Creature Feature: Interview with The Thing's Jonathan Lloyd Walker

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The Promotion People

Actor Jonathan Lloyd Walker

Every so often a feature film trailer comes along that not only immediately grabs your attention but also makes your skin crawl - the trailer for the upcoming The Thing certainly does both.

A prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film of the same name, this movie is set three days prior to the events of the previous film and follows the exploits of a group of Norwegian and American scientists who find the remains of a crashed alien spaceship beneath the ice of Antarctica. What follows their discovery is something that actor Jonathan Lloyd Walker wanted to be a part of.

“It was around Christmastime of 2009 when the news broke that early casting sessions had begun for The Thing,” recalls Walker. “Being a fan of the Carpenter film, I immediately asked my agent to find out if there was any part in the movie that I could read for. A few weeks went by and she got back to me and said, ‘Yes, there is indeed a role that you’d be pretty well suited for. Why not go ahead and put an audition on tape and we’ll send it in.’

“So I did, and, much to my surprise, two days later my agent called to tell me that the movie’s casting director was very excited about my audition tape and the producers were thinking about me for the role. The [casting] process took a further couple of months to unfold, though. I was actually in Toronto shooting a film called Red and by then pre-production had already begun on The Thing.

"I think just to seal the deal they wanted me to meet with the director, Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr., which I did after an especially long night’s work on Red. He was very gracious and we chatted about the project as well as the role, and that was it. Two days later they made me an offer and I was signed to the film.”

In The Thing, paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) arrives at a remote base in Antarctica where a scientific research team has accidentally revived an alien that was found frozen in the ice along with the remains of its spaceship. She and Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton), a helicopter pilot who ferries supplies to the base, are subsequently drawn into a battle to keep this creature, which can mimic any life form, from killing them and potentially reaching the civilized world. Walker plays one of the hapless members of the team being stalked by the alien.

“My character of Colin is the British radio operator who is stationed at the Norwegian base,” says the actor. “He’s a very cynical, reserved loner who doesn’t really fit in with either group - the Norwegians who he’s based with or the group of largely Americans that come to help with what the Norwegians have found buried in the ice.

"Obviously as the film unfolds, his paranoia and loner-type nature is accentuated by the circumstances because everyone is in a position of not knowing who they can trust or believe in. That’s already the place that Colin lives in, so his situation just gets worse and worse.

“I think the biggest challenge for me in playing someone like this is that he’s a very internal guy. Colin is the type of individual who would be in a roomful of people and would be listening and observing what they’re all up to but not necessarily sharing his own thoughts. I spent a great deal of time figuring out in scene work how to play that sense of knowing what you would say or wanted to tell people but then deciding not to.

“So Colin chooses his words quite carefully, and while everyone is plotting and figuring things out, he’s trying to figure out how he can save himself. That was an interesting [acting] challenge because you have to remain very present and reactive in a scene where you’re not necessarily being given a lot of opportunity to clarify your thoughts through dialogue.”

Despite the dire onscreen dilemma that Colin and the others are caught up in, the actor enjoyed his experiences filming The Thing. “It was quite remarkable and a terrific opportunity to work with an international cast of actors,” enthuses Walker. “There are a number of wonderful Norwegian actors in the film, along with a couple of Danes, a fellow Brit, a couple of Canadians, an Australian and several Americans.

Everyone had a different background and take on the work. So it was a fascinating exercise working with not only them, but a Dutch director, too. It almost had a theater-type feel to it as far as how we would rehearse scenes and work things out. I really enjoyed that.

“As far as individual scenes that stand out in my memory, there’s one that we shot but I don’t think it made the film’s final cut. There was a decision made later on to sort of change an element of my character. I can’t really go into what that was, but it nullified some of the scenes we’d shot during principal photography.

"One I’m particularly proud of, and hopefully it will end up in the additional material on the DVD release, is a scene where Colin is supposed to be grieving the loss of the one character that he actually did get along with.

“It’s a very quiet, emotionally demanding and internal scene where he’s alone in his bunkroom taking in the horror of what’s going on and the death of this particular individual.

“There are a couple of other scenes where as an ensemble I think this cast really shines. Knowing that this creature can take the form of anyone, our characters have to determine who this thing may or may not be, and, without giving too much away, there’s a scene where a test is performed to try to expose the creature. It’s different from the Carpenter film as well. That whole sequence is very tense and gripping and I think everyone in it does a truly remarkable job. That one is definitely in the final cut of the film.”

Born in Henley-on-Thames and raised in England, Walker began performing onstage at a young age. “I was very lucky because one of my friends that I grew up with in England was Christian Bale,” he says. “I was, in fact, more friends with his older siblings, but their mom [Jenny Bale] came from a very theatrical background. She actually choreographed and helped us rehearse some numbers that we did as kids for Christmas variety shows. It was during that time that I began to get a feel for being a performer, in particular the reaction of people when you could make them laugh or gasp.

“This was also around the same time that Star Wars came out, and I was so impacted by that film as a young kid that it also made me want to be in the industry, having already done and developed a taste for acting. It just seemed like the logical thing to pursue, but I didn’t do that for a long time. I floated around it [acting] in an amateur sense until my mid-twenties, which is when I seriously decided to chase this as a career.”

The X-Files, Soul Food, The West Wing, Flash Gordon, Smallville and V are among the TV shows that the actor has appeared in. Along with the aforementioned Red, his big screen work includes roles in Along Came a Spider, St. Ralph, Land of the Dead and Shooter, which holds a special place in his heart.

Shooter was directed by Antoine Fuqua - who also did Training Day - and starred Danny Glover, Mark Wahlberg and a number of other great actors,” notes Walker. “It was the first sort of high-profile film where I felt very integral to a project as well as respected and regarded for my contribution to it. I was also given a lot of artistic freedom by the director. Antoine is one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with in terms of how he works with actors. He put everybody on the same level, so you’d be in a room rehearsing with Danny Glover and Mark Wahlberg and your voice was as important as theirs, and I really valued that. That was a big turning point for me where I realized that I could be more than just a bit player and actually be respected for the quality of my work in a big production.”

An accomplished screenwriter as well as actor, Walker is currently involved behind the camera on a new project. “I’m writing for a TV series in pre-production which is called Out of Time,” he says. “It’s being backed by GK Films in Los Angeles as well as Shaw Media here in Canada, and in the next few weeks they’re going to take it to broadcasters attending MIPTV. It’s a show about a group of terrorists from 2077 that escape through time back to present day, and they’re being chased by a police officer who is intent on bringing them to justice. It’s a very interesting and high-concept science fiction series and we should be going to camera with it in November with the hope that it will air in March or April of 2012.”

With several science fiction/fantasy credits under his belt, including The Thing, what does the actor enjoy most about working in this specific genre? “There’s something very liberating about science fiction, fantasy and horror, particularly science fiction, where you get the chance to explore a lot of contemporary ideas but in a fictionalized way that you’d never get away with in drama,” he muses. “You really get to look at issues that are very front and center, but without necessarily dancing on the reality of present day.

“So I’ve always loved that with good science fiction, horror and fantasy, there’s a moral that’s relatable to the real world, which is always, for me, the most compelling stuff to do. I also love the escapism of it. I love the larger world of other universes and life forms, be they supernatural or alien, and the wonderful freedom to explore that canvas of bigger ideas.”

Please note, all above photos from The Thing are copyright of Universal Pictures.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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