The BFG owes a debt of gratitude to its actor’s D.O.G.
Mark Rylance used performance-capture technology to bring to life the big, friendly giant in Steven Spielberg’s movie, but it was his pet, Apache, who provided unwitting guidance about how he should handle the pizza-pan sized rotating ears.
“I tried in my imagination to imagine that I had appendages that were like these big, huge ears that swiveled and were expressive in the way that my dog’s ears are expressive,” Rylance tells EW. “I learned a lot about the BFG from my dog, actually.”
Apache, who was asleep in the recent Oscar-winner’s apartment during this conversation, was startled to hear himself discussed. “He’s just woken up from his bed. ‘What’s he talking about?’” Rylance joked. “He’s a little Jack Russell Terrier, but he is very expressive.”
Based on Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s novel, The BFG is the story of a big, friendly giant who befriends a clever, curious orphan girl — then has to protect her from the even more colossal rival giants who mock and torment him. Like many other storybook monsters, those other giants love to devour children, but The BFG is a strict vegetarian. He subsists on boat-sized snozzcumbers, which are just revolting enough to make cannibalism seem not-so-bad.
“I think he is lonely because of he doesn’t want to take part in the eating of children,” says Rylance. “The heart of the story is a love story between two very lonely people, a platonic love story between a kind of grandfather figure and a granddaughter figure made more extreme.”
The big ears get a workout whenever the character is alarmed by his even larger giant brethren. “Particularly of course when the big Fleshlumpeater comes banging at the door,” Rylance says. “My ears would swivel like a dog’s ears and hear it.”
Although The BFG is rendered digitally from Rylance’s performance, the actor says they made an attempt at crafting fake stand-in ears for the sides of his head — then abandoned it.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t like it,” Rylance said. It turned out to be simply one apparatus too many. “With the helmet and the little camera that’s hanging down on an arm in front of my face, and then all the dots on my face, the ears just looked kind of ridiculous. Nothing else about me looked at all like anyone, other than some kind of spaceman. So, it wasn’t really necessary.”
Instead, Rylance studied Apache, and would let Spielberg know when he imagined the ears in action. “At certain moments I said to Steven, ‘I think I might be reacting at this moment with my ear, like raising an eyebrow. So I’m just going to think with my eyes but I’m waving my ear or I’m twisting my ear or lifting my ear, and then you can fit it in later on.’”
Keep an eye — or an ear — out for The BFG on July 6.
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