Conversation with Lynn Collins About “John Carter”, Andrew Stanton, and Her Sword – “Kitten”

Walt Disney Studios provided us with a question and answer transcript with actress Lynn Collins, who plays Princess of Mars Dejah Thoris in Academy Award®–winning writer/director Andrew Stanton’s upcoming film “John Carter.”  Some of Collins’ previous projects include “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and the HBO TV vampire series “True Blood.”   In the transcript below, Collins discusses her excitement to portray a smart, strong, fully developed woman, who knows how to use a sword and hold her own in battle.  Click here for even more press releases, images, trailers, and news for Disney’s “John Carter”, coming to theaters March 9, 2012.

Image: Actress Lynn Collins from Disney’s “John Carter” attends Disney’s D23 Expo August, 2011. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez ©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

“If you had the means to save others, would you not take any action possible to make it so?”

Question and answer transcript provided by Walt Disney Studios:

Please tell me about your character.

Lynn Collins:         Dejah Thoris is the Regent of Science and Letters, so she’s a very intelligent woman.  She’s also the princess of Helium, which is one of the cities of Mars.

You really don’t know exactly where they are history-wise on Mars in the film, but you do know that females are considered equals and that there are men and women fighting together.  I found it so wonderfully modern and so exciting to be part of.  I think Dejah’s in touch with both sides of her persona, the feminine and the masculine, and that’s so powerful.  And as an actor it is so rewarding to play somebody who is actually so well-balanced in that masculine and feminine to where the part about being a princess in a classic sense really just kind of comes in ever so slightly.

It’s so exciting to be working on a character like this because she’s such a strong feminine force with also all the vulnerabilities that come with being a female but with strength as well.

©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

What drew you to this film when they first proposed it to you?  

LC:         I was drawn to this project from the very beginning because not often does a strong, powerful feminine role come on my radar. So I’m beyond grateful to be working on Dejah Thoris.  There is also a message that is a parallel to Earth and our progression that really connects me to this film emotionally.  There is this back wall of social consciousness that we’re working with that feeds a deeper level for me.  At the end of the day, that’s what wakes me up in the morning.

How did you prepare yourself mentally for this role?  

LC:         I thought to myself, what would be my ideal in a woman, in a warrior, in a princess and in someone who rules a people?  I really focused and concentrated on those ideas and let them remain in my subconscious.  There were moments where I thought that it’s too much to embody, but there is something archetypal about Dejah Thoris.  So I sort of got out-of-the-way and let myself just be a channel for this powerful feminine force.

©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

What’s your greatest challenge as an actor in playing this part?

LC:         I was pretty nervous about coming in and doing a lot of the sword work but after a week of training, I felt so comfortable with my sword that I named it Kitten.  Kitten and I have a rapport now, so there’s not much fear going on anymore.

What can you tell us about the dynamic of John Carter and Dejah Thoris’ relationship?

LC:         It’s so interesting to me because I’m really big into astrology.  So the way I’ve approached this is seeing his character like the planet Earth and her character like the planet Mars and the qualities that they embody are so different.  Taylor and I are very different people, so I think that is really bringing so much to the project and to the chemistry that we have.  We are just so different in real life that on screen you do believe she’s from Mars and he’s from Earth and you wonder how they are going to get together.

There’s a banter that happens through the tension that they are male and female, but she’s so different than he would expect and so strong that interesting things start happening to his resistance.  John Carter is like, “What kind of woman is this?”  The way the dialogue is written is incredible; it’s so much fun to play.

This movie has adventure and epic locations but it also has deep heart to it.  Could you talk about the heart from Dejah’s point of view?

LC:         The heart of the story for my character Dejah Thoris is very much about saving her people and that’s about as big of an objective as you can get.  When she meets John Carter everything sort of shifts and yet the prime objective is still to save her people.  She falls in love with him, and although that does not change her objective, it definitely changes her perspective.

What is the element that makes “John Carter” a great story to be brought to the screen?

LC:         The most extraordinary thing about this film to me is that it is such a milestone in science fiction.  The books, and even the script, work with ideas that are so far reaching and the visual is so huge.

The book it’s based on was published in 1917.  Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the series of books and my grandfather’s generation grew up with these stories.  Many films have taken themes from them and even visual ideas.  It’s been sort of the backbone of a very archetypal story that I think we really want to see in films.

