For fans of DC Comics’ “Green Lantern” comic book, Sinestro is a name that looms large over the mythos. At one time the greatest member of the Green Lantern Corps, his desire to see the universe shaped in his perfect, orderly image saw him stripped of his ring and rank. Since being cast out of the Corps, he has become the GLC’s greatest nemesis, bearing of a yellow power ring and founding the Sinestro Corps, an intergalactic legion of beings chosen to wield their own rings based on their ability to instill great fear in their enemies.
In Warner Bros.’ upcoming “Green Lantern” feature film, Sinestro has yet to arrive at his fearful fate, but actor Mark Strong never allowed that future to be far from his thoughts. “[I wanted] to just play what’s in the script,” he told CBR News during our visit to the set of the movie. Strong’s awareness of Sinestro’s eventual path combined with conversations with “Green Lantern” comic writer Geoff Johns about the character informed his portrayal of the iconic villain. Through regular email exchanges with Strong, Johns even revealed new elements of the character’s past that have yet to be explored in the comics, offering the actor unique insight into Sinestro that even lifelong fans of the character have yet to discover. “There’s a lot of pain in his background,” Strong said. “There’s a rich vein of stuff to draw on.”
“There is a streak of arrogance and danger about him [in the film],” he explained, emphasizing the fact that none of Sinestro’s actions in film are actually evil. Instead, his harsh exterior comes from his role as a military commander.
That not withstanding, in the movie Sinestro still has an adversarial relationship with Ryan Reynolds’ lead character, Hal Jordan. The veteran Lantern objects to the very concept of a human joining his Corps, deliberately making Hal’s initiation extra difficult, forcing the Earthling test pilot to prove he has what it takes to bear the ring. “[Sinestro is] a hard taskmaster for Hal,” Strong said. “He’s pretty antagonistic.”
Strong described the Jordan/Sinestro relationship as being “not dissimilar” to the one between Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington in the film “Training Day,” though there is one vital difference: Sinestro does not train Hal directly. With Corps drill instructor Kilowog serving as Hal’s “physical trainer” and Tomar-Re in the role of a “spiritual guide,” Strong said Sinestro remains in the role of an observer until a key moment in Hal’s training. When the two finally meet, Sinestro challenges the new Lantern in one of the Corps training arenas. “It’s pretty explosive,” he said of the scene.
And though the character might not admit it to Hal, Strong was willing to say some of Sinestro’s obstinance stems from his “feelings about the death of Abin Sur, his personal mentor,” emotional layers which make Sinestro a compelling part for the actor well-versed in bad guy roles.
“Bizarrely, there is more there [with Sinestro]. An Earth-bound, human villain often is just a broad stroke within a narrative,” Strong said, explaining why the role apealed to him so strongly. In many films, the villain’s role is little more than a plot device with a nice costume. In contrast, Sinestro’s role offered the actor the opportunity to flesh out the character in a way most super villains rarely see in big screen adaptations of their comic book counterparts. By portraying the character before he goes yellow, Strong has an opportunity to present Sinestro to the audience as better rounded than a “traditional two-dimensional villain.”
Strong so identified with the character after reading the script that he openly objected to the initial make-up design. “[It wasn’t] exactly as they should’ve been, in my opinion,” he said. Featuring a ponytail, jeweled headwear and a goatee, the design attempted to “portray Sinestro as a warrior,” but that it strayed from the more controlled and precise character depicted in the comics. To Strong, the character’s traditional comic book look consisting of a thin mustache, pronounced forehead and imperious gaze were as key to the character as his fate. “I made a big play for keeping him looking like he does in the comics,” the actor said. “I just thought that was a fantastic look.”
Through extensive make-up tests, Strong said “we found our way there” with the final result being a version of the character’s well known design that would work on film. While undertaking the tests, the actor had a chance to “rethink” how he would utilize his face under the heavy appliances. “We take for granted the fact that you communicate with people by your eyes and your eyebrows. Suddenly, when you have a prosthetic, that changes. What you’re doing underneath it is not necessarily what’s registering [to the audience], so you have to learn different ways of communicating.” Simple movements like the tilt of the head or Sinestro’s signature posture all became massively important to Strong’s performance in order to believably convey the character’s attitude to the audience.
In the movie, the iconic Green Lantern ring translates most of the alien languages into a familiar American dialect Hal Jordan — and viewers — can understand. When it came to Sinestro, both Strong and director Martin Campbell felt it important to set him apart vocally, with the actor retaining his native British accent. “I’m sure that’s part of the reason they cast me,” he joked. “I think I give an extra bit of strength to the voice in order to give Sinestro the strength he requires. On set, I feel like the voice and his movement are the most similar to what I learnt playing Shakespeare on stage.”
Strong arrived in New Orleans early specifically for the movie’s fight choreography, taking the extra time to get comfortable with the necessary wirework. “That was really fascinating,” he said. “There are different kinds of wirework [now].” Through the use of computer controlled wires, an actor can time his landings with precision, giving the scene an added sense of authenticity because he is not worried about crashing into the floor. “You can very casually fly in, land and walk,” he said of the special “six wire” configuration the production crew used to film take-offs, rolling and banking. Getting a feel for the wirework also gave Strong time to work out how to contort his body into the flight poses “Green Lantern” artist Ivan Reis often draws.
Realizing Johns was “the oracle” on all things “Green Lantern,” Strong picked his brain for additional insight whenever the co-producer was on set. “He just reminded me that Sinestro is the greatest of the Green Lanterns at the point when we meet him. He reminded me that he always thinks he’s correct and right.” Always in the back of Storng’s mind while performing was the fact that those traits, while admirable, will eventually lead to his downfall. Johns also offered Strong an insight into Sinestro’s dark side. “His need for control and correctness can lead to that arrogance,” the actor said. “It’s not that he enjoys coming across as appearing bad; it’s his desire for order. If he’s feeling betrayal, sadness, anger, fear, any of those things, I have to draw on my own experience.”
Though Sinestro is an alien, Strong noted that he was unable to find an attempt in any “Green Lantern” comics he read to imbue the tragic villain with anything but recognizable human emotions. “I think what’s amazing about the comic is that it deals with emotion. It’s about the balance of will and fear; about courage. That’s the thing that I originally liked about the [movie] script. It isn’t just the whiz-bang science fiction stuff.”
Before bidding the press farewell, Strong discussed a scene shot several days earlier in which Sinestro and Hal confront the Guardians of the Universe, an ancient race who grants the Corps their power and mandate. “Even though Sinestro feels the Guardians are unchallengeable and the highest authority in the universe, he slightly suspects that they might be going off the boil a bit,” Strong said of the character’s state of mind when facing off with his cosmic bosses. “We’re not just chatting — it’s epic stuff.”
“Green Lantern” arrives in theaters on June 17