Crazy Rich Asians Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh interviews

For inSing 

A GIRL, A GUY AND A POTENTIAL MOTHER-IN-LAW

Stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh talk Crazy Rich Asians

By Jedd Jong

While visiting the Singapore set of Crazy Rich Asians last year, inSing spoke to stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh. Here’s what they had to say about the film:

CONSTANCE WU

Constance Wu plays Rachel, the lead character in Crazy Rich Asians. The actress is best known for playing Jessica Huang in the TV series Fresh Off the Boat and has appeared in TV shows like Torchwood, Covert Affairs and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Wu is an outspoken feminist and champion for Asian representation in mainstream Hollywood media. As a take-off on the #StarringJohnCho meme, the #StarringConstanceWu meme similarly served to highlight how many Hollywood films could’ve worked with Asian stars like Cho and Wu in lead roles.

Wu spoke to inSing about filming on location in Singapore, working with her co-stars Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh, how she spent her downtime in Singapore, and the importance of Crazy Rich Asians in the Hollywood landscape.

inSing: What does being part of this project mean to you?

CONSTANCE WU: Being rich, being crazy and being Asian [laughs]. It’s great being part of an ensemble that really gets along really well, and is trying to make a story that’s really fun and wonderful.

What was it like filming in Singapore and Malaysia? Does the heat get to you?

We had such an incredible crew that once they realised that they needed to bring more air conditioners and stuff like that, the crew was so hardworking and so caring that they really took care of us. Even on days when it’s really hot, there are all these people with fans and water around. Even though it’s been hot, the local crews have been so wonderful, it’s so great.

Can you go out without being recognised here?

I got more recognised here than I did in Malaysia. But yeah, I think I can blend in. Sunglasses, baseball cap [laughs].

What is it like working with Michelle, is she intimidating?

Oh, no! Michelle is very kind, very down to earth, she’s not as intimidating as Eleanor. But when she plays Eleanor, she definitely brings that. But as a person, no, she’s very kind

How about working with Henry?

It was great. He was really eager to do well.

Henry has discussed the backlash he received because of the ethnicity of the character of Nick. He was saying that you can’t get more Asian than him, because he grew up in Asia and spent all this time in Asia. What was your response to that backlash?

I don’t think it’s true that you can’t get more Asian than anybody, than him, because that implies that there’s one standard, and I don’t think there’s any standard of what’s more Asian or not. I think you create your own identity, and the identity you create is borne of many things: where you choose to live, what language you speak, what language your parents speak, what music you love, what stories you love. Those are all factors that make you who you are, and there isn’t any one person who’s more Asian than another person. There are just individuals. And that’s why this movie is so great: it doesn’t show Asians as just one monolith. It shows the diversity amongst Asians. You have characters as different from Kitty Pong to Rachel. You couldn’t be more different, both of them are Asian. Diversity within an Asian cast shows the richness of character within a culture and the richness of individual spirits within a culture, that are influenced by the culture but still claiming individual identity.

Everyone loves you from Fresh Off the Boat, and now you’re in Crazy Rich Asians. Do you see yourself as the ideal Asian-American representative in Hollywood?

I don’t think I’m the [ideal] Asian representative. I really like bringing to life stories about being Asian in the world, because there aren’t a lot of them, and I think they’re beautiful stories. It’s an honour to work with Nina, with Jon, and with Kevin Kwan’s story. It’s based on very personal things that happened to him.

Have you met your fair share of crazy rich Asians?

I’ve never met many.

So you’re very much like Rachel, in that you’re not used to this opulence.

No, not at all. I don’t even think I’ve met a crazy rich person, Asian or not, any person. I grew up working-class [laughs] in Virginia, in the United States.

Awkafina has said that there have been projects where she feels like the token Asian on set, and in this movie, that’s totally gone and she feels happy to be among her peers. Do you feel that this is a landmark, moving forward?

Sure. We’ve actually never had a studio movie that starred all Asians that wasn’t a period piece. Because The Joy Luck Club, that came out I think 20 years ago, it was partially a period piece. A lot of the Asian cinema that we see in theatres are period pieces, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They’re all beautiful and I love that we have a lot of period pieces, but why don’t we ever see Asian-Americans in a contemporary context? Why don’t we see mainstream movies where they’re using cell phones, you know? [Laughs] It’s not because we don’t, you’re using your cell phone right now. It’s a way to include them in the current conversation by showing them in a contemporary context, saying that they are here and they are contemporary, and our stories matter. So that is really ground-breaking, and is part of the reason why I took on this project.

On your Instagram, we saw that you made The Rabbit Headquarters your first stop in Singapore. What made you want to visit them?

I love rabbits, I have a rabbit and I couldn’t bring her here.

What’s your rabbit’s name?

Her name is Lida Rose. She’s four-years-old and she’s very cute. I really missed her, I don’t know why, but I really love rabbits. So the first thing I wanted to do when I came to Singapore was to go see rabbits.

You also posted on Instagram that you went to watch Wonder Woman in Singapore. Do you think that that’s on the horizon, an Asian female-led genre piece in Hollywood?

I don’t know, but I do consider this film to be a female-led piece. Even though a lot of people think it’s a love story, I don’t think it’s a love story. I truly think this story is about women and the sacrifices they make to protect men. If you look at what Michelle’s character does, Eleanor, [she] makes a sacrifice to protect Nick. If you look at what Astrid does, Astrid makes a sacrifice so that Michael doesn’t feel inferior about his lack of wealth as well. It’s all about these quiet sacrifices that women make, they don’t need to show off, and how they navigate them through their female friendships, especially Rachel’s friendship with Peik Lin, played by Awkwafina.

I do think with movies like this movie and Wonder Woman that hopefully stories that have females who are not just objects of romance but who are making sacrifices and making choices and having agency in their lives, that those are stories we’ll see. If it happens in the context of a big Marvel blockbuster, that’s great too, but if it happens in the contemporary context of Crazy Rich Asians, that’s awesome too. I think the thing that we want is narrative plentitude, as opposed to narrative scarcity, so we want more stories, and not just one. If you don’t identify with one story, then maybe there’s another story you identify with.

When you were growing up, did you find that there weren’t enough female Asian characters to look up to?

Yeah, precisely because I’m not interested in actresses who are known for their beauty. I am interested in actresses who are known for their talent and their depth. This is not the fault of the actresses, but a lot of Hollywood movies try to sexualise or romanticise women, as if they’re just supposed to be there are be pretty. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but that’s not what moves me. Growing up, I didn’t think about it too much, because you’re just a kid – you’re thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch [laughs]. You’re not thinking about those kinds of things.

I grew up in the theatre, and the theatre is very welcoming. Especially where I grew up, all the gay people went to theatre, because it’s a welcoming place. I always felt very welcome in the theatre, and that’s why I kept pursuing it, because it felt like family there.

We saw you filming a very emotional scene. How do you get into that headspace?

Oh, that’s boring. I don’t want to bore you with all the stuff I have to go to get into that. That’s the most boring stuff, actor’s stuff. I’ve trained my whole life as a serious actor. I’ve gone to a conservatory, I’ve done Shakespeare, I’ve done all of it – and it’s boring! It’s like if I taught you how to fix a car. It’s very boring [laughs].

But it gets you to that place.

Yeah. Different people have different techniques. You find the ones that work for you, and then you use them. But when the writing’s good, it’s pretty easy, and when the actors are good, it’s easy too.

HENRY GOLDING

The producers of Crazy Rich Asians searched far and wide for their dashing  male lead, and settled on British-Malaysian TV personality Henry Golding. Golding is best known as a TV presenter, having hosted several travel shows. Despite having no acting credits to his name prior to this film, Golding is poised for stardom, having clinched a role in the upcoming Paul Feig-directed thriller A Simple Favour opposite Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. He is also set to play a gay Vietnamese man returning to his home country in the independent film Monsoon, from director Hong Khaou. The story goes that an accountant on Crazy Rich Asians mentioned to their line producer that they had seen Golding host a red carpet event, reducing most of the women there to jelly.

In this interview, Golding spoke about making his acting debut, addressed the backlash to his casting, discussed working with his onscreen mother Michelle Yeoh and the explained the predicament his character Nick Young finds himself in.

inSing: What has it been like filming the movie?

HENRY GOLDING: Filming has been insane. It’s been a real learning curve for myself, but the crew here have been nothing but welcoming. It’s just become this huge family. I think that really makes a difference, and the one person who spearheads that is Jon. Jon is like a big brother to everyone, he’s got the patience of a saint, and that trickles down. When you’ve got a good director who doesn’t stress or shout, it makes everybody’s job easier. It’s been nothing but an amazing experience. I have nothing bad to say about it!

What were the challenges you’ve had to overcome, seeing as this is your first feature film role?

I’ve had very little onscreen time in terms of acting experience, but through the years, I’ve always wanted to get into acting. Movies are a big, big passion of mine, and have been for such a long time. Whilst watching movies, I’ve been analysing this whole time, and I’ve identified bad acting, and in a way, my love of movies and actors really helped bring something of mine. Acting is being in the moment, and being very present. Being intuitive to emotions, you blend those together, and I hope I did a good job.