It’s so amazing to be part of a project that is so broad and that is creating a world that no one has ever seen before.

Image: Writer/Director Andrew Stanton at Disney’s D23 Expo in August 2011. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Could you talk about Edgar Rice Burroughs and Andrew Stanton and how the combination of talents is going to create an epic adventure?

LC:         Andrew is so incredible.  He uses his power as a director with such grace and elegance and he’s so specific and eloquent.  Because you have someone at the helm who is that specific, the story is going to pop.  He’s always thinking about the story and how to tell the story.  Andrew has a thorough understanding of the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ source material, but is taking some liberties, which go even further than Edgar Rice Burroughs probably could have imagined.

Do you think that the characters in “John Carter” will appeal to a wide audience even if they haven’t read the original books? 

LC:         Definitely.  The characters are well developed and relatable.  Andrew’s casting was really incredible.  He chose actors who brought their own unique qualities to the film and are very likeable.  Everyone’s so different that it’s going to be a smorgasbord for the audience.

Tell me about the broad-ranging expanse and scope of the movie from the American West to the planet Mars.

LC:         It’s super expansive and rich.  It’s just a beautiful sensibility that they have.  But it’s so different from Earth to Mars that it’s like doing two completely different films.  It’s going to be a visual feast in that regard.

The scope is huge.  I think that the fun of it is that we get to play and there are no boundaries.  It really just set a new bar.  People want something that’s going to take them to another place.  And this certainly is going to do that.

©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

What has been your favorite scene so far?

LC:         I think my favorite one is the most challenging as well.  It is a scene in which I’m addressing the scientists about a project that I’ve been working on for a long time to find a new power source.  That scene involves a monologue, and talking about science was the most challenging thing for me.  There’s also a fight sequence that was a lot of fun where I’m fighting in a wedding dress, which was sort of irreverent.  I couldn’t think about what I was wearing.  I just had to concentrate on my objective, which was to kick some butt.

Could you talk about how important contemporary social issues, like depleting the planet’s resources, are to the story?

LC:         Thematically it’s incredibly contemporary, which is one of the reasons why I’m so attracted to this material.  Hopefully the audience is going to come out not just having the ride of their life and falling in love with these characters, but they’re going to leave the theaters thinking about their own actions and our actions as society as a whole and how we treat the planet.

What is it like working with the director, Andrew Stanton?

LC:         I just can’t talk enough about Andrew Stanton.  He is so incredible and has made me personally feel so safe to explore myself in this role and in this world.  I’m not only feeling like I am expanding as an actor but I’m expanding as a human being as well.  The whole process is such a discovery and a journey with Andrew and I just I feel so safe as an artist.

And I think any story that Andrew Stanton is a part of is going to be elevated.  He’s that type of artist whose confidence is so true that his ego is out-of-the-way.  He’s really just about the work, facilitating the story.  And as an actor, I appreciate that so much because my process is made easier because he’s so clear and he’s so defined.  He knows this story and knows what he wants to accomplish.

©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

There are a lot of practical sets involved, yet they’re going to be enhanced by CGI and visual effects.  How does the balance between the two feel to you as an actor?

LC:         I just have such tremendous faith in Andrew Stanton that any sort of wondering what it’s going to be like when it’s finished is just taken away from me.  I trust so much in his vision.  I think being in Utah really punched it home for me as to the harsh environment that my character would have grown up in.  In some ways I wish that I would have had a taste of this while we were in London.  London was difficult because we were just working so nonstop with green screen and really had to go places in our imaginations.

You’re acting with a great cast of Tharks: Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Polly Walker, Thomas Haden Church.  How are they able to get a performance across and interact with you? 

LC:         They’re doing an amazing job bringing the sort of physicality that they’re creating and the voices to their roles.  It’s just been remarkable to watch.

For me it’s all about remembering to look up where their heads would be as they are like 9-feet tall in the film.  That’s so difficult because you have these incredible actors who are so engaging, so I’m constantly looking at their faces.  Everyone’s pointing up, to say, “Look up.”

But Andrew [Stanton] was really helpful by aiding in visualization from the very beginning.  The offices are just full of pictures and images and this trajectory of the story.  Everything was very clearly laid out for us in a way that enabled us to visualize as much as possible.  That really helped me a lot in my scenes with the Tharks.

