Back in October, I and a handful of journalists were invited to visit the New Orleans set of 'Green Lantern.' We got to talk to stars Ryan Reynolds, Mark Strong, as well as director Martin Campbell, and designers Grant Major and Ngila Dickson. Our group interview with Mark Strong is below. Fair warning for the non-‘Green Lantern’ readers and spoilerphobic -– the interview below contains some spoilers. They'll be marked, but beware!
Mark Strong plays Hal Jordan’s Lantern mentor, Sinestro, and he looks like this:
So when Mark Strong walks in the room wearing full makeup and five inch platform shoes, it’s all a bit stunning. As you can see, he's a purple humanoid with a widow’s peak to put Eddie Munster to shame. Despite this jarring appearance, Sinestro, the greatest of the lanterns, is not the least bit ridiculous and even in the costume, Strong has gravitas. Even so, we were all pretty distracted by the getup, hence the line of questioning everyone latched on to:
Q: Oh, I'll bet those boots are awful. How much do the boots weigh?
MARK STRONG: The boots, my disco boots, they're actually quite light.
Q: Is this part of the costume, too?
STRONG: Yeah, these are to make him -- he needs -- they're all specific heights, so he needs to be six foot seven. And the reason they're kind of wide and staggered is 'cause we just did the fight scene, and they need to be -- you know, so I didn't fall over and do my ankle, so these glorious disco boots and this suit is what I wear, yeah.
Q: Where does your real head start?
STRONG: There's two pieces of prosthetic. One sits on top like a hat, and the other is kind at the front to make the brow, and it comes around over the side here, so my real head is in there somewhere, a little bit lower than this.
Q: How long does it take to put on the makeup?
STRONG: Four and a half hours, probably down to four now, are we? About four, yeah.
Q: And are you excited this is your last day?
No, I've had a relatively kind of easy ride. This is day one hundred and two, and I've only been here for four weeks, so I've had a pretty simple run. You know, I'm sort of sad to be going, but, yeah, it would difficult to sustain, you know, day after day after day of getting in and out with this.
Q: I was just going to ask if you've tried to escape set and go to Starbucks looking like that.
STRONG: I've actually had to have an umbrella the whole time to kind of hide so that we don’t get photographed, 'cause I think a couple of shots got out in ‘Variety’ and this suit and Peter and his, you know, big head, so we've been trying to keep Sinestro as secret as possible, so the effect is, you know, maximum, hopefully, but I'd love to get out there and just see what happened.
Q: How did you know about this mythology, and what did you know about this character before you came onto this? And what did you learn once you got onto the picture?
STRONG: I didn’t really know -- well, I didn't know “Green Lantern.” Growing up in England, Marvel and DC weren't really our kind of comic. We had a very different kind of comic, but I started to read it. I e-mailed Geoff Johns, and I asked him about it. He put me in the right direction for, you know, “Rebirth” and, you know, “Secret Origins," and I started there.
And I've basically kind of got slightly addicted to it, I have to say. I mean, I know my sector is Sector 1417, first of all, which I wowed Geoff with the other day. He couldn’t quite believe it.
But I didn’t know very much, but it's such rich source material. Once you start, you know, it's hard to pull out.
SPOILER ALERT BELOW THE PHOTO:
Q: So most fans know that obviously Sinestro goes in a different direction or down a different path in the comic eventually. Are you putting any of that into your performance, or are you is there any foreshadowing that he could sort of go to a yellower side or something?
STRONG: I mean, he's an alien, you know, and in the movie, you have to decide, as an actor, how you're going to give a character like that presence. You can't really move and walk and talk like yourself. It's not enough -- you know, this creates something, so you have to find something of that, and so any back story and all of that is always useful, and the knowledge that Sinestro goes where he goes to is useful. But I'm trying not to foreshadow it.
But, having said all of that, he has a kind of a presence which is undeniably strong, so you -- what I'm trying to create is he goes to the dark side, not because he's inherently evil, but because he is a kind of control freak, a bit dictatorial militaristic guy who wants to keep order, so, for him, all that happens is that just -- you know, it's like a revolving circle.
It just tips over into him, you know, keeping the people in his sector under his thumb and deciding that even the Lantern corps are no longer worthy, so he goes off and forms his own corps in order to kind of perversely attack the Lanterns to try and make them better than they are, but he's -- you know, he loves the corps, and he is the greatest Green Lantern, and I'm just trying to give him a presence and a weight that is worthy of that.