Did you feel nervous acting opposite performers who’ve been in the industry longer than you have?

That was the weird thing, not at all. If anybody, it would’ve been Michelle who would’ve freaked me out. Michelle is queen bee. She is classy, she’s the person you wish for Michelle to be, and much more. I’ve grown up watching her and when we first met, I called her up when we landed in KL and said “would you mind if we had tea [together]”, and she said “no, not at all!” So we had 2-3 hour tea and crumpets, just to get to know each other. From her side, there was zero diva, almost minus diva-ness. She’s really been everybody’s favourite, she’s a saint.

The producer Nina Jacobson said you are the ideal Nick, and you had everything they were looking for in Nick. But of course, there has been some backlash because of your ethnicity. What would you say to the critics?

There are plenty of directions we can always go with this. We’ll go through the spectrum. Historically, Asia, especially Southeast Asia, is such a mix of blood, in terms of Peranakan, you’ve got the Malacca and Penang, all those Dutch and Portuguese influences, there’s mixed blood everywhere. That’s something that the Westerners, even Chinese-Americans, don’t understand. We are such a melting pot here in Southeast Asia. What we should be proud of is we’re representing this side of the world. People are only concerned with Chinese-Americans in Hollywood. Then there’s the rest of us, who are maybe a little bit of Malay, a bit of Peranakan, everything.

When it comes to me being half-English, to me, I identify more with my Asian side. I’m from Sarawak. You cannot get more Asian than coming from five hours into the jungle. I would put myself against anybody from the States – how Asian do you have to be? I don’t understand. I’ve lived all my life in Asia, I align myself with the Asian cultures, but then it’s easy for somebody to say “he’s not Asian, he’s just a white guy!” They’ve never left wherever they’re from. It’s easy to point fingers, it’s easy to criticise, and it’s easy to always never be able to make everybody happy. That’s something we have to come to terms with. But for me, I’m extremely proud that I’m able to represent Singapore, Malaysia, all of us Southeast Asian countries. It’s very important that we’ve made it this far, and I take my hat off to Warner Bros. for taking it there. We’re breaking boundaries with this film.

Tell us about your character Nick.

Nick is…his own self. Nick has a very rich history, especially with Singapore. His family is of the old guard. For Nick, he is very acutely aware that he’s the heir apparent to these riches, that he’s Singapore’s poster child for that old system, but he wants to be his own person. He wants to shine as Nick Yong, not of Ah Ma’s creation or Eleanor’s creation. He left to find himself – he went to Oxford to study, then he went to New York, all under the guise of trying to find himself – and he found himself in Rachel. That bond is essentially the core of the story. It’s a love story. He is a bit silly in not explaining what is waiting for Rachel, but what he’s most afraid of is her judging him for that, and her thinking differently of the Nick that she fell in love with. He’s caught in between this hell and heaven, where he needs to introduce to that part of his life, but he doesn’t want to scare her. He doesn’t know how to put it across, because his grand idea would be to bring her over and throw her into that pot.

So it’s a little bit like Eddie Murphy’s character in Coming to America, in a way.

In a sense, in a sense. Thankfully, Rachel does enjoy herself, and ends up falling in love with Singapore, almost finding something in herself. She was never in touch with her ancestry, apart from her mother, her Asian-ness. For her, all of this is new. It goes back to how Asian you have to be to actually be Asian. For her, she’s a foreigner, coming to Singapore. She’s learning a culture that she’s not familiar with.

How strongly did you identify with the character?

It was very strange, because Nick shoes that I stepped into are very similar to my own, in a sense. His sense of not really identifying with the past – his identity is something he’s always had problems with. He’s not ashamed of his family, but he’s very aware that it can be very jarring for someone like Rachel. When I was growing up in England, I was seen as a foreigner, then when I’m back in Asia, I was a foreigner as well, so where do you belong? You’re a stranger everywhere. When I was creating Nick, it was more conceptualising the ideas and the memories that Nick had. Growing up with Colin, how he met Rachel, the process of him falling in love, and his relationship with his mother, one of the key components of this story. Those are the things I had to explore, and have those triggers ready for a scene which would bring those to the front.

MICHELLE YEOH

Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh is no stranger to moviegoers in Asia, and has made considerable inroads into Hollywood as well. She is perhaps best known for her roles in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies and the Lee Ang-directed martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She has also taken on prestige pictures like the Aun Sung Suu Kyi biopic The Lady. Lately, Yeoh has appeared in sci-fi projects like Star Trek: Discovery and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

In Crazy Rich Asians, Yeoh plays Eleanor Young, who butts heads with protagonist Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), who is dating her beloved son Nick (Henry Golding). Much of the conflict derives from differences in culture and class, with Eleanor being the main obstacle standing in the way of Rachel finding happiness with Nick. In this interview, Yeoh told us about her character, working with co-star Golding and director Jon Chu, and the heart of the movie behind the sheen of material wealth.

inSing: How do you function in this heat without sweating buckets?

MICHELLE YEOH: There’s a crew behind us who runs around with fans [so] we don’t melt.

Throughout your career, you’ve worked with so many great directors. How does Jon Chu measure up?

Oh, wonderfully. I told him a couple of days ago, he reminds me of a young Ang Lee. The intensity, the way he works, the way he talks to himself, the way he visualises. He’s so hands-on. The way he runs around the set looking at all the details, I really enjoyed my experience working with Jon. He has been an absolute delight.

What was it like working with Henry Golding, see as it’s his first movie?

Fantastic. He’s like an old-timer. I’ve really, really enjoyed working with him. He’s very passionate, he’s very eager and he wants to do this well. I think if you ask anybody in the crew, they all adore him. Everyone wants to take him home to show their mother, and all the mothers want to take him home as their sons!

How do you approach a role like Eleanor?

It’s not difficult, because first of all, the book is there. I have a very close understanding with Jon, which is very important because as the director, he is really the soul of the film. We’ve done some major changes as well, we really worked on the relationship between the mother and son. I think this is very key for me as an actor, and key for the movie as well, otherwise what is it that holds all this craziness together? It’s that the mother would die for him. She would do anything for him – you know how Chinese mothers are. You know they would jump in front of a train for you. The thing is, we think that when we’re brought up in America, you’re like a banana. You’ve forgotten what it’s like to be respectful to your elders, you listen to them instead of just chasing your own dreams and things like that. In this movie, I think we approach this subject matter and deal with it accordingly. I think there’s no right or wrong, some of the old ways need to be changed, but I think with Eleanor, when I saw this, it was a very good opportunity. All the things you’ve heard about in the past, the Tiger Mom, the matriarch, the mother-in-law, even in the black-and-white movies – I think in this one, we try to break that cycle, if it’s possible at all.

Will this film dispel the myth of Crazy Rich Asians?

No! I hope it gives you a chance to laugh at them, and laugh with them. The thing is, we’re not trying to laugh at them, we’re trying to laugh with them. There’s nothing wrong with laughing at ourselves. I think we can take ourselves too seriously at times, that makes you miserable and makes the people around you miserable. Life is short, and can be very unpredictable, so if you don’t enjoy the moment you have, it’s a missed opportunity.

It’s there in the title, Crazy Rich Asians. How do you reconcile the materialism and the opulence with the heart?

I think there is always that balance. It doesn’t mean that if you can afford all these material things, you don’t have heart. When you are very rich, it’s how you spend the money. You can pamper yourself, but also be aware and compassionate to those around you who need it. Sometimes when you’re very young, and you have it, you haven’t got the sense of control or the sense of discipline yet, to understand what you can do. You think “me, my car, my plane, my ship, my my my my my!” I hope one day this person will have his eyes opened and be enlightened, or have a good mentor who can show him the right way.

How is this role different from the others in your career?

I hope that every time I come into a role, it is different, because otherwise, you just see Michelle Yeoh. When I get offered a role, I have to see “why am I doing this?” Do I love the script? Do I love the director? I don’t want to make a movie where you watch it and go “oh, that’s just Michelle Yeoh being Michelle Yeoh again”. It’s like when we designed for Eleanor, this is not what Michelle Yeoh would wear, this is not the kind of hairstyle I would have. My assistant went “you never wear that!” And I said “good, it’s not me in the movie!” You have to step into the roles of others, otherwise it will lose the fascination for me, and for the audience as well.

This film is seen as a very big step forward for the representation of Asian people in Hollywood? What do you see as the future for Asian actors in genre projects, stuff like Star Trek or Marvel?

I hope I have that magic ball to see! I think it’s very important that we keep pushing for these genre movies. It’s so rare, so few and [far] in between that we get [them]. We are such a big community. We have to be more united, to get out and push more of these projects out there. We have to create the box office, we have to create the marketplace. Just think about the African-Americans, and the Indians – they make these movies because there is an audience of it. If we Asians can stick together and demand more of these movies, then Crazy Rich Asians gets made.

