The Legend of Tarzan Director David Yates Interview

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I was invited by Warner Bros. Pictures to screen  “The Legend of Tarzan”.  I also joined a group of bloggers and participated in an interview with Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie (you can read that one here).  We also got the privilege to interviewed director, David Yates.

The “Legend of Tarzan” is directed by David Yates and Rated PG-13. From Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures comes the action adventure “The Legend of Tarzan,” starring Alexander Skarsgård (HBO’s “True Blood”) as the legendary character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The film also stars Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction,” the “Captain America” films), Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou (“Blood Diamond,” “Gladiator”), Oscar nominee John Hurt (“The Elephant Man,” the “Harry Potter” films), with Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (“Iris”), and two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”).

It has been years since the man once known as Tarzan (Skarsgård) left the jungles of Africa behind for a gentrified life as John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, with his beloved wife, Jane (Robbie) at his side. Now, he has been invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, unaware that he is a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by the Belgian, Captain Leon Rom (Waltz). But those behind the murderous plot have no idea what they are about to unleash.

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David Yates is seriously a talented director.  If you’re a Harry Potter fan he actually directed the last 4 of those movies. Let’s just say he knows a thing or two about special effects.  I am always impressed with people who are extremely passionate about what they do and within seconds I could tell David was one of those people.

Q&A with Director David Yates

What was the hardest part about bringing a new version of Tarzan to modern audiences today?

David Yates:  Do you know, when I got the script, I thought I knew this character.  I was reading lots and lots of scripts after Potter.  Tarzan came across my desk.  And I thought, “I know this character.  I know this world.”  When I was a kid growing up in the north of England, I saw those old Johnny Weissmuller films on the telly all the time.

And so, I didn’t read it actually.  I actually said to my office, “Can you have a look at it?”  So, they read it over the weekend. And they said, “You’ve got to read this, David.  It’s really, really fun.”

And so, I opened it on Monday morning.  And it was immediately obvious it wasn’t going to be difficult at all because this wasn’t, “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”  It was about human being who had changed.  He’d gone civilization.  He’d gone to London.  He’d become an English lord.  He was living in a big stately home.  And he sort of lost touch with his roots in Africa.

As I got into it more and more, what I really loved about it, I was reading lots of scripts.  But, none of them had a beating heart.  None of them felt exciting in a kind of romantic–I wasn’t reading anything that felt like it had a beating heart.  I was reading lots of cool stuff with lots of things blowing up, with lots of things that were kind of fun.  But, I felt I’d seen it all before.

And even though it’s an old character, it felt very fresh to me.  So, immediately, I didn’t think it was going to be very difficult for an audience to go, “Well, I thought I knew it, but I don’t know this character.”  And there was the politics.  It was the fun and the comedy.  It was the romance.  It was the big epic sweeping landscapes.  It was all of those things that just felt–I haven’t seen this for a long time.  You know, so, that made it feel fresh and different to me.

So, I fell in love with that as soon as I read it really.

Which theme do you feel was the most important or the biggest challenge to convey?

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David Yates:  The thing that really pulled me in was the fact that it was about two human beings that ultimately save each other.  And I felt that was a very moving thing to have at the heart of it.  So, it was fundamentally about–Jane saves Tarzan at the beginning of the movie because she pulls him out of the jungle.  She kind of civilizes him.  She brings him back to England.  And she kind of saves him.  And then the second half of the movie is really about him trying to save her.

But, without each other, they’re incomplete.  He’s kind of strong and connected to the environment and loves animals and has these extraordinary abilities.  But, without her, he can’t really survive.

Romantic but real is the key I think, yes.

When you read the script, did you have actors in mind?  

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David Yates:  You’re spending a good deal of money on a movie.  And you need to sort of make sure that the studio feel comfortable.  And certain people, obviously, attract an audience.  And certain people–they–the studio concerned about.

Alex I always felt was right because I love Alex because I liked his–it sounds very simplistic.  I liked his shape.  I liked his length.

It’s lovely–for me, it had grace.  And it felt beautiful.  And his legs are really long.  And his arms are really long.  And I wanted to get away from a Tarzan that felt wide and sort of had a big neck and sort of like–though, not to say that that’s not an unattractive shape.

But, for me, if you’re swinging through the jungle, you need really long arms, really long legs.  You need to have dexterity.  And you need to be able to move in a beautiful way.  So, oddly, his versatility for me was crucial.

I like the fact that Alex felt other.  He’s Swedish, which makes him immediately other.  He lives in America.  And he’s trying to build a life for himself here.  But, he doesn’t feel that, he feels sort of other.  And I like that very much.

And Margot–the studio introduced me to Margot.  And they said, “You should meet this actor.”  She was just in a movie called Wolf of Wall Street.  I didn’t really know very much about Margot.  So, that was a kind of the studio saying “Would you meet Margot?  We think she’d be great.”

And I thought, “Okay.” “Well, let’s meet Margot and see.”  And it was a really smart call on their part because I met Margot. She’d just been traveling around Europe with her little brother.  And The Wolf of Wall Street was coming out.   I was expecting this very glamorous, and she turned up.  And it must be the Australian in her, but she was a real earthy tomboy.  She was really regular, down to earth.  She was like a boy in a way–in a good way.  She was just very unpretentious.

And I thought, “Well, if we’re going to have a Jane, let’s have an unpretentious Jane who’s earthy and gets on with it, knows her own mind, but she’s beautiful as well.”  You know, so, that was a no-brainer.  As soon as I met her, I thought, “The studio has got this right.  I really like here.  I think she’d be great.”

Sam (Samuel L. Jackson) is just an iconic actor who is, frankly, celebrated around the world.  I often hear about Sam.  People say–actually, when I said to the studio I wanted Sam, they said, “But, Sam’s in everything.  Why do you want Sam?”

And I said, “Do you realize everyone beyond your shows doens’t think he’s in everything?  And if they do, they go and watch him because he’s a classic, iconic actor.  And the world loves him.” 

Then with Christoph Waltz , we did look at some other actors for that role because the bad guy’s–so, you look at lots.  I had to pursue Christoph.  I had to woo him.  I flew to Belgium to meet him.  I flew to Berlin to meet him.   He played hard to get.  But, we persisted.  And finally, he said yes.  I’m glad.

Where was your favorite place to film? 

Mr. David Yates:  We filmed a lot in England and Gabon, which is where we shot all the wonderful landscapes.  And Gabon’s the most beautiful, amazing place in the world.  You can only get around by helicopter.  And it’s pretty special.

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Make sure you check out “The Legend of Tarzan” in theaters this Friday, July 1, 2016.

Also, make sure you check out my interview with Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie.

 Disclosure: I was invited on a press trip to screen The Legend of Tarzan and interview the stars of the movie. 

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