Building the Cast
Director Andrew Stanton had very specific ideas on how he wanted to cast the movie. "When I see a movie like this, with such big, iconic leading roles, I don't want to already associate the actor with somebody else," he says.
"I want to believe the character 100 percent. When we started the casting process, I felt that finding actors who had yet to be discovered fully would be a real perk. Taylor Kitsch is a natural talent; he has incredible instincts and such great, raw qualities to work with.
"I felt like the luckiest guy in town to have captured his fire before everyone else had saturated it. He was exactly what I wanted for the role of Carter: viral, charismatic
and dark. And you would be hardpressed to find an actor with his work ethic-he brings 150 percent every time he has to come up to the plate," Andrew Stanton adds.
Taylor Kitsch credits Andrew Stanton's take on Edgar Rice Burroughs' original source material for the complexity of the John Carter character. "What Andrew Stanton has done is taken the base of Burroughs' work, including the lack of gravity, the strength Carter finds he has and everything that Mars represents in the original source material and then gone into further depth with the characters and their backgrounds," he comments. "He has given me so much to dive into-it has been great to draw so much information about my character from his script."
Taylor Kitsch was delighted to have an opportunity to work with Andrew Stanton and was very impressed with the unique way in which Andrew Stanton directs his actors. "Andrew is unlike anyone else I have worked with before because he will direct me differently from the way he directs Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton or any of the other actors," he says. "He knows what is going to work for me and me only. It is very personal and collaborative because he trusts me as much as I have to trust him."
When asked to reflect on his most enjoyable scene in the film, Taylor Kitsch responds, "The Great White Ape scene is probably something I will never forget-just the energy in the arena was really great. When I went for the screen test, Andrew Stanton showed me the Great White Apes and I knew then that scene would be epic. If we have all done our jobs, I think it will be awesome. The stakes are incredibly high for that scene; it represents something huge to my character and for the overall arc of the film, and I loved that."
When Andrew Stanton went on the hunt for the perfect person to play Princess Dejah Thoris, he had definite ideas. "For Dejah Thoris, I needed to find someone who you just believe is that intelligent, that strong and has royal blood running through her veins," he says.
"When Lynn Collins came into the casting room, she had that quality right away, and I was fascinated with it," he recalls. "We called her back for a more serious casting, and the minute I saw her read against Taylor Kitsch, it was like Cinderella's foot going into the slipper. She is one of the most passionate actors I have ever encountered, and teamed with Taylor Kitsch, the dynamic is incredible. It was miraculous casting, because I have benefited from the two of them throughout filming."
Lynn Collins explains how she and Taylor Kitsch approached their on-screen relationship. "The most important thing about this relationship is the chemistry," she says. "You have to take a person from Mars and a person from Earth and determine how their opposing characteristics will work, how they will gel, how they conflict, and what they will find attractive. It is a dance when these characters come together and when they are apart."
Lynn Collins admits that she was intimidated at first by the physical demands of her role. "I was pretty nervous about coming in and doing a lot of the physical work. There are extensive amounts of fighting and wire work. I had this terrible fear of heights, but that has been completely dashed now because of this movie. Taylor Kitsch's character, John Carter, can jump huge distances and a lot of these jumps involved holding me, so of course I'm flung everywhere! It is physically demanding, but it is so comforting to have a director that you trust and you know that the hard work you put in is going to pay off."
Working with director Andrew Stanton was a hugely positive experience for Lynn Collins. "I have such tremendous faith in Andrew Stanton that any anxiety is just taken away from me. I trust him and his vision entirely," she says. "Andrew Stanton has an incredible mind, and he is the type of artist who has no ego. He is really just about the work and facilitating the story. As an actor, I appreciate that so much because my process is made easier when the director is clear. He knows this story and what he wants to accomplish."
In "John Carter" there are underlying themes that are very contemporary, and those themes drew Lynn Collins to the role. "The social conflicts portrayed on Mars are true to some of the issues we have on the planet today," Lynn Collins explains. "Thematically, it is incredibly contemporary, which is one of the reasons why I was so attracted to the material. Hopefully, the audience will come out of the theater not just having had the ride of their life and falling in love with these great characters but also thinking about their own actions and our actions as a society."
On working with his co-star Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch enthuses, "Lynn Collins is just a ton of fun; the energy she brings to Dejah and what that represents is incredible. She has brought a great balance of fieriness and beauty to the role because her character is on such a driven path. Trust is everything to an actor and as a good friend, I trust Lynn Collins immensely. It has been great to work with her."
