'Jack the Giant Slayer," the latest phantasmagorical big-budget, special-effects film from "X-Men" director Bryan Singer first got under way about three years ago. But back then it had a different director -- Singer replaced D.J. Caruso -- different writers (Singer brought in Christopher McQuarrie to rework the existing script) and even a different title: Somewhere along the line, "Jack the Giant Killer" became "Jack the Giant Slayer," and while "Fee, fi, fo, fum" is still in the script, no one says anything like "I smell the blood of an Englishman" (much less talks about grinding bones or making bread).
There is a beanstalk, though, and several first-rate actors, namely Stanley Tucci, as the villainous Lord Roderick, and Ewan McGregor, as the king's most trusted knight, Elmont. They spoke to Newsday contributor John Anderson from a press day at London's Hampton Court Palace -- originally built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey during the reign of Henry VIII.
The film hews fairly closely to the venerable "Jack and the Beanstalk" fairy tale, but is it tough talking about a movie you started shooting almost two years ago?
Tucci: One hopes to be able to do a junket like this pretty soon after a film's done, so it's fresh in your mind. But it's nice to see the old gang again... after so many years.
As the movie's chief swashbucklers, you both seemed to be in competition for the Basil Rathbone Award.
Tucci: Ewan actually was gunning for the Errol Flynn Award; I was the one channeling Basil Rathbone. But you know, those old adventure films that people like that made, they had a great impression on me when I was a kid. And Ewan felt the same way. And when we were offered a movie like this, it's tough to say no.
McGregor: There aren't very many opportunities to play a part like this, the kind that has big classic character where you immediately recognize who and what they are. And the script is full of wit and humor, which made it even more fun.
In a sort of architectural sense, you're both playing the same role: Nicholas Hoult ("X-Men First Class") is Jack, Eleanor Tomlinson ("Alice in Wonderland") is Princess Isabelle, and usually in these adventure stories there would be another principal male, usually a villain. But here are the both of you, sort of occupying the same space.
Tucci: I suppose it's structured in a strange way. In another movie, Ewan would be the male lead, and I would be the bad male lead, but then you have Nick, who's really the male lead, and it's all very confusing.
Is it confusing for the two of you -- both very serious actors -- giving a performance in a movie that's so rich in special effects?
McGregor: The job is the thing. You have to still play a scene as if you're in your character's shoes, but the interplay is slightly different. Or not existent: Usually, you have another actor there, and you're reacting to each other, and you create the scene together. The giants aren't really there, of course, but they did prerecord all the giants' movements with motion capture, so we were able to see what we were doing -- we could watch what we were supposed to be seeing, and we watched it before we did a take -- at which time we would be looking at a tennis ball on a stick or something. And then you just use your imagination, more than anything else. But the job is the same at the end of the day. You have to create the same effects.
Tucci: Obviously, it would be much more fun to work with another actor across from you and not a guy with a tennis ball on a stick. And it's more exciting. And you get a lot more satisfaction as an actor from doing a movie like that. Well, some of them, anyway.