The Welsh star talks about his first blockbuster
Stage actor, sometime musician and that scrawny dude in Notting Hill, Welshman Rhys Ifans has any number of different faces. With appearances in everything from Twin Town to Anonymous, via The 51st State, 44 year old Ifans seemed to be skirting the boundaries of Hollywood. But now he’s dived right in with a role as the main villain in comic book retelling The Amazing Spider-Man. We caught up with the affable star in Cancun for a chat about becoming a nine foot tall lizard, technology and childhood dalliances with the character.CLICK: How did you find yourself being cast in this massive blockbuster?
RI: I went to meet Marc Webb and the producers and did an audition. [Grins] Got the gig.CLICK: And there were many others auditioning?
RI: I think so, apparently yea. I don’t want to know who though!CLICK: The comic character is interesting because he’s not really a villain – but a guy who is trying to do something good. Was that appealing?
RI: Yea absolutely, just to see what happens to a good mind that goes wrong, you know. So often the most interesting villains for me are those who want to change the world and want to do good but obviously in the eyes of the good guy it’s clumsy or reckless to say the least. So I was interested to see how a man’s’ passion for his science and his need to do good could turn into rage.
CLICK: How difficult was it to shoot with the extensive CGI?
RI: Not so difficult, no. I was expecting it to be a lot more hellish than it was. I was expecting every day to be in makeup for nice hours and feeling claustrophobia and not being able to smoke! [laughs]. But actually I was only in that heavy makeup because the lizard itself is CGI’d completely but they did take loads of scans of my face so disturbingly there are times when look at the lizard and go ‘fuckin hell! – that’s me in there!’. Which is cool, you know. But for the most part it was a very domestic film set.CLICK: You said you were very intent on doing the performance capture yourself on stage. Was that very bizarre?
RI: No because I’ve done so much theatre. Yea you just get to engage. And with a green screen, and there wasn’t so much of that either, you get to engage your imagination you know. And you do things that I’d say a lot of actors might be embarrassed about but the theatre enables you to make a prick of yourself on a regular basis. So there were days, there was one day I came on set and they had another guy doing my lizard thing, this bug guy. And I looked at Marc Webb and said: ‘he’s doing the walk wrong man, that’s not how you do it.’ So then from that point on I did it. And I really enjoyed that, the pressures off in a way. You’re in a big green suit and you look like a crash test dummy. But I just loved, having not done a film like this before, I was just like a schoolboy. I’d just get on set and be fascinated – all these people walking around with the 3D glasses. It was just like… amazing. And all these different departments. I didn’t feel like an actor, I felt like a punter! And I just spent the whole day asking people: ‘what does he do and what are they up to, what’s that bloody model for?!’ it was just brilliant! And you can’t look at it as being in this big corporate monster that’s going to swallow you. But it does reduce you to the inquisitiveness of a child and I loved it.CLICK: So was it a mocap suit with the balls on and everything?
RI: No, no – it was like a green suit with those crash test disk things on it.CLICK: Comic books aren’t as popular in the UK and Ireland – so what was your first interaction with the character?
RI: When I got the job you obviously ask that question. I don’t remember being a Spider-Man fan as such but I do remember the currency of comics. I didn’t collect them avidly, I wasn’t a boffin but I did have a box of comics.CLICK: For swapping with people?
RI: Yea for swapping and stuff. And I do remember and I had never remembered it before but I had this really clear image of getting a Spider-Man comic and on the back you had this like cut-out spider-man mask. And you had to colour it in red and put two pins for the eyes. And I remember really thinking I was Spider-Man. You didn’t have the costume then, I mean I’m 44 you know and now they have the whole thing. And I also funnily enough when I did production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist at the Donmar Warehouse about seven years ago there’s a scene at the beginning of the play where the maniac, there’s a character called the maniac in this political Italian farce, who climbs up the walls of a police station to reap havoc on the police. And this was a new production and I asked if I could enter as Spider-Man in a small suit because I wanted a low gusset that would inhibit my movements. And so I have actually worn that suit before Andrew Garfield!CLICK: Did you get to keep the costume?
