I'm about to drop four JOHN CARTER-related interviews on you in the next few days, each one with a very cool participant in the bringing to life of this iconic character on the big screen. First up is the lovely Lynn Collins, who plays Dejah Thoris, the actual Princess of Mars, for whom the first "John Carter" book is named. But to call her lovely doesn't quite cut it, because Dejah Thoris is meant to embody the single most beautiful woman on Mars or even in the universe. Meanwhile, she also kicks all sorts of unholy ass in JOHN CARTER and end up being one of the most enjoyable characters to watch it the movie.
Collins has been in quite a few films over the years, including 50 FIRST DATES, 13 GOING ON 30, BLOOD CREEK, BUG, THE LAKE HOUSE, THE NUMBER 23, CITY ISLAND, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, and she appeared in several episodes of "True Blood's" first season. But I don't really remember her in any of those movies. What I do know her for, however, was playing Portia, opposite Al Pacino, in 2004's THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. She's fantastic in the part, and when I first heard Collins would play Dejah Thoris, I knew she'd bring her considerable training and immensity to the role.
She seemed open to talk about anything, and I had a great time picking her brain about the pressures of playing the idealized woman in JOHN CARTER. Please enjoy Lynn Collins…
Lynn Collins: Hi, Steve.
Capone: Hi, it’s good to meet you.
LC: It’s nice to meet you.
Capone: When I first heard your name being attached to this I was like “Wait, is that the same person from MERCHANT OF VENICE?” I’m a Shakespeare nut, so I kept thinking “Wow, that seems like a great choice.” In terms of the elements of royalty that you added to Dejah to make her larger than life, tell me about selecting those.
LC: That’s an interesting question. I didn’t really do anything specific. What I did more of… This came out of the first take in the very first scene. I had this moment where I was like, “Oh my God, here we are with all of this hair and makeup, all of this expectation, and I don’t know what I’m doing.” So I lifted it up and I said “God, universe, whatever higher self, whoever, whatever, channel through me this archetype of feminine strength, because I can’t do it by myself. I’m not there yet in my own journey.” And that’s what I think you see. It wasn’t necessarily me ever thinking about “Oh, she’s royal, so she would be this way or that way.” It was just doing my damndest to channel.
Capone: She seems, especially compared to John who holds back a lot and he’s dealing with all of this guilt and he’s a little quieter, next to him you’re like an opera singer, because you’re just ready to beat everybody up. It’s a nice juxtaposition though, I think.
LC: I think so, too. That’s kind of how we are as people, that same way. They are really lucky that we worked that way. [Laughs]
Capone: Did [director] Andrew [Stanton] at any point say to you why he thought you were the right person for this from meeting him, and I’m assuming there was an audition process at some point?
LC: Yeah, he did. I mean he said in a lovely note, “You are strong and intelligent and gorgeous and stunning. You deserve to play this.” It was really sweet. He’s amazing. His creative process is literally gold with bling. He is amazing.
Capone: You're a Shakespearian-trained actor and now you’re getting this huge action movie that demands from you as much about the way you look as it is about the way you act. Is that a strange feeling, or do you just say, “Hey, you know what? Whatever it takes so that I can keep working.”
LC: “So I can pay my bills.” [laughs] After "True Blood," I’m like “You think these booty shorts are going to mess me up?” No, I look at what I do as a craft, and this [waves her hands across her body] is my instrument, and I’m not ashamed of it and I’ve had to keep my clothes on a lot. There have been a lot of projects where I’ve been like, “I want to do this,” and my agents and managers have been like “Sorry, you can’t take your clothes off right now.” So I’m very comfortable in my skin and in Dejah’s skin. That is one place where I was like, “Look all you want. It’s going to get boring in like 24 hours.”
Capone: She is supposed to be like the feminine ideal both with the beauty and the strength. That has to be some amount of pressure on an actress. “I have to be the perfect woman.”
LC: Which hence back to the beginning of our conversation I would just go “Whew, come straight through me, because I don’t know.”
Capone: Did it help when you first saw yourself in the mirror? You can prepare as much as you can prepare, but when you look at yourself in the mirror and you see the costume and hair and tattoos, did you go, “Oh, there she is.”
LC: Yeah, well I would start in the morning and the process would go for four-and-a-half to five hours, so I would have all of this time to just watch it all happen, so by the time I walked out, I was ready. It was probably creatively the best time I’ve had. Yeah. I would do a thousand of them. It was so amazing to access a part of myself in totality that I would have been too scared to tap into in real life. It made me a stronger person and a more grounded person.
Capone: Do you know about roughly how many bottles of spray tan had to die to make this movie work?
LC: I hope they recycled…
Capone: It must have been a lot.
LC: It was a lot. I mean I’m Irish and freckle. I mean, I have Native American, but that’s not where it went. It didn’t go into my skin tone, it went into my facial structure, so they were literally like, “Oh my God, she’s so white!” Then Andrew was just like “Of course, I would hire an Irish girl to play a bronze goddess.” I think that was a contention for a lot of people, but everybody is going to have their opinion.
Capone: When you first read the script and then eventually the book, what do you remember connecting with right away about it?
LC: Matai Shang’s monologue. I started crying. I was moved. I then reread the script to look at the role of Dejah. I was just like “flip, flip, flip, oh a monologue, let’s read that.” Then was like “This has to be mine.” Then I kind of felt like it already was, which is interesting because, yeah, there was a quality--not to get totally esoteric--in retrospect that was literally spiritual for me. It was a spiritual situation for me, because what she is searching for is so pure. She is so pure and yet badass, but that search for purity and to save a planet is just… I’m there.
Capone: You mentioned that you discovered after the role came into your life that family members had a long history with these books. Did they have any advice for you about how to play her?
LC: My grandfather-in-law just couldn’t believe it, and everybody thinks it’s pretty cool, but until they see the movie, nobody is going to know how good it is. Like everybody is a little like, “Oh God, how’s it going to be?” I think the first thing people think is like, “Oh, Andrew Stanton. How is he, having done animation, going to create this huge cinematic film? And I think he killed it. Two, if it were to happen would be releasing more of the vulnerabilities of this woman, more of the sexuality of this woman. We would probably see her in less clothes.
Capone: So what was it that your grandfather-in-law said specifically?
LC: He was just floored by it. He couldn’t believe it.
Capone: But he didn’t have any suggestions about playing Dejah?
LC: He would dare not. I don’t really operate that way. People and their suggestions, you have to be really, really tight with me. I mean, I’m tight with him. My husband makes suggestions to me.
Capone: But he might have said something as a fan of the work about how to get it right.
LC: [whispers] Okay, this is what he said, “Of course they would cast her in this movie. She is so beautiful.” That is what he said, and then I gave him a big poster of me.
Capone: There you go. All right, great. Thank you very much. It was great to meet you. Good luck.