The Ham Yard Hotel near London’s Piccadilly Circus is about as dignified and calm as you can get to when you compare with the wild and epic world that was about to be unleashed on a packed screening room of journalists in the basement of the hotel, one of several that are based around London’s prestigious West End.
Yet, this was the place where Warner Brothers, with a little assistance from key cast and crew members, unleashed 20 minutes of footage from one of their upcoming potential blockbusters, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, which will bow Summer 2016.
Before the screening of this footage and an exclusive Q&A with the principal attendees, moderated by Edith Bowman, David Yates announced that the film is more or less finished, save for the mix, grading and one or two FX shots still pending and half-jokingly said that he wished he could show the whole film.
Not to worry. What was unleashed on this thong of journalists, including yours truly, was a pretty spectacular and impressive showreel of action, adventure and visual effects – and as such has the potential to become one of the key attractions of a summer that inevitably will contain a mix of the good and the indifferent – and doubtlessly will play catch-up with the latest CAPTAIN AMERICA offering, CIVIL WAR, when that is released at the end of April 2016.
The footage over, Director Yates, Producer David Barron and stars Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie were introduced on stage for a photo call to a wide cross-section of journalists, some of whom had travelled in from Sweden and Italy, to name but two. In the bar outside the screening room, stills and costumes from the film were also on display for attendees to sample over a spread of coffee and cakes, whilst the crowd mulled over what they were about to see.
Bowman opened the questions with asking David Yates why he did it. Yates said that he ‘had grown up with the Johnny Weissmuller films, but had no interest in doing a Tarzan film initially’ – however after doing four HARRY POTTERS ‘was sent the script by legendary producer Jerry Weintraub who had been touting the script for about a decade. It was old-fashioned with politics and environmental issues and humour. It had different colours and an anachronistic quality to it.’
Margot Robbie was then asked about her interpretation of Jane and she was more than happy to described her portrayal of her character: ” She is somebody who worked on two levels, with a fierceness and a love for her husband Tarzan, being emotionally strong over him being physically strong and regarded it as a high stakes life or death thing”. she continued, “I was taken by the grand scale on the pages and the epic quality”.
In terms of on set connection, she spent most of the time with co-star Christophe Waltz, who plays another villain of the piece following his successes in the likes of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and SPECTRE and regarded him as ‘unpredictable’
Alexander Skarsgard then entered the conversation and stated that this version of Tarzan was played ‘backwards compared to previous incarnations and the 12-15 Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and in this version from the outset he is established as John Clayton, a Victorian gentleman and the film opens more in London rather than the jungle setting. He has a responsibility to take over Greystoke (the family estate), but feels there is something missing.’
What was perhaps most interesting was Skarsgard’s thoughts on the focus of the movie: “This film is not about taming the beast, more about keeping the beast within and focusing on those primal urges.”
Skarsgard revealed that he worked with choreographer Wayne McGregor and said he had ‘never done this much detail when finding the moments and sensed that his natural feeling is that Tarzan is an animal’.
Producer David Barron then disappointed attendees impressed with the visual effects and style to reveal that the film was shot mostly at Leavesden Studios in Watford, but admitted that a Director of Photography was sent to the Gabonne to shoot the background plates for FX purposes.
At first glance, I do think this film is so convincing effects-wise.
Part of that convincing look was down to Technical Advisor Josh Ponte, who stood from the floor to talk a little more about the background to the film’s production and cited 15 years of experience exploring the Gabonne to ‘finalise the epic texture of this TARZAN’ and Ponte also announced a campaign to preserve the elephants of the region called STOP IVORY which will be used as part of the release of the film when it does finally emerge on cinema screens.
Skarsgard also admitted he was disappointed that he was going to be based in Watford, as was Robbie, but was sufficiently impressed with the two hangars worth of simulated African setting, which utilised imported African grass and trees amongst the props on set.
Bowman then opened the floor to questions. The first was to Skarsgard and how he perfected his Tarzan yell, revealing that he was dubbed in part to create this sound.
I then asked about the inevitable comparisons to Hugh Hudson’s 1984 film GREYSTOKE – THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES, which starred Christopher Lambert and Andie MacDowell (who was dubbed by Glenn Close) and whether the film was influenced.
David Yates said that this film ‘shared the same Production Designer, Stuart Craig’ but regarded the film as a ‘handsome film’. This version is ‘different and geared to a global audience and we wanted to take them on a ride’.
Skarsgard also revealed what it was like working with Samuel L. Jackson who was dynamic, fun and interesting when running through the jungle! He also discussed how his Dad who revealed he was ‘a massive TARZAN fan and used to watch the Weissmuller films. Tonally this film is different and didn’t want to compete with Johnny Weissmuller. Most of all, I wanted to impress my dad.’
David Yates revealed that ‘there was no Motion Capture used in this film, it was all animation’ In response to a question to whether THE LEGEND OF TARZAN was based on two of the original novels by Burroughs, he said he ‘had never read any of the novels and that when he received the script from Weintraub, he fell in love with it (scripted by writers Adam Kozan and Craig Brewer)
The two leads also talked of their rehearsal process, playing ‘imagination games and imagining a tree house and not talking, as well as creating a back-story for Tarzan and Jane. We wanted the audience to root for them, particularly in the second and third act of the film where it becomes more about them trying to get back together and to feel that Jane is changing.’
David Yates was then asked about casting and said that it was rare to find a combination of ‘really good acting and a really good body and Alexander Skarsgard has both, recreating the character with tall and vertical grace and poise. Photocality Tarzan feels wilder and more primitive, as well as an English Lord’
Yates also said that ‘from the start it was always going to be Skarsgard in the role. I did test others, but I only visualised him in the role. In the case of Margot, I met her during publicity for WOLF OF WALL STREET and after she had been backpacking around Europe with her brother, a combination of earthy and tomboy.
The stars then talked about the first week of shooting and finding that connection, which was made easier in Robbie’s terms by the fact that Skarsgard cooked her ‘spaghetti bolognese’. In turn, he revealed it took about three seconds for them to get along.
Skarsgard brought up his long-term love of films like STAR WARS and says that a film like THE LEGEND OF TARZAN ‘takes you into another world and remains fascinated with this world’.
It was time to wind the press conference up and Bowman finally asked Yates what he would like the audience to take away from the film. Yates merely responded by saying he wanted people to be ‘entertained for two hours and to focus on the story of two people who love each other. There are subtexts in the film about politics and colonisation amongst others, but ultimately, the film is meant to be two hours of escapism.’
Not yet watched the trailer for the movie? Then take a look at it in the video player below:
Audiences in the UK will find out whether they have achieved what they set out to do when THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is released on July 8th, 2016.