a bit bored of myself and thought we’ve got to try something different.” Since Thor and Hulk/Bruce Banner haven’t had much interaction beyond the latter punching out the former in The Avengers, Hemsworth requested that the Hulk play a major role in Thor: Ragnarok. While some viewers might mourn the loss of Thor’s luscious locks, Hemsworth found Thor’s fuss-free new hairdo quite liberating. “It allowed the whole thing to take on a different attitude. It felt like a completely different character,” Hemsworth said.

#2: LOKI (Tom Hiddleston)

Tom Hiddleston has become this generation’s runaway unlikely sex symbol, winning legions of female fans with his seductive, darkly charming performance as Loki, the god of Mischief. Hiddleston has had the privilege of playing the role across multiple films – typically, supervillains in comic book movies don’t last more than two films. Since the conclusion of Thor: The Dark World, Loki has been ruling Asgard in the guise of his adoptive father Odin, and his reign has been all about self-aggrandisation at the expense of good governance. In serving his own ego, Loki has ignored the looming threats to Asgard, chief among them being Hela herself. In Thor: Ragnarok, Hiddleston had fun “trying to find new ways for him to be mischievous”, while also further exploring Loki’s insecurities. “The idea that Thor might be indifferent to Loki is troubling for him, because that’s a defining feature of his character is, I don’t belong in the family; my brother doesn’t love me; I hate my brother,” Hiddleston reasoned. Thor and Loki must reluctantly work together, but we know that as is always the case with Loki, things are never what they seem.

#3: HELA (Cate Blanchett)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe adds yet another Oscar-winning thespian to its ranks in the form of Cate Blanchett. The character of Hela is based on the Norse deity Hel, the ruler of the underworld also called Hel. Hela is yet another iteration of the “long-buried evil entity breaks free” archetype: “”She’s been locked away for millennia getting more and more cross, and then, with a mistake, she gets unleashed and she ain’t getting back in that box.” In the comics, Hela’s cape enhances her physical strength and maintains her youth. Hela can manifest weapons at will, and wears an elaborate headdress which she can also use as a weapon. The headdress is a defining part of the character’s design, but was cumbersome for Blanchett to wear, so Blanchett performed a portion of the role using motion capture technology. To prepare for the physically intensive role, Blanchett trained with stuntwoman and oft-collaborator of Quentin Tarantino Zoë Bell, and Hemsworth’s personal trainer Luke Zocchi, studying the Brazilian dance-infused martial art Capoeira.

#4: THE GRANDMASTER (Jeff Goldblum)

Jeff Goldblum might well be the best part of Thor: Ragnarok, as Jeff Goldblum is wont to be. The Grandmaster is an Elder of the Universe who pits lesser beings against each other in battles for his own amusement. Two other Elders of the Universe, Taneleer Tivan/The Collector and Ego the Living Planet, have appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy films. The Grandmaster can be seen dancing during the end credits of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. In some versions, the Grandmaster and the Collector are brothers. The Grandmaster is so powerful, that in one story, he controlled DC’s Justice League in a game against the DC villain Krona, who controlled the Avengers. Goldblum describes the Grandmaster as “a hedonist, a pleasure-seeker, an enjoyer of life and tastes and smells.” While the character has blue skin in the comics, Waititi opted to let Goldblum retain his own skin tone, because he didn’t want the character to invoke the blue-skinned alien Goldblum played in the comedy Earth Girls are Easy.

#5: VALKYRIE (Tessa Thompson)

Thor: Ragnarok marks the Marvel Cinematic Universe debut of Valkyrie, a key supporting chacrater in the Thor comics who was, at one point, set to appear in Thor: The Dark World. The character is based on the shieldmaiden Brynhildr, a formidable warrior from ancient Germanic mythology. Valkyrie is not to be trifled with, and is a former soldier in Odin’s elite troops who has become a mercenary working for the Grandmaster. Valkyrie is traditionally depicted as white, and Thompson is of African, South-American and European descent. Director Waititi is adamant that the casting is not to fulfil diversity criteria: “I’m not obsessed with the idea that you have to cast someone just to tick a box… You should cast people because they’re talented,” Waititi said. The director also stated he did not want the character to be “boring and pretty”, but someone would “be even more of the ‘guy’ character than the guys.”

The character is usually seen in the comics wearing armour, but Thompson said “she’s such a bad ass that she doesn’t need a lot of metal to protect her. I’m essentially in leather.” The character is equal to and in some ways superior to Thor, changing the dynamic between Thor and the female lead, who in the two previous Thor films was Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster. Valkyrie is set to appear in future MCU movies, and Thompson has pitched an all-female Marvel movie to studio boss Kevin Feige. “Just to be the girlfriend or the wife…to not have your own agency is something that I just can’t relate to because I don’t see it in my life,” Thompson said of the roles often given to women in action films.

