Published: Thursday, 29 August 2019 | Written by SciFi Vision
Tomorrow Netflix drops its new event series, TheDark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Based on Jim Henson’s 1982 film, The Dark Crystal, the series features an all-new adventure in the world of Thra that takes place many years prior. The series is live-action, but uses classic puppetry to tell the story. The Crystal of Truth at the heart of Thra has been damaged and corrupted by the Skeksis, spreading an evil darkening throughout the land. The story follows Rian (Taron Egerton), a Gelfling, who along with his girlfriend (Alicia Vikander) and his friend (Harris Dickinson), discover the evil truth behind the Skeksis and must race to spread the word among the Gelfling clans, and with their help, stop the darkening and save themselves and Thra before it’s too late.
The series boasts an all-star voice cast, including Jason Isaacs, who voices the character of the Emperor, skekSo, the leader of the Skeksis, who’s hell-bent on destroying all Gelflings.
Isaacs recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about working on the series, the unique aspects of such a role, and his thoughts on The OA and the fans' campaigns to save it.
Good. I really appreciate you talking to me, so thank you.
I saw you a couple weeks ago in Pittsburgh at the convention.
Oh Blimey! [laughs] I had a lovely time.
I was the one who talking to you you about an interview we did before. You were probably like, what is she talking about? [laughs]
I remember. Yeah, I remember.
It’s funny, now people have started to ask at conventions about the Emperor. And, you know, some people arrived with photographs to sign, and I don’t know where they got them from, but they haven’t seen the show yet.
So, there’s this huge head of steam; there’s a massive audience out there waiting to watch it. I’m so curious to see the reactions of young people who are not watching it for nostalgia. I think it’s going to create an entirely new legion of fans.
There are all kinds of people who remember a film from thirty-seven years ago who are going to be, I think, shocked and thrilled by how much their nostalgia is served, but also by how much it has been expanded and improved on.
I really enjoyed the series; I saw all ten episodes. Although I admit, I’ve only seen the original movie recently, but I love how everything looks so similar; it perfectly fits in that world, but it's elevated.
It’s a really tricky thing to do, to satisfy everyone who wants to remember fondly, you know, whoever whatever and wherever they were when they saw the original, but also to expand the world and to use the incredible artistry that’s on offer today to tell a brand new story.
So, it’s not just looking backwards; it’s looking forwards, and if you’ve seen it, you’ll know, very much looking at the world we live in today and the problems we face.
Definitely. Did you see the film when it originally came out, or did you see it much later?
...There wasn’t a single day of recording I don’t think where I didn’t lose my voice by the end.
I was twenty when it came out. I was a student - I mean, I’ve seen it many times since, but I remember the first time going to the cinema for a laugh with a bunch of students thinking, well, we’re going to go and watch the Muppets, just for almost for a joke. And then I remember being stunned in my seat that Jim Henson had traded on the currency of his popularity of the Muppets and Sesame Street and everything else to kind of almost lure people into the cinema and then hit them with this very disturbing and resonant and profound story, still using the artistry of his puppets, but in a completely different vein. I remember even as a twenty-year-old thinking that it was so brave and bold and smart of him to go, “I’ve earned the right to tell a very serious story and yet make it entertaining too.”
Yes, I mean, the movie too, but especially the series, is fairly dark, darker than I expected.
Yep. You know, me too. I remember I was looking at some scenes being really taken aback by how far it goes, and then I had to be reminded, that, you know, first of all, it’s not just made for kids; it’s made for all ages, but also, kids are subjected to the worst. You know, Grimm’s fairytales are so full of death and terror that it stuns adults, and even the Disney films will always kill or lose one or both of the parents of the lead characters.
So, kids have two things. One is they’re far less vulnerable than we think when it comes to narrative. They understand; they can deal with the biggest issues we have. And secondly, they think they’re immortal, so it doesn’t quite affect them the way it affects adults, because they don’t think that any of these things can ever happen to them.
Emperor skekSo The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
Your character is in the original film, but obviously not a lot. Did they give you more backstory for the character, or did you create him as you went along?
No, I mean, it was a really interesting process. Not much new comes along after thirty odd years as an actor, but this was interesting, because, you know, everyone gives lip service to the fact that telling stories is a very collaborative form, and it is in many ways, but not to this extent.
