In preparation for upcoming blockbuster John Carter, we sat down with director Andrew Stanton and star Taylor Kitsch for a brief Q&A.
STREET: How is directing a live action film from directing an animated film?
Andrew Stanton: It’s actually not that different. People think that when you work on an animated film, that you’re what — you’re like it’s, it’s as if I’m talking to a bunch of computers my whole life. I actually talk to two hundred people every day, two hundred people that have different jobs, like how to do the lighting, the camera, the costume work. So it’s very similar actually in live action. I’m talking to people that do the camera, the costumes, you know, the actors, and it’s just that you’re doing it outside instead of inside. And you’re doing it under very, very tight schedule whereas you have a lot more bankers’ hours when you’re doing animation. So the big difference is just physical stamina. I know that’s not sexy, but that’s the truth of it.
STREET: Did your experience at Pixar help with the CGI on the film?
AS: My experience at Pixar was tremendously helpful. I don’t think I could have done this had I not — I mean making John Carter was basically making two movies. Almost literally two different film productions. One was the live action side that took almost a year to do and then the computer graphic side. Because half my main characters are completely C-G, and half the world is C-G. That was another year and a half of work, and that happened after I shot the live action. So I was in this live action world. With all the production rules and pipelines. And then I moved onto animation and I worked in the same kind of pipeline and production flow that I would work on for a Pixar movie. And that I knew, I knew that half of it really well. I was working with people I hadn’t worked with before but it was fun. I think they really enjoyed working with a director who actually knew and cared about animation.
STREET: What challenges did you meet in this film that you’ve never met before?
AS: Weather [LAUGHS], and the — the physicality of standing up, animators don’t stand up. They sit all the time. So having to, to be on your feet all day for fifteen hours in any kind of weather, whether it’s really hot or really cold. And with no breaks, that was really it. Although, you know, that sounds like I’m complaining, that’s just the hard part of it. But I, I always like to equate the, the journey with deciding to sail across the ocean. It’s going to be hard work, there’s going to be a lot of manual labor involved, but you know you’re going to see some amazing things, have some amazing stories, and events that you could not have otherwise. And you’re also going to hit some, some storms and some maelstroms [LAUGHS] that you would want to avoid. But it’s all in the journey of wanting a one–of–a–kind adventure.
STREET: Edgar Rice Burroughs’s original novel was the first part in an enormous series. Can we expect sequels or other content beyond John Carter?
AS: That’s me knocking on wood. I sure hope so. We actually got the rights to the first three books. And we planned all three movies together, so that we knew where they were all going. But I also hated movies that had these unnecessary cliffhangers that suddenly just leave you gaping, as there is this vain assumption that there is going to be another movie. And I didn’t want to jinx that either. So we made sure each movie finished in a very satisfying way when we wrote them. Even though there might be these meta–issues that could keep going. It’s like having a good conclusion to a television season. And maybe you’ll get picked up for the next year, maybe you won’t, but at least you know there’s closure in the, in the small for what you were dealing with for that season. So we did that with this movie and we planned it that way for the others.
STREET: What is the relevance of John Carter to a modern audience? And what message would you hope the film sends to the audience?
AS: I don’t really consider those things. I had a lot of those kinds of questions when I was doing WALL-E, because it seemed to be so appropriate to the times of concern about the, uh, environment and things. But, you know, they’re all just ingredients for me for what’s the drama of the story. My interest is the timeless, human aspect about the character — and the story will always speak to me, no matter what’s going on in the world. Having a person discover that their purpose in life is over and was misguided to begin with, then suddenly find where they really do fit in, I think that’s what all of us are searching to do. Heck that’s why you’re in college, right, you’re trying to figure out, “where do I fit in and what’s my true calling?” And that’s what this person is dealing with. And I think I used anything I could, even if it was subject matter that might compare to the day of if it didn’t. That would help tell that dramatic drive. That was it.
STREET: What does it mean to you to portray a character that has existed for a century?
