Known as a consummate actor both on stage and screen, Mark Strong has appeared in many successful movies including Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Body of Lies and RocknRolla.
In his new movie Green Lantern, which is based on the DC Comic, he portrays Thaal Sinestro, the alien leader of the Green Lantern Corps, who questions the choice of Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a human, who is initiated into the team.
Strong is one of only two actors in the movie playing humanoid aliens, the other is the villain of the piece, Hector Hammond, portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard. At the press junket for the film, Mark Strong spoke of British comic books, weird make up and why Ryan Reynolds was so perfect for the role of Hal.
How Green Lantern savvy were you before you started this movie?
Not very, because in England you could get hold of DC and Marvel Comics but they weren’t part of the culture like they are in the States. We had different kinds of comics, strange British comics called Beano and Whizzer and Chips, and they were very child friendly rather than adventure-tastic, like say Green Lantern or Superman. So I was not really aware at all to be honest.
Did you get into it once you got the role?
Well, yeah. They say education is wasted on the young. As a grown up getting into it, I found it totally riveting. Geoff Johns at DC sent me some books and I worked my way through them, and it’s a rich heritage of source material. I kind of got weirdly addicted.
How would you describe Sinestro?
In this one he’s a hero, he’s the head of the Green Lanterns, he believes in the call more than anything else, he’s a kind of military commander figure. He’s a hard taskmaster for Hal, because he doesn’t believe humans have the right to be Lanterns, so he’s very strict and very arrogant and a great character to play.
I heard that Martin wanted me to play Sinestra because he thought I looked like the character. I’ve never really known quite how to take that, if it’s a compliment or not. When I saw the way Sinestra looked and the iconic imagery of it, I thought, ‘If we can achieve that it would be amazing.’
I’m glad we stuck to the comics and the way we’re using them. He was great fun to play. The original character, back in the 1940s, was based on David Niven, believe it or not.
Can you tell us a little about the make up process you had to go through every day?
The first time we tried it, it was 8 hours. But we got it down to about 4 hours and then I think the fastest we ever did it was three. But there was a series of prosthetics and then different passes with an airbrush or different colors.
I didn’t have it quite as bad as Peter, but we did share experiences of getting addicted to that glue. It was the end of the day that was the worst, everybody going home, saying, ‘Bye, great day,’ and then you spend about an hour taking it off.
You’re playing against a blue screen a lot in this which is a different acting muscle, how do you use your imagination to go where you need to go?
It’s not actually that dissimilar to theatre. If you’re on stage and you are doing Chekhov and you point and say, ‘Look at the huge forest in the distance,’ of course there is no huge forest, you use your imagination. And really it’s the same thing. You have to use your imagination to imagine all of this.
In your opinion, why do you think Ryan Reynolds made the perfect Green Lantern?
I think because he can do everything that’s required. I don’t want to take words out of his mouth, but I think he said he could throw a punch and kiss the girl, and that’s kind of what was required. He does that really well. He’s also very funny and very vulnerable.
I think as an actor he rounds out that character of Hal Jordan. But he’s also handsome, and buff, everything you need to be for a leading man.
What were the flying scenes like to do?
I turned up early in order to learn how to do it. In the old days, if you flew somebody would literally be pulling on the rope and you’d hope that they’d land you in the right way.
These days it’s all done by computers, so once you find your stop point you can actually have the confidence that you know that the minute you land the computer will stop, the wires will stop, so you’ll hit the deck and you can look like you’re proficient at taking off and landing much more than you used to be able to.
Green Lantern is the oldest comic book around and it’s got millions of fans waiting to see this. What is that like for you, as an actor, to take something on like that?
I felt a responsibility to get it right. If people adore this stuff and have known it for years and years, it’s beholden to you to deliver what they’re hoping for.
I know if I read a book and go and see a movie, I’m rather hoping that they are going to do it justice. So that was something I was very serious about. And the look of Sinestro I tried very hard to make sure that he would match what he looked like in the comics rather than take him in a different direction.