Justin Cook chatted with Stephen Lang and Robert Sheehan at New York Comic Con after Mortal Engines’ panel…
Producer Peter Jackson, director Christian Rivers and company have assembled a cast comprised of acting newcomers (Jihae), industry veterans (Hugo Weaving) and everything in between for their upcoming foray into the young adult genre, Mortal Engines. After the team’s lively New York Comic Con panel at Madison Square Garden, Flickering Myth had the pleasure of speaking to two members of the Mortal Engines cast: Stephen Lang and Robert Sheehan.
Lang plays a vicious half-man, half-machine bounty hunter named Shrike (in a motion capture performance), and Robert Sheehan plays Tom Natsworthy, a historian and eventual resistance fighter forced to team up with the main character, Hera Hilmar’s Hester, after being thrown out of a mobilized London.
Roughly three-and-a-half decades into his acting career, Lang is no stranger to blockbuster projects, having caught audiences’ attention with his villainous turn as Colonel Quaritch in James Cameron’s Avatar, a role that he will reportedly return to for the sequels. But, memorable parts in Manhunter, Tombstone, Don’t Breathe and Into the Badlands, just to name a few, are what further cements his status as one of the premier character actors in Hollywood.
Lang’s Shrike didn’t make an appearance in the first 25 minutes of the movie shown at the convention, but Sheehan’s Tom was all over the footage, giving audiences a hint at some of the character’s genuine good-heartedness and intelligence.
Sheehan, on the other hand, has steadily been making a name for himself over the past decade, earning a BAFTA nomination for his role in E4’s Misfits, starring in another ‘Mortal’ YA adaptation, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and popping up in such high-profile project as Geostorm and Genius: Picasso.
Check out Flickering Myth’s conversation with both below…
Obviously, in this movie, you’re playing a bounty hunter, and in the past you’ve played a bunch of [other] intimidating characters. What about characters that are [intimadating], scary or evil draws you to playing them?
Stephen Lang: I’m drawn to good characters whether they be good or bad. You never see them that way anyway. [With] Shrike, good or bad doesn’t really come into play with this particular character, he really just is programmed to be a certain way, but there are things that kind of intervene within him. He’s actually programmed to do bad, but there’s something within him that motivates him towards something far more positive, towards the light. And yet, he can’t overcome his function, which is… killing. What had drew me to this role had less to do with him as a killer and everything to do with him as trying to find a soul, trying to find himself, trying to find what he lost. It’s a very emotional role actually.
What’s the difference in terms of working on big-budget movies like this and Avatar versus something that is mid-budget like Don’t Breathe, what’s the environment on set like and how does it differ?
Lang: Don’t Breathe was a very focused concentrated shoot, there was no second unit going particularly. On a film like Mortal Engines, there really are multiple units going, you may be working with stunt unit, you may be working on first unit. There’s a lot more technology involved in this, of course, it’s performance capture. Every movie has its own set of differences and similarities to me. But this one was, oh my gosh, it was a really interesting shoot to be a part of. When I’m working in the picture, I’m so, sort of, focused, when I get on set, on really being on who I am supposed to be, that the circumstances don’t phase me one way or another.
So what’s your process for getting into character for your typical character. I know you mentioned [for this character] you looked up things about birds and “Swan Lake.”
Lang: My process in acting is kind of a kitchen sink project, I’ll do whatever it takes, whatever occurs to me. There are no wrong approaches, but you want to find the thing that’s most useful to you. When you play a blind man, I think it’s really really important, to experience to learn what that means, to learn what your capabilities, what your limitations are, and then to go beyond them if necessary. Playing a role like Shrike, an imagined character, you start off by maybe finding metaphors for the characters – ‘He’s like a predatory bird, he’s like a praying mantis.’ And then kind of go to town with that, ‘well how does that manifest. What’s the physical manifestation of that, what does this character sound like?’ And then you go to the books, you go to the source and maybe, say, ‘his voice sounded like a rusty wrench being drawn across a blackboard.’ Well OK, (mimicking sound) what does that mean? So it really is trial and error, it’s being guided by a good director and just sort of finding the light, you’re really just searching, just looking and looking and looking. And once in a while you go, ‘I hit it, that was it, that was it.’
You mentioned about working with a great director, what was it about Christian [Rivers] that really brought that out in you?
Lang: His patience, his kindness, his creativity. He just was really there, and he was very very specific. He’d tune things. He’d say ‘ooh I like that, let’s see if we can move it here.’ I feel that he not only supported my work, he guided and really helped it. You know, you always want to feel that no matter what role you’re playing, there’s a part of this film that is about. You should feel that way, but at the same time, you always need to understand that you’re part of a larger vision. And you need to trust that, and that really has to do with your relationship with trusting the director and Christian is more than trustworthy.
What was it like to debut those first 25 minutes in front of this huge audience in the Madison Square Garden today?
Robert Sheehan: You know, in the times that we live in, [there] being entertainment Comic Cons, it’s a very lively and a very crowded playground, so I think it was a brave move by the filmmakers to show this. And the thing is we saw in a previous trailer the moment where Hugo [Weaving’s] character Valentine kicks my character, essentially down off the [platform] and off of London, so allowing this audience to see the turn of events that happened up to that point, I think was a clever move, because they were going ‘well, we’ve shown this pretty big important twist in the story, so let’s show them that first stage.’ I don’t think we lost anything by showing off that first 25 minutes, as a result of that bit being in the trailer previously, which frankly I wasn’t wild about.
What was some of the stunt/[physical] training you did for this movie? Was that challenging for you to tackle?
Sheehan: You know, the job was really physical for me, but it was mostly, running, jumping, running, jumping, falling… but I was wary about my levels of fitness going into this [film], so I got stuck in and got a personal trainer. But because when Tom finally gets into the fight, it’s a little bit more non-contact, so I didn’t do any hand-to-hand combat training for this. But I’ve done stuff before, lots and lots of sword training. It’s like riding a bike.
Thousands of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved. Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan)—who hails from a Lower Tier of the great traction city of London—finds himself fighting for his own survival after he encounters the dangerous fugitive Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar). Two opposites, whose paths should never have crossed, forge an unlikely alliance that is destined to change the course of the future.
Mortal Engines is set to hit cinemas in the UK on December 8th and in the US on December 14th. Rivers directs a cast that includes Hera Hilmar (Da Vinci’s Demons), Stephen Lang (Avatar), Hugo Weaving (The Lord of the Rings), Robbie Sheehan (Fortitude), Ronan Raftery (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Leila George (Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?), Jihae (Mars), Colin Salmon (Limitless), Patrick Malahide (Game of Thrones) and Rege-Jean Page (Roots).