Behind the scenes of The BFG: How to make a Big, Friendly Giant
Add one Oscar-winner, a pair of dog ears, a space capsule, and a well-aged grandpa.
Think of this as one of those fast-motion cooking videos: “How to Make a Big, Friendly Giant.”
First, you’ll need a chef who knows what he’s doing (director Steven Spielberg) and the main ingredient: Mark Rylance, the Tony-winning stage actor who just won the Oscar for Spielberg’s previous film, Bridge of Spies.
From there you’ll also need: A dog’s ears, a space-age pod full of cameras, and one spindly grandfather — well-ripened and freshly plucked from the garden.
Here, we’ll let Rylance explain it himself …
With The BFG opening July 1, EW presents this exclusive behind-the-scenes clip and Q&A with its human-sized star.
Entertainment Weekly: I wondered what the collaboration was like with Steven and the artists who are adding the digital element before you even got started. I assume there was a scan of you …
Mark Rylance: I sat in a kind of space capsule with what must have been 500 little cameras all aimed at me, and they had a whole list of about 120 different expressions and emotions that I had to make for my face that they then took pictures of. And then, of course, every morning, there’s about half an hour or actually more than that with dots being painted on my face. There’s a lot of technical work involved just for them to be able to capture everything I do.
How about in terms of shaping the look of the giant? Did that evolve when you came aboard?
Steven had made a rough animated version of the whole film before we started to film. He had mapped it out and so he showed me, and we talked about the age of the character a little bit. I certainly wanted him to be quite old. I’m thin. Obviously, the drawings are very famous in the book but Steven rightly didn’t want to be stuck to them. Obviously, it’s going to have something of me in it. My eyes and my movement, and something of my…[laughs] you’ll recognize me.
Did you get a voice in how the giant should look, since he’s got your face?
It’s like a very elaborate and expensive makeup job, and usually in the theater or in film when I do makeup, I sit there and I talk with the makeup artist — or I do it myself and you have a view about it. And I thought with this, “No. It really is Steven’s call.” And I thought I would just trust him with it.
I know from the illustrations in the book that the Giant has these massive ears and I wondered did you have to wear any kind of apparatus or was that just something that was added after the fact?
They