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Actors often get all the credit for a successful movie. We forget that there are so many people behind the movies that we love. The Legend of Tarzan was a surprise to me. It had way more depth and intensity than I ever expected. I couldn’t help but wonder what the process of bringing Tarzan back to the big screen was. I mean, we’ve heard the story 1000 times, but we’ve never heard it like this before! A group of bloggers and I were honored to chat with the actors who play Tarzan and Jane and to Director, David Yates.
If you remember the name, but can’t quite place it, David Yates was the Director is the last four Harry Potter movies. In other words, he’s kinda a big deal. I had the pleasure of speaking to this imaginative director about his visions for The Legend of Tarzan. After watching the ferocity play out on the big screen, I expected David Yates to be just as wild. But what walked in, was a very soft-spoken, polite man that was ready to chat about how he felt about a modern version of Tarzan.
Mr. David Yates: I was reading lots and lots of scripts after Harry Potter. And Tarzan came across my desk. And I thought, “I know this character. I know this world.” When I was a kid growing up in the north of England, I saw those old Johnny Weissmuller films on the telly all the time. And so, I opened the script.. And it was immediately obvious it wasn’t going to be difficult at all because this wasn’t, “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”
It was about human being who had changed. He’d gone civilization. He’d gone to London. He’d become an English lord. He was living in a big stately home. And he sort of lost touch with his roots in Africa.
And then as I got into it more and more, what I really loved about it, I was reading lots of scripts. But, none of them had a beating heart like this one. None of them felt exciting in a kind of romantic way.
And even though it was an old character, it felt very fresh to me.
So, immediately, I didn’t think it was going to be very difficult for an audience to go, “Well, I thought I knew it, but I don’t know this character.”
And there was the politics. It was the fun and the comedy. It was the romance. It was the big epic sweeping landscapes. It was all of those things that just felt–I haven’t seen this for a long time. You know, so, that made it feel fresh and different to me.
So, I fell in love with that as soon as I read it really.
David Yates continues to speak about the true heart of the film – Tarzan and Jane, “It was about two human beings that ultimately save each other”. He was incredibly moved that the heart of the film was about a mutual, unconstrained love. He continues, “Jane saves Tarzan at the beginning of the movie. And by the second half of the movie is really about him trying to save her. But, without each other, they’re incomplete. You know, he’s kind of strong and connected to the environment and loves animals and has these extraordinary abilities. But, without her, he can’t really survive.”
The love story in The Legend of Tarzan seems so effortless and natural. That’s what makes this movie so easy to fall in love with. It’s an action-packed love story that makes you feel something. For the first time ever, audiences feel like they are truly connected to Tarzan and Jane. It’s a fantastical story that has been introduced to the real world – not without it’s challenges, of course.
David Yates: So, for me, it was about that relationship and making that resonate and feel moving and timeless, just finding chemistry between two actors that you really believe and that you want to stay with basically. So, getting Alex and Margot was a big piece of the puzzle, to bring those two together.
The other challenge in making a big movie like this is technically, what you’re looking at is shooting in actual jungles – it’s a nightmare basically.
We went to Gabon. I went with my crew to Gabon. And what you do is you go into the jungle for half an hour. And my lovely crew who are all these delicate Brits, we go in. And when we come out the other side, we’re covered with sort of stuff, and things have dropped on us, and we’re all exhausted after half an hour.
So, you realize that, to sort of bring this story to the screen requires a different approach. And so, it involved recreating some of this world in the way we created Harry Potter.
You know, we build some of it. And that was the biggest challenge, how you realize it and make it feel real.
Romantic but real is the key I think!
Q. Can you talk about a little bit casting Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz as the sidekick and the villain because they’re the perfect counterparts to Margot and Alexander?
I had to bring Sam into this movie because it was needed. Tarzan’s got a history which is sort of checkered with a bit of–you know, a bit of dodgy politics, racism. And what was appealing about this story is it sort of–it jettisoned all that nonsense. All that belongs in the past. And this story was about very present-world values.
And I just thought it was just such a delicious thing to bring Sam Jackson into a Tarzan movie because he’s cool. For me and for a lot of audiences around the world, Sam is a proper iconic actor of immense standing and skill. You know, there aren’t many of them actually.
Actually, you could probably count them on one hand. And he is one of them. And he brings dignity, grace, nobility, humor. He’s got everything, you know? So, it was a no-brainer. If you’re going to remake Tarzan, bring someone as cool and as iconic as Sam into that mix.
And it completely changes the sort of perception of what the movie is. Plus, the character Sam plays, George Washington Williams, is a real human being, existed.
Director, David Yates goes on to explain how the character that Samuel L. Jackson plays te role of an actually human being. So, in the movie, her writes a letter that he reads aloud calling out King Leopold. “Those words are from a letter that George Washington Williams actually wrote to King Leopold to reveal what he was doing in the Congo. And if you’re going to get an actor to play that character, you want someone who’s as smart, as resourceful, as witty, and as subversive as Sam can be.”
