Interview: Jonathan Lloyd Walker

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You saw him in last year’s Red. He was in Shooter and he fought zombies in Land of the Dead. Now he’s heading to the Antarctic to join Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Sky High) and descend into the horrors of The Thing, a prequel to John Carpenters beloved horror flick. The movie is directed by Matthis Van Heijningen Jr. and is coming to theatres later this October, in time for Halloween. We sat down with the British-born Canadian actor to talk about his role in the film, and the challenges in making a prequel a worthy successor to a well-regarded film.

BALLnROLL: Okay, so– The Thing prequel. This is exciting! Tell me about it.

Jonathan Lloyd Walker: Our film is a prequel to the John Carpenter film from 1982. All of the events of the film take place several days before the events in that movie, and obviously at the Norwegian base where the Norwegian crew are the first to find the crashed alien vessel and the frozen corpse in the snow outside. They call in some help to try and figure out what to do with this amazing find, only to have things obviously go horribly wrong and the creature to break loose and create havoc.

Tell me about your character in the film.

I play Colin. Colin is the British radio operator that’s stationed at the Norwegian base. He’s very edgy, a kind of keeps-to-himself kind of character. He doesn’t really trust people. He’s a loner, and obviously when things start to go horribly wrong in the base, it gives him even more reason to be withdrawn and very isolated from everybody else.

Does the movie follow the same plot as the John Carpenter film or are there some surprises?

There’re definitely surprises. What you can’t get away from is the fact that, obviously, we’re dealing with the same type of creature or entity that can absorb and take over the look and the identity of its victims, and that obviously breeds distrust and panic amongst those that realize what’s going on.

Those commonalities will obviously exist, but commonalities will exist between any two films of a series. Look at the Terminator films. It’s always going to be people running from a Terminator.

But in this case it’s definitely got some interesting twists. You’re going to see the creature in different ways than you’ve seen it manifest before. Obviously, there’s the added element of the language barrier, with a number of these Norwegians whom speak English, and others don’t–That adds an extra layer of mistrust and jeopardy because you’ve got situations where some of the English-speaking characters are stuck in a room with people speaking Norwegian to each other and obviously have no idea whether they’re plotting against them or what’s their agendas are. So it is a different film. It’s not a remake.

So that adds a new layer of suspense.

I think so. The whole Norwegian aspect definitely brings it into a different arena, and I think it’s got some very different beats to it, and obviously some other things that will probably be familiar to those who are familiar with the Carpenter film, but it’s its own movie.
 

 

What are the special effects like? Are they similar to the air bladder technology of the Carpenter film or is it more CGI?

On set, we had a number of puppeteers and animatronics people, who were working with us, creating actual live effects on-stage, so there was definitely stuff there that we had to work with. We were always with the knowledge that some of it would be augmented with CGI, or there would be some use of CGI in the movie; it wasn’t going to be exclusively practical effects.

But there are a number of practical effects in the film, and some of them are really, really fantastic. I think there was probably a perception that if you were going to do a prequel to Carpenter’s film, then it would have to be exactly the same, in terms of how you approach the effects, and to a certain extent we did. Obviously, it’s a film from thirty years ago, but there are some things we can use in a modern day context to add a different dimension or a different layer to things. Certainly, there’s a blend of both in the film.

Had you done a lot of effects work before or is this the most effects in a film you’ve worked on?

I’ve worked on lots of films with a lot of effects, and some of it has been heavily CGI-work, where I’ve been working exclusively against a green screen, and some of it has been very practical.

To give you two examples, obviously, for practical works, I worked with George Romero on Land of the Dead and obviously his make-up effects person, Greg Nicotero, who is now doing The Walking Dead for AMC. So that was an experience where when you’re being chased by zombies, you’re really being chased by zombies.

So that was one end of the spectrum, and the other end of the spectrum would be the sci-fi stuff I’ve done, like Stargate, where you’ve got some practical sets, but very often you’re in front of a green screen next to a tennis ball on a string, and having to imagine what’s supposed to be there when it’s not really there. So I’ve had a wide range of experiences with different types of effects.

Do you think there would be a problem that some of the audience knows the ending of the film, because it would be the beginning of Carpenter’s film?

Did people go to Apollo 13 knowing that they already know the history of that event? Did they go to see the film Glory, knowing how the Civil War turned out? If you look at prequels, if you look at a film like Flags of Our Fathers, which was a prequel to Iwo Jima, the Clint Eastwood movie, we’ve already seen the other movie, we know that the Americans win the fight, so why would we be interested in watching what happens to the Japanese?

