Travel consideration provided by Disney; all opinions are my own. #TheBFGEvent
Disney’s The BFG has been in theaters for about ten days now, and if you’ve seen it, I bet like me, you wonder how they created such a magical world (if you haven’t seen it, GO! Read my review here). It turns out that it’s been in the works for decades and originally Robin Williams was to play the part of the Big Friendly Giant, but technology didn’t allow the giant and his young friend to be on the stage together and director Stephen Spielberg needed that to happen before he would make the film.
Time went on, we lost Williams, and the creators at Walt Disney Studios perfected the technology needed, so the classic children’s book written by Roald Dahl finally made it to the big screen. Mark Rylance became Spielberg’s choice for the part of the Big Friendly Giant after he wowed him in The Bridge of Spies with his ability to transform himself instantly from one character to another.
I met with both Rylance and his co-star, Jemaine Clement (Fleshlumpeater) in Hollywood, California just before the film opened in theaters. The two appeared to enjoy carrying their on screen antagonistic relationship over to the interview, and they laughed and made jabs at each other throughout, so it’s no surprise when asked about their roles there was a lot of joking amongst them. They’re both dry wits whose deadpan complaints about the work was hilarious.
First, they explained just how difficult it was to prepare for their roles and especially about the special suits they had to wear. Rylance noted that every morning he spent about an hour and a half having glow-in-the-dark marbles and battery packs attached to his body. Then another 45 minutes was spent having dots painted on his face through a mask (likely a stencil, so the dots are in the correct position). The entire process was grueling so while he sat perspiring and enduring the preparation, he’d listen to music or sit and think, to get himself into the proper headspace to prepare for the day. And once on set? He played like a child. In fact, to act out one of the pivotal scenes in the film, Rylance’s train of thought was, “You think what do I need, here comes a 50-foot giant into my cave who’s gonna eat my little friend, I need to distract him, what am I gonna do?” He answers his question, “And so it’s clear no rules to the game, and you just start to play.”
Clement agreed, “We (the bad giants) would get to rehearse our motion capture by just walking around like big, lumbering, lumps of meat and that was really fun. You know, smashing things and intimidating people and being stupid is fun.”
Rylance and his fellow actors were working in the green screen world of motion capture where there are no cameras, no marks, just a big green playground where they used their imagination and said their lines. Then their motion was married to the animation, and the whole character was born.
But it’s not just his physical being that makes Rylance a fantastic BFG; it’s also his voice and the ability to bring the giant’s nonsense language to life. When asked how difficult it was to speak giant, Rylance wryly looked out at the 25 bloggers listening intently and said, “Very hard. Very hard indeed, I don’t think there are any actors in the world that could have done what Jemaine and I have done.”
Of course, he’s joking, and Clement couldn’t help but add in the most authoritative way, “What is that actually, it’s improvising in giant.”
The duo was reveling in the nonsense and by now the bloggers were howling with laughter. The pair were like two old friends telling tall tales at the local pub, and we were invited along.
Rylance picked up the thread and said, “Improvising in giant is like improving in Shakespeare, it’s tricky. I’ve heard people who can do that actually very well, can improvise sonnets. You can say I wanna sonnet on a fried egg, and they will improvise a Shakespearean sonnet on a friend egg; they’re from Liverpool. But improvising in giant is a little tricky.”
But when asked to speak giant on the spot, Rylance balked and said, “That would cost you a lot of money, how much money have you got?” After pleading poverty, Rylance gave in on his monetary demands and said, “I know, my favorite word I’ve decided is telly-telly bunkum box. I think that’s such a good word for the television.”
Rylance did get serious when asked what they hope people take away from the film. Rylance thought for a moment and then said, “Well, you know the film tells a story of what kids have to offer older people, and that older people get tired, they lose faith, they think maybe the world is just a jungle, a dog-eat-dog kinda thing, and nothing will change, so best to just do the best I can, give some money to charity, be kind to some people, but the big problem is nothing’s gonna change, and we get tired.”
He continued, “Young people don’t have this, there’s still the bravery and the hope like Sophie does, to say no I think we don’t have to put up with this, we can stop these people eating kids, we’ll let’s go to the Queen.” Still lost in his thoughts Rylance added, “There’s such a lot of criticism of young people and things seem so hard for them…Life looks so difficult and hard, but it’s so essential that they keep their bravery and hope and don’t get pressed down by the fears and the apathy of older people.”
Rylance has transformed from the smart alec, wise-cracking actor into a father thinking about his children and he continues, “It’s not their fault we’re just tired, but I think that young people can change things, things can change you know?” He looks up hopefully, smiles, and says, “So that’s a good thing. I also think that you can get into phases as a young person where you feel really alone like Sophie does and isolated or with no friends, but the thing that happens to her because of that is she develops this great imagination, and when she does meet a friend, it’s her imagination that’s able to really solve the situation.
Rylance is rolling now, and he finishes with, “So there are good things even in the worst situation. You know, so many great adults have grown out of very difficult childhoods where they’ve been bullied, or they’ve been poor, or they’ve been lonely or isolated, and they learned not to give up hope in those situations I guess.”
But it didn’t take long for Rylance to switch back to his comedic mode when asked if he preferred voice acting over on-screen acting. His smirk returned, and he replied to the blogger, “Voice acting, that’s an interesting, what’s that?” Of course, he knows, but in this film, he was more than just a voice for an animated character.
But in the end he did answer the question, “It’s more to do with the people you’re working with, to be honest than the technology or the medium. I’ve acted in operas, in the Globe Theater, in stone circles, in little church halls, in my bed– my basement for many years. Um, not in my bedroom. Um, that’s always true, no acting there. I may have made a big slip there. In front of the mommies that blog.” As the laughter from the audience finally died down, Rylance went on to explain, “…if it wasn’t Steven directing and the wonderful people I had to work with it, that’s when it’s really, oh God, I wish I wasn’t here. But as long as the people one’s working with are playful and not too panicked if you make mistakes, but can see that mistakes often are a new doorway into something new, better. But you just don’t wanna work with people who are very frightened or repressive.”
After a few more questions, our time together was over. You may think that Clement wasn’t in the room, he was, but Rylance’s personality is like his character in The BFG, bigger than life, and Clement appeared to enjoy coming along for the ride with the rest of us.
The BFG Film
- Genre: Fantasy-Adventure
- MPAA Rating: PG for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor
- U.S. / Release Date: July 1, 2016
- Cast: Mark Rylance, Jemaine Clement, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall, Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Producers: Steven Spielberg, Sam Mercer, Frank Marshall
- Screenplay by: Melissa Mathison loosely based on the Book by Roald Dahl