Christopher Eccleston talks Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, opening everywhere this Friday
(From contributing writer Bo Bory)
With his return in Marvel Studios' Thor: The Dark World, the God of Thunder once again has to save Earth and the Nine Realms by battling the vicious and sinister villain, Malekith, who swears to avenge his race, the Dark Elves, and shroud the universe in darkness for all of eternity. It's a daunting task to be certain...Even for a God, and so for the producers to find someone with enough gravitas and stature to fill the role of the complex, vengeful, hell-bent, and older than time itself villain, Malekith...Kevin Feige and Alan Taylor turned to non-other than screen, TV, and stage veteran, Christopher Eccleston.
Eccleston, of course, is no stranger to the fantasy, sci-fi universe...He was Doctor Who for God's sake! But even though that may be the character most fans know him as best, the actor has also portrayed his share of villains. From his morally corrupted turn as a greedy roommate in Danny Boyle's 1994 Shallow Grave, to the chillingly insane Army Major West in Danny Boyle's zombie classic, 28 Days Later, to the sinister and mysterious character, known only as The Rider, in the 2007 film, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, not to mention the cunningly ruthless, Destro, in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra... Eccleston has brought his piercing intensity to every role.
So with his outstanding resume and street-cred in tact, Eccleston tackled the evil Malekith head on, fleshing out and grounding the character with a bit of intelligence, wit, and pride... something that gave the leader of the Dark Elves some much needed depth and complexity.
When I met Christopher Eccleston for the screening of Thor: The Dark World in London, I was interested to find out how the actor went about bringing to life such a well known villain to comic book fans, and how he managed to create a dark, sinister, and worthy advisory for the mighty Thor that was three-dimensional, bombastic at times, yet still nuanced.
Keven Feige mentioned that Malekith was the first choice as a villain for this sequel because fans of the comics and the mythology knew him so well... how does that play into how you approach the role?
I think you try not to think about it too much, because if you think about that kind of thing, you end up paralyzed with fear and you end up trying to tick off too many boxes. For my Malekith... I had a look at the images both from Marvel and from Norse mythology, I know I refreshed myself with that... but then I really concentrated on what I was given in the script, and most of all, with my collaboration with Alan. He was very passionate that the Dark Elves were a recognizable, different race, and had a mythology to match the Asgardians... and that is where I created him from. I stayed with the script and my own imagination.
Speaking of Alan Taylor, the director, I know you spent a great deal of time working with him on the character of Malekith to really give him shape and dimension...What was that process like?
Christopher Eccleston: Alan is a very interesting choice, I think... if you look at Palookaville, his first film, you don't necessarily say that guy is going to one day direct Thor... and I think that was the brilliance in the decision of appointing him, because I think he can corral and control the huge set pieces, he can go through the necessary post-production process, as well as CGI... but he is brilliant with actors. And I think what you will find on genre films like this, are actors are really hungry for a performance detail because we do so much acting to a strip of tape, or a green screen, or tennis ball, so much CGI stuff... that any chance for human connection or character connection is wonderful. And he is really a master of that.
It's so true, because so much of these big-budget movies rely so heavy on special effects, that the actors could get lost in the film... what kind of things would he do to draw out the performances when you have to act to nothing?
Christopher Eccleston: You know, before important takes he would play music that he felt would help us get into the mood, and I think some of the crew was like... what the hell is going on? But as an actor, I was like... thank you, you really thought about that, and I think with his choice of music, he was suggesting to you what kind of pace, and what kind of tone to play a scene, and that happened a lot in the pod-sleep chamber when Malekith awakes and surveys, and makes decisions.
Oh that's great insight... Malekith is portrayed as such a prideful, complex, character, with drives and motivations... how much of that is written in the script and how much of it was flushed out with you and Alan?
Christopher Eccleston: At the meeting with Alan, he really pushed those things forward... particularly, it's interesting, the pride... the sense that the Elves were aristocratic and have a sense of, if you like, racial superiority. So, yes... we did talk a lot about trying to avoid the cackling fiend cliché and giving him complexity. There was some internal justification for what he was doing. That was what we were aiming for... whether we achieve that is up to the audience to decide.
I think another thing that gave Malekith complexity and depth was the Elven language he spoke and how he communicated with his lieutenant... how difficult was that to learn and get right?
Christopher Eccleston: I enjoyed it... it was a late decision on the production's part, so me and Adewale had to learn that quick, and it was a complex language and we had to move quick.
Was it written out in the script?
Christopher Eccleston: Yeah, it was written out. It was created by, I'm sure the guys can give you his name... but it was written. So between Adewale, the dialect coach, and myself, we worked out a way to make that language live.
So I noticed that you wore quite a bit of prosthetics on your face for the character of Malekith, but you were also still able to show a range of emotion...
Christopher Eccleston: Thank you. I was very pleased about that. When I began to realize the extent of the prosthetics, I was concerned I wouldn't be able to act through all of that make-up... but I think you always know it's me. And I guess, more importantly... you recognize him as a... well, you can't really say human being, can you? As a sentient being, if you will.
So how was it the first time you saw yourself completely made up, and how did that give you insight into your character?
Christopher Eccleston: I can't really remember making any conscious decisions... but I think it works you without your even knowing it. And what I have realized since is that when I used to walk around the set, people would kind of keep their distance because myself and Adewale looked so extraordinary. But you don't realize that. It adds gravity to you, and of course the lenses does an interesting thing because we always try and read what people are thinking from their eyes... but myself and Adewale had this barrier, which gave the Elves a sense of separateness... which was good.
I read in the notes that you worked at the National Theater in London in your late teens and was able to see Anthony Hopkins perform several times... did you get to do any scenes with him?
Christopher Eccleston: I did, yeah... it didn't end up in the final film, but hopefully it will be on the DVD extras. But I did get to meet and work with one of my heroes... and he was a gentleman. You know, I was an usher at National Theater and I used to tear tickets and sell ice creams... and that meant that once you'd done that, you sat inside and watched. So I saw Anthony Hopkins doing the same performance, although he always did it differently, over seventy times. I was nineteen, and wanted to be an actor, so that was my school... and it was free!