#6: HEIMDALL (Idris Elba)

As Heimdall, the Asgardian keeper of the Bifröst Bridge, Idris Elba did not get a huge amount to do in the first two Thor films. Perhaps that will change with the third instalment. No longer clad in gleaming golden armour, Heimdall has gone into exile after Hela’s invasion of Asgard, living in the woods as a wild man. Elba was notoriously outspoken about not enjoying the process of making the Marvel movies, calling them “torture”. While promoting Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Elba griped about having to go to London while in production on Mandela for contractually-obligated reshoots. “There I was, in this stupid harness, with this wig and this sword and these contact lenses. It ripped my heart out,” he said. This go-round, however, Elba seems to have enjoyed himself. “The last one [Ragnarok] was fun,” he said. “The others weren’t fun. They’re work. But on this one, Taika was great,” Elba said, praising the film’s director.

#7: BRUCE BANNER/THE HULK (Mark Ruffalo)

At the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Hulk was seen in a Quinjet, flying off to some unknown destination. Kevin Feige intended to keep it ambiguous where Hulk would end up, and fans speculated that Marvel were setting up for a Planet Hulk movie. In the comics, Planet Hulk is the storyline in which a group of genius Marvel characters called the Illuminati launch Hulk into space. He ends up on the planet Sakaar, becoming a gladiator and eventually taking over the planet. Elements of this story are incorporated into Thor: Ragnarok. Ruffalo discussed a solo Hulk with Feige, but because Universal Studios holds the rights to any Hulk-led films, this proved untenable, and Hulk was made a supporting character in Thor: Ragnarok. The character is evolved further, and now has a limited vocabulary beyond the grunts and roars we’ve heard from the Hulk in earlier MCU movies. “He’s much more of a character than the green rage machine you’ve seen in the Avengers movies,” Ruffalo said. “He’s got a swagger. He’s like a god.” In the film, the Hulk persona has been repressing the Banner side for years, and the film marks a further separation of the two personas. Hulk’s character arc in Thor: Ragnarok is set to carry on into Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel.

Resilience Under Fire: Miles Teller Interview for Only the Brave

For inSing

RESILIENCE UNDER FIRE: MILES TELLER TALKS ONLY THE BRAVE 

The actor tells inSing about making the fact-based firefighting drama

By Jedd Jong

Only the Brave tells the harrowing true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew of firefighters within the Prescott, Arizona Fire Department. In June 2013, the Hotshots battled the fearsome Yarnell Hill fire, resulting in a staggering loss of life. When then-Vice President Joe Biden attended the memorial service for the firefighters killed in the incident, he said “all men are created equal. But then, a few became firefighters.”

In the film, Miles Teller (Whiplash, The Spectacular Now, War Dogs) plays Brendan “Donut” McDonough, a young ne’er-do-well slacker who decides to pull his life together and become a firefighter after his ex-girlfriend gives birth to their daughter. The film also stars Josh Brolin as the team’s leader Eric “Supe” Marsh, Jeff Bridges as Eric’s mentor Duane Steinbrink, and Jennifer Connelly as Eric’s wife Amanda. James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Scott Haze and Ben Hardy are among the actors who play fellow firefighters. Joseph Kosinki (Tron Legacy, Oblivion) directs from a screenplay by Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down, Transformers: The Last Knight) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle, The International).

Teller spoke exclusively to inSing over the phone from Los Angeles about making the film. He discussed meeting the real-life Brendan McDonough, working with Josh Brolin, the physical preparation he undertook to play the role and working with the stunt team to film the realistic firefighting scenes.

INSING: The character you play, Brendan McDonough, starts out as irresponsible and aimless and embarks on a journey towards heroism. Tell us more about that journey.

MILES TELLER: Brendan, he was a little, I guess ‘aimless’ is a good word. I think he was lacking some kind of mentorship or some kind of guidance, something that at that age is really helpful in terms of helping you to become the person you’ll become later. I think at that age; a lot of people are battling with immaturity and irresponsibility. Brendan, he was into drugs and committing some small crimes. He ends up going to jail, and when he goes back home, his mum throws him out of the house. That was an ultimatum. For him, he realised it’s time to stop being so selfish and get his life together. That’s when he decided to try out for the Granite Mountain Hotshots, and he met Eric Marsh, who became such a strong fatherly figure for him, up until the day of the tragedy.

Leading on from that, I think that after enduring JK Simmons yelling at you, nothing would faze you, but was it intimidating having someone like Josh Brolin play your boss?

No, it’s actually kind of the opposite of intimidating. I was really grateful, and I think we all benefitted from Josh’s leadership on the film. He got rid of any kind of divide or any kind of ego that could’ve been there, just because he’s done 50 movies and there were certain guys on the movie that it was their very first film. He was the best, man. He was having guys come to his house to work out and his trailer door was always open. He was really such a leader, not even just in the physical portion of the film. He would always be the first guy in the line, whether we were doing running, racing, cardio workouts. He’s in great shape and we really benefitted in the cast by having Josh as #1 on the call sheet.

What about the story of Brendan McDonough and of the Granite Mountain Hotshots resonated with you the most?

I have so much respect for anybody who’s in the position to be a first responder. The town that these guys came from, kind of a Southwest small town, I grew up in the south in a pretty small town. Especially after going to their hometown, I felt like I would’ve been friends with those guys, those were my kind of guys. Then obviously the tragedy that happened, and to get the opportunity to put a story like that of real-life heroism on screen and to do the story justice and celebrate their lives, then you’re lucky, because not every story has that kind of integrity to it.

