HitFix

Ben Mendelsohn Tells Us All About Playing Your New Favorite Skrull in ‘Captain Marvel’

MARVEL/DISNEY

So, here’s a Ben Mendelsohn story for you, that shows he doesn’t abide by the same rules as a lot of other people in his position. Like a lot of people, I was really blown away by his performance as Talos in Captain Marvel so, of course, I really wanted to talk to Mendelsohn about Talos. But, unfortunately, I was told Mendelsohn was busy filming a movie and wasn’t available for Disney’s scheduled press day.

So, I emailed Mendelsohn’s publicist explaining that I had just seen Captain Marvel, but I knew he was busy, but if he had any free time I’d love to talk to him. Ten minutes later my phone rings and it’s Ben Mendelsohn. Usually interviews like this go back and forth for a week, with multiple publicists involved, trying to decide on a time that works for all parties. Mendelsohn happened to be free at that very moment – well, to be precise he was watching Curb Your Enthusiasm – so why deal with the back and forth hassle? Why not just talk now? Anyway, that’s not the way this is all supposed to work, but Mendelsohn’s career path – from a heralded Australian character actor to Star Wars and Marvel star – isn’t exactly the way it’s supposed to work either, so it all kind of makes sense.

Ahead, Mendelsohn breaks down everything about our new favorite shapeshifting Skrull, Talos, for us (which includes spoilers, so if you haven’t seen Captain Marvel yet, you may want to wait) and plays pretty coy when asked if we might see Talos again anytime soon.

Ben Mendelsohn: Hello! Ben Mendelsohn calling.

What? This never happens. I just sent an email and now you’re on the phone.

Well, it’s actually much easier, do you know what I mean? Just go boom boom boom! Yes, we can do this right now. Rather than them having to slaughter all the other shit we’ve got to go through.

All trying to agree on a time a week from now…

You know what? I’ve got to go to work later today, but I’m sitting here now watching Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Have you seen the reactions? People love you in this movie.

I’ve been told.

Sometimes actors can get lost in what’s billed as the villain role in these type of movies. But your character has an arc and there’s a twist.

Keeping the lid on that has obviously been part of what we’ve been trying to achieve with that. So it’s been very much “bad guy bad guy“ stuff. And then, obviously, the sun will come out. But if it stays dry until the day, or day after, or whatever, that’ll be fantastic. That’ll be amazing. I think that’s part of the fun of this film. I was quite thrilled about this one. Because of Ryan (Fleck) and Anna (Boden)…

Who you worked with on Mississippi Grind, which is a great movie. I assume that makes it easier?

It made a world of difference. And I’m pretty sure that was why they came to me, because we know each other, we’ve worked together, we’ve spent months together. So they obviously felt kind of comfortable with the idea, that with Talos, we could do this.

And it’s not the normal villain, give a big speech, then fight role.

This is, I think, where I hope and trust that the sensibilities of this are strongly female, in a lot of regards. And I think Anna and Ryan’s sensibilities, I just thought it was a very beautiful, kind of very cool storytelling when I read it. So, I just kind of felt like it had a real beauty in that, you know? And it’s props to Brie and Sam, because damn they’re good. And damn they’re good together. This is people that have worked together before, this is people that know each other and are comfortable with each other, you know? Brie and Sam have worked together I think a couple of times. I know they did Skull Island. I think they did something else?

Brie directed a movie called Unicorn Store that he’s in, too.

Okay. So they know each other really well. Ryan, Anna, and I know each other really well. Once you know people, once you’ve been through it, once you kind of know each other, you can sort of bloom a bit more.

So that’s a real mask, right? It looks great.

Yeah, we sat every day for hours. We put it on, we took it off.

Was it nice filming the autopsy scene? When you didn’t have to wear the mask?

We shot that super early on.

So that wasn’t a treat yet.

It wasn’t a treat yet.

How much research did you do into Talos? Because this character’s a lot different than the comics version for a few reasons. In the comics he can’t shapeshift. Do I have that right?