 

Mega Bites: interview with The Meg actor Masi Oka

For inSing

MEGA BITES
Masi Oka talks being hunted by an ancient killer shark in The Meg

By Jedd Jong

Even in 2018, there are still corners of the world’s oceans that remain unexplored, and while it might seem implausible, it is tantalising and terrifying to imagine that hiding in one of those corners might be something like the Carcharocles megalodon. Scientists estimate that this fearsome ancestor of the Great White Shark stalked the seas between 23 to 2.6 million years ago and could grow up to 18 metres in length.

In the sci-fi action thriller The Meg, based on the best-selling 1997 novel by Steve Alten, a Megalodon rears its toothy head. the titular shark terrorises our heroes, led by Jason Statham as former deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor.

Jonas had a traumatic run-in with the creature five years earlier, but nobody believed him then. Jonas’ ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) is the pilot of the submersible Mana-One Origin, which is trapped in the Marianas Trench and effectively held hostage by the Meg. Jonas is hired by oceanographer Dr Zhang (Winston Chao) to lead the rescue effort, despite the insistence of Zhang’s daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) that she can spearhead the rescue herself. The other crew members stuck alongside Lori in the tiny capsule are ‘the Wall’ (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) and Toshi (Masi Oka).

inSing spoke exclusively to Oka about his work on the film. Audiences might be most familiar with the actor from his role as Hiro Nakamura on the TV series Heroes and Heroes Reborn. A man of many talents, Oka started out in Hollywood as a visual effects artist at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), working on films such as the Star Wars prequels. His diverse CV also includes a stint as an English, Spanish, and Japanese translator at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

Photo credit: Lisa O’Connor for AFP/Getty Images

Oka has recently taken on projects as a producer, including the Netflix film Death Note. He is a cultural envoy to the U.S. Embassy, endeavouring to bridge the gap between Japan and Hollywood in the realms of arts and business. His acting roles in film and on TV also include Hawaii Five-0, Get Smart, Punk’d, Jobs and Austin Powers in Goldmember.

Oka told us what it was like working on the submersible set, how his behind-the-scenes expertise informs his acting when working on a visual effects-heavy film like this one, the camaraderie between the cast and crew, and how the nature of the co-production between American and Chinese studios influenced the final product.

INSING: Hi Masi, thanks for talking with us. Please tell us about your character Toshi.

MASI OKA: He is a Japanese co-pilot for the Mana-One submersible. We are the first expedition to go 11 000 metres under the ocean’s surface, and we also have a fateful run-in with an enormous creature, later revealed to be an ancient species of shark long thought to be extinct. He’s an overall fun tech guy, very smart, but also very goofy and loves to joke around.

Is Toshi very much like the screen persona your fans know you to have?

I think there’s a piece of me in it. Any character I play, whether it’s on TV or on film, I always approach it with a part of me, by exaggerating a part of me.

Were you a fan of the books by Steve Alten before you got the job?

To be honest with you, I hadn’t read any of Steve Alten’s books before getting the job, I didn’t know what The Meg was. When you get the opportunity to work with Jon Turteltaub, who did National Treasure and who’s such a great director, that was very inspiring. There’s such an international cast, and ensemble cast, and to be able to create a new Jaws for a new generation, was just something I couldn’t pass up. It’s a great opportunity.

This movie has a really eclectic cast. Which of the actors do you share most of your scenes with, and what was the vibe like on set?

I shared most of my scenes with Dari and Jessica McNamee. We’re the three pilots of the Mana-One submersible. The vibe on set was so fun, it was amazing. Jon Turteltaub took us out for dinner, he took care of the cast and everyone, and we felt like a family. It was like being at summer camp with friends and family. There was a camaraderie, we were collaborative, and we were just goofing around – sometimes goofing around too much. We improvised a lot on set, hopefully you see that in the DVD extras.

Was it harder for Jon to wrangle the shark or you guys?

It’s probably harder to wrangle us. At least with the shark, he just has to press some buttons. It was just a fun atmosphere. Jon is very self-deprecating, he’s an amazing leader.

You worked as a digital effects artist at ILM. From your perspective having been in the industry, what can audiences expect spectacle-wise from The Meg?

It’s amazing, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s an over-the-top thrill ride with action, humour and fun. It’s a family movie that the whole family can enjoy. This shark, you’ve never seen anything like it before. I think the CG artists did an amazing job creating this. I had to imagine what it was going to look like on set because it hadn’t been created yet, but it really exceeded my imagination in terms of the sheer size and epicness of it, and the fear factor.

What have you learned from working both behind the scenes and in front of the camera?

I’ve learned a lot in terms of the process that goes into creating these things. Many times, actors don’t understand that us standing in one place and standing two centimetres to the right – there’s a reason for that. Those two centimetres help the post-production folks to save not only money, but hours and hours of work and headaches. Being a visual effects supervisor, having worked behind the scenes, it gives you an appreciation of everyone’s work. Also, it helps me communicate. When people tell me “we’re going to do some comps and roto you out here,” I don’t have to have that explained to me. To be able to communicate with people and speak people’s languages allows the set to be more efficient, and gives everyone mutual respect for each other’s work.

Yeah, that’s something you hear from actors who talk about working with directors who are actors themselves, they understand the craft from that perspective.

Exactly. It goes both ways – to understand both ways is really important.

It’s no secret that, unfortunately, there are more bad movies about sharks than there are good ones. What makes The Meg a good shark movie?

I’m actually happy there’s been a lot of bad shark movies, so The Meg can blow them out of the water. The amount of resources that went into creating this is amazing. We have a great director, an international global cast – the CG, the acting, it’s still grounded, it’s based on reality, it feels like the stakes are real. We want to have people scared, but also laughing, crying, maybe even angry at times, and then scared again. People go through a huge range of emotions, and that also makes The Meg something in the class of its own, compared to other shark movies which jump the shark.

This film has been in development hell, or development hell’s aquarium, if you will, for a while. What do you think were the challenges the production team faced in bringing this book to the big screen?

I think Warner Bros really believed in the film. It took time to make sure we did the film justice. That means we had to have the right budget to create the special effects, the technology. There’s a lot of reasons why things go through development hell, but I’m really glad Warner Bros. persisted and found the right creatives and the resources to make this. It took a while. Nothing’s easy when it comes to moviemaking. That’s a credit to everyone that Warner Bros, Steve and the producers continued pushing forward.

Jason Statham is one of the actors who’s pretty close to the action heroes of the 80s and 90s. What was your impression of him?

Absolutely. Jason’s a wonderful actor, he’s very generous and very charismatic. He’s definitely a lot larger than life, but he’s really just humble and a generous guy. When he gets on the screen, he is that persona – he’s everything you expect of an action hero and he encompasses all the qualities of an action hero.

The Meg very much plays on our Thalassaphobia, the fear of what might be lurking in the ocean. Do you have that fear?

Yeah, I definitely do have that fear. I’m also afraid of dark places, small spaces [laughs]…I’m glad that I’m playing a character. If this were me in real life, I would not be able to do what Toshi’s doing.

Movies like The Meg are sometimes described as “B-movies with an A-movie budget” – do you like that characterisation of the movie?

Not really – I think it’s a strange thing to say something’s a B-movie when the production quality is super-high. We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we’re definitely not campy. There are campy movies out there, but this is a real film, it is a creature film but it is grounded and has real stakes. People will go on an emotional ride. It’s an A-movie with A-production value.

That’s a difficult balance, making a genre movie that people are emotionally invested in.

Yeah, it has to do with Jon’s direction, the way that shots are laid out, music, acting, it all comes really well together, a nice blend of humour and emotional stakes.

In the movie, the characters who were originally Japanese in the book are replaced with characters who are Chinese, but who serve similar functions as the original characters. How do you think this change affects the story, or if does at all?

I think we got a bigger budget because of that, with the Chinese studio. I’m glad that they kept at least one character, my character Toshi, Japanese. In fact, that’s what the Chinese producers said, they wanted to improve on Japanese and Chinese relationships through film, which I love. I’m always trying to use entertainment to bridge cultures. I’m really grateful for that.

It sounds like The Meg has a really big thrill ride element to it, and I love theme park rides. If you could design a theme park ride based on The Meg, what would it be?

Oh wow! If I could design a theme park ride based on The Meg…wow. They should definitely be in that submersible and get plopped down into water. It’s hard to say anything without giving a lot away. It might be more of an escape room – you’re in a submersible and you know the Meg is approaching in 30 minutes, and you need to find a way out of there.

What are some of your favourite creature features besides Jaws which you mentioned earlier, and how do you think The Meg measures up?

My other favourite is probably Godzilla. Being Japanese, I grew up on manga and anime and iconic monster movies. The Meg is completely different – the technology is different, we don’t have suit actors or maquettes. It’s a 75-foot shark that’s completely CGI. It’s definitely in a class of its own.

Finally, if you could bring one prehistoric animal back from extinction, could be a dinosaur or anything else, what would it be?