(L-R) Actors: Willem Dafoe, Lynn Collins, and Taylor Kitsch. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

How do the Therns’ actions affect your character in “John Carter”?

LC:         The Therns possess a technology, which is like a parallel to our nuclear technology.  They have given that power to the Zodangans as part of their master plan.   My character, Dejah, is also working to perfect the same technology.  Dejah is striving for this technology to be used for peace, whereas the Therns have ulterior motives that are quite selfish in the end.

Who are the villains in the film?

LC:         Dominic West plays Sab Than, king of the Zodangans, and Mark Strong plays the leader of the Therns.  Andrew Stanton, with his genius, cast these guys perfectly.  They are able to bring up villainous qualities to portray these characters, but you’re still attracted to them as an audience member and want to watch them and be excited by them.

How do you think Taylor Kitsch handled the physical aspects of his role?

LC:         I admire Taylor very much for the way he’s handled his very physical workload.  It was definitely a process for him to learn how to manifest his energy and how much to expend and how much to hold back to pace himself throughout the day.  It’s a tough job and he tackled it well.

©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Is there a physical side to your part too? 

LC:         There’s a lot of fighting and a lot of wirework.  I had this terrible fear of heights but that fear has been completely dashed because of this movie.  Taylor’s character, John Carter, does a lot of jumping and a lot of those jumps involved holding me.  So, I’m being flung everywhere in the process.  It’s hard work, but it’s so great to have a director whom you trust and you can believe that the hard work that you put in is going to pay off.

People don’t realize how much interaction and collaboration it takes to make a movie.  Can you talk about that?

LC:         I think people would be surprised at the amount of time and the number of people that go into just creating the character’s look, from the leather to the metal to the makeup to the hair, even to the spray tanner I’m wearing.  The armor and the swords used by all the characters had to specifically created and ready when needed.  So many people go into creating every aspect, every small detail.  But it’s really fun to collaborate along the way with this great group of people.

©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

You’re a classically trained actor from Juilliard and got your start as Ophelia on a New York stage.  Is there something that you take from that experience and bring to this? 

LC:           In the Juilliard program, they don’t really get intense about methods but they do get intense about voice and speech.  I was from Texas and I had a Texas accent, which I worked really hard to not have.  In this film I have a British accent and that training at Juilliard was invaluable to me to know how to be able to use my voice and to create new ways of speaking.  So in that aspect I’ve been able to bring that skill to whatever play I’m doing, or film or TV project.  To me it’s how the character speaks that really makes me feel like I’m getting into the role.

And now that you have been working so much in films are you still going to work in theater?  

LC:         Yes.  But the lifestyle of the theater is really intense.  Your whole day leads up to your performance and I always feel like it has to be right and when I do it, I’m 110% in it.  It really is your life and there’s something so intoxicating about working with an audience and feeling them, and them feeling you, in this amazing cycle of energy that happens.  And that interaction gets you through that lifestyle and gets you through that process.  I’m just waiting for the right play to come along to get back into it.

Did you enjoy working in London and did you enjoy spending that much time in Europe?  

LC:         Yes, I did.  I love London.  I went to Oxford when I was 17 and did a summer program there and fell in love with it.  I really enjoy the city and the people and the richness of its culture.  It was a pleasure to work there and meet new people.

©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Do you enjoy roles that are in the science fiction genre?  

LC:         It was always a dream of mine to play a powerful female character, no matter what genre.  I was so happy to see, on the page, such a strong, charismatic, powerful female.  I jumped at the opportunity and was so excited to even be considered for the role.  It’s so exciting to be here.

How do you like your costumes?  

LC:          Mayes Rubeo’s costumes are great.  She’s an incredible designer.  My costumes range from warrior attire to a wedding gown, which was quite spectacular with all of its Swarovski crystals.  The look of Dejah’s costumes had me rather scantily clad at times, but I got used to it!

Is it true that the story has a lot of surprises and constantly changes? 

LC:         Yes.  The wonderful thing about this story is that it just keeps you guessing and it keeps moving.  It has an almost mercurial quality to it because there are so many elements.  I think people will want to see it again because there is so much to the story that they will get something different from it every time.

©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

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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.