When actor Colm Feore made his first appearance on the set of “Thor,” it was honestly a bit shocking. As Ymir, the King of the frost giants, the actor strode about in full costume – from custom footwear all the way to up to facial prosthetics as the all blue mythical being – with detailed body work and bright red eyes. It made for an intimidating figure, for sure. Oh, we’ll just say it – he was freaky to behold! And that’s exactly what Marvel wanted.
“We wanted to have real frost giants on set for the actors to interact with and fight against, but we’ll be replacing 50-100% of them. Colm, though, because he looks so damn good and his performance is so great, we want to try and keep him and have the other CG versions match,” Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige said earlier in the day.
In the end, Feore’s performance so inspired the filmmakers that all the frost giants will act and appear similar to Ymir, and that’s a good thing. It’s clear the costume itself transforms the actor from a simple human to a hellish creature – during the course of this Q&A he was extremely animated and clearly enjoying this opportunity to “explore” an emerging personality.
Did you know what you were getting yourself into with this makeup and what kind of challenge has it been?
I didn’t really, until they came to my house and they said, “Well we have to do an impression of your feet, your hands, your teeth, your head – well, pretty much everything. And then, could you strike a sort of heroic pose, because we’re going take some digital photographs, and then they’re gonna copy this and make something.” I said OK – out of sight, out of mind, you know, I really didn’t think about it. And then I showed up and they had pictures of me, the design, this, next to half-naked pictures of Iggy Pop. Now, without telling you too much about myself, half-naked, me and Iggy Pop look a lot alike. I’m not gonna tell you which half, but as you can see, I’m not wearing a lot of clothes.
This outfit, this costume’s remarkable for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that it’s about 17 different pieces. The only thing that’s real, that’s me, is from here to here [points to his chin up to his eyes]. Everything else, and I mean everything, top to bottom, everything is fake. And it’s laid on in four and a half hours. They just put each one on and glue me into it, paint me blue, stitch me up and then wheel me out. It’s remarkable, it takes forever, and slightly longer to get off. I’ve been doing a lot of work recently, trying to apologize to people for the blue eyeliner and the blue fingernails and the blue everything, and I finally just gave up. I just said, “You know, I’m in here every day shopping. Yes, I am a stripper and I work nights, okay? So if you don’t mind, give me the wine, give me the bread, and I’m leaving.”
It’s a little madness, but I kind of enjoy it, because it gives me a good four and a half hours in the morning, when no one else is here, to get into what the character’s gonna be. I start to assume the physicality and all this stuff that [Director] Ken Branagh and I have talked about in terms of where this character sits and how he’s involved and, you know, four and a half hours later, this appears. From inside, it feels different to me than it looks to you, but it actually works, as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s pretty scary, and the voice is dropped. It really is.
It’s going to be fun because you don’t expect sensitivity, humanity, humor, heart-break from this kind of guy, but the way Ken directs, we managed to get all of that. It’s been a wonderful synthesis of machinery, artistry and just good on old craft.
What can you see through those lenses?
Well, if you’re not a man with glasses standing in front of me with a tape recorder going like this, then I can’t see anything. But if you are, then I see perfectly well.
How does this restrict your movement? Can you hear?
No, this is the Nureyev of suits, this thing, it moves perfectly with me. It’s glued to me. I am stuck in it in ways that are really unimaginable and indescribable.
How do you go to the bathroom in that?
You don’t. I lost 4 nails already looking for my penis! And they told me, “You’re not to do that again.” I suppose, four and a half hours in, 10 hours shooting, an hour and a half out, something’s gotta give because it comes, I’ll tell you guys, please don’t tell anybody else, it comes in 2 pieces. So, we get into the first piece then, layer, layer, layer, do all of this. Then we jump into the trousers, then I’m zip-tied into this bottom piece, and glued into the feet so you can’t get out. There is a zipper somewhere, but it’ll cost you money to find out where. And they actually make it functional. It’s pretty ridiculous, so I plan ahead.
Tell us about being the King of frost giants.
If you’ve seen any of the frost giants, you know that I am the Napoleon of frost giants. We’ve got some massive, fabulous guys who dwarf me and they come in at around 8 1/2 feet, nine feet. And can’t you tell by the commanding presence? I’m the boss. The music will be big, when I show up there’ll be a big storm, there’ll be wind. It’s worked out beautifully. It’s very articulated and articulatable. The face moves with me, I have every range of expression. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to talk to Ken [Branagh] at all, but he’s brilliant. He’s brilliant for a lot of reasons, not least of all because he’s been an actor his whole life. So he knows how to tighten the narrative, and what he would do as an actor, so he can get inside and say three helpful words. You know, on a very tight and expensive schedule, he’ll just get right to the heart of the point. But he’s also looking for most of it, here, right? [Points to his eyes] It’s got to be in the eyes. If they don’t work, we’ve got nothing.
This is not my first time with special effects make-up. I did a Stephen King thing years ago, “Storm of the Century,” which was just wacky. The technology was much more primitive and it was six hours in the chair doing all that kind of stuff. I’ve done rigorous applique make-up. Is it different from what I usually do? I’ve done “Chronicles of Riddick” is space, sort of sci-fi, sort of cartoony. I do everything. I just finished playing “Macbeth” and “Cyrano De Bergerac” in repertoire in the theater, came straight here to do this. They all feel, interestingly enough, as if they cross-pollinate. Because everything that I’ve done in the theater, Branagh is using. It’s me and Hopkins and Ken standing around talking about, “Well, this is sort of like ‘Lear,'” and we’re using a short-hand for how to communicate effectively and immediately out here when it’s costing somebody serious money. So, to me, it isn’t a big departure. It’s just another job for which I hope I’ll get paid. As far as I’m concerned, if the check doesn’t bounce, it’s a hit. I go home.