A prehistoric creature? What would it be…hmm…you know, dinosaurs are great, probably a Brontosaurus because they don’t seem to be too dangerous. One of my favourite anime movies is the first Doraemon film, Nobita’s Dinosaur. Nobita befriends a [Plesiosaurus] named Piisuke. Jurassic Park kinda ruined it for me, but the one prehistoric creature I would want to resurrect would be that. It would be my bodyguard. Meg 2 can be the dinosaur.

You’re commanding the dinosaur into battle against the Meg.

Exactly. You’d need a dinosaur who can actually swim.

The Meg opens in Singapore on 9 August 2018 

Shaping a Survivor: interview with Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider personal trainer Magnus Lygdback

For inSing

Shaping a Survivor: personal trainer Magnus Lygdbäck talks Tomb Raider

Alicia Vikander’s coach tells inSing about transforming the Oscar winner into Lara Croft

By Jedd Jong

Anyone who’s played the Tomb Raider games will tell you that adventurer archaeologist Lara Croft must be in peak physical condition to accomplish the feats she pulls off. Whether it’s dodging deadly traps in ancient tombs, fighting off hordes of enemies human and otherwise, or leaping from platforms before they collapse beneath her feet, Lara is always being pushed to the limit.

The new Tomb Raider film, based on the 2013 reboot game, is no different in this regard. While it’s pitched as a more grounded take with a less-superhuman Lara, it still asks a great deal of its star Alicia Vikander. Vikander put on 5 kg of muscle, underwent MMA training and went to the gym every day before filming began, sometimes as early as 4 am.

Vikander first showed off her new physique when she wore a backless dress to the Oscars last year, garnering attention for her defined muscles. She also gained an impressive eight-pack over the course of training for the film.

Vikander got into beast mode under the guidance of personal trainer and fellow Swede Magnus Lygdbäck. Many took notice of the trainer and nutritionist after he helped get Alexander Skarsgård into Tarzan shape for the 2016 film.

Lygdbäck is the creator of the Magnus Method physical conditioning and nutrition program, and his other film credits include training Ben Affleck for Justice League and Gal Gadot for the upcoming Wonder Woman 2. In the world of music, his starry clientele includes Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Harry Styles and Max Martin.

Lygdbäck spoke exclusively to inSing over the phone about the arduous process Vikander weathered to play Lara, and the extents to which Vikander happily pushed herself to attain the desired results.

 

inSing: Please take us through the responsibilities of a personal trainer assigned to an actor.

Magnus Lygdbäck: I’m responsible for training and overseeing the amount of training, which means I’m with Alicia on everything she did physically. Everything from stunt training to MMA fighting with different instructors, just kind of overseeing it all.

 

You’ve worked with professional athletes and musicians like Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Harry Styles. How does working on a movie differ from that? 

Oh, it’s very different. What I do with my artistes is a little more life coach-related, helping out with structure, physically and mentally preparing them for [a] tour. If Katy Perry has a show tonight for 20 000 people, to me it matters when she gets up, what kind of breakfast she eats, what kind of workout she does, what mental preparation she does three hours before the show. What you do when you get off the stage, where you store all your energy – that’s very different. It’s all about building a character when you’re doing a movie. I love doing both, but they’re very different from each other.

What was the time frame you had to work with Alicia in pre-production, and did she impress you with her progress? 

I met Alicia seven months before filming. I was working with Ben Affleck at that time on Justice League. I got one day off, flew to L.A., and had a meeting with Alicia. We discussed the character with the director, and I started off on my nutrition plan, my Magnus Method lifestyle plan. She sent me weekly updates via video. Then four months before filming, I joined her in London. That’s when we started working together physically on a daily basis. Two months before filming, we started on her diet, the cutting cycle.

 

Both you and Alicia are Swedish. Was that something that the both of you bonded over? 

Oh yeah. It was nice, and the director’s Norwegian, so the three of us had our own secret language. It’s always special to work with a countryman. At the same time, she’s been out in the world for a long time, and I’ve been out there for many years, so we’re just as comfortable speaking English as Swedish, but it was special.

One of the differences between the movie and the game is that Lara is depicted as a bicycle courier. Did Alicia undertake specific training to shoot those sequences?  

Well, to become good at something, you have to do it. She worked with the stunt team on cycling around and doing different things, obstacle courses. She was working with the great stunt team that we had to become a good cyclist.

 

In many of the Tomb Raider games, Lara performs some very impressive gymnastics moves to navigate around tombs. Was there an emphasis on gymnastics in Alicia’s training? 

Yeah, we definitely looked at the games and we want the fans to be happy with the movie, so we were looking at the games for sure.

While Lara performs very impressive physical feats, she’s not a superhero. You’ve trained actors who’ve played superheroes before. How did you reach that sweet spot where Lara can handle herself in a fight, but she’s not superhuman?

That’s up to the director to portray her the right way. Physically, you don’t want to go over-the-top, you don’t want her to look unnatural, you want to keep that feeling of a regular person. We had that in mind, we wanted a strong, gritty, bold young woman, but who’s far from perfect like a superhero would be. You keep that in mind when you build the character, but on set, that’s much more up to the director, that’s when my job is done.

 

What was the input of the director Roar Uthaug when you were working on Lara’s physicality with Alicia?

We had our initial meeting seven months before, and then, not so much. When I work, I monitor my actors. I take pictures and measurements and I keep everyone in the loop. If they’re happy with the progress or if they trust you to build a character, you don’t really need to discuss too much. Some directors want to be very involved in the process, and others don’t feel like they need to be.

 

Was there a moment when you were working with Alicia where she surprised you the most?

She surprised me every day, I have to say. With not enough sleep, with the hard schedule of all this stunt work and prep, she is such a hard-working person. She will bring it every day. She will wake up with her fist clenched and she will go to war, which I love. My job is actually much more of stepping in and telling her to take a step back. “You don’t have to do that stunt a fifth time, you’re gonna hurt yourself!” [Laughs] I would force her to take a day off in the gym, I would tell her not to do that extra rep sometimes, and I would really tell on set “take a step back, we got stunt people who can do this a seventh time, you don’t have to do it”.

 

So she was really motivated?

 

Extremely. That’s how she is. She’s motivated in everything she does, and I think you can tell. When you see her in action, she’s a perfectionist, she’s extremely hardworking. She needs someone like me to line things up and say “take a step back” every once in a while.

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.

 

 

 

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.

Building The Fandom: Star Wars Replica Propmaker Stefan Cembolista Interview

For inSing

BUILDING THE FANDOM: INTERVIEW WITH STAR WARS REPLICA PROPMAKER STEFAN CEMBOLISTA 

 

The Star Wars franchise has one of the most devoted fan followings of any property. Many fans are inspired by the space opera to create their own props, costumes and artwork. Stefan Cembolista is one such fan, and his passion for prop-making, costume design and engineering has taken him to places many Star Wars fans can only dream of. As the chairman and head of engineering at BCD Props, the German-born, Belgium-based Cembolista specialises in creating detailed replicas of props and sets. These are displayed at conventions around the world, and even at Star Wars movie premieres. Cembolista’s installations have been exhibited at the Star Wars-centric Celebration conventions in Orlando, Anaheim and London. Cembolista and his team display an obsessive attention to detail that has gained the recognition of Star Wars creator George Lucas, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and The Force Awakens director J. J. Abrams, amongst others.

inSing spoke to Cembolista at the press preview event for the 2017 Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC) at the Friends-themed Central Perk café. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the convention, which is organised by ReedPop and will be held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre over the weekend. Two installations created by Cembolista and his crew will be on the show floor: a life-sized partial interior set of the Millennium Falcon, and a life-sized replica of Rey’s speeder from The Force Awakens – signed by Abrams himself.

Cembolista was ebullient and had a twinkle in his eye, visibly passionate about his chosen craft and about Star Wars. He had arrived in Singapore the previous afternoon, and was treated to a night on the town by members of the Singapore Star Wars fan community. “It’s the best Asian food I have ever tasted,” Cembolista said of Singaporean cuisine. He was adamant that getting paid is not his primary motivation, describing the joyful reactions from fans when they see his work as “soul money”. Cembolista spoke exclusively to inSing about how he became a Star Wars fan, what it was like meeting Harrison Ford and Abrams, and the uniting power of Star Wars fandom.

INSING: What were the movies that had the biggest influence on you growing up, in creating your interest in costume and set design?

CEMBOLISTA: The first movies that gave an impact on costuming were not only the science-fiction movies like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, even the black and white series from the ‘30s, but also historical films. For example there was a submarine movie, Das Boot. My first prop when I was a little kid was the submarine. I built it for myself to play with my action figures. It was five metres long. I went into the big things right away, because the action figures were already quite big. If you want to play [with] them in that scenario, the set has to be quite big. My first replica was the boat, it all started with that.

When Star Wars came out in 1977, it was one of the few examples of a used future. People weren’t used to seeing science fiction movies where everything wasn’t shiny, and was instead lived-in. What was your impression of that style when you first watched Star Wars?

The first impression was that due to the used and worn effect, it felt authentic. It felt way more authentic than Star Trek, where the bridge was shiny and new and looked like it just came out of the yard. It was worn off, the characters were worn off, there was no typical brand new space suit kind of thing. And also, the story was so intriguing.