Mr. Yates went on to explain how the funny cat and mouse game that he played with Christoph Waltz was. Being an actor with incredibly wit and talent, Waltz is very particular with the roles that he takes on. His first impression when approached for the role as the villian, Captain Rom wasn’t a good one. Understandably he felt as if Tarzan was an old story that everyone already knows… until he read the script.
David Yates explains Christoph’s response to reading the script, “And then he read the script, and he felt really encouraged and excited about coming onboard. And actually, Christoph’s character in the original script started out as this machismo sort of super cool soldier. He was a real physical match for Tarzan. He was like this sword-wielding, pistol-shooting sort of uber general. So, in that big opening scene, he sort of takes down about 20 of the Mbolongo warriors. And then we sent it to Christoph. And quite rightly, he said, ‘David, this isn’t me. I’m not sure I can do that.’ And he said, ‘Plus, it’s not that interesting'”.
And so, they worked more on developing a character that was more interesting, more menacing because we all know that Christoph Waltz plays menacing very well. He explained how Christoph was excited about this character and was quite hand on in the developing process.
Most actors have an opinion about the role they’re playing. But, he brings a lot to the table. And he doesn’t just look at their character, his character. He’ll look at the scene. And then he’ll look at the scene within the sequence. And then he’ll look at the sequence within the movie.
And he’ll go, “My character wouldn’t necessarily do that. You don’t need that, David. Why don’t you cut it? Why don’t you lose that because I think it spoils that moment later with Jane and Tarzan?”
So, he really generous–actually, we were blessed in that way with both Alex, Margot, Sam, you know, all of them. They all thought beyond their role. They were partners really in a way and incredibly helpful as we sort of navigated our way through the story.
David Yates goes on to explain how he chose Alexander Skarsgård and Margot Robbie for the roles as Tarzan and Jane. Sometimes the selection process is as simple as liking an actor’s body. I know it sounds funny, but it’s important in a movie like this.
David Yates: But, for me, if you’re swinging through the jungle, you need really long arms, really long legs. You need to have dexterity. And you need to be able to move in a beautiful way. So, oddly, his verticality for me was crucial.
As for Margot Robbie – David Yates wasn’t familiar with her yet. The studio actually introduced them. They were raving about her so much that he thought she might be a little too glamorous for the role of Jane. I mean, Jane has to be a woman that’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. Not just any woman would love a wild man like Tarzan. He was pleasantly surprised when he first met her.
And it must be the Australian in her, but she was a real earthy tomboy. She was really regular, down to earth. She was like a boy in a way–in a good way. She was just very unpretentious. And I thought, “Well, if we’re going to have a Jane, let’s have an unpretentious Jane who’s earthy and gets on with it, knows her own mind, but she’s beautiful as well.” As soon as I met her, I thought, “The studio has got this right. I really like here. I think she’d be great.”
Purchase your tickets to The Legend of Tarzan on Fandango.
I absolutely loved hearing all about the casting of these stellar actors. David Yates was truly a pleasure to interview. He’s a very skilled director and his meek personality makes him that much more charming.
In Theaters July 1, 2016
From Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures comes the action adventure “The Legend of Tarzan,” starring Alexander Skarsgård (HBO’s “True Blood”) as the legendary character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The film also stars Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction,” the “Captain America” films), Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou (“Blood Diamond,” “Gladiator”), Oscar nominee John Hurt (“The Elephant Man,” the “Harry Potter” films), with Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (“Iris”), and two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”).
It has been years since the man once known as Tarzan (Skarsgård) left the jungles of Africa behind for a gentrified life as John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, with his beloved wife, Jane (Robbie) at his side. Now, he has been invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, unaware that he is a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by the Belgian, Captain Leon Rom (Waltz). But those behind the murderous plot have no idea what they are about to unleash.
David Yates (the final four “Harry Potter” films, upcoming “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) directed “The Legend of Tarzan” from a screenplay by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, story by Brewer and Cozad based on the Tarzan stories created by Burroughs. Legendary producer Jerry Weintraub (“Behind the Candelabra,” the “Ocean’s” trilogy) produced the film, together with David Barron (the “Harry Potter” films, “Cinderella”), Alan Riche (“Southpaw”) and Tony Ludwig (“Starsky & Hutch”). Susan Ekins, Nikolas Korda, Keith Goldberg, David Yates, Mike Richardson and Bruce Berman served as executive producers.
The behind-the-scenes creative team included director of photography Henry Braham (“The Golden Compass”), Oscar-winning production designer Stuart Craig (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “The English Patient,” the “Harry Potter” films), editor Mark Day (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 & 2”), and Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth Myers (“Emma,” “Unknown”).
“The Legend of Tarzan” was shot at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, as well as on location around the UK.
A Jerry Weintraub production, “The Legend of Tarzan” is slated for release on July 1, 2016. The film will be distributed in 2D and 3D in select theatres and IMAX by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, and in select territories by Village Roadshow Pictures.
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