Exclusive Interview: THE THING’s Jonathan Lloyd Walker Talks Playing The Silent Type, The Bad Guy & More
Today, in a theater near you, comes the prequel to John Carpenter’s cult classic THE THING. This new movie is directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and stars a pretty impressive ensemble cast that includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton & Eric Christian Olsen, to name a few.
To find out a bit more about the movie, Daemon’s Movies had the immense pleasure to talk to the extremely versatile and talented actor Jonathan Lloyd Walker who plays Colin, a member of the scientific team that discovers an alien craft. Jonathan graciously took time out of his busy schedule to tease what fans can expect from this prequel, his character and his process on selecting his characters.
Check out what he had to say below and go check out The Thing which comes out to Theaters today Friday October 14 at a theater near you.
You’re in the upcoming prequel to ‘The Thing,’ playing the character of Colin. Can you talk about him?
Jonathan Walker: Well, Colin is the British radio operator at the Norwegian base. He’s a fairly brooding, cynical guy who keeps largely to himself. As things start to unravel at the Norwegian base obviously those character quirks are accelerated for him in some ways because paranoia sets in and no one knows who they can trust. He certainly feels even more alone than he did before. So, it was an interesting character to play.
What particular aspect of the character drew you to him?
Jonathan Walker: Well, I think I often find that it’s really interesting to have characters that have a lot of subtext going on. For him, it’s the kind of character that rather than being the one who tries to talk his way through a situation he’s often the one sitting back and taking everything in and internalizing it all. So, that’s always a challenge as an actor because you have to portray a character more through looks and more through subtext than actual dialogue. That was a creation largely that Matthijs [Van Heijningen Jr.] and I came up with as we went through the process, that Colin would be a bit of a lone wolf character in the story. That was a fun thing for me to explore.
So, you have to have a presence without the use of a lot of dialogue?
Jonathan Walker: Yeah, for the most part. It’s obviously an ensemble cast and we all have our moments in the film. But for me it was really more about being the sort of shady, suspicious kind of internal observer of things. I, in many cases of the film, don’t want to get too tied up in other people’s politics because I don’t know who to trust and I want to basically fend for myself. That was fun to do.
Part of the central theme of the movie, also John Carpenter’s version, is trust. Had you seen the Carpenter version before taking this role on?
Jonathan Walker: Yes. I saw it in the theater when I was a teenager and it was a film that really stayed with me. It was an incredibly visceral film that left a very strong impression. So, I’ve always been a fan of the film and was very excited that I heard that this prequel was coming about, but before I got onboard one of my big concerns was to make sure that the spirit of the film was going to be very much, that tonally it’d pay tribute to the Carpenter film rather try and do some modern retake of the film. I was very convinced in the meetings that I had with Matthijis and in reading the script that we were going to do something that would be a good companion piece to Carpenter’s movie rather than an exploitative version of it.
I spoke to one of your costars, Kim Bubbs, who mentioned that you shot during the spring and summer, but pretended to be in freezing whether when you were actually really hot. Was that a challenge?
Jonathan Walker: It was particularly challenging. It wasn’t in the early part of shooting because most of what we did was in Toronto and we started with all of our exterior work when the weather was still reasonably cold. They could put snow down on the ground and you could see people’s breath, and so wearing all that arctic gear wasn’t too much of a struggle, but then, yeah, once we moved to the studio it was the spring in Toronto. I don’t know how well you know the weather there, but by April/May you start to get days where it’s popping up into the seventies. Certainly when you’re working inside sound stages with a lot of lights, even though they tried to cool some of the sets it got pretty hot in there. Wearing four layers of arctic gear was desperately challenging at times. There are certainly people who have harder jobs than we do and we were only exposed to it for brief periods of time, but it was a challenge.
There was one day in particular when one of the cast who was known to be a bit of a joker amongst us, one of the Norwegian guys, completely passed out. We thought at first that it was just a gag. We thought that he was just making a joke in the middle of the take, but it turned out that he’d absolutely fainted. He’d had a bit of heat stroke and keeled over right in the middle of a take. He was fine, but it was a bit of a frightening moment because the paramedics came in and they had to take him off and hydrate him and cool him down. It was one of those things.
Any particular scenes in the upcoming movie that stick out for you?
Jonathan Walker: Well, there’s many. Obviously, as fans of the Carpenter movie will hope for, there’s a pretty fantastic and gruesome transformation scene as The Thing who has already taken the form of one of our crewmen ends up being found out and then transforms before our eyes. There are a few of those situations that are horrendous.
It wasn’t hard to act in those scenes because what we were given in terms of the animatronics and the puppetry was really horrific. I think there are some great moments of that in the film. I think there’s also for me personally a very iconic scene that I’m involved with. I can’t really give too many details. People will know it when they see it, but it certainly was something that I enjoyed doing and I think that fans of the Carpenter movie will totally enjoy it when they get to see it.
