Jemaine Clement on Creating with Spielberg
The Flight of the Conchords star on creating one of the less-friendly giants of The BFG.
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Road Dahl’s The BFG is a film with no shortage of heart. Written by the late Melissa Mathieson, who wrote The Black Stallion and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the central relationship between the giant (Mark Rylance) and Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is truly lovely and heartfelt depiction of a friendship ‐ a friendship Fleshlumpeater, played by Jermaine Clement, attempts to thwart.
Clement, for the second time in a major motion picture, plays the main villain, who’s a massive, dim ‐ and, most importantly, ginger ‐ giant that has a taste for human flesh. As dark as that sounds, it’s primarily a comedic performance that relies heavily on Clement’s vocal and physical talents as a performer.
The actor discussed his experience of working on Steven Spielberg’s latest with us, in addition to whether we’ll one day see him return as Fart on Rick & Morty.
Thanks for making the time.
You’re welcome. I’ve always liked the name Film School Rejects.
Thank you. Did you go to film school?
No, I went to… Well, we don’t have a film school in Wairarapa, but maybe we do now. In Wellington, I went to university, did the film course, and did the theater course. I never got into the right courses, so I relate to that name.
I understand. With The BFG, how was your experience with motion-capture?
It’s kind of what you look for when you’re an actor. I always imagine myself looking different if I’m playing a character that is different, but then I see it and go, “Oh, it looks like me.” With this film, it didn’t look like me; it looked like how I imagine I’d look as a big, 50-foot-tall ginger man [Laughs]. You know what I mean? I was in a different body.
Did you make a lot of alterations to how you typically move?
We worked with a movement coach, Terry Notary, who worked with all the bad giants. Mark would be filming everyday and almost every scene, but for the first couple of weeks Bill Hader, me, and the other guys that make up the nine giants would be working on our walks, making our movements big. That’s largely what we do ‐ move in a big group. At first, you see the character on the screen and you’re controlling the character with your body, like a puppet. Eventually you can forget about that, once you’ve found how you move. Me and some of the other giants would use weights, to make us move like we were heavier. The movement coach was great. You know, I recognize myself, my movement, in the character.
How about finding Fleshlumpeater’s voice? Did that come naturally to you?
Not really. I talked to Steven about it a few days before we started filming, but I was reading to my son during bedtime, to kind of remind me of it. He had already heard it, but he would tell me if he liked the voices. “No, dad, do the voice you did yesterday.” So, that ended up becoming the voice. It was basically the deepest one I could do.
There’s a lot of different British regional accents. We were in Canada, so I was far away from being able to hear those, but I had lived in East London for six months. There was a street market where I lived. There’d be a butcher out there and he would shout really loud, and I would think of that guy. I feel with the London accent, people tend to make their voices as deep as they could go, and I felt that’d be useful.
Do you often draw from characters you’ve met or seen, like the butcher, for your work?
Usually I try to think of, you know, other characters or actors mixed with some people I know in real life. I can’t think of anyone in real life like this [Laughs], but I do remember seeing an article about bullying, saying that bullies are people that want high social standing but they can’t get it, so they put other people down. I made Fleshlumpeater very concerned he’s not always at the top, so he’s very insecure and just decides to go for what he wants.
How was the giant language to work with? After a while, does it easily roll off the tongue?
It’s fun to do, but it makes it hard to improvise, because you have to refer to vocabulary, and there’s only the one book. You can’t just makeup new words, you know what I mean? Sometimes Mark and I would improvise a little bit, but you had to preload your improvs a little.
I’ve heard that while on set, Steven Spielberg typically doesn’t give a lot of notes to actors. How was your experience with him in that regard?
Sometimes he’d let you do whatever you want, but occasionally, because he’s very visual, and he’ll have a very specific image, so you’ll have to do it very specifically to how he wants it. You know, with the scenes with Mark, we can walk around and basically do as we please. Sometimes, like towards the end when I’m sitting on this mountain, it was very specific to how he wanted it. My experience was sometimes he’d be very free, other times he’d tell me exactly what to do.
We’re big fans of Rick & Morty at the site, so I have to ask, will we see you return as Fart on the show?
[Laughs] I mean, when we recorded that I was saying, “We gotta do this again. We gotta make sure to do something else.” I do realize that every single person that goes in there says that.
The BFG is now in theaters.
Related Topics: Comedy