Actor Dominic West Drawn to Disney’s “John Carter” by Andrew Stanton’s Genius

In Disney’s upcoming film “John Carter”, Dominic West plays the villainous Martian Sab Than.  In this interview conducted by Walt Disney Studios, West recalls that writer/director Andrew Stanton’s passion for “John Carter” was infectious from the moment they met.  “Andrew is a genius storyteller,” says West, who is best known to American audiences for his portrayal of Det. James “Jimmy” McNulty on the highly acclaimed HBO series “The Wire,” but has also built a prolific and impressive career in film, on television, radio and the stage.  Continue after the break for the complete transcript of Disney’s discussion with West.  Click here for even more press releases, images, trailers, and news for Disney’s “John Carter”, coming to theaters March 9, 2012.

Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe, center), John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, right) ©2011 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

“Death to Helium!”

Question and answer transcript provided by Walt Disney Studios:

Please describe your character.  Who he is, what his conflict is and how he fits into the story.

Dominic West:         I play Sab Than, leader of the Zodangans on Mars, or Barsoom, as it’s called. He’s the villain, or rather one of the villains, and he is trying to conquer the city of Helium.

What drew you to this movie?

DW:         What drew me most was Andrew Stanton.  He’s a genius and one of the greatest filmmakers around at the moment.  After meeting him and seeing his amazingly thorough approach to his work and how fully realized and enthusiastic he is about this particular story, I had to come on and do it.  I’m delighted that he cast me in the film.

Andrew Stanton (center) during the “John Carter” press visit. Photo by: Jessica Lifland ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

How did you prepare for the role?

DW:         First, I read the book, “A Princess of Mars” [by Edgar Rice Burroughs], which gave me good insight.  I also recently played a Roman general in a film, and though “John Carter” is very different for many reasons, it’s also very similar in terms of my character as a warrior.  My character in “John Carter” is a very good warrior and a very ruthless warrior, so making that film was very good preparation for this one.  There was a lot of set piece fighting and that helped in my preparation.  Other than that, it was just trying to place myself in this imaginary world.

You mentioned reading the book “A Princess of Mars,” upon which the film is based.  Can you discuss the ways in which director Andrew Stanton may have improved on the story?

DW:         The book is very different from what Andrew [Stanton] has done in the script.  The main thing, in my opinion, is in the book John Carter just finds himself on Mars, while Andrew takes us through that journey much more logically and explains how it happened and makes us believe that it could and is happening.

The thing that sticks out the most for me is the transition from Earth to Mars. There’s much greater detail and everything is much more fully realized in the film than the book.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) Photo by: Frank Connor ©2011 Disney. JOHN CARTER™ ERB, Inc.

How much training and preparation have you been going through for the action scenes? 

DW:         I was very attracted to the idea of immersing myself in an almost completely action role and preparing for it.  I did about two weeks of solid fight training.  I had to learn the style of the Zodangan sword fighting and I had three fights that we needed to choreograph.  The rest was a lot of wirework—I was in the circus about ten years ago, so that came fairly easily to me and was great to get back into.

Is there some symbolic meaning to your character’s tattoos?

DW:         The idea was to give everyone red tattoos to signify a Red Man.  These tattoos are a form of adornment for the Red Man but also reveal certain details about him.  For example, my tattoo design will show that I am a warrior and a Jeddak [King] as certain symbols denote my rank.  In addition to my tattoos, I also wear the fur of a white ape, which also signifies that I’m a Jeddak.  So between the design of the tattoos and the white ape fur I wear, my rank and warrior status are visible to all.

White Apes, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, center) ©2011 Disney. JOHN CARTER™ ERB, Inc.

How did Andrew Stanton help you visualize the world that you’re in?

DW:         All of the action scenes were animated beforehand to help us visualize them.  Andrew would press a button and I could see the entire scene with my character in it and understand what the sequence was going to be and how he was going to shoot it.

I also remember, in rehearsals, that Andrew gave every single person who went in an explanation of why he wanted to do this, what this story was, why he was interested in it, and how he wanted to do it.  That’s what’s most impressive about him—the time he takes to explain his enthusiasm and to fire you up with it.

Behind the Scenes, L to R: Director Andrew Stanton, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) Photo by: Frank Connor ©2011 Disney. JOHN CARTER™ ERB, Inc.

This story has an immense scope, from the Old West in the United States to Mars.  What do you think will make that scope appealing to audiences?

DW:         Anyone who likes films that depict epic battles, whether science fiction or history-based, is going to love “John Carter” as it has elements of both.  It goes beyond the boundaries of classical epics in that people can do supernatural things.  It combines the best of both those great genres to create something new that I don’t think anyone has seen before.  The scenes on Earth really make the film enjoyable and relatable as they contribute to the story in ways seldom seen in science-fiction movies.

The “John Carter” story has heart and humanity at its core.  Can you explain that?

DW:         Why is Andrew Stanton so good at films like “Wall•E” and “Finding Nemo”?  They are wildly successful films because he is a genius with human details.  There’s a great humanity to his writing.  In this film, there’s a very sympathetic hero, a flawed guy who’s suddenly transported to Mars.  Andrew is able to make you fully understand what it might feel like to be someone from Earth deposited in an alien world.  I think that’s what Andrew did so brilliantly in this script.

L-R, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) and Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) ©2011 Disney. JOHN CARTER™ ERB, Inc.

In the film there is an age-old conflict between the two red races, the Heliumites and the Zodangans.  What’s that all about?

DW:         The Zodangans are less sophisticated, more brutal and warlike, and Zodanga is a less culturally developed community than Helium.  The Heliumites are the more sophisticated, peaceful people who are not as good at fighting as the Zodangans.  It’s that clash of the warlike culture against the highly sophisticated culture, which is age-old.

John Carter (TAYLOR KITSCH) Photo by: Frank Connor ©2011 Disney. JOHN CARTER™ ERB, Inc.

Can you talk about the working relationship between you and Taylor Kitsch?

DW:         Apart from being gorgeous and incredibly fit and very good at the action stuff, he’s very thoughtful and humble and considerate.  Our relationship from the start was that we were opponents but when we did a big fight sequence, which lasted a couple days, I got to know him better.  I thought he was a very cool guy—very professional, very funny and very personable.  I hope he does brilliantly from this because he deserves it.  He’s worked unbelievably hard and he’s a very good actor.

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About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.