Speaking of the fans, the Carpenter movie got a slow start, but over time has gotten a cult following. How do you feel the fans of that movie will feel about this take?
Jonathan Walker: I totally understand the initial reaction of some of the fan base to the announcement of this prequel, that they were deeply concerned that this was going to be some exploitative rip off film that wasn’t going to be true in spirit or in tone to the Carpenter film. I could certainly say without question that being a fan of the Carpenter film that every step was taken to make this a real companion piece to Carpenter’s movie.
So, I would say to those fans that I’m very confident. I haven’t seen the finished cut of the film, but from what I have seen thus far I’m very confident that the film will be enjoyable, to their standards, will keep true to Carpenter’s vision and that they shouldn’t dismiss it on the basis of what they suspect Hollywood’s intention might be, and then trust that the people involved in it, that we worked very, very hard to try and honor all the Carpenter-esque elements and deliver those. Hopefully they’ll see that when they see the film.
You’ve had a prolific in film and television. Do you have a process in how you select the roles you do?
Jonathan Walker: The reality is I’m not an A-lister in the sense where projects come to me saying, ‘We want you. Having you will make the movie go.’ I’m not in that category. So, in many cases what it is, it’s a case that roles get presented to me. My agent says, ‘They’re interested in you, but obviously you have to audition for it, take a meeting.’ So, I read the material and if it’s something that I’m excited about and I’m interested in then I pursue it.
There are certainly cases where I’ve looked at a project and thought, ‘Oh, God. I just can’t really bring myself to go in and chase this particular one,’ and I let them go by. But the other reality is that like everyone else in the world I have a mortgage and I have three kids and sometimes roles come along and you think, ‘I don’t really know if I love this piece of work, but it’s a straight offer and I should do it.’ That’s the honest answer.
I think when I have the luxury of being able to pick and choose I’m usually driven to want to be in stuff where I feel like the script is interesting and does something that we haven’t seen before or has a character that I get to play that has interesting layers or a nuance to it where I get to play. That’s the most important thing for me. I’d rather play a new and interesting character than a type of character that I’ve played before. I’ve been very lucky in my career to play a very wide range of different types of characters, from good guys to bad guys, from real historical figures to bizarre, strange, almost cartoonish type figures. For me that’s the excitement, to play lots of different types of characters.
Speaking of playing good guys and bad guys, which one do you prefer to play if you got to pick?
Jonathan Walker: I generally like to play bad guys, to be honest. I often find that if the writing is good that they can be some of the more nuanced and layered characters because good writing will make the bad guys almost, on some level, have something about them that’s intriguing or interesting. You can’t really easily dismiss them as just being tackling, menacing bad guys. Those are lots of fun. I love playing with that sot of canvas. So, if I had to pick between them I’d probably pick bad guy.
Any upcoming projects that you can talk about?
Jonathan Walker: Well, it’s been an interesting year of developing a bunch of my own projects. I was working in collaboration with my wife who’s a documentary filmmaker. She just completed a film called ‘When Dreams Take Flight’ and I was involved with her on that project. It’s a really great story about a team of aeronautic students who decide to break the final frontier of aviation which is to build and successfully fly a human powered flapping winged plane.
We followed their exploits and my wife’s film is a really wonderful testament to dreams and passion and going after final frontiers. I was involved in that and I’ve also just recently been writing with an and long time collaborator of mine, Simon Barry, on a television series called ‘Out of Time’ that we’re doing for PK Films out of L.A. and also Shaw which is a Canadian network up here. It’s a contemporary science fiction series about a cop from the future who is chasing a bunch of fugitives from the future who have managed to escape to 2012 present day. She’s trying to bring them to justice in our time. We’re in pre-production on that. Hopefully that’ll be out on TV next summer.
Do you know which network it would be?
Jonathan Walker: Well, here’s what the process is; we’re in pre-production now. We’re going to announce the series in October, and then at that point the studio offers it out to the networks and we’ll see who bites and who wants to take it on for broadcast. So, I don’t have a clear signal of who it’s going to be yet, but we will by mid October.
If you could work with any director or actor that you wanted to who would it be?
Jonathan Walker: I’ve been very lucky that I’ve already managed to do both. I just recently did a film where I got to work with John Malkovich. He always would’ve been my pick. That was an amazing experience because not only did I get to have a couple of brief scenes opposite him, I also got to spend a hell of a lot of time hanging out with him both on and off set. Apart from him being a legend of mine and an inspiration in terms of his craft, he’s just a wonderful and intriguing guy. Incredibly smart. Incredibly thoughtful. I just had a fantastic time. It was a real dream come true. As far as directors, I’ll tell you one of the best directors that I’ve ever worked with is a guy called Antoine Fuqua who directed me in ‘Shooter’ and also did ‘Training Day.’ I’ve never had a better working experience than I’ve had with him. He’s the kind of guy that I’d be chomping at the bit to work with again if there was ever an opportunity to.