Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Alice In Wonderland week: Matt Lucas Q&A

British actor and comedian Matt Lucas plays Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Alice In Wonderland. I spoke to him in his trailer at Culver City Studios in Los Angeles while Alice was in production. Here's part of our chat.  

Tell me how you’re approaching playing the Tweedles.

I had this image of two tubby Victorian schoolchildren with their hands in the honey pot, and a bit Augustus Gloop and a bit Billy Bunter. I wanted to make them a bit more likeable because I think they often can be a bit annoying. They’re bit remote and I wanted them to be esoteric, but I didn’t want them to be remote. Tim talked to me about the two girls in The Shining and I remember Sleepy Hollow and he had those two girls, and also the TV show The League Of Gentlemen. So there are times when the Tweedles are very still and quiet but I suppose they’re naughty, They try and get each other into trouble a bit but they’re ultimately on the same side. 

To play the Tweedles, you’re wearing a green motion-capture suit and they’re recording both your facial expressions, which we’ll see onscreen, and your body movements, which will form the basis of the CGI Tweedles. How have you found the whole green-screen experience?

It’s unusual to be acting in a big green room, in a green suit. You have to use your imagination. But then you do as an actor anyway. I love disguising myself and I love dressing up and I love the escapism of being an actor and I love looking in a mirror when I’m in full makeup as a different person and not being able to see myself. And so the idea of being shrunk or being made wider or being manipulated onscreen is, to me, very exciting. I also like the technical innovation of it. [But] I still love the fact that at the centre of that technology is human performance and [Tim Burton] is only creating via computer that which cannot be done in the real world. So even though the film is going to be visually extraordinary, it’s all about enhancing the real world. And I think that’s the right way to use this technology — to enhance rather than totally bulldoze over any truth.

The only other actor in a similar (green) boat is Crispin Glover…

I sort of gasped when I heard I was going to be in a movie with Crispin Glover because he’s a sort of mysterious man, isn’t he. An enigma. A legend. He’s George McFly. And I’ve seen that Letterman performance he did on the internet, and he’s a mystical figure. I’ve met him a few times but I’m genuinely a bit nervous to talk to him because I’m a bit in awe. He also looks younger than he did in Back To The Future. Go figure…

The film’s essentially a sequel to Alice In Wonderland, even though Lewis Carroll wrote his own.

This is a different sequel, like when they did The Exorcist, pretending that the other one hadn’t happened. The thing about Alice in Wonderland is it is a list of events, the same as in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and when Tim did the movie, he invested it with a kind of emotional arc to the narrative about Willy Wonka’s father and childhood and the film is all the better for it, and he’s done the same here. Although he’s done something even more interesting. He’s created a new story, basically. Which is great.

How have you found working with Tim?

I had, as a youngster, seen Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and was familiar with his work and I don’t think there’s any actor out there who wouldn’t want to work with him. There’s obviously a really great mind at work there who has an overview on the whole thing which is quite some achievement, but what is amazing still is the ease with which he communicates and the directness. He gives you everything you need to give you what he needs without prescribing exactly how to do it, and this is a great thing as an actor. He’ll just recap the action of the scene but he doesn’t imprint on you how to do it. Never once does he stand on a set and say, “Do it like this.” He allows you an incredible about of freedom.

What do you make of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter?

It’s a wonderful approach to the character. What he’s doing is fantastical and heightened but I can see an absolute truth there in terms of I have met people who have this incredible nervous energy and excitement and they are both inhibited and exhibitionists at the same time, and it’s a kind of dilemma. There’s a shyness and yet an absolute delight in showing off at the same time. He makes the character very endearing, as well, the scenes I’ve seen, you’re absolutely on his side. It’s remarkable just watching him on set because he’s magnetic and everyone is drawn to him and he conducts himself with such dignity and yet he’s very accessible, everyone chats to him and he’ll chat with everyone.

What do you think about Mia Wasikowska?

She’s a brilliant actress, and she looks amazing on camera. On screen I think she’s got remarkable presence for someone so young and she kind of portrays youthfulness and worldliness at the same time. Some people just have it, they can just light up a camera. You see me on camera and I’m working my arse off, pulling faces, trying to muck about, doing all sorts of stuff. Mia just has it. A natural beauty, and grace and elegance. It’s exciting to see the birth of someone’s career, on set and onscreen.

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