Taylor Kitsch: I don’t know, I don’t think you’re going to put more pressure on it because it’s existed that long. I think that’s a lot of the outside pressure trying to come in. But no one is going to put more pressure on it, more than myself. You know, I think the most pressure I’ve truly had was probably playing a guy that’s lived and has passed on as Kevin Carter. But I’m not going to prep more because it’s Edgar Rice Burroughs’ vision or anything like that. I mean, it’s very flattering to be a part of it. And I think that scope of it all is quite cool as well. I think to breathe life, into- Stanton, who directed it. His childhood dream, I think that’s a pretty amazing thing to do and be a part of.
STREET: What were the physical challenges of the role? It seems as though there- that there were a lot of scenes that you were pushed to your physical limits and what did you to to prepare?
TK: So many. I think I battled exhaustion throughout, just because you’re in so much of it and you’re working six–day weeks and all that kind of stuff. But the diet is everything. You know, you’re on that regimen for- it’s the most boring diet you can think of, ever. Really. Just like surrounding all the meals with protein and I was on it for around eleven months. And then just the aesthetic part of John. You know, it’s that you wake up at four thirty in the morning every day, you train, and it goes back to boxing, you know, the core stuff of the wire work, and then the sword training. And man, I can bore you guys all day with what I ate. But, yeah I‘ll just leave it at it was incredibly boring.
STREET: Do you want to continue to take more action roles? And what made John Carter different from the other roles?
TK: I think that’s just it. I don’t see it as just an action role, you know? Of course the action is going to be insane and it is in the film. But what really makes me choose a role is just the people I’m surrounded with and the character I get to portray — the, the emotion is no joke in that as well. It’s, it’s that arc of who I got to play, of the guy that’s lost his cause completely. Then, through this action and through these people that come into his life, he really does kind of shine that light back in, and that’s why I signed onto it. If it didn’t have that emotional arc, I wouldn’t have done it. So, as long as that action and then the emotion is balanced, then I’m more prone to take the role. But, you know, I don’t think, you know, you never know. Hopefully I keep throwing you guys curve balls really, and so you can’t know what I’m going to do next. That’s the joy of it all.
STREET: How is it working with Andrew Stanton?
TK: Terrible. Just terrible. We hate each other, there’s no, you know, the communication is terrible. We can’t even stand to be in the same room with one another, even now. No, it’s quite the opposite obviously. For what he’s achieved, you’re dealing with a guy who has zero ego. I think that’s why the movie is what it is. He’s a guy that I would go to war with. And I would do whatever it took to do a justice with him. So I mean these movies or any movie will test you, or it should, on so many levels. Waking up every day knowing I can get to go to work with him was an amazing thing.
STREET: After your work on Friday Night Lights and the Bang Bang Club, was it strange to be reacting to creatures and objects that weren’t really there?
TK: Yes. Next question. [LAUGHTER]. I mean, yeah. I mean it’s a good question, just because it’s tough, man. There’s scenes in John Carter and you- what was tough, I think why I was so exhausted too, is that if it was a scene with me and him, me and Nick doing it, mano y mano, it’s over and done with after, you know, you get the scene. But once we get the scene on John Carter, we have to do it another ten takes plus. For the effects people, for them to get it right to make sure we can get through all that. That’s just so exhausting. I think when you’re acting to nothing, it’s tough, man. You know, I’ve got big speeches in this film, where you’re looking at clouds. You know, and it’s tough to really connect to anything. So it just kind of demands that much more of you.
STREET: How hectic is the promotional period before a movie is released?
TK: Oh man, I can go on a tangent right now, where the studio would probably just hang up. I mean just put it this way. I spent the last twenty hours in my home in Austin. That was the first time in a month that I’ve had that. And I won’t get to go back for another month plus. Jet lag is no joke, by the way. It is no joke. So you lose a job here or there, because of, you know, lack of availability and that’s the last thing you want to lose a job for. But, you know, I’ll put the violin away. And, uh, you just stay focused, you get through it, and it helps when you love the movie and you love the work that you put into it.