Andrew Stanton also enjoyed the opportunity to work with coveted actor Willem Dafoe, who plays Thark leader Tars Tarkas. "The character Willem Dafoe plays is an older, noble character that commands respect regardless of losing stature in his tribe. Willem Dafoe brings that same kind of aura on set through his pedigree, his filmography and his history-he is actually really like that as a person," the director comments. "It was fascinating during the rehearsals when all the actors were in the same room together, everyone suddenly raised their game. Willem Dafoe unintentionally sets a great example of class and maturity for the rest of the cast to aspire to."
One of the main factors that drew Willem Dafoe into the "John Carter" fold was the fact that Andrew Stanton was directing. Commenting on working with Andrew Stanton in the past, he says, "I worked with Andrew Stanton on 'Finding Nemo,' and even though I was doing a voice, I found Andrew Stanton to be incredibly well researched. He knows every shot, every process-he's an incredible multitasker."
On the subject of working with Andrew Stanton again but this time on a live-action film, Willem Dafoe comments, "One of the biggest pleasures of doing 'John Carter' is to work with Andrew Stanton on this scale, with a story that has a vast popular appeal but doesn't pander. I think because of his background in animation and all those years at Pixar, he has a personal approach to filmmaking. He's made wildly popular films, but he seems driven by his own curiosity and pleasure. He works with great detail supported by constant research. He's knowledgeable about so many things- yet he has a boyish love for classic movies."
Willem Dafoe was not daunted at all about the prospect of playing the tall, four-armed leader of the Tharks. "I was excited that 'John Carter' was a big movie and at the prospect of playing a nine-foot-tall Martian warrior. When Andrew Stanton showed me the designs for the world of the movie, the beauty of it struck me. I liked the cast that was already in place, and I knew the Tars role would be a physically demanding one. I sometimes miss the physical challenges in movie roles but 'John Carter' promised lots of physical performance elements- not only would I perform on three- foot stilts, we had to develop a vocabulary of gesture and the Martian spoken language which is used in part of the film."
Willem Dafoe shares much of his screen time with Taylor Kitsch who plays John Carter. Describing their characters' relationship, he says, "Tars has a touching coming-together with John Carter through the story. There's humor as well. They are a very odd couple-even just visually-and when they team up, there is a lot of interplay reflecting their very different cultures, which creates lots of opportunities for comedy and misunderstanding."
Willem Dafoe has nothing but praise for Taylor Kitsch's talent and work ethic. "He brings an ease and confident heroism to the role," he says. "Taylor Kitsch is the workhorse of the movie-he is in almost every scene. He is very practical and his approach is very committed. Special requirements are made from him physically-he has got to be something of a dancer and a very good physical actor to deal with all the wire work and stunts, which I think he accomplished outstandingly well."
When it came to casting the part of Sola, the female Thark assigned to care for John Carter, Andrew Stanton was very pleased to find Samantha Morton, whom he felt embodied many of Sola's qualities. "Samantha Morton similarly has great parallels with her character, Sola," he says. "Samantha Morton has great vulnerability and a mothering quality to her that is genteel and accepting."
When Samantha Morton read the script, she admits to being "happy and surprised." Samantha Morton recalls, "It made me laugh and it made me cry, and it made me want to read it again instantly, which I did. I thought it was just brilliant. I genuinely felt that it had a different ingredient to the normal action-adventure sagas, and there seemed to me to be some solid roots for some incredibly well-structured characters."
Samantha Morton feels there is a responsibility attached to playing an already well-known and loved literary character. "In my career, I have played characters that have been famous, Jane Eyre being one of them, and you feel that there is a huge responsibility inherent in playing somebody that is greatly loved because so many people have an opinion on the character," she says. "Coming on board this project, I was aware that everybody would have their own opinion on what Sola would be like because when you read a book, it is so personal-it is you in the story and your imagination."
Prepping with her fellow Thark actors was a very important and necessary process for Samantha Morton, who says, "Andrew Stanton was committed to giving us proper rehearsal time so we could talk about the characters and find who we were as a race by working together, performing together and practicing our Thark voices together. We had a couple of weeks together where we could have fun with it, saying 'Maybe they move like this' or 'Maybe they talk like this'-it was an absolutely invaluable creative process."
On working with Andrew Stanton, Samantha Morton says, "How amazing to have a director like Andrew Stanton on a film like this. Very often, the director is preoccupied with figuring out all the shots, but I get the sense with Andrew Stanton, perhaps because of his animation background, that he has already planned everything out. As an actor, when you get that from a director, you can just fall into his or her arms because you feel so safe-and that is very rare."