Talk about the research you did when you found out you were entering this universe. Did you read the books?
Yeah. I looked a lot at the comics and I tried to get an idea from that, not necessarily specific, just what my look would be, or what the plan would be, because I knew the script was evolving. Then I started the discussion with Ken. So, I didn’t want to spend too much time going all over the map on this. I thought, “Ok, what do you really want?” And he said, if you’re very, very good, I’ll send you a secret link to a secret site and you can have a secret look at a tedious little picture which will melt the moment you click ok, and it’ll melt with your initials on it so you’re doomed if it goes anywhere else. And I said, ok, let me see that and then I want you to tell me what you’d like it to sound like.
So, now I’ve got the look that we’re talking about, and I’ve got Ken’s idea of what it might sound like. I said to him, “Ken, you’ve really screwed me here. You cast Tony Hopkins. And I appreciate that it’s great for the movie, but I was gonna play it like Tony Hopkins!” I was. I did a movie for Julie Taymor with him ten years ago, called “Titus.” A big Shakespeare thing with Jessica Lange, and I was asked to play his little brother, and they said well, the thing about playing his little brother is, you might have to act a little bit like Tony Hopkins. And forgive my teeth, but I can actually act a bit like Tony Hopkins! I can sound like Tony Hopkins, I can do it, and I say, “Ken, I’ll give you Tony Hopkins only, as you say, much cheaper!” But we’ve got him cast. I said, shoot me first, then Tony will have to think of something else to do. He’s an actor, he can be stretched out, but for me it’s a huge leap forward, you see, a poor man’s Tony Hopkins! Then Tony showed up and we were there on the set and I didn’t have the heart to take his characterization, his personality away from him. So I said, what if I do an homage to Tony Hopkins with a whisper of Max Von Sydow filtered through Paul Scofield. And you know, Ken went, “Yeah, that’s about it.” There’s a little something else and we kept it just in the mix as we went and it actually worked out beautifully. So we started to assemble a pallete of colors and sounds.
Last December, maybe even late November, Ken said, “I’m going to be shooting a close-up of you on the first day of the first roll of film, and it’ll be very important and if we like it, to be in the movie. You’d better be ready.” Usually, that doesn’t happen. We shoot the wide, we shoot mediums, the actors warm up, they get a little bit familiar with the lines, they maybe read the script and then by the end of the day, we get it. He knew full well by that point the make-up might have simply melted off. So, 8:00 in the morning, Friday the eighth of January, he was here. And you know, he had a tight schedule. We needed to be done by lunch because something else was coming in, That sharpens your focus a good deal. For me, it was about sticking very close to the script, to the look and all our discussions about how it would sound. He rehearsed us when it doesn’t cost much money. Because there’s nobody else there really looking at the clock. It’s just a bunch of guys in a room saying, what if we tried this, what if we tried that? Marvel has been extraordinary in responding to the things we just came up with. It was a wonderful moment where Tony and I – we have a confrontational scene, and originally in the script, we were miles apart because it’s this huge, heroic kind of thing. But we were in a little room rehearsing and there was something that Ken really liked about the intimacy. I said, “Well, I’ve got some super-powers I don’t want to share with you here yet, but maybe I can use something like that,” and Craig [Kyle] said yeah, absolutely.
I show up the other day to shoot the scene, and on the strength of that rehearsal, they built a launching thing out of the floor that would match with the sci-fi, go with the green screen, so that we could slam into the tiny, intimate scene, about two guys going, “Your kid’s a fucking idiot.” “Yeah, I know, but you were an idiot once too.”
“Not that big an idiot – I might have to kill him.” “Oh, please don’t.” “Fuck you.” “Fuck you, too!” And then we go back to a huge, big deal. And we made this happen!
They spent the money where it counted. It cost nothing to have the idea, but God bless you guys, Marvel came behind and said, “This is a good idea. This really helps our narrative leap forward.” That’s what we’ve been doing. You don’t mess around with Ken, because when the ship sails, the ship sails. You get a couple of chances to be in the movie, and as I’ve said, if I’m no good in this movie, it won’t be his fault. He’s tried everything.
As we finish up, can you talk a bit about working with Chris Hemsworth?
Oh, he’s playing Thor! Apparently he’s very loud. Some people say he’s very handsome. Not at all blue, no, he’s charming, beaming smile and that kind of youthful, heroic idiocy that you expect from an action hero, right? [Colm flails his arms, hits a reporter’s recorder that drops to the ground.] Oh, so sorry!
No, Chris is extraordinary. One of the chief things about him is that he’s charming. It’s actually really hard for me to be mad at him and growl at him, but I imagine he’s an idiot and it helps, because we need somebody at the core of this picture to be the leader. We need to believe in him. Even guys like me, I depend on him, you see, and the more charming and the more agreeable and the more heroic he is, the more I hate him. I think, “The world will be a better place when I get rid of you.” And so, he clearly is doing a very good job. He’s sexy and, I mean, I guess after a fashion you’d have to tell me that. For people under a certain age, apparently, he’s attractive and fit. God knows he looks pretty good in the outfit. He’s funny, and that goes a long way. Charm, you know, is an intangible, you know. Chutzpah, charm, charisma, that kind of thing, you can’t buy it. You either have it or you don’t. He’s got it in spades. And with his master, Ken, showing him the ropes and guiding him, it’s all going very, very well.
“Thor” arrives in theaters May 6, 2011.