When Star Wars came out in 1977, my father started to hype me before the movie came to the theatre, just showing me the poster. Back then, we didn’t have social media, there were only posters. I saw the posters and I really wanted to see the movie. But he went silent just before the movie came out. As a little guy, seven years old, I went “bummer. I probably will not see it.” The day of the release, he pulled out two tickets, he brought me to the theatre and it took me maybe 30 seconds into the movie and I became a fan for a lifetime.

This is parenting done right.

Definitely.

What has your experience been meeting some of the professional costumers, prop makers and crew members who have worked on the Star Wars movies?

The crazy thing is we do that as a hobby community. We started maybe 20 years ago, and we got acquainted to Lucasfilm, to the filmmakers, to the production crew. By now, it has come that far that we exchange information, we learn from them how they build it. Meanwhile, with the world release of Rogue One in L.A., we were invited with our set to the [premiere]. So a fan set was at the world premiere of the movie. We had the TIE Fighter there. The TIE Fighter is built by a group which we cooperate with. The Belgian crew was kind of the example in the prop-building world. We started it. We had the first big-sized or full-scale props, and we showed them around in the world, thanks to ReedPop and Lucasfilm at the conventions. Other guys got into it. There was one guy in Germany who really took me as an example to start his own prop group. He created two, three TIE Fighters, and after that we started to cooperate. Now, we have two crews in two countries working together. So we built the tank from Rogue One. It’s a co-production, they built the tank, we built the crates.

The same thing with cosplay: the community of Star Wars is worldwide, it’s like a family. I was commanding officer for 15 years for our [501st Legion] Garrison, I founded it 15 years ago. It’s the same feeling. We got the honour at the world premiere to talk to the people who build the props for the new movies. The funny thing is, you really exchange information. They’re also interested in how we work. We work together with the guys who set up the Rogue One X-Wing at the red carpet. It was really great. Also from the old movies. Due to the fact that we visit shows for 15-20 years now, once in a while those artists are invited to the shows and you run into them in the hotel lobby. It’s the backstage talk you have with those people. You exchange the memory, the knowledge of building things. Building a prop is one thing. But making it look authentic like a real machine, that’s the weathering, that’s the detail. My crew members, many of them are very young, have never touched a brush or paint. They get into to learn those processes, so we share that knowledge.

With Star Wars, the fans are such an important part of the success of the films, and of continuing the legacy. How would you describe the power of Star Wars fans?

That’s a good and very global question, as we talk about the global phenomenon. The people from the 501st, Rebel Legion, Mandalorian Mercs, all the fan films and prop builders, we consider Star Wars as a kind of family. Due to the internet, you get acquainted to people like never before. This morning, I got a post from a friend from the Emirates. He’s a pilot, and I met him about a year ago at Celebration in Orlando. Yesterday, when we came in, all of a sudden, he was standing in front of me. I said “what are you doing here? You’re from Dubai. We’re in Singapore!” It just happened that he had a flight to Singapore. We took a picture and I posted it with the caption “Star Wars makes the world a small place, but the family of us is getting bigger and bigger”. That’s the feeling that Star Wars and the fandom of Star Wars brings us.

The special thing in Star Wars that I feel is that we don’t make any difference in culture, in race, in origin, it doesn’t matter. Whatever they share in their own culture, Star Wars brings them together. If you ask me, if everybody in the world were a Star Wars fan, there would be no wars.

What was that feeling like when you saw Harrison Ford walk onto your installation of the Millennium Falcon at Celebration?

That was one of the most stunning experience[s]. In all the years, we have those milestones: when we first met George Lucas, for example, it was like ‘oh my god’. For Star Wars fans, to meet this person, and talk with him, we never could imagine that this could happen. But Harrison Ford is a special one. He avoids the public, he’s never at conventions.

He’s a very private actor.

Yeah. And we heard about it. We’re in Orlando, and we heard he was on the main stage, which was not our stage, so we never even dreamt that he would visit us. We were busy backstage, and we heard some rumblings. We saw people from security walking in secretly, and there was a grey-haired man who looked pretty familiar to us. We had a quick chat backstage with him, and he enjoyed some Belgian chocolate. We watched him walk through the hallway of our Millennium Falcon. It’s a replica, fan-made, and to have the original Harrison Ford, Han Solo walking through, it was a dream come through.

We in Singapore will get to see that same installation this weekend.

Exclusively and for the first time in Asia. We have two sets: we have the Millennium Falcon set, which is the interior, and we invite all the visitors to come over, queue, we hurry to make the queue not that long, and have yourself pictured in the Falcon. Like seated at the chess table, or take a seat at the navigation console to find out the next hyperspace course so you don’t crash into a star, because it would be a very short flight if you do that.

What was it like meeting J. J. Abrams and having him sign Rey’s speeder?

The story with J. J. was very special. It was the first time we managed to actually get plans, pictures and reference material from Lucasfilm, a year before the movie came into theatres – top-secret material. It was a very hard procedure to get that done. We actually passed the president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy. She knows us over many years, and she likes the idea that we built something. But still, there’s legal office, and legal office can overrule the big boss, because if they say it’s too risky to get the material out, they will not allow that. It was a vice-versa communication between Kathleen and the legal office, and it also came on the table of J. J. Abrams. J. J. Abrams was the man responsible, and he granted us access to the plans – we really got the secret plans. We actually created the bike in five weeks.

Many Bothans died to bring you those schematics.

Yeah, many of my brain cells also died to get this prop done. I worked day and night over five weeks to create the replica with the difference between the original prop and ours – only 5mm. Every scratch, every screw, every detail on the original bike is replicated. When the show started in Anaheim, J. J. Abrams came over in the morning because he wanted to see the creation. He just walked around the set from the backstage, and I just saw his face like very big surprise – like “wow”. He came over to me and he said “Stephen, actually your bike looks more authentic than the one we used in the movie”. In movies, you have moving images, some of the details can fade away. Ours is made for visitors to see live, so it must be accurate.

I was bold enough to ask him, “would you mind signing it for us, just for approval? Because you are the man who made it happen.” He said “cool idea”. I invited him backstage, and on the back side of the bike, pulled out my sharpie and handed it over. He said “where should I sign it?” I said “J. J., please don’t ruin the outside of my prop.” I opened the hatch and said “could you please sign here?” We had a little present for him: a BB-8 unit that was made from tropical wood by one of our prop-builders. On the chest, we used a sign – two arrows and a zero, which was from a TV series J. J. Abrams produced, Lost. He recognised it right away. He looked at the droid and said “is that for me?” And I said “That is our gift for you.” We tricked him a little bit with the signing thing to get him to his gift. He is very friendly and a very motivated man. Not only as a Star Wars fan, but also Star Trek, he’s brilliant.

He’s someone I admire, because he’s a fan who entered the industry and got to build upon something he loved growing up. To me, that’s the pinnacle.

It is, it is. He keeps on surprising people. He also published a book, I don’t know if you know that. S. I just read it a couple of weeks ago. It is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. It’s an amazing story, a complex product, it sucks you in. You have to read it in one turn. You don’t stop reading it, it’s a blast. That’s the thing with J. J. Abrams: everything he touches is a blast. Everything he touches is a success. I have not seen something that he’s done fail.

Finally, what are you most looking forward to in The Last Jedi?

Not the Porgs. [Laughs]. No, they’re adorable, but I’m a little bit afraid which kind of role they will play in the movie. For the moment, I’m getting an Ewok feel. But it’s still cool.

Technically speaking, for prop building, there are a couple of things that amaze me. There is an A-Wing which we know from the old saga, and I’m looking forward to seeing that in action. There is a new AT-AT: the AT-M6, the gorilla. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to build one. We have an AT-AT Walker from The Empire Strikes Back and it’s six metres high, at one-sixth scale. We use that at conventions and it would be very, very cool to add to the family, to add the AT-M6. Another thing we have seen in the teaser are those Sand Hoppers, the fighters that are scratching the surface of the desert planet. That would be another project. For our case, we are really interested in the props.

The story? Of course I’m interested. I want to know what happens with Rey! Where is Rey coming from? All that questions that they raised with The Force Awakens. They did a great job. Of course, they made one mistake. They made Rogue One, which tops it all. Rogue One is, for many fans, one of the most brilliant Star Wars films. I’ve talked to so many Star Wars fans, and their opinion of Rogue One is equal: it is top. For me, The Force Awakens, it is the perfect way [to] continue the saga. They made us, the fans, curious. They made new characters, but how can you top Darth Vader? He’s no longer there. We have a new villain. An evil villain who fights the good side. He’s psychologically unstable. It’s perfect.

I love the concept of Kylo Ren because he’s trying to live up to Darth Vader, just like the new movies are trying to live up to the originals, so he embodies that theme.

He embodies that. If we see the new characters that are just joining in with the old characters, it is just the perfect job. I’m really looking forward to how this story continues, and how it ends.

