Cape Town – Alexander Skarsgard takes on the iconic role of Tarzan in the latest reimagining of the classic tale.
Joined by Margot Robbie who plays Jane, Samuel L. Jackson who plays George Washington Williams and Djimon Hounsou who plays Chief Mbonga – the cast sat down and revealed behind-the-scene details and what to expect from the new movie.
This is not the Tarzan adventure you expect. For the actors, can you talk about the modern sensibility you’re bringing to this classic story that came out of the 19th century? For example, this Jane is no damsel in distress.
Margot Robbie: Yes. It was important to make sure that a contemporary audience could relate to Jane. The book was written a really long time ago, and ideologies have changed since then. There is a love story at the core of the film, and I don’t think that Jane being in love with her husband is a weakness; I think that actually makes her stronger, so I wanted that definitely to be the focus.
Even though Tarzan and Jane are so dependent on one another and can’t live without each other, when they are apart – which they are for a lot of the movie – they are incredibly capable of being independent. It would have been boring to watch Jane sitting there, waiting to be rescued. It’s far more entertaining to watch Jane getting herself out of the predicament as well. For me, it worked on a character level, and it also worked on an entertainment level. But it was also important for me to make sure that she could be relatable to women watching the film and that they wouldn’t see her as submissive. I hope women watching can find Jane empowering and root for her.
Can you talk about your own background with this legendary character – if you have a favorite Tarzan movie or some memory of the character from your life that made you excited to make this film?
Alexander Skarsgard: I was actually a big Tarzan fan as a kid – the old Johnny Weissmuller movies – because of my father, who is one of the biggest Tarzan fans out there. Every Saturday, he would go to the matinee in the small town in Sweden where he grew up, and watch the old movies. So he introduced me to Tarzan, and that’s how I fell in love with him and the jungle and that whole world. So, I was very excited about this project.
Margot: Obviously, I kind of missed the earlier iterations of Tarzan. My version of Tarzan was the Disney animated movie, which I loved. So, no. At no point was I, like, ‘Oh, one day I want to grow up and play Jane.’ The script just felt very epic and fresh, amazing, exciting, all these things. It is still a well-known story, one that involves a lot of elements that in the wrong hands, I think, could end up not being very relevant. So, when I heard David Yates was going to be the one directing it, someone who could make a film that has such a magical feel but also realness to it, I thought that’s exactly what this script needed. This is the exact person to create this magical world with real relationships, real people, real scenarios in it. So I was really confident to sign up.
Mr. Jackson, what attracted to you to this project? And given that your character’s loosely based on a historical figure, did you put a lot of research into it?
Samuel L. Jackson: Well, yeah. When I spoke to David Yates (director) and we started talking about George Washington Williams, it was my first time hearing about it. So I was thinking, ‘This is a real guy?’. David sent me all the source material, and I started reading through stuff and was totally captivated by it.
Then I read King Leopold’s Ghost, and realised exactly how serious all this was in terms of why he wanted to be there and the information he was trying to impart to our government and to the Queen, and to all these other people that Leopold’s trying to get money from. I also realised the devastating affect that he was having on the continent of Africa and definitely on the Congo, and what that meant. It was one of the first real holocausts that occurred on this planet, and Leopold was responsible for it.
So, all of a sudden, I realised, ‘Okay. I’m not just playing some adventure guy with a flair for big guns. I’m playing a really important person that had a raison d’etre for being there.’ Then, when you explore his life, you find out that he was in the Civil War and went from the Civil War to the Mexican-American war, from the Mexican-American War to the Cavalry. And what he himself discovered in looking at Rom and the Calvary that he was part of – an army that did the same thing to the indigenous people of this country – that put an enormous burden on him.
Djimon, did you do some training for the big fight scene and the physical aspects of your role?
Djimon Hounsou: Alexander was so completely fit; I looked at him and thought, ‘Wow. I need to get in shape.’ So, we began training and it was probably the best set I’ve ever been on since I started this career. I mean, the nutrition was impeccable, and the training went with it. You were forced to have five meals a day. It was great, great training.
Alexander: Just rehearsing for our fight sequence, it was like two hours a day for a month – just to choreograph our fight sequence. That alone was a really good workout.
Djimon: It was great. You worked out all day, literally, as you were fighting and filming.
Was it a challenge to play very meaningful scenes with animals that would be added later with CGI?
Margot: It was new to me to be reacting to things that weren’t physically in front of me. We had the most incredible sets that I’ve definitely ever seen in my life – everything was tangible; the jungle was there, but the animals weren’t, and to get a grasp of the scale of these animals is mind boggling. We’d have someone run out with a cardboard cutout that would show how big the wildebeest would be that we’re running amongst, and you’re just like, ‘Oh. I need to adjust my eye line to way taller than me.’ They are huge. And same was true with the hippopotamuses. You can’t really comprehend what that situation would be like. So, yes. Trying to keep my reactions big enough was definitely a bizarre way of acting.
Alexander, this wouldn’t be a Tarzan movie without the call, and we get to hear it twice. Is that you or is there some digital enhancement?
Alexander: That was a tricky one because you obviously have to have it in the movie because otherwise people would want to know, ‘Why is the call not in the movie? What’s going on?’ But when you watch the old movies, they are quite dated, especially the call. It comes in at these moments where he’s hunting and you definitely don’t want it to be a comedic moment. It would just take you out of the movie.
So I think it’s really smart to instead of having a cheesy shot of Tarzan doing the call, you see the impact on the antagonist’s face, on Christoph [Waltz]’s face, because it makes it more eerie and haunting and not like comic relief.
Samuel L. Jackson: It sounded like mine because I was desperately trying to steal it.
Watch the trailer here:
The Legend of Tarzan opens in cinemas nationwide Friday, 15 July.