People go to films because they’re compelling and interesting stories, and there are interesting characters going through that, even though the conclusion is somewhat forgone. It’s still a ride to go on and an interesting environment to watch people struggle through.

And further to that I would say, if you go to any horror films, I don’t think anyone lines up to see Saw–one of the, what are they now, Saw 6? 7?–I don’t think anybody there has any misconceptions that the people in that film are largely going to be killed. It’s pretty much given because they’ve got a frame of reference from the other films, so I think it’s a bit of a weak argument if people say, “I don’t want to see the film because I know how it’s going to end.”

Well, you may have a general sense of it, but you may not know how each of the characters are going to manifest through the film, and what is going to happen to them.

Would you say your character in The Thing is a villainous character or more ambiguous?

I don’t really think there are villains in the film per se, beyond the creature–the creature is obviously the biggest threat or antagonist in the movie. There are people with different agendas, and there are certainly people who are maybe a bit more selfish than others. My character is really so caught up in his own little world, and keeping to himself to a certain extent. I wouldn’t really portray him as a villain. He’s a victim, as are most of the people in the film.

What was the greatest challenge for you in terms of performing in the film?

It’s two-fold, I think. On a more ideological basis, it’s the idea that I am a huge fan of the Carpenter version of the movie, and we wanted to make sure we did that justice and didn’t do anything in any way that was derivative, or cheapened his legacy. So there was that.

And I think the other biggest challenge for me at the end of the day was my character, because he’s so much of a loner, and he keeps largely to himself. A lot of my work in the film is being in scenes and not necessarily telling people what I think or expressing my opinion, for fear of sharing too much information, so I have a lot of brooding, standing amongst the others, speculating and not saying what’s on my mind, so that was a very internal process, to try and find all of that inner monologue to play for myself, to keep myself engaged in all the scenes.

Trying to say things without saying things?

Essentially, yeah, he’s that type of character, very much in contrast to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, who is the mouthpiece in the film in terms of always being the one who speculates as to what might be going on and tries to initiate some type of plan, and my characters is very much out for himself and trying to figure out how to best preserve himself, so he’s not interested in sharing anything with other people. He just wants to keep himself alive.


What was it like working with Mary Elizabeth Winstead?

She’s an absolutely lovely woman, and a very good performer, and I think a good anchor for this film. I’m very dismayed sometimes when I go online and read some of the stuff they’re throwing around on some of the forums for this film, that people slight her for being a woman in a film that they think should be all men.

There’s no such thing as a canon when it comes to this, because in Carpenter’s original draft of the thing, he had a female character, but they were having trouble casting her, so they made the character male. The book, the whole universe that this was based on, had female characters and so did the Howard Hawks film. So I don’t think it’s a problem having a female lead. She does a really, really incredible job. She’s very compelling to watch. She’s not, in any way, shape or form, a lightweight actor–she’s got a depth and a heft to her that I think people who go and give themselves over to the film will see that. She’s a solid actor.

A few non-Thing related questions. What would you say your sense of fashion is like?

When I’m dressed up, I’m definitely like the elegance and the simplicity of some of the Prada men’s clothing line, particularly with suits and things. I like the trim nature of some of their suits.

In casual life, I tend to be very drawn to some of the clothing line from places like H&M. Somewhat European, maybe a little more stylized, but comfortable and accessible type of clothing. I generally don’t like to be fussy about the clothes I like to wear, but I do like clothes that are a little bit tailored. Whenever I can wear suits, I try to wear suits. It feels good to be in a suit.

Do you have a favourite designer?

At the end of the day, I still do have a preference for Armani suits. I must say, they are very, very nice. So that stuff, for sure. Giorgio Armani, I do like. And beyond that, I would be kind of stuck to nail it down to just one particular style, one particular designer.

What’s in store for you in the future? What are some exciting things readers should know about?

Well, I’m currently in pre-production on a television series, a genre television series, for GK films in Los Angeles and Shaw Media in Canada–A project called Out of Time, which is essentially a show about a cop from the future, who chases a bunch of villainous criminals from the year 2077 back to present day. They travel back to escape a death sentence in their time, and it’s her job to track them down and bring them back to justice. We’re in pre-production now, and they’re taking it to MIP to line it up with a broadcaster in the States and internationally, and it will be in production probably in November-ish and coming out on television next late-Spring, early Summer.

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