A few days ago, I got to talk to Ray Stevenson of ‘Rome’ and ‘Punisher: War Zone’ about his current role as Volstagg in ‘Thor’. Here, Ray talks about what it was like wearing a ‘fat suit’ in the movie and what it was like working with Kenneth Branagh…..
Hey Ray! Thanks for taking the time out to speak to me. Obviously, we’ve got you here to talk about your role in ‘Thor’, coming out in UK cinemas on 27th April 2011. What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
What a starter! Well, it’s Shakespearean in scale. As a thumbnail outline – basically, Thor is on the brink of assuming the throne of Asgard. Preparations are laid for Odin to hand over the crown which rules over the nine realms in outer space. Our Earth rests in one of these realms, but dark forces are at work and an old enemy of Asgard has been plotting – and executes a strategic strike at the heart of Asgard on the day of Thor’s coronation. Thor and Loki, with the Warriors Three strike back with a vengeance – without Odin’s decree. As an outraged father Odin see’s his son’s recklessness and banishes him to Earth – without his powers …….. (To say any more would incur the wrath of Odin!)
The film is based both on the Marvel comics and the Norse legend – were you a fan / follower of either before you signed onto the project?
When I attended ComicCon for ‘Punisher War Zone’, I owned up to the fact that the whole comic book world was a huge unknown to me. The quality of writing and creativity blew my mind. I hold the genre in such high regard now. As for the Norse legends – I had my formative years in the north-east of England – my father’s homeland of Northumberland. A place littered with Vikings and Norse mythology. Indeed, my father would often tell me that the derivative of my surname ‘Stevenson’ was in fact ‘Svenson’, a fine old Viking name.
Tell us a bit about your character in the film.
Volstagg is loosely based on Shakespeare’s ‘Falstaff’. A sexy hedonist with a tendency towards violence. A great story-teller of wild heroic tales that may or may not have taken place. He wears his gigantic heart on his over sized shoulder and his loyalty is more profound than anyone could ever imagine. He loves Thor with all his heart and Asgard is his talisman – his reason for life – his responsibility and his family.
Supposedly you’re wearing a ‘specially designed fat suit’ in the movie…can you tell us a bit about what it was like working with that?
The ‘fat suit’ was a revelation!!! I had three on rotation as they got quite sweaty ! The thing is – they actually had to be cleaned with ‘vodka’. Soap and water would have deteriorated the suit. Alas the vodka cleaned but evaporated very quickly! I had to also wear an under vest with tubing sown in which I could connect to a small machine and have ice water pumped through to bring my core temperature down. Without it, I would have certainly been unable to perform and it could’ve been quite dangerous. It was a great pleasure to shed the skin every night !
The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins – what was it like working with them?
Chris Hemsworth – perfect casting! He carries the movie with all the angst and innocence of a young man on the cusp of greatness. He has been given all the prowess and confidence he needs to be a true leader and a king – yet all his blessings have left him wanting more. Natalie was a gorgeous tour de force. She holds you in a gaze that is both experienced yet in wonder. A huge capacity to accept and build within a scene. Anthony Hopkins was a consummate actor, thoroughly prepared and completely unpredictable. He gives you so much and explores you.
What was it like working with Kenneth Branagh – the man at the directing helm of ‘Thor’, so to speak?
Working with Ken was a real joy. The movie was a behemoth and required a strong hand at the helm to guide it along its way. Ken is quite a ‘fierce’ character. Fierce in loyalty, in passion and in drive. He had to meld the two worlds of Asgard and Earth together and bring to the fore this epic tale. His unrivaled grasp of Shakespearean scale and layers of complexity in a heightened drama is just one of the many weapons in his armory. I had the best time working with him and will always be grateful for his faith and confidence in me to bring Volstagg to the screen.
What do you think of the 3D aspect of the film? Are you a fan of 3D / IMAX yourself?
I am a fan. I have just completed filming ‘The Three Musketeers’ in 3D for Paul Anderson. I’m very keen to see how the narrative will hold up and drive the story along. I do however have a loathing of HD – for me it simply kills movies. They become unwatchable and at best become comparable with some early 70’s TV shows. No-one has yet been able to tell me how to simply turn off the HD facility should I wish to do so.
Let’s talk about you Ray – what made you want to get into acting in the first place?
I can’t be quite sure of what it was that triggered my desire to act. It was a feeling that grew and I was just generally drawn to it, and eventually I had to focus on it and see what it was all about.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in acting?
Be honest with yourself and trust your instincts. There’s no mystery to being an actor but you have to love it – just ask yourself what you really mean by the idea of a ‘career’ as an actor.
Throughout your career, you’ve had quite a lot of roles in historical dramas, such as ‘Rome’ and ‘King Arthur’, would you say that you enjoy playing those types of roles more – because of the historical element? Do you have a personal fascination with history yourself?
I have always been delighted by history. It’s a treasure trove of likely events written by a few with often conflicting perspectives. I set out to never play a historical character. I don’t know what that is. The people I portray are contemporaries in their times and face the same human dilemmas as we all do.
Of course, most people will recognise you as either Titus Pullo from ‘Rome’ or Frank Castle from ‘Punisher: War Zone’ – if the two of them went into an arena for a battle to the death – who would win and why?
Frank Castle seeks no redemption and is (I believe) the more lethal of the two – however, Pullo has the gods on his side – you do the math!
As you’ve stated, you’ve just finished work on ‘The Three Musketeers’ – and you’re playing the role of Porthos in it – it looks really exciting, what can you tell us about the project?
This was a real blast and great fun to shoot. It’s going to be a ‘rip-roaring, rollicking, roller-coaster’!! So much fun for the family. I am very excited to see this come out. Shooting in 3D was not so different from normal shooting apart from the fighting. When wielding swords at full tilt you don’t have the safety aspect of ‘laying off target’. The 3D cameras can almost see around you so every thrust and strike had to be ‘on target’. So the discipline was extremely high during training.
What else is coming up for you in 2011? I understand you’ve just become a father again!
Yes, my latest is two weeks old as I write. What a year! I am about to head off to LA for the ‘Thor’ premiere and then off to Vancouver to shoot ‘A Single Shot’. A dark drama and an unabridged brutal tale. Directed by David Rosenthal and written by Matthew F. Jones – (it’s based on his novel). After that …we shall see.
Thanks for the interview!