Actor John Kassir – whose credits include iconic characters like the Cryptkeeper (“Tales from the Crypt”), Buster Bunny (“Tiny Toon Adventures”) and Meeko the raccoon (“Pocahontas”) – recently spoke with Phoenix Movie Examiner about his new role as one half of the two-headed giant in Warner Bros. Picture’s fantasy-adventure “Jack the Giant Slayer.”
In “Jack the Giant Slayer,” which opens Friday, March 1 at movie theaters throughout the Valley, Nicholas Hoult plays a young farmhand who unwittingly opens a gateway between our world and a fearsome race of giants. Fighting for a kingdom, its people and the love of a brave princess, the farmhand comes face to face with the unstoppable warriors he thought only existed in legend.
Question: This movie was filmed with performance capture, right? Can you tell me about that?
Answer: It is the same process that was used in “Avatar,” where you are actually acting in a big room with all of these sensors, cameras and people with computers. It is kind of like performing for NASA. You are wearing these suits with sensors on them, they mask your face and record it all into the computer so that it picks up everything you do. You don’t have the sets and you don’t have the costumes but you do have the other actors – which is great – and you are imagining, “OK, you are running through the hallway of this castle. You are chasing Jack and you grab him.” On top of that, we had to put together two people to make one with Bill Nighy and myself. We had to create this character where the two of us were a two-headed giant. We were using Bill’s body and his head. He had to act and I had to mirror him physically so that my body was moving the same as his but I had to act separately with my head and my right arm since I am the head and arm that is attached to him. All of my theater and mime training came into play there. But then the voice-over thing of having to imagine everything that was there came into play at the same time.
Q: Tell me more about that voice-over aspect. How did you develop your character’s voice?
A: My character has no vocal cords. He speaks through all of these strange sounds and weird gestations so I had to emote with my face and my hands. On the page, it doesn’t say much about the character other than he makes these moist utterances. So I had to create this dialogue and, when we did the table read, Bill didn’t know what was going to come out of my mouth. Nobody knew what Bill was going to sound like either. Bill opens his mouth and this amazing character that he created comes out and then this stuff that I started doing comes out and everybody was like, “Wow! That is so cool! That is creepy!” And you may say, “But that doesn’t look like you and Bill.” Yeah, that’s true, because then they put it all into the computer and the geniuses go in there and do these wonderful things in post. They connect me and Bill together and add everything like makeup and costumes. In a lot of ways, performance capture was more challenging – but it was also more exciting and used more of my skills – than anything that I have ever done. It was a really exciting process.
Q: It certainly sounds like it! What was your favorite part of the process?
A: Bringing some comedy to this action adventure as well was a fun thing for us because, originally, the script was pretty dark and we were a pretty creepy and scary character – which is all there but, at times, we are also the funniest character in the movie. We also have some sentimental kind of touching parts in the movie as well. These are literally not just two-dimensional characters. They are three-dimensional – but not just from the point of view of you what you see on the screen. And I highly suggest you go see it in IMAX 3D because you will feel like you are standing amongst giants. The technology is so amazing and you will, at times, feel like you are a giant looking down on little humans. So that is amazing but we got to fill up the third dimension with these characters and breathe life into them as actors. It was a great process and the script was amazing. We were working with an amazing director – Bryan Singer – who guided us down the right path but also cut us loose to do a lot of different stuff that we were not expecting to be able to do. It was just an amazing experience for me.
Q: Finally, take me back to the performance capture aspect. Does that take much longer to film than an ordinary movie?
A: The post production was a lot longer. It is a lot of effects guys painstakingly trying to not only capture what you have done but add the little subtleties to make it as realistic as possible. “Avatar” had a lot of great colorful characters and took place in a different world. That kind of thing is tough enough. But then taking motion capture characters, putting them in the same exact environment as humans and making it all look like it is all the same is really difficult. These guys were inventing stuff as they were going along because literally these guys are geniuses. And then you have all of these great artists – a lot of them worked on “Avatar.” The two guys that created the look for my face were the same guys who did Gollum for “Lord of the Rings.” That was kind of cool. We wound up with a very unique face which was added to my own face like makeup. It is a long process. I was there for 2 months at a time twice during the year we shot. It took them 7 months to shoot the movie but it probably took a little over a year to finish the effects for the movie. It is certainly an expensive venture to do but I think you see every penny on the screen in this movie.