Thomas Haden Church takes on the role of another Thark, Tal Hajus, a brutal warrior, who wants todisplace Tars Tarkas as leader of the tribe. Inspired to be working with Andrew Stanton, he comments, "As a director, I love Andrew Stanton's sense of storytelling. He has a very childlike fascination with telling these lifeaffirming stories and he tells them with humor and drama."
Haden Church was also excited to work with the talented cast of "John Carter." "Willem Dafoe is such a personal hero for me as an actor," he says. "Probably the first movie I really loved was 'To Live and Die in L.A.,' and then that led to 'Platoon' and I would just study his performances. I'm not overstating that-Willem Dafoe is one of a handful of actors that inspired me to pursue acting as a career. Just to have the opportunity to work with him on this movie is incredible.
"Samantha Morton is a standout talent," he continues. "So much comes through her eyes and how she so delicately controls her emotions and her physical acting. She brings a whole other level that is unbelievably expressive, heart-rending and tragic. I may never fully comprehend, so I just stand back and appreciate the light she is shining on the world. She is just sensational."
The filmmakers chose Mark Strong to play Matai Shang, the mysterious leader of the Therns. Describing his character's motives, Mark Strong says, "I do not think of Matai Shang as malign. The way Andrew Stanton brings the Thern characters to life and makes them three-dimensional is by giving them a purpose, and Matai's purpose is to create order in the universe. What he sees himself doing is right. At first he simply sees John Carter as something that is getting in the way of that. In Matai's mind, he doesn't think of himself as wrong."
The Victorian view of the future intrigued Mark Strong and, for him, was one of the most compelling draws of the "John Carter" project. "What is wonderful about the film and Edgar Rice Burroughs' view of the future is that it is a Victorian's view of space and another planet," he says. "It is not the one that you get when you adapt a comic book. In this version the guys still have swords and they still have helmets, but they look almost art deco. I think that is why this particular film fascinates me. It is a Victorian's view of science fiction."
Mark Strong feels that the story encompasses the elements that make all great stories epic. He explains, "There are tribes at war, there is a love story, there is a malign influence trying to prevent our hero from carrying out what he needs to do. It is about identity and about your place in the world and in the universe. On a very simple story level, it is about a man trying to discover who he is, what he wants, and fighting against all odds to keep it.
"One of the most interesting ideas is that a human being needs to travel to Mars in order to find out about himself and his humanity. I think it is no accident that, by moving away from the human race, John Carter is able to discover what is important in our spiritual world and in the universe, not just Earth," says Mark Strong.
Working with Andrew Stanton, Mark Strong was impressed by the director's energy and focus for the project. "I remember at a meeting that Andrew and I had at the very beginning, the thing that struck me most of all was Andrew Stanton's enthusiasm," he recalls.
"And that hasn't waned the whole time we have been shooting, which is phenomenal. It is an incredibly draining, exacting experience to direct a movie of this size. He has been utterly consistent in the enthusiasm and belief he has communicated to the actors, which has made the work a joy."
Dominic West signed on to play Sab Than, the leader of the Zodangans, whose mission is to defeat Helium and conquer its people. Talking about what attracted him to the "John Carter" project, West says, "Andrew Stanton is the main reason I wanted to work on this film. He is definitely one of the greatest filmmakers around at the moment. Having met him and seen his amazingly thorough approach to his work, and understanding how fully realised and enthusiastic he is about this particular story, I was delighted when he cast me in the film."
Dominic West is excited to portray a colorful character who is involved in huge action scenes. "I haven't done many action movies. Most of my work tends to be language based because I do a lot of theater, so I was very attracted to the idea of immersing myself in an almost completely action role," he says.
"I did about two weeks of solid fight training. I had to get the style of the Zodangan sword fighting down and I had three fights that we needed to choreograph. The rest was a lot of wire work-I was in the circus about ten years ago, so that came fairly easily to me and was great to get back into," Dominic West concludes.
Rounding out the talented cast of "John Carter" are Polly Walker as Sarkoja; Ciaran Hinds as the king of Helium, Tardos Mors; James Purefoy as Kantos Kan, captain of the Helium air navy; and Daryl Sabara as young Edgar Rice Burroughs.The Earthmen
: From the planet Earth of the late 1800s-light-years from Barsoom (Mars)John Carter (Taylor Kitsch)
:"No good'll come out of me fightin' your war."