STGCC runs from Saturday 9th September to Sunday 10th September at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre. Please visit http://www.singaporetgcc.com/Tickets_Merchandise/ to purchase tickets.

 

Bouncing Off the Walls – Spider-Man: Homecoming Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon Interviews

As published in Issue #89 of F*** Magazine  


Text:

BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS
Spider-Man: Homecoming stars Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon tell F*** how excited they are to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
By Jedd Jong

Imagine you’re an average American high-schooler. You get bitten by a radioactive spider, and gain superpowers. Pretty cool. Then, a billionaire tech innovator and founding member of the Avengers ropes you in to his team, has you join in a battle against an opposing faction of superheroes, and then drops you off back home. There’s no question: your life’s not going to be the same after that.

Similarly, Tom Holland’s life has changed forever, after he became the latest actor to don the red-and-blue tights as Spider-Man. Holland debuted as the wall-crawling hero in Captain America: Civil War, and is now headlining a movie of his own.

Photo by Michael Muller

Spider-Man: Homecoming sees Peter Parker/Spider-Man navigate life as a high-schooler, nursing a crush and fending off bullies, all while facing off against villains armed with cutting-edge tech. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), taking on the role of mentor to young Peter, cautions that the teenager shouldn’t bite off more than he can chew, but Peter wants nothing more than to join the Avengers. Tony has provided Peter with a fancy suit enhanced with gadgets, but threatens to take the suit back if Peter proves he cannot shoulder the responsibility of his powers. As Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton) and his associates Phineas Mason/Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) and Herman Schultz/Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine) menace New York City with gadgets made from stolen alien technology, Peter quickly finds that his superhero exploits endanger those he cares about, including his beloved Aunty May (Marisa Tomei).

Spider-Man was created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, first swinging through the pages of the Amazing Fantasy title in 1962. Spidey is arguably the most iconic Marvel character, right up there with Iron Man, Captain America and Wolverine. After reaching a deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment, which owns the film rights to the Spider-Man character, Marvel Studios could introduce the character into the MCU. This makes Holland’s version of Spider-Man the first film incarnation to officially exist in the same reality as other Marvel superheroes, giving the “Homecoming” of the title meaning beyond just referring to the American high school tradition of the homecoming dance. Taking the reins for Spider-Man: Homecoming is director Jon Watts, who caught the attention of Marvel Studios executives with his indie thriller Cop Car.

Photo by Ore Huiying/Getty Images for Sony Pictures

Holland and Jacob Batalon, who plays Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds, were in Singapore to promote the film – the Southeast Asian nation was the first stop on their month-long press tour in the lead-up to the movie’s release. On the closed-door red carpet at the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands, Holland and Batalon greeted cosplaying fans, were surprised by a torrent of confetti unleashed above them, and played with this writer’s customised Spider-Man action figure.

“I feel like we’ve flown to a better planet,” Holland enthused when asked about his first impressions of Singapore during the press conference. At the age of 21, he’s already built up a respectable résumé, leaping into showbiz as Billy Elliot in the eponymous West End musical. Holland has since appeared in films like The Impossible, How I Live Now, In the Heart of the Sea and The Lost City of Z. Holland has also been announced as playing young Nathan Drake in a film prequel to the Uncharted video game series, but that hasn’t been written in stone yet.

“Every day felt like a dream,” Batalon said of his experience on the Spider-Man: Homecoming set, adding wistfully “I hope to never wake up”. Batalon was attending a two-year program at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts when he was cast in the film, which is only his second onscreen credit, after the independent student horror film North Woods. In the comics, the character of Ned is Peter’s colleague at the Daily Bugle newspaper. Ned has been revised to become Peter’s best friend and confidant, who discovers that Peter is secretly Spider-Man and is thrilled to no end to learn this.

Joining the press conference via a video link, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige commented on the film’s young stars, saying “Tom and Jacob are very similar to Peter and Ned. They’re enthusiastic, they’re happy to be in this big movie. Peter and Ned are happy to be involved with the Avengers and see this world.” Feige likened Peter’s situation to “going back to your high school band after being overseas touring with the Beatles”. Feige made his case to producer and former Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group Amy Pascal, eventually coming to an arrangement. This would see Sony, still holding on to the Spider-Man rights, make, pay for, distribute and market the movie, but allow Marvel Studios to fold Spider-Man into the MCU.

F*** sat down for an interview with Holland and Batalon at the Marina Bay Sands hotel, who were thrilled with every moment of their overseas adventure. They had earlier posted the requisite selfie taken in the famous Infinity Pool of the hotel up on social media. Holland kicked off his shoes, picking at his toes during our chat, while Batalon rested his baseball cap on his knee. Holland was accompanied by his best friend Harrison Osterfield, whom Holland had gotten hired as a personal assistant.

Holland and Batalon discussed the relatability of the Spider-Man character, Holland’s ‘method acting’ preparation to play an American high school student, uncomfortable stunt rigging harnesses, working alongside the film’s female cast members, and sharing the screen with titans like Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr.

Tom, your father Dominic is a comedian, and he wrote a book called How Tom Holland Eclipsed His Dad. What was it like growing up with a comedian and writer as your dad, and what is it like being more famous than him and having him admit that?

HOLLAND: I’ve been very lucky that my dad is in this industry. It’s an industry that really is like no other. I’ve just been very lucky that I have someone in my family, especially my dad, who can give me advice on what to expect and how to deal with certain situations. The book Eclipsed is a really great, funny read. It’s a lot of fun because I learned a lot about my dad’s career that I didn’t know about, and I learned a lot of my career that maybe I’ve forgotten about, and it’s been a great reminder of what I’ve been through and what he’s been through.

Jacob, this is your first studio film. How did you win the role of Ned Leeds?

BATALON: Our director Jon Watts chose the right person for the job as opposed to the person who looks right for the job. Tom and I’s chemistry has been pretty apparent from day one. Because of that, because of the way we are, it’s a lot simpler to just go with that. I believe in being in the right place at the right time, and it all sort of came together.

What has your experience been working with your female co-stars, including Laura Harrier, Zendaya and Angourie Rice?

HOLLAND: What a lucky bunch of guys we are!

BATALON: They’re really, really great, talented and very beautiful.

HOLLAND: Fantastic, really talented, really, really interesting people and all very interesting and unique. Laura Harrier’s character Liz Allan is obviously Peter’s crush. He is infatuated by her and loves everything she stands for. Michelle, played by Zendaya, is sort of the weird, quirky friend within the friendship group. She’s a very interesting character, one that I’m very interested to see progress in the movies. Angourie Rice plays Betty Brant, Liz Allan’s best friend in the movie.

In the comics, she’s the secretary to J. Jonah Jameson.

HOLLAND: Yes! So hopefully, something can develop there, with Angourie. We were very lucky that we had such a strong female cast, and they were able to carry themselves and make it such a strong, female-oriented [project].

How did you gain the gymnastics expertise required to play Spider-Man?

HOLLAND: I started gymnastics when I was about 9, and I have been training quite solidly since then, with a few gaps here and there – injuries, stuff like that. I was doing a show in the West End that required me to have a very basic gymnastics background, and I continued with that after my training.

The hardest…the most uncomfortable stunt I had to do was the scene when Jacob finds out I’m Spider-Man, and I’m crawling on the ceiling. The closer you are to the ceiling, the more uncomfortable it is on your bum. It really stretches your bum. That was a very, very uncomfortable day.

The rig, right?

HOLLAND: Yeah, I was on a rig. I would go upside-down and they would go like “rolling!” Jacob would break the Death Star or something and they would say “hold!” and I would go “arrgh, no, please!”

One of the things that has endlessly fascinated me is the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. It was originally directed by Julie Taymor with Reeve Carney playing Spider-Man, and was plagued by lots of production problems but I think it’s gained a cult following. Are you familiar the show, and what are your thoughts on it?

HOLLAND: I think we should make Spider-Man [Homecoming] 2 a musical! I never got to see the show, I wish I had. From having to do my work on set where you can do it over and over again if you mess it up, I have huge respect for the guys who have to do it onstage live, that must’ve been incredibly hard work and they must have been at the top of their game. I heard it was a fantastic show and was really, really impressive.

Tom, in the comics we recently had All-New, All-Different Spider-Man by Dan Slott. In that story, Peter Parker became a very Tony Stark-like figure, in that he was a billionaire playboy, he had a fancy car, and he had offices in China. This has since been undone, and another reboot in the comics has brought him back to high school age. How important do you feel the underdog quality is to the character, and how does that manifest in your take on Peter Parker?

HOLLAND: I think part of the reason why Peter Parker and Spider-Man is such a successful and beloved character is because of how relatable he is. Everyone can relate to Peter Parker in some way, whether it’s struggling to do your chemistry homework, struggling with school, talking to a girl. Whereas it’s difficult to relate to Tony Stark because he’s a billionaire. His problems are “my Lamborghini didn’t show up on time”, whereas Peter Parker’s problems are “I don’t have enough money for the bus fare”. It’s nice for young people, especially young boys going through high school, being a superhero and going through the same problems they go through.