Yeah, you do. Absolutely. So, one of the first things I did when I knew I was going to be playing the Skrull, I went back to their first appearance in Fantastic Four in like 1962. And they start out as kind of these tadpole-y, kind of insipid, kind of semi-frog amphibian malevolent dudes that go and shape-shift into the Fantastic Four. And then they do a jewelry heist, wreck a water tower or some bullshit like that, right?

Could you imagine if we finally see the Skrulls in a movie and it’s a jewelry heist?

It’s all very Cold War and mustache twirly and all of that sort of business. And then you’ve got the next decade of development, of what the Skrull’s become. So one of my first kind of conclusions and liberation points was, you know what? There’s a Skrull, this is their first appearance. This is how they were first conceived. And they bear very little resemblance anymore to how they appeared when we first meet them. So you can throw it out. You can throw out the book of orthodoxy on it. Because it’s not there, you know? It’s not there.

So the idea that there’s some kind of orthodoxy about them is completely discounted, because once you go to the start point, you go “Okay, they’re Skrulls, but they’ve changed enormously.” So, my point with that is, that it’s all of these characters, and all of them will change some of the characteristics of the participants. And this has forever been a feature of comic book universe. So I just looked on it like that. I just figured, well, okay. For instance, we don’t know a Skrull with an Australian accent, you know what I mean?

There were rumors we’d see the Skrulls in the first Avengers movie. Obviously, there was a bigger plan for them.

Well, this is the thing about the brain of Kevin Feige. It’s a pretty awesome brain. And he’s kind of, to me – this is pretty off the cuff, this appraisal and this notion – but he just seems to me to be the closest thing we’ve got to an old fashioned studio boss. Insofar as he’s able to join up and link up all these elements. The old fashioned comic book fans adore him, he’s made more movies that work than don’t, and he’s made some absolute pearls in there…

Including a Best picture Oscar nomination…

Well, there you go. There you go. And you know, they hired Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and that’s left field. That’s really left field. There’s not a lot you have watched in their cannon that would make most people think, “Oh yeah, okay, of course.”

It seems of late they have been hiring directors who can do characters. Like Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi…

Well, that’s a very good point. It’s just something about the way that these guys are able to conceptualize and it’s at a much more mature level than I think people give it credit for. The superhero movie is, really, the movie of our time. Like it, lump it, whatever! But, really, what’s started to happen with it, in the last five or so years, is that the ball has really started to be moved forward significantly in terms of heart of storytelling. And it’s kind of the joy of storytelling. I’ll just pull a couple out of the hat. You’ve got Black Panther. You’ve got Ragnorok. You’ve got Logan. And Doctor Strange I thought was awesome. I mean, damn, they’re getting really good.

Do you worry about the hardcore comic book fan who may not like that the Skrulls turn out not to be the villains?

Well, you know what? Full respect to them. Full respect to them. There are going to be many aficionados and this and that and the other that have their opinion. But go back to the Civil War comics. Part of what the tradition of Marvel has always been is to take its characters and refashion them for whatever situation or stuff is going on. Now, I accept that there may be people that feel that way. And, ultimately, the films and the additions of the comics and everything that they release has to stand up on its own merit as a single unit. And, obviously, when you get over a long stretch of time, you get a series of comic books, you get a series of films, you know. Yes, they work together, but they also have to all stand up on their own merits. And I’m confident we’ve done that.

I want to see Talos again.

That’s awesome. That’s awesome.

And the movie leaves it in a situation where that’s entirely possible.

Yeah. It does.

I know you have to be careful…

My hope is that people just dig what we’ve done and get caught up in it and have a great time going to the movie. And if they want to see more of Talos, that’s a wonderful thing! I’m sure they’re going to want to see more of Captain Marvel. I’m sure they’re going to want to see more of Nick Fury. I mean Carol Danvers, damn. Now there’s a superhero.

Was the cat nice?

It’s not a cat.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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