Born in Virginia, John Carter served as an officer in the Confederate army in the Civil War. He is an honorable and courageous hero, but the ravages of the Civil War have left him broken, dispirited and personally defeated. Accidentally transported to Barsoom (Mars), Carter begins to realise that his strength and jumping abilities are greatly amplified in the low gravity of the planet. Carter reluctantly begins a journey to rediscover his humanity while at the same time saving his newfound world. Taylor Kitsch on John Carter"Carter has lost everything in the Civil War and he basically goes into this recluse mode of living, mining for gold. He's covering up what he hasn't dealt with-the guilt he feels over the loss of everything he went to war to protect. He has a fear of taking responsibility and losing everything dear to him again. He refuses to fight for any cause and pushes himself away from becoming close to anyone."Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston) "Captain, I'm finding it difficult to reconcile the man on this piece of paper with the one I'm looking at."
Colonel Powell is a seasoned, by-the-book, tough-as-nails U.S. cavalry officer. Powell's mission is to enlist John Carter to fight the Apaches from his unit's outpost in the Arizona Territory. He is thwarted in this by John Carter's abject refusal to have anything to do with the military-or any cause, no matter how just.Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara)"My mother always said Jack never really came back from the war."
Edgar Rice Burroughs is John Carter's inquisitive 18-year-old nephew. Edgar adores his Uncle John and, as a child, enjoyed listening to wild tales he spun that took him on journeys to places Burroughs could hardly even imagine. Burroughs receives an urgent telegram from his uncle and rushes to him-only to find it may be too late.The Inhabitants of Barsoom
: Mars-or Barsoom, as it is called by the natives of the planet-is home to a host of different races, ranging from the "Red Men"-the sophisticated Heliumites and war-like Zodangans-to the tribal, primitive "Green Men," the Tharks, and the mysterious, advanced Therns.Heliumites
: Human-like, red-tattooed inhabitants of the city of Helium, characterised by their sophisticated and conservationist policies. They proudly wave the blue flag that symbolises their nation and their longing for the oceans long gone. Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins)"If you had the means to save others, would you not take any action possible to make it so?"
Dejah Thoris, the beautiful, raven-haired princess of Helium, is a passionate advocate for the Heliumites and their way of life. Dejah is Regent of the Royal Academy of Science and was trained to rule and fight. She is on the verge of a discovery that could permanently shift the balance of power between her nation Helium and their enemy Zodanga. But time is running out, and Dejah must convince John Carter to enlist in the fight to save Helium. Lynn Collins on Dejah Thoris"Dejah Thoris is the princess of Helium but also the Regent of Science and Letters. Andrew Stanton and I molded her to be very feminine but in a very masculine, smart and intellectual way. At the start of the movie, you see her addressing a large group of scientists about what is needed to save her people-peace and science are her super objectives. What is interesting is the time period. You don't really know where we are in time history-wise but, you do know that females are considered equals. Men and women fight side-by-side, and I found that so wonderfully modern and exciting to be a part of. It is rewarding to play a character who is so well balanced."Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds)"Helium is lost. My people. I have failed them all."
Tardos Mors is the Jeddak (king) of Helium and father to Dejah Thoris. He is a tough and pragmatic ruler who is forced to find a solution to save his beloved Helium-even if it means breaking his heart and Dejah's to do it.Kantos Kan (James Purefoy)"Hello, ladies."
Kantos Kan is the Odwar (captain) of the Helium air navy and is fiercely loyal to Tardos Mors and his daughter, Dejah Thoris. Intelligent, handsome and brave, Kantos Kan will do anything in his power to fight for Helium and protect the royal family.Zodangans
: Human-like, red-tattooed inhabitants of Zodanga; warlike, manipulative and exploitive and always on the move-a predator race. They are represented by a bold, red flag that symbolises their aggressive and destructive nature.Sab Than (Dominic West)"Death to Helium!"
Sab Than is the Jeddak (king) of Zodanga. He is impulsive, arrogant and aggressive, promoting war and conquest as the Zodangan way of life. With a dangerously calculated charm, Sab Than will even try to make a deal with the devil to destroy Helium and rule all of Barsoom.Dominic West on Sab Than "I play Sab Than, the leader of the Zodangans on Mars, or Barsoom. He is one of the villains, and he is trying to conquer the city of Helium with the powers given to him by the Therns."Therns
: In the religion of Barsoom, Therns are the heralds of the goddess Issus. In fact, they are an inconspicuous race and Barsoom's most highly advanced beings, whose motives are always self-serving.Matai Shang (Mark Strong)"We do not cause the destruction of a world, Captain Carter. We simply manage it. Feed off it, if you like."