Photo by Michael Muller

Tom, you went undercover in an American high school to prepare for the role. What was that experience like?

HOLLAND: High schools in America are so different from high schools in England. I learned so much about my character and how he should act and behave in front of his teachers and his peers.

No uniforms?

HOLLAND: No uniforms. All of a sudden, I was going “oh no, what am I going to wear today?” In England, you just wear the same thing every single day.

Flash Thompson was kind of influenced by my trip to the New York high school. There are no [traditional] bullies there, no jocks, so the bully was the rich kid who made snide comments about how ugly your shoes are or something. Tony Revolori’s character was largely influenced off of my trip.

How did you perfect your American accent?

HOLLAND: I just practised and practised and practised. I spent time with Jacob. It’s like a muscle, your tongue is a muscle and it needs working out.

Jacob, in the comics Ned Leeds is white, and in the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series he was Korean and renamed ‘Ned Lee’. What are your thoughts on the representation of Asian-Americans in Hollywood, especially in these big comic book blockbusters?

BATALON: I think minorities in general don’t get the spotlight they deserve in the industry. The industry is very indicative of where society is going right now. Society is moving in a much more forward-thinking way, and that’s kind of how it is right now in the industry. Equal opportunities are coming a lot more for minorities right now. Being Asian specifically, it makes me proud to be part of that stepping-stone process. I think it’s a great thing to have all types of interpretations of a certain character.

HOLLAND: I think Jon Watts really did a good job with casting for who you are, not for where you’re from. It’s kind of the first step to making a difference, making a change, and I’m proud that our movie is a movie that’s doing that.

What are the similarities between you and your characters?

BATALON: I think if anything, Ned influenced my life in reality. Ned is super happy and bubbly all the time, and that’s made me happy and bubbly in real life.

HOLLAND: Very true [laughs].

I love Spider-Man. I genuinely feel like if Peter Parker [were] a real person, he’d be part of our friendship group and we’d be really good friends. He’s a very hardworking, nice kid, very down-to-earth, and I like to consider myself those things. I’m very lucky that I get to play a character whom I can see myself in, and I look forward to playing him for many years.

Tom, what was it like going toe-to-taloned-toe with Michael Keaton’s Vulture?

[Both Holland and Batalon laugh]

I’m very proud of that, by the way.

HOLLAND: That was really good, well done.

BATALON: Really, really clever.

HOLLAND: It was pretty intimidating, you know? He is a very formidable force on set, especially when he’s playing a character like the Vulture, because he didn’t hold anything back. He went for everything. The interesting thing about Keaton’s version of a supervillain is that if a regular kid can become a superhero, then a regular guy should be able to become a supervillain. That’s exactly what Keaton did. In the movie, he plays a regular guy who’s very unhappy with what’s happening in society, so he makes a stand for himself, instead of being a billionaire alien scientist.

If both of you could have one superpower each, what would it be?

HOLLAND: I would go with time travel. Because if you think about it, time travel is basically teleportation at the same time. You can pause time, travel to somewhere else, and then click ‘time play’ and it’s like you’ve just teleported. I’m very interested to see if dinosaurs really looked like what we think they look like. Who knows if they looked different?

BATALON: I would want the power to tell the future. Not just vague versions, but like…

HOLLAND: Then you’ll know when you’re going to die!

BATALON: I wouldn’t know my life. Like I would know exactly where you’re going to walk, what you’re going to wear. If I know what’s going to happen, I can do something about it.

Photo by Jedd Jong

Jacob, as Peter’s best friend, I guess you could be considered a sidekick. You’re also playing one of the greatest sidekicks of all time, Sancho Panza, in The True Don Quixote. What do you think makes for a memorable, scene-stealing sidekick?

BATALON: I think that being a sidekick is really understand that you’re not #1, and that’s okay. You’re willing to do the things for the main person. Loyalty and being a good person kind of plays into that whole factor. You really can’t be selfish, you have to just be there for your person. I watched a lot of Lord of the Rings, a lot of Harry Potter.

HOLLAND: He is my Samwise Gamgee. My Ron Weasley.

Your Chewbacca?

[Both laugh]

HOLLAND: Yes. Jacob is the scene-stealer of the movie. He really is.

BATALON: Okay, you’re going to make me cry in front of everyone right now [laughs]

Tom, we’ve seen you in The Impossible, which was a harrowing, emotional movie. Which would you say are more challenging: emotional scenes or action scenes?

HOLLAND: It’s different, because emotional scenes take place over a day, let’s say – there obviously are cases when it can take a lot longer – but an action sequence can go on for months and months and months. The work load for an action movie, there’s a lot more. When you make a movie like The Impossible, there’s a lot of action in it while maintaining a very high level of emotion. That’s one of the hardest movies I’ve ever made. But the unrelenting amount of action on Spider-Man was really, really difficult.

Tom, you screen tested with Robert Downey Jr. for Captain America: Civil War, and in this movie, Tony Stark is kind of a mentor to Peter Parker. How has the chemistry between the both of you developed?

HOLLAND: Robert and I really hit it off from day one. Even in my screen test, it was apparent that we had good chemistry and we would work well together. It’s something that’s just continued to develop over the last two years. I’m really, really honoured that he was willing to be in this movie and to help me out. It really feels like a homecoming. He is the godfather of the MCU, and the fact that he was in my movie, supporting me, was a really, really heartwarming thing for me.

It’s amazing and a little eerie that five years ago, when you said you would like to be the next Spider-Man after Andrew Garfield, it came true. Five years from now, what other roles would you like to undertake? James Bond?

HOLLAND: Yeah, James Bond! The thing is, I said that once. In that interview, I said I wanted to be Spider-Man, I only said it one time, and it came true. Now that I have to do all this press, everyone is like ‘do you want to be James Bond’? We may do Uncharted, we’ll have to wait and see.

How does Spider-Man: Homecoming balance being both a high school movie and a superhero movie set in the MCU?

HOLLAND: I think the nice thing about the film is that without the Spider-Man parts of the movie, you still have a really strong high school movie. It really has the best of both worlds: it’s a strong high school kids’ movie, while still maintaining that superhero, epic Avengers vibe. I think Jon Watts did a very good job with maintaining the synergy between the two genres.

Spider-Man: Homecoming opens in Singapore theatres on July 6 2017.

Good Hang Podcast

I was a guest on Nathan Hartono and Jon Cancio’s podcast Good Hang! I had a total blast, and huge shoutout to Benjamin Kheng for suggesting me to the guys as a guest! It’s a long listen, but do *hang* in there, and enjoy!

Have a listen to the episode here.

Under the Hood: Ubisoft Assassin’s Creed Exhibit

For F*** Magazine

UNDER THE HOOD
F*** tours the Ubisoft Assassin’s Creed exhibit to learn what goes into making the games
By Jedd Jong

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As part of the Voilah! Singapore French Festival, game developer Ubisoft is holding an exhibition at the National Design Centre. F*** was at the media preview of the exhibit on the morning of Tuesday 18th April. Entitled The Art Behind the Game: The Ubisoft Experience, the exhibit showcases conceptual artwork, storyboards, sculptures and video segments to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the company’s blockbuster video game franchise, Assassin’s Creed.

Kobe Sek concept art

The exhibit takes up the atrium of the National Design Centre, and is focused predominantly on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, released in 2013 as the sixth major entry in the series. Ubisoft is headquartered in Rennes, France, with studios all over the world. Ubisoft Singapore was opened in 2008, and Black Flag is the Assassin’s Creed game which the local studio had the largest involvement in.  Set during the Golden Age of Piracy, Black Flag centres on Welsh pirate Edward Kenway’s adventures in the Caribbean. Edward gets drawn into the ongoing conflict between the Assassins and the Templars. Historical figures Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Bartholomew Roberts and Edward Teach a.k.a. Blackbeard feature in the plot.

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Walking in, the first thing that catches one’s eye is the life-sized statue of Connor a.k.a Ratonhnhaké:ton, the protagonist of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and the grandson of Edward Kenway. As we looked around the exhibit, the finishing touches were being added in time for the official opening that evening. We were guided by Ubisoft Singapore Communications Manager Sylviane Bähr, and WY-TO Architects co-founder Yann Follain, who curated and designed the exhibit.

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Bähr explained that a collaboration with Voilah! had been in the works for some time. “This year, the theme of Voilah! is ‘imagination and innovation’, so we thought it [was] the right opportunity for us to show that we are a company and an industry that deals every day with imagination and innovation,” Bähr said. “It was a no-brainer for us that it was the right moment for us to do it, and we have a lot of content, as you can see,” she said, motioning to the artwork on display around her.

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Follain’s guiding principle in designing the exhibit was to create an interactive experience for visitors, as well as emphasising the amount of work that goes into designing a game. “The whole idea of the exhibition is to put the visitor in the shoes of somebody playing the game,” Follain said, pointing to the curved walls printed inside and out. “Discovering, going around, looking behind the wall – this is what inspired us when we designed the exhibition.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“The particularity of Assassin’s Creed is that it is heavily embedded into historical research and theoretical research,” Follain said, leading us to a wall with research photographs taken in Cuba pinned to it. A strip of storyboards ran from a pillar onto the floor, with a screen showcasing a comparison between the storyboards and the final cutscene as it appeared in the game’s demo. The Singapore studio oversaw the demo for E3, the annual massive game industry convention held in Los Angeles.