The performance was already given by a puppeteer. Louis [Leterrier] shot for a year on these beautiful sets. It’s a gigantic live-action budgeted fantasy film really, a ten-hour film. It’s live-action just with puppets.
And so not only is the physical performance given, but the vocal performance in many ways is dictated, because the mouth flaps are already recorded and shot. They’re not using CGI here, apart from to remove rods and arms and stuff, so the performance has to fit inside something that already has quite narrow parameters. The character is pretty clear.
I mean, he has a real journey; the Skeksis all do. It’s an epic tale. Even when they start off, some pretty terrible things have been happening, but as you’ll know, having watched the whole thing, their position of dominance that has been around forever is threatened. And as they get more scared and more vulnerable, they become ultimately more arrogant and violent and dangerous and more anxious. So, there’s a real - I hate to use this word, because it’s such a pretentious actor’s word, but it does work, you know, it does apply. There’s a real arc there to play. I think I knew what their issue was. It had all been going great for a very long time, until it wasn’t.
I didn’t know you had gotten to see the performances ahead, that’s really interesting.
Yeah, it’s the other way around from all animation. Most animation you record the voices first. I’m doing Scoob at the moment, the new Scooby-Doo film, and that’s been the same as a number of animated movies, video games, and stuff I’ve done. You record a hundred different versions of things, and you improvise all the time. Then they animate the bits that they like, and then you go redo it again.
This movie was all shot and a lot of the performance already given. And I try to slot my voice in there and be as creative as possible within the number of mouth flaps and the body language of the character that’s already dictated.
It’s probably a lot like ADR in a way.
Yeah, very much like ADR.
Cool. So, other than seeing some performances though, did you get to see any of the production? Like I assume you at least saw your character in person, but did you get a tour of the set?
No. It was all shot. I’ve seen the sets on the big screen, but it was all shot. I think they shot it all before they started doing any of the voices.
And in fact, the first day I went in, having, you know, done all the homework and watched the original again, I was trying to work out what kind of voice to use. So, Louis showed me the character, and he has this huge alligator, dragon like snout, but he has a fake nose. He has a sort of silver-plated nose, and he has appallingly bad teeth and is definitely in need of orthodontistry. And I thought, okay, what sound comes out of that? But I wanted to know what universe the voices we were using [would fit in].
So, I said to Louis, “Can you play me some of the other characters to just see what kind of voices would create a fit in that world.” He said, “No.” And I went, “You don’t need to be secretive about it.” He went, “No, I’m only saying no, because you’re the first person to do it.” [laughs] I went, “Aw, no.”
So, we came up with the voices. We came up with what we thought would come out of that character and fitted the body language the puppeteer and Louis had come up with over the shooting.
And there wasn’t a single day of recording I don’t think where I didn’t lose my voice by the end.
I was going to say, you didn’t quite use as harsh of a voice as in the original, but --
Well, the original voices were very strangled. The original voices were great, for them, but they chose particularly strangled voices, and I think we have an awful lot more dialog over ten hours, and you want to be able to hear it.
[laughs] That’s true. But you could still tell it was you, so that was good thing too.
Without spoiling anything, even though this is a prequel, there’s more room for more story.
Oh, yeah, there’s plenty of room. This is a long time before the original, and when our story finishes, it’s still a long time before the original.
Yes. What I was going to ask, is do you know if there are any plans for another season, or is it just meant to be one and done?
Well, it is an event series. It’s the word I’ve been told to use, because they mean it. And I think like almost anything else in the modern television world, they put it out there; it’s a story in and of itself. It’s very definitely got a beginning, middle, and an end. And if it sets the world on fire and people are loving it, I imagine that there will be other discussions, but no one should be watching it thinking, oh I’m watching one of x number of seasons. This is the story, and if people love it, there’s definitely room for more stories.
This is a question people often have a hard time with. Can you describe the your character in three words?
The Emperor? I’d like to think I’m the kind of actor and maybe I pick the kinds of stories or scripts where the characters can’t be summed up in three words, or I wouldn’t take the job.
That makes sense.
If I could switch gears a second and ask you, I know how much you have said you love The OA, and it’s meant so many different things to so many different people. I’m curious for you yourself, what it meant to you. And also, what you would like to see happen for Hap?