I think that probably prefigures, and you will see in there that he's a guy that you don’t mess with who could easily go the other way.
Q: Could you talk about the voice? What kind of voice are you doing for the character?
STRONG: I'm trying to keep it rooted and doing an English accent, because, you know, we can all communicate through the ring, so it theoretically doesn't matter how you speak, but that's another thing that in my very long answer I was trying to get across which is the idea that I'm trying to create a guy that's worthy of this look. You know, you can’t sort of walk around in a normal and talk in a normal way.It's not quite as effective as giving it some weight, so I'm trying to just use my own kind of base tones and give him a strong voice.
Q: Well, it is kind of jarring to look at you right now. As to what you're trying to create, can you go into the how of, as a professional actor, pushing past the look of this and getting to the point where you're trying to go with it? How do you go about doing that?
STRONG: Well, first of all, you create the character yourself like you do normally, so, as an actor, I'm aware of his character traits. The physicality of the prosthetic and the lines that he's speaking, you know, he's talking about, you know, a corps that have protected millions of worlds for countless millennia. These are massive concepts.
I'm trying, as an actor, to kind of incorporate all of that and use the physicality of the possessing everything to kind of just -- I don’t know. It's almost Shakespearian is the best way I can describe it. It's like, when you're in the theater, and you're playing on a stage, and you need to fill a room, the best way I can describe it is we were always taught that you don't gesture like this, like you do in normal life.
You don't gesture. You do this, you do that, you know, but actually lift your arms and gesture properly when you're saying something is much more powerful, it’s stronger, and there's a scene in which I have a speech to all of the lanterns, and I just try and use a bit of that, you know, which is not naturalistic, but it--I think the whole thing will work together to give a kind of a strong character, you know. That's my hope, anyway.
Q: Are you committed to a second and a third film?
STRONG: Yeah, yeah, yeah, very much so. I think that was always the deal. That, if it was successful, that there is such a vast amount of source material, that there's plenty of storylines they can investigate.
Q: Is this the most blue screen work that you've ever done?
Q: How is that for you? How is that for you as an actor working with a lot of blue screen and really having to imagine so much stuff? Do you have any scenes that are practical?
STRONG: They're all in space. They're all on Oa, so they're all, you know, for better or worse, in a big blue room, but what's really interesting about that is you would think it might be unusual, but, actually, it's not. For me, I don’t know how other actors feel about it, coming from the theater, you know it’s not real. You can see the front couple of rows of the audience, you can see the lights, you know.
You walk off stage, and there's a props table, and, you know, one of the stage management standing there with a clipboard. You know it's not real, so what you're doing is creating illusion. You've walking out on stage and encouraging people to believe that, by nature of the story and your characterization, that something's taking place that they can lose themselves in, and it works in the theater, and, to me, it's the same in here.
I don’t need the stuff there to imagine it. What's really useful, though, is there are the drawings around and models that you can always go and refer to, and that gives you a sense of the space, for example, that, if you making a speech the lanterns, the space that they're in, but it's all imagination, so, ironically, it's not that different, it's not that different.
Q: You also have a battle scene with Ryan where you guys are showing constructs against each other. Could you talk about filming that, and, how obviously, it's a different kind of fight when you're fighting with rings and constructs. Could you talk about filming that?
STRONG: Well, it's fascinating, because you can't just rely on the traditional methods of weapon fighting like you do in most movies. You've now got imagination coming into play, and the fight with Hal is really interesting, because the constructs -- we also decided -- Sinestro, because he's so evolved, basically used constructs for the whole fight.
But there was a decision taken we that wanted to get physical, you know, just get in there and get physical, and, ironically, Hal's constructs are very earthbound. They’re very naïve. They're very new Lantern, you know, very--he might--he could create anything. He just comes up with swords and guns you know, so it’s fascinating.
They have this fight which is a mixture of, you know, physical fighting, sword fighting and also evolving constructs, and we rehearsed that as you do a normal fight, and you just imagine those constructs when you're throwing them at each other.
Q: What's your favorite construct that you use in the film?
STRONG: Probably -- well, ironically, probably the simplest which is the blade which I choose to fight him with, because there's a line we put in. The sword is the first thing that he can think of to defend himself. I say, “Swords? How human” and I get two of them (he makes a noise like schwing) and, suddenly, he's got two, and you can see Hal thinking, ‘I didn't think to get two,’ you know.
Q: But yours is shaped like some sort of alien (sword)?