The section of the exhibit featuring character and costume design was based on the layout of a traditional portrait gallery. “We did some research on how a portrait gallery is done in the National Gallery, for instance,” Follain said. Gesturing to a schematic of the signature hidden blade, Follain remarked “the level of detail is fantastic, you can really feel how it works.” Follain added wistfully that he wished they could have had an actual functioning model of the blade on display as well.

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Several of the concept paintings on display are by Kobe Sek, the Associate Art Director at Ubisoft Singapore. Sek’s sketchbook was also on show – Bähr explained that Sek would draw in it during his commute on the MRT. Sek’s work has been included in Assassin’s Creed exhibitions around the world. Bähr highlighted a piece of concept art that Sek created for Assassin’s Creed Rogue, which she described as “iconic”.

Assassin's Creed Rogue Kobe Sek art

An often-overlooked part of video games, as it is in movies, is sound design. Ubisoft Singapore has its own Foley studio, where the sound effects for the game were created and recorded. Black Flag presented the team with the challenge of recording sounds underwater. At first, they tried waterproofing microphones with balloons and condoms, but that didn’t work, so proper hydrophones had to be acquired. Behind-the-scenes clips on the sound design for Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate will be screened as part of the exhibit.

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Another part of the exhibit features cross-section schematics of pirate ships and diagrams comparing the scale of the various vessels featured in the game. “The Singapore studio owned the majority of the ocean technology, the naval battles, and this is really what puts the Singapore studio on the map for Assassin’s Creed,” Bähr said. In addition to environments and ships, ocean life featured in the game. “We may change a little bit with the animals, because we want [them] to have a personality, or have a goal in the game,” Bähr said. The great white shark was designed by Teo Yong Jin, who made the shark somewhat bulkier than it would be in real life, because the design closer to reality made the shark appear too friendly.

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Finally, we were shown a wall celebrating the collaborative spirit and team synergy of the Ubisoft Singapore artists and technicians. The Singapore-based developers had decorated the wall with drawings and polaroid photos documenting their shared adventures working at the studio. “This tells a lot about our culture as a company. We always say ‘we’re serious about fun’,” Bähr said.

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When asked about Singapore’s evolution as a hub for both tech and the arts, Bähr said “I have been here for only four years, but I can tell you it has changed dramatically.” Bähr first visited Singapore ten years ago, and remarked that she thinks the government is “pushing in the right direction” by bringing in artists and promoting creativity in schools. “We are working with the schools, we are trying to push that ecosystem for art, for tech. Our developers really have that sense of sharing and mentoring the people here in Singapore,” Bähr said. “Honestly, from what I’ve seen, I’m amazed at where the country has come from, it’s really cool to see that all coming together…it’s like a mini Silicon Valley here in Asia.”

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Reassuring parents who have the misconception that video games are a frivolous enterprise, Bähr stated “you can have a serious career if you’re joining this industry. We’re using techniques that are being used in other industries, we’re using all the best practices and people from other industries actually end up with us. We learn all the time, because we are at the edge of technology. The industry is super-competitive, so we’re always on our toes.”

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Ubisoft: The Art Behind the Game runs from 18 April to 25 May at the National Design Centre. Admission is free, and admission for workshops and panels is free upon registration. Workshops include a speed drawing session by Kobe Sek and Mohamed Gambouz and a talk about the technology behind water simulation and waves by Paul Fu. Please visit https://goo.gl/3Nydjk to register for the workshops.

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Daughter of the Dragon: Jessica Henwick Interview

THE DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON
Jessica Henwick tells F*** about playing Iron Fist’s kickass ally, Colleen Wing
By Jedd Jong

While most reviews for Marvel/Netflix’s Iron Fist series have been negative, it seems that critics agree that Jessica Henwick’s performance as Colleen Wing is an outstanding aspect of the show. The 24-year-old actress is best known for her supporting role as Nymeria Sand in Game of Thrones, and had a cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as X-Wing pilot Jessika Pava.

Colleen is a martial arts instructor who comes across the show’s protagonist Danny Rand (Finn Jones) while he is practicing martial arts in the park. At first, she wants nothing to do with this strange homeless man, but as she gradually finds out more about Danny’s background, including his training in a mystical monastery called K’un Lun, she becomes sympathetic to his cause. While there is still mistrust between Danny and Colleen, Colleen comes to fight alongside Danny and respect his place as the Iron Fist of legend.

Speaking exclusively to F*** over the phone from London in December 2016, Henwick spoke about the nature of Colleen and Danny’s relationship, filming the fight scenes, her impressions of the late Carrie Fisher and what she thinks about Colleen not having an official action figure of her own just yet.

What can you tell us about Colleen Wing and the place she occupies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

JESSICA HENWICK: Colleen Wing runs a dojo in New York, in Chinatown. She’s a very cool character in that she’s travelled a lot of the world and has settled down here in New York. She’s struggling to make ends meet, she’s got money problems, but she’s just about managing. She’s very independent, very much a lone wolf and doesn’t want to get help from anyone. She just about manages on her own and she comes across Danny. He comes in and ruins her life [laughs].

What is the nature of Colleen and Danny’s relationship?

It’s a very interesting relationship in that, if you’ve seen the trailer, people think he’s kind of crazy. He’s a person who’s been missing for however many years and he’s been in this mystical place called K’un Lun being trained by monks. She thinks there’s more to him than just a lie; her gut tells her that he’s telling the truth.

Would you say that Colleen and Danny are kindred spirits in a sense?

Are Colleen and Danny kindred spirits? In some ways, you’ll have to wait and see.

The partnership between Colleen Wing and Misty Knight is something fans have been looking forward to for some time. Will we see the seeds of that being sown in this first season of Iron Fist?

I think Misty’s not in Iron Fist, but you certainly ways in which she could be introduced and I would love to see it.

We read that you actively pursued the role. What was the audition process like?

I was one of the very first actresses to audition for the role and we did some screen tests with me and Finn. It was fun, I’ve known Finn for a couple of years, he’s very easy to work with. I got on a plane, and when I landed, I got a phone call from the head of Marvel who said “welcome to Marvel”.

Having played Jess Pava in The Force Awakens and Colleen Wing in Iron Fist, you’ve now joined an elite club of actors who have been in both Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, Mads Mikkelsen and Andy Serkis. How does it feel to have accomplished this?

It’s very flattering and I’ve been very lucky [laughs].

 

What has the physical training been like, and what action sequences can we look forward to seeing Colleen Wing in?

There are really cool action sequences because she’s in a fight club. I get to wear the tracksuit, like she wears in the comics, the white suit. She’s in very cool fights, and I have another fight with a woman that’s probably my favourite fight in the show.

How would you compare working on a HBO show like Game of Thrones to working on a show for Netflix like Iron Fist?

Game of Thrones is quite unique in that it has such a huge budget that I feel that I’m working on a feature film. Netflix is interesting in that it’s digital media, it’s not mainstream television and it’s a very unique project.

Carrie Fisher passed away recently…

Gosh, I just heard about that, I know…

Did you have any interaction with her while working on or promoting The Force Awakens and what can you tell us about her if so?

I did meet Carrie Fisher. I only worked on Star Wars for about two weeks. I met her very, very briefly. I didn’t have too many interactions with her when we were on set, even though we were both on set, she kind of kept to herself. She’s a very gregarious, bubbly, wild personality, I would say. She was the life of the party. I regret that I had a very, very short time with her. It’s been a hard year, we’ve lot of actors and musicians. I think Carrie’s touched a lot of people around the world and a lot of people will remember her fondly.

Who are some actors whom you admire or look up to?

I used to be obsessed with the film The Shawshank Redemption when I was younger. I love Morgan Freeman, specifically Morgan Freeman’s voice. Back when I used to be on Facebook, I used to be a member of a club that was just devoted to Morgan Freeman’s voice. I love younger actors like Saoirse Ronan, she’s great. I watched Arrival recently, and I thought Amy Adams did a great job.

That’s a phenomenal film.

It really is.

What are some of the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large that you’ve gravitated to?

I love Iron Man, specifically Robert Downey Jr. Who else in the Marvel universe? Hmm…oh, there’s this new role in Guardians of the Galaxy [Vol. 2], Mantis, played by Pom Klementieff. Mantis is such a cool role from the comic book and I’m excited to see what she does with it, I think she’ll knock it out of the park.

Finally, an official Colleen Wing action figure doesn’t yet exist. Can we start a campaign for Hasbro to get right on that?

Yes please! That would be so much fun. I would love to see that. I think there’s been a Nymeria Sand bobblehead from Game of Thrones and obviously Jess Pava from Star Wars is now a LEGO character, but to get a real action figure which looks like me, that would be cool.