RI: Eh, no!CLICK: If you had to define the Lizard he’s a victim of the situation maybe?
RI: He’s a victim of his own… compassion.CLICK: Avi Arad has said for years that The Lizard is his favourite villain. Have you talked to him about that? Is it exciting?
RI: Yea. it’s quite scary though too – when Avi says Curt Connors is his favourite character you just think –‘I better not fuck it up.’CLICK: He said he had a load of concept drawings?
RI: When I got the job obviously there’d been like months and months of work done previously. So you are very pleasantly bombarded with so much visual information from the start and that’s again, you just have to be a punter. When somebody shows you a picture of your human character and your reptilian character drawn by the best animators in Hollywood.CLICK: You have to be kind of humble!
RI: It’s thrilling you know. You can’t not get off on that kind of thing. But I do think, obviously I know more about Connors than the other villains, but I do think there’s something very very tragic about him you know. And also there’s an emotional correlation between him and Peter Parker too, regardless of the father issue. But they’re both kind of lost and looking for something, they both don’t feel complete. So there’s something very moving about these two guys looking for the same thing and then becoming adversaries. That’s an enduring kind of theme throughout history –brothers falling out and that; it’s a theme that repeats itself. Rhys Ifans talks The Amazing Spider-Man Enlarge CLICK: Were you familiar with 500 Days of Summer?
RI: Oh yea absolutely. And you think on paper that’s a strange choice in the same way I’m a strange choice for this. But I loved that film and I totally saw what the producers were thinking in employing Marc for this in the sense that it gives it a real kind of, and I emphasise the word real, emotional world. And I think possibly that’s what the previous Spider-Man movies veered away from – they became more and more fantastical. And I don’t think by any means that this is a darker Spider-Man-man, which everyone seems to expect because that’s what happened to Batman. I don’t know that it’s darker but its without question far more complex emotionally and then consequently its realer. So everything that happens in our movie is tangible. You know the science is possible, we just haven’t got there yet and I think in Andrews’s performance you really see a twitching teenager discovering his body if you like. It’s an allegory for puberty in many ways. And I think on those levels it’s a far denser film and I think that’s definitely something Marc Webb brought to it.CLICK: It’s only been 10 years since the original – are there enough original elements to justify this?
RI: I think if we can… if you can go to the theatre in London and there’s a new Hamlet every year. I don’t know when the last Spider-Man was made…CLICK: 2002…
RI: So there’s a whole new generation now faced with a very different world and I think each generation of young people and teenagers need a Spider-Man. Because he’s really the only superhero that represents a youth culture. The other ones are like millionaires that live in mansions, not something I can relate to. So I think it’s very important to do that and I don’t think it’s a cynical move by the studio by a long shot. I think now more than any other time, given the ecological, monetary state of the world, it’s in more flux now than it has been for the last hundred years, you know. And I think this generation now needs something or someone to reflect that.CLICK: And we get Spider-Man!
RI: Yea, you get Spider-Man! And I’m the villain! Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in The Amazing Spider-Man Enlarge CLICK: Was Stan Lee on set much?
RI: Oh yea he came in; I think he’s been in every one of them. And he’s in a great scene, I won’t give it away…CLICK: I think he did already – he said he danced in a library or something?
RI: Yea that’s right. It’s just the funniest thing. I just love the scene. And you know what this has again – that’s a very funny scene and I’m glad that even though this Spider-Man-man has got realer and slightly darker that it still retains its humour. There are moments where you will smile if not laugh. But they’re not there at the expense of the realism.CLICK: And I presume you’ll have an action figure?!
RI: I guess. That’s really cool yea. But he’ll probably be green with a nine foot tail! And no one will recognise me!The Amazing Spider-Man is out now, read our review or check out more interviews and a great competiton in our content hub! Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man Enlarge