Matai Shang is the Holy Hekkador (king) of the Therns. Using their advanced technology, the mysterious Therns represent themselves as the messengers of the Barsoomian goddess Issus in order to manipulate their own plans.Mark Strong on Matai Shang "I play a character called Matai Shang, who is the leader of a race called the Therns. Essentially, the Therns are a parasitic race that travels the universe, creating the order they need to survive. The Thern tribe is mythical on Mars; nobody is quite sure whether they truly exist because nobody has ever seen one. Therns are able to transform themselves into whoever, or whatever, in order to remain hidden."Tharks
: The "Green Men" of Barsoom. Tusked, 9-foot-tall, four-armed creatures who are tribal and primitive. Historically a once great race but now nomadic and dispersed; their survival-of-the fittest beliefs often fuel their aggressive, combative behavior.Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe)"When I saw you leap into the sky, I wished to believe it was a sign that something newcan come into this world."
Tars Tarkas is a fierce, green Martian warrior who is the Jeddak (king) of the Tharks. The last vestige of nobility runs in his blood and is the only thing that keeps the Thark tribe from turning into beasts. Blessed with a good sense of humor and patience, Tars Tarkas befriends the Earthman John Carter and gives him the Thark name Dotar Sojat, which roughly translates to "my right arms."Willem Dafoe on Tars Tarkas"Tars Tarkas is the leader of a warrior people called the Tharks. They are green Martians, but Tars has very human emotions. The Thark civilisation is in decline, they were once a great race but have been reduced to a warlike society that roams from place to place to survive. There is sadness and a feeling of empire lost that informs very much who Tars is. He leads his primitive people but ultimately he can't forget that they come from a more refined culture. Tars secretly yearns for the past and for a more humane existence."Tal Hajus (Thomas Haden Church)"I claim the right of challenge! Who will pledge their metal to mine?"
Tal Hajus would like nothing better than to become the leader of the Tharks and depose Tars Tarkas by force. He is a brutal and conniving Thark warrior with a single-minded belief that only the strong have the right to survive.Thomas Haden Church on Tal Hajus "My character, Tal Hajus, is young enough to have Tars Tarkas as a bit of a father figure. As soon as he sees Tars' fascination with John Carter, it suddenly elevates an unpleasant jealousy in him. In this harsh landscape of Barsoom, even a guy as savage as my character still wants to have some sort of connection or reciprocal appreciation with his leader and the other warriors from the tribe. Tal Hajus is ultimately a very straightforward mercenary guy. What he starts to see as Tars' relationship develops with John Carter is that his leader is drifting from the warrior code, so he feverishly embraces that and creates problems."Sola (Samantha Morton)May the goddess find me worthy.
Sola is a caring and nurturing Thark, which makes her a pariah in the cruel Thark society. She is often at odds with the Thark way of life because she thinks with her heart, not her head. She is the runt of the litter and is given the responsibility of stewarding John Carter after he is adopted by the tribe.Samantha Morton on Sola "I play Sola, who is a Thark and she appears to be one of the weaker Tharks, if not the weakest in her hoard. She has compassion, love, honor, respect, and she has a vulnerability that surpasses anything they have in their society. However, she is an embarrassment to her race because of these qualities; it is almost as if she has a disease."Sarkoja (Polly Walker)"Sola can take the little white worm."
Sarkoja is the ideal Thark; calculating, cold and cruel. Like Tal Hajus, she believes that only the strong should survive, and she has survived a long time. She targets Sola at every opportunity for she has no patience with Sola's humanity, which she perceives as weakness.Woola"Woola would find you anywhere on Barsoom"
- Sola to John Carter
Woola is a Calot, a large, lizard-like dog, that takes John Carter as his master. Calots are incredibly fast with 10 legs and a mouth full of sharp teeth. Woola is fiercely protective of Carter for he is the first person to ever come to the creature's rescue.
John Carter Review - www.girl.com.au/john-carter.htm
Andrew Stanton Interview on John Carter - www.girl.com.au/andrew-stanton-john-carter.htm
Making of John Carter - www.girl.com.au/making-of-john-carter.htm
Casting of John Carter - www.girl.com.au/casting-of-john-carter.htm
Costumes of John Carter - www.girl.com.au/costumes-of-john-carter.htm