British actor Will Poulter was in Boston recently to talk about his latest film The Revenant. He discussed working with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy and director Alejandro Inarritu along with the difficulties of filming an epic movie like this.
Even though he’s only 22, Will Poulter already has a solid resume including films like The Maze Runner and We’re the Millers. I asked him what he took away from working on this movie with this particular cast and crew. Will Poulter, “I think I felt initially quite intimidated because of the names mentioned, Leo, Tom, Domhnall (Gleeson) as well. All guys far more experienced than myself. It felt like a bit of a test for me. I was always mindful that this was quite a big stage to be on and for me it was going to be the biggest challenge yet. I found that the challenge was so great and there was so much to do every day that there was no room for that anxiety and those insecurities that I kind of arrived with. I had to box those and focus on doing my job because I was so occupied psychologically and physically by the intensity of the whole experience.”
About the psychological and physical challenges of the film, Will talked about his preparation for the movie. “On a very basic level, physically, I wasn’t quite aware about how tough it would be so there really wasn’t anything to prepare for that. I guess I had a basic level of fitness, but I had little to no experience with that kind of weather. I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to face that real weather condition, to shoot on location. All that natural weather, all those things helped make that experience very real. The research process was very interesting because it was a return to conversations and reading books compared to watching YouTube and listening to MP3s. The era dictated that kind of research. It was pretty old school. I enjoyed that. I guess I was lucky in the sense that Jim Bridger (his character) went on to become a famous noteworthy frontiersman so there’s more information about Jim than most. That made my research process easier. Beyond that, I found that Alejandra‘s process makes you feel really prepared for the shooting of what’s on the page.”
He talked more about the weather and psychological elements. “I was expecting it to be tough. Alejandro from day one equipped us with this mentality that we shouldn’t fight the weather. We should stand up to it. We should collaborate with it and to an extent, work with it. Because if we try to fight it, then we were going to lose. Accept it for what it is, this total crazy thing that it is. That meant that regardless if it was sunny, snow, sleet, hail, even if it was going to be a sandstorm, we were going to shoot that day. That, I think, was a very useful and sensible thing to tell us right from the bat. He didn’t mince his words about how difficult it was going to be and told us this was probably going to be the toughest thing we ever did. We all had a lot of faith in his vision so that fueled us through the thick and thin of the shoot.
“Alejandro has this way of making the environment so real that you find yourself feeling what your character is feeling almost accidentally. It’s very real and it’s about the playing the situation for what it is. I was grateful for that.”
With all that being said, Will talked about what drew him to the role itself. “For me it was very interesting to play someone who was bridging, pun intended there, the gap between boy and man through such difficult circumstances. It was interesting to me to think about how that natural period of maturity, how you’d experience that in this environment with such difficult moral decisions that conflict with survival instinct and the duty to do you job. It felt like Bridger was being pulled in many different directions and all of those things constitute this emotional breakdown. He’s trying his best to become a man and the best tracker he can be at the beginning of the film, but by the end he’s just trying to not eat himself up. It was a very interesting arch.”’
This character is very physical and other movies like The Maze Runner and Wild Bill have physical characters as well. I asked him if playing a physical character with a lot of action is something he’s drawn to. Will, “I haven’t thought about. I don’t know, not consciously. I can enjoy the physical elements. I like that feeling of coming home at the end of the day knowing that you worked your ass off. The more physical ones give you that feeling. I felt like that every day on this. It’s not something necessarily that I seek out although I enjoy anything that makes the challenge greater.”
The Revenant has a lot of long takes and a lot of camera movement. He was asked if that challenged him as an actor. “It’s kind of like starting from scratch. You throw away the rulebook. Alejandro’s process is that you have to go through an entirely different and unexplored avenue to get to where you need to be. The long, sweeping takes, the continuous shots, the wide, all seeing eye that is Chivo’s lens (cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki), means the margin of error is small. Often you can’t have marks set down, but you need to hit very specific points. You need to be totally coordinated and choreographed. Even as something as little as the timing of a head turn, there will be several of those in each scene that you have to hit. Your interaction with props and every physical decision you make has to be measured and has to be timed out perfectly. Literally you are operating with seconds. It requires a lot of rehearsal. You spend 90% of the day rehearsing and then you’re actually shooting in a window of 45 minutes to an hour and a half, two hours. That’s when the sun is in a specific spot in the sky. What it did for me was it created a really interesting challenge where I had to welcome the camera into my world in a way I never had to before. Often I’ve gotten on set and found my marks and done the basic choreography that comes with it. You try to ignore the cameras and engage the characters you’re in the scene with. On this you had to literally make the camera an extension of your body and choreograph absolutely everything. Then try not to be conscious of the camera and that’s really tough to do. Remember all those elements you’ve rehearsed all day long, execute them in the scene, and still feel as though the situation is still believable.”
Will is British so I asked him how familiar he was with the time frame of the United States portrayed in the film. “Not at all. (laughing) It was interesting, those guys came from all different corners of the world. Alejandro was beyond knowledgeable. I can’t believe that I didn’t know until recently that the main trade for pelts was hats for women in Europe. I only found that out a few weeks ago.”
The Revenant opens wide January 8th.
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