What would I like to see? Well, I know what their stories were. That was one of the amazing things about Zal [Batmanglij] and Brit [Marling]; they mapped out all five seasons, and they wrote the first season on spec. And I think you could really tell watching the show how unique and pure their voices are in it. I’ve never come across voices like that.
I’ve been in some things that I think are fabulous, you know, some more great, some less great, but I’ve never been in anything so as true to the original as this, because they’re kind of unsullied by having made series television or commercial movies and stuff. They have such powerful and inventive authenticity, so just being around them reminded me that it can be an art telling stories as well as a business. They’re truly artists. And if it was just me thinking that, I could dissolve my own pretentious bubble, but you’re right to point out that it’s touched so many people in ways that stories generally don’t.
And I just witnessed a fan reaction to it in the number of people who are now doing flash mobs with the movements, and also the extraordinary posts that you see online. There was a man the other day who posted this heartbreaking letter about how much it helped him after his son died. And there are many other people posting things about how it’s helped them through dark or difficult periods or struggling with who they are themselves, because it celebrated humanity, the show. And their stories in their many different fantastical ways were celebrations of connection - of human connection.
So, what it meant to me - in many ways, it revitalized me. It reminded me that it can rekindle the flame that maybe had either gone out or died down to a pilot light, a kind of love for the great art in storytelling and great aspiration in storytelling.
Well, I know I definitely love it and am hoping for more, but you never know. You get what you can at least.
Well, who knows? All of us are really touched and moved by the fans. You know, yesterday there were rehearsals, but I think even today there’s going to be a giant flash mob outside Netflix, and there’ve been demonstrations.
But, you know, I can’t criticize anyone at Netflix; they commissioned it in the first place. I don’t know what decisions they are or aren’t making based on either numbers or subscribers or whatever else. They don’t make the normal calculations that TV companies in the past have made, so it’s just based on the numbers of people watching and how much they love it; it’s based on a bunch of other stuff. I wouldn’t want their jobs, I just know I feel so grateful to have been in it, and if anyone reading this hasn’t watched it, you’re really missing out if you don’t watch the two seasons of The OA. They’re something truly special.
We’re glad at least we got what we got and for their good programming, and like I said, I really enjoyed Dark Crystal too.
...I feel so grateful to have been in it, and if anyone reading this hasn’t watched it, you’re really missing out if you don’t watch the two seasons of The OA. They’re something truly special.
You know, funny enough, I was in Rhode Island the last couple of days and revisiting my friends I made when I shot Brotherhood there, and I remember how upset I was, at the loss I felt when Brotherhood was cancelled. But if Brotherhood hadn’t been cancelled, I wouldn’t have gone on to make many other things. If Awake wasn’t cancelled, I wouldn’t have made Dig. If Dig wasn’t cancelled, I wouldn’t have made Star Trek.
So doors close, and it’s very upsetting, and you miss your friends, and particularly you miss it if you loved it, if you think the stories were powerful and great, but you have to stay ever optimistic that there are great things to be done in the world.
Then lastly, when I saw you on stage, I mean, I know you’ve had some comedic parts, but I did not know you could be so funny. [laughs]
Oh, you mean in Pittsburgh? When I was just doing my standup? [laughs]
[laughs] Yeah. No not in Dark Crystal, in Pittsburgh. [laughs] You were really funny. I was just curious, have you ever thought about doing a purely comedic movie?
I was in Death of Stalin, that’s a comedy. I got a few laughs in that. I worked with one of the great political satirists in our day. So, when you work with Amarmando Iannucci, and you are surrounded by Michael Palin, Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and stuff, it makes it a lot funnier.
So yeah, I’ll take funny stuff when the script is great. I would never do standup, because that’s utterly terrifying, but when somebody creates a context where, you know, it does the work for you, I look much better. It’s always been true my entire career that I know when I take the script out of the big brown envelope if I’m going to be showered with praise that frankly doesn’t belong to me. It’s always in the writing.
Well, I’m sure it has some to do with you, or they wouldn’t hire you! [laughs]
I’m not bad. I don’t drop the ball if people throw it to me, but if they don’t throw it to you, you can’t catch it.