STRONG: No, I fight him on his terms. I fight him on his terms, and then I show him a thing or two. Yeah.
Q: One of the things that we've all discovered today is how much this production is not shying away from the, for lack of a better term, bizarre science fiction aspects of "The Green Lantern" franchise which is made most of us pretty damn happy today.
Q: I'm wondering what was something that when you discovered it either looking at the art direction or just learning about the script, when you said, wow, that's really frickin’ weird, I want to see what that's going to look like on screen?
STRONG: All of it. I mean, you see all that production, and all of it is mind blowing. The Citadel that the Guardians live in is just an incredible idea. You know, they're all around you like some sort of upside down spider or something, and they're all at the top, where the central battery's located in that big cave where the lanterns are all called for the meeting just looks amazing.
And, you know, I've seen little bits of footage of constructs being thrown, you know, early ideas for jet engines and things and the way, for example, Tomar-Re lands. He lands in an individual way to do it the way he looks. The way I fly or Hal flies is slightly different. That whole world of space and getting your head around how you're going to use it has been really fascinating.
Q: Ryan was talking before about the chemistry you guys had working together. Can you tell me a little bit about working with him and developing the relationship between Sinestro and Hal?
STRONG: Yeah, I mean, every day I go to work with Ryan, I'm kind of blown away by how perfect he is to play this part. The more I find out about Ryan, the more I realize he has a fantastic combination of, you know, strength and good looks and hero kind of power about him.
But he has this flip side, as well, which he can turn on sixpence and make you laugh, and he has a vulnerability about him, as well, which I just think suits Hal Jordan perfectly, and, the other day, we had a scene which, you know, it gets very heavy. The way some of the stories are written in the comics, there are very heavy notions of things being said, you know, and there's, you know, intergalactic stuff going on.
And to have somebody who can just pull the rug from out undermine and make you laugh is so--such a clever idea, such a good idea, and he is rather brilliant at that. For example, I mean, what did he say the other day? I had to say something. He's off back to see the Guardian, go back to earth to try and save his – I can’t tell you 'cause I'll ruin it.
I can't say. I just realized it, so it's a great gag and in a moment when I'm probably at my most serious, and the stakes are at their highest, he just comes out with a line, that brilliantly turns everything on its head. I mean, in Shakespeare, for example, I said this the other day, immediately before the Duke of Clarence is drowned in the malmsey butt in Richard the Third by these two murderers. It's a horrific scene.
But the scene immediately before is a comedy scene with these two murderers stumbling around in the dark going, "Oh, I think I've got an attack of conscience. I don’t know. Can you do it?” “No, I can’t do it,” and then kind of riffing off each other, and it's funny, and then the scene immediately after with his death is therefore twice as disturbing.
And I think what Ryan brings is that, the fact that you can see his vulnerability and the fact that he has that twist of humor makes all the superpower hero stuff even more impressive.
SPOILER ALERT BELOW THE PHOTO:
Q: Having, you know, at least to American audiences, basically played three villains in a row, do you have any hesitancy about taking this role knowing that, down the road, he might, you know, turn to the bad side again?
STRONG: No, I have to say, all these villains, they're all great parts. I just want to play them, you know. I can't imagine myself sitting at home going, no, that's too many villains, no. I'm going to sit at home and wait for a musical or something.
They're just too interesting to play, and, anyway, you know, I love Sinestro in this first one, because what you get is a sense of a man who is in control of this incredible corps that has an immense amount of strength and confidence and arrogance, but nevertheless has a grudging respect by the end of the movie for this new Lantern.
Q: In the same vein as, like, the balance of comedy and seriousness, you know, lending or playing off of each other, can you talk a little bit about maybe imbuing your character with a sense of humanity or comedy or dramatic air when you're not a human, your character is not human?
STRONG: It's difficult to imagine Sinestro cracking gags or, you know, having any kind of vulnerability or any of the things that would play against his strength, certainly in the moment, 'cause he's kind of introduced in this film, especially as we know where he goes to. I'm not sure that that would be a right note, and I think our faithfulness to the comics reflects in the fact that Sinestro, you know -- I'm not sure that he has -- there were a couple of lines that were quite funny.
But he doesn’t come across to me as particularly funny in the comics. I think his job is to be powerful so that we can't speak on that at the moment, but who knows, you know. In the future, he might crack a few gags.
What do you think? Are you excited to see Mark Strong's performance as Sinestro? Let us know in the comments.