Dan Stevens is having a productive 2017 so far. Not only does he play the lead on Legion – an X-Men spinoff that is one of the oddest superhero properties to come along in some time – he’s also the co-lead in this week’s sure-to-be-blockbuster, Beauty and the Beast. Now, we don’t see a lot of Stevens in Beauty and the Beast as we normally see him, but that’s him as The Beast, using motion capture technology while wearing stilts.
The live action Beauty and the Beast tells the familiar story of The Beast – a cursed prince who can only break the curse by finding true love in his now Beast form – and Belle (Emma Watson), a young woman who trades her freedom for that of her father (Kevin Kline) after The Beast imprisons him for stealing flowers. (It’s a lot more romantic than this description made it sound.)
Ahead, Stevens discusses the lack of encouragement he received from Mark Ruffalo after telling Ruffalo he’d be playing The Beast using motion capture technology. (“Lack of encouragement,” might be an understatement as Ruffalo, who has used motion capture himself to play The Hulk, called it “impossible.”) And now Stevens would like to take The Hulk to see Beauty and the Beast so Stevens can show Ruffalo how it all went.
How are you?
I’m doing all right. You are from Uproxx?
I am. And you’re from Beauty and the Beast.
I am. Among many other things, yes I am.
You’re playing the co-lead in this huge Disney movie, but we only see your face for a few minutes…
Well, actually, it is really my face for the whole movie.
Right, they used motion capture technology.
You know, the technology they ended up using, it was my face driving that digital mesh. And on the surface of it you would think, Oh, actually, I’m only in it for 10 minutes. But once I got my head around the technology, which initially was terrifying for everybody concerned because it’s never been used this extensively before. I couldn’t have made the movie if I had sat there for five months going, “This is never going to work.” You know, I had to believe – and everybody had to believe. And I had a great chat with Andy Serkis, who’s explored this technology but he’s never used it quite this way for any of his characters. I spoke to Mark Ruffalo, who had done something similar for Hulk, but not exactly the same – and he told me it would be impossible, which was frankly a spur.
Mark Ruffalo is not being very encouraging.
I know. So, if nothing else, I feel like I really want to take him to see the movie and see what he thinks.
And you were on stilts.
On stilts, yeah. The sort of layers and levels of challenges with this film were pretty infinite. And that was something, really, that both Andy and Mark were very, very helpful in kind of explaining that once you do wrap your head around it, it’s just the same as any other acting exercise. It’ll seem a bit odd, but after a while you’ll grow to love it. And I think it sounds like Mark had a pretty similar journey with Hulk where initially, there’s this kind of “What the hell” moment and then you realize just how fun this can be.
Beneath the technology and the character’s ferociousness, The Beast is kind of a sad sack.
But I think that’s the misconception right there in your question, really, that somehow all this technology would somehow erode any humanity. And I think actually now, what’s happening is that fantasy is getting pretty real. And especially with the beast, where he is not a beast. You know, to quote the beast, he’s not a beast, he’s a man who’s been cursed and turned into a beast. And there is still that humanity shining out through the eyes. It’s certainly the cornerstone of the Jean Cocteau version. You know, these very human, soulful eyes – Jean Marais’ eyes staring out mournfully. It felt incredibly futuristic every time I would go into this facility, and then to sort of step onto an 18th century French set and fuse those two things.
I feel the Enchantress overreacted a bit. The prince and his friends are jerks, so maybe a year curse. A lifetime seems harsh.
Yeah, right. A lifetime curse. I know. It’s a little heavy. But, you know, this is fairytale after all. You know, the curse is about so much more, really. And I think that’s something else that maybe our tale touches on a bit more than some of the other versions: the sense of entitlement, the abuse of privilege and wealth and power. And what that does to an individual and how that can corrupt an individual. You know, what effect that has on them and their environment. And that’s a whole other layer of the tale, really.
I love picturing the look on an average superhero fan’s face who just loves explosions, or whatever, watching Legion every week. That show is bizarre.
Well, that’s great because that’s exactly what we wanted to make – something you didn’t expect. Why make something that you are going to expect, frankly? There are so many shows out there now – there are so many superhero shows out there now in all different shapes and forms.
Last week you sang “The Rainbow Connection,” that’s different.
I mean, but that just grew to be part of the sense of humor of the show and the sense of humor of making the show on set. That in literally every script, every episode, there’s at least one thing that somebody has to do that is so just weird and out there. And at least one camera move that the team had never attempted before – they were just going to do something batshit crazy with a camera for a day.
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