With Brendan, I like any character who goes on a journey, a big arc or any character who goes through a big transition. And Brendan, starting out on the drugs and committing crimes to where he ends up being such a high-contributing member of society, that was interesting to me.

What was it like meeting the real-life Brendan McDonough?

I flew down to Prescott, Arizona, where the story takes place. I met Brendan, and it was uh, I’ve played a few real-life people at this point, and the first interaction is always…I was going down there basically to show face, and to show him that I was taking this very seriously. I just kind of allowed him to talk, and say what he wanted to say, and get any weird feelings about making a movie about his life out of the way, and then after that, we just hung out. We just got along and hung out for a couple of days. Apart of the work, it was fun, but it was also beneficial in playing the character.

What was it like working with director Joseph Kosinski?

Joe was great. Joe is everything that you want in a director: he’s extremely prepared, he’s extremely intelligent and thoughtful, and he absolutely wanted to maintain the integrity for these guys, he wanted the authenticity to play. That’s something that, for a movie of this budget, you don’t always get that. He was our captain on this thing, and he was also open-minded. He was open to ideas from the guys as to what they wanted to do with the character, and he’s a master behind the camera, but also in front of, in terms of talking with the actors. I couldn’t have asked for a better director.

In meeting with real-life currently active Hotshots and firefighters, what was the most surprising thing that struck you about these guys?

The actual people, like not too much. The work that they do is extremely tough. It is difficult. I have no idea what these guys go through to be able to fight these wildfires. I guess what surprised me about the guys is that they’re guys, they’re Hotshots and you feel “I’m sure I could lift more weights”, but the work they’re doing is extremely tough. And the guys that make it through, some of them surprise you because on the surface they don’t look like it, but really it’s an inner courage and strength that these guys have, that keeps them going week after week, month after month during fire season.

How does the physical work you had to do for this film compare to the preparation for a movie like Bleed for This?

It was different. For this one, we have like a two-week boot camp, where everybody got their butts kicked and got into shape. It’s a lot of physical labour, whereas boxing is such a different kind of training. Boxers are training to go 12 three-minute rounds in a fight, whereas these guys it’s more cardio, endurance, longevity. So the training was a little different, but both are tough.

What was the camaraderie like between the crew when you were training and filming, and out of all your castmates, who do you think you bonded with the strongest?

We had a great camaraderie, and I think it was very smart of the producers and the director to have that be the first introduction to everybody. To me, that brought us closer than any kind of rehearsing the scenes would have done, because you’re all links in a chain. When you’re doing these workouts, it’s not about the individual at all, it’s all about the group. I felt that was a really smart way to get everybody all in. They brought in some real Hotshots to do the training so we knew it was authentic, and everybody just bonded from the beginning.

It wasn’t necessarily one individual. We all got close. There were 20 guys including Brolin, and we were all hanging out. We were in Santa Fe, fairly small town, and we were all just hanging out.

With any film that’s based on a real-life disaster, there’s a balance between how respectful the film has to be while delivering the spectacle it has to, without being exploitative. How do you feel Only the Brave pulls that balance off?

It’s tough, because I don’t know how many people who are going to see the movie necessarily know what happened with the true story; people can look it up. I think a lot of people are going to see it based on the actors that are involved, the occupation that it is, firefighting, Joe the director, and these different elements, but I think what Joe and our screenwriter Eric Singer did is not rushing to the tragedy, not building this movie on the last catastrophe. They really do a good job of showing these guys and what they stood for, and not exploiting them for their deaths. They did a good job of not skipping through the first two-thirds of the movie just to get to that ending, which you know is going to be emotional and tragic and all those things. They did a really good job, and that is difficult to do – and there is nothing cliché about this movie at all.

What was it like working with the stunt team and the special effects crew, learning how to work with the practical fire elements?

The stunt team did a really great job. I had a stunt double for a few things, really not that much, but the entire stunt team and production too, they were able to construct this fake area of wild lands so that they could control the fire. There were times, absolutely, when the fire was really, really hot, but that’s how it goes. In real life, these guys, that’s what they’re feeling and they still have to focus and do their job. It added a sense of realism for the actor, which is always helpful.

It gives you something to interact with and act off against.

Yeah. The fire, there actually will be some CGI fire just to show the scope of it, but when you see the actors feeling the heat of the fire, that’s real fire.

I’m a big comic book movie geek, and in this movie, there are so many actors who’ve been in comic book movies. Were there any moments when anyone on set went “there’s Mr. Fantastic, there’s Gambit, there’s Thanos, there’s Obadiah Stane” and was geeking out over there?

No…I think when we were filming, Josh had [just] been cast as Thanos, so we would chat with him a little bit about that. This story was so important to everybody, everyone was kind of focused on that and wanted to do these real guys justice.

Finally, do blondes have more fun Miles?

Um, they do. When I dyed my hair blonde, I felt just very free and liberated. I just felt better about myself than when I was a brunette.

That really holds true?

Yes.