AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Week: The LIZARD Speaks
In the build up to the movie's release, we have insights into the filmmaking process from all those involved. Thanks to a series of press conferences held in New York, NY early June, we can tell you exactly what to expect, and what these actors, writers, directors, and producers think about Spider-Man.
Today we start our coverage by taking a look inside the mind of the Lizard, Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans. Ifans was announced early without the character named, and several fans initially predicted The Vulture, another animal-inspired villain of Spider-Man's. With deep ties to Oscorp and Peter Parker's father Richard in the film, Connors becomes the lynchpin that holds the whole story together. During his press conference, Ifans talks about what it was like to play a villain, what attracted him to the role, dichotomy, and a disturbing vision for a new character called the amazing Goat-Man. Just read on, trust us.
Question: Did they show you the designs for the Lizard before you took on the role? Or how early?
Rhys Ifans: Really early on, I think even way before we started. I was kind of bombarded by visual stimuli throughout, which was really useful.
Ifans: It's Spider-Man, right? [Smiles.] You don't say no to that! And also, you know, I was on a little island in the Mediterranean when a bit of the script came, and then I heard Marc Webb was the director, I'd seen 500 Days of Summer and thought it was a beautiful, beautiful film, and thought it was a brave, interesting, fantastic choice for a director. So I thought, well if Marc is on board, I didn't know him but I knew his work, so I thought maybe there's a chance here, they're going at this from a different place.
I flew in to meet with [producers] Matt [Tolmach], and Avi [Arad] and Marc, and I kind of lost my mind in the office when I met them, and I got the gig.
What fascinated me about the character, was the whole, unlike the villain who comes in to just spar with Spider-Man, he has a real emotional connection with Peter's father, and that he is a very intelligent scientist who genuinely wants to benefit and change the lives of thousands of humans, limbless humans in this case. We see kids coming back from war zones with lost limbs. So science and technology would be of huge benefit to millions of people.
I was interested to see how his hunger for the advancements of that science and his moral conflict with the corporation that he works for, that obviously wants to benefit financially from this technology at the expense of unwitting New Yorkers. Connors, to the end, is morally repelled by that decision, and decides to become his own lab rat. But he doesn't figure what that cold blooded sort of sense of hubris does to a compassionate human mind.
Ifans: There wasn't any kind of a rock and roll inspiration for Connors cause you know, you need two hands to play guitar!
I just think the whole Spider-Man franchise is rock and roll. I think the soundtrack to this film, by the way, is fantastic. On set, Marc, who is a huge music fan and we share very similar musical tastes, very diverse… there is one scene in particular. The drug Connors takes gives him this sense of euphoria, the strength of ten men; and that's why he keeps becoming the Lizard. While we were shooting the scene where Connors for the first time sees his new hand appear through this reptilian chrysalis, Marc played Velvet Underground's "Heroin" sung by Lou Reed, and it's a beautiful song about addiction. We let this whole song run and this hand appear, and it was just really moving. We didn't use it in the film of course, but that's the way Marc works. So that's the rock and roll bit done.
Denis and I were the only smokers on the set, so we'd often find each other, with me in varying degrees of reptilia, and him on the other side of the law. So a cop and a lizard sharing a smoke. [Laughs.] I thought that would be a great poster, but no!
Question: Most of the villains in the Spider-Man series are sympathetic, what was your take on that?
Ifans: Yeah, Connors is sympathetic, like I said earlier, he wants to benefit the world with the advancement of the science he's studying. Yeah, he's a good man. What I found interesting about him also is that there's a lot that's unsaid. He holds a lot of secrets particularly in the disappearance of Peter's parents. There's a lot he wants to tell Peter but can't for reasons some of which are revealed in this movie, some of which aren't. Some of which may be in movies to come, I don't know.
Question: The other big part of Spider-Man villains is the dichotomy: it's a huge part of the Lizard and Curt Connors, a huge part of Green Goblin and Norman Osborn; what were some stories you maybe looked to for inspirations, whether from comics or any other classic literature?
Ifans: Well not from comics or such. But if you look at, many great advancements of science have had a duality of benefiting mankind and ultimately destroying it. We look at Oppenheimer, he wanted to end the war, but ending the war meant slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Japanese. So that's one example. [Laughs.] Quite a good one I thought!
Ifans: I am aware of it, but making a cup of coffee is alchemy to me! [Laughs.]
I'm very fascinated by it. I was talking to Avi [Arad] about it last night. All of the science, particularly the advancements in technology like CGI, are very real sciences. It's there, it's a very tangible science, our research and work on genetics is very much advanced and nanotechnology. We are at the foothills of everything we see in this film.
There's currently, they're developing a thing from goat's milk, a thread from goat's milk that is super super strong. And it kind of made me think of, how sexy would Goat-Man be? Swinging through New York, squirting super strong milk thread from its tits? I might pitch that to Sony.
Question: You played the most effects driven character in the entire film, how was that?
Ifans: Of course the CGI part was taken care of by very clever men. I was very aware of that, but there was also the transitional moments for Connors where he's becoming The Lizard or the comedown. And that would entail me sitting in a makeup chair for 7 to 8 hours with four makeup artists, and I emphasize the word artists, working on the various parts of my body, applying silicon pieces and painting each scale individually. It was just, what on paper might sound excruciating was actually fascinating to see how these people work. It was also really informative for my character because it basically allowed me to observe what would happen in half an hour "real time" as he changes from human to reptilian, I was able to view that, if you like, in slow motion, this very dramatic physical change. After 7 hours in a chair with not enough cigarettes, I was kind of in the right mental state to play a man who was about to transform into a 9 foot tall lizard with a dangerous tail!
Question: What was your experience working with Stone and Garfield?
Ifans: I never once saw or considered Andrew, Emma, or Marc as kids or virgins to the dubious craft of acting. Not at all. In fact, I was, more often than not humbled by their performances. Andrew in particular has given us a Spider-Man of such complexity and intelligence and beauty and poetry. I think it's just a phenomenal performance. On an emotional level when you see him and Emma fall in love for the first time, I really believe it's the first time. When you see his rage and his sense of injustice at the world, I believed that, because I felt those feelings that when I was Spider-Man's age. And that's the beauty of Spider-Man. You can take all those emotions you feel at that age in that teenage place of physical and emotional flux and it's all very real. I think Andrew mapped it out so eloquently, it's really moving and beautiful to watch. Physically, you see this kid who is riddled with hormones and issues and questions and pressures, and to see how that affects him physically and see him transform into this beautiful mercurial arachnid olympiad angel that penetrates the sky of New York. To see him leave that teenage chrysalis into the web making butterfly that he is at the end, it's quite a thing to behold.
I can't believe I got through that f***ing speech.
Yeah, so, the same thing applies to the goat. [Laughs.]
Question: In the last 12 months you've been in Anonymous and now Spider-Man; is variety a spice of life for you in your career? Do you try to do a lot of different things?
Ifans: It's never my intention, I guess I'm easily bored and want to move on. Or I play parts and people watch and go "he can't do that, let's give him something else!" I feel very lucky, I'm able to sustain a modicum of variety in an industry that really is built on, often, pigeon-holing.
Pigeon! That's another idea!
Question: Any ideas for follow-up films? Are you aware of where your character can go?
Ifans: I think there's a lot more to explore, not just with Connors, but in his relationship with Peter. There's a lot more to tell. Connors is a man of many secrets. So I don't know, I have no idea what's going to happen, I don't know!
Question: Did you walk away from this character feeling you'd learned something new?
Ifans: Yeah, I learned something about how you can lose sight of yourself through a passion for something that you think may benefit yourself and others. Sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself and that's kind of complicated. I didn't learn any more from this than I would from any other role. I wish I could give you a cleverer answer.
Question: What battle scars did you accumulate during stunt work?
Ifans: There weren't that many because I was kinda padded up. Other than heavy chafing I got away quite easily. But I did walk like a cowboy for a couple of days.
Question: Do different accents, like the American accent in this film, help them appeal to you more as an actor?
Ifans: I very rarely use my own accent. I think only two Welsh films have ever been made, and I was in both. So you just kind of learn it and do it.
Question: How did theater background help you in this?
Ifans: It really helps, actually, when it comes to green screen and stuff like that. You have to do stuff in the theater, apply your imagination a lot more than you would on a film set, you know? Generally, if you're looking at a New York landscape in a film, they fly you to New York. In the theater, [holds his hands up in a frame] here are your buildings. So you always have to apply your imagination. With green screen, you're using a stick that can so easily become a sword, a tennis racket can become a guitar, it's an extension of play. The theater changed your mind to apply it in a play. So in a strange way it helps, it doesn't feel weird, it feels fun.
I went to drama school and you do a number of different techniques and classes, and at one class you'd got asked to, you go in in the morning and the teacher would say to you, "you're a piece of bacon frying in a pan, try and portray that physically and see how it works." And you do it and you're going "what the f***, when am I ever going to play a piece of bacon?" and the next day they're going "okay, you're a lizard!" and f*** it, low and behold, here we are! So I'd say that to any drama students, if they tell you to be a tree, be a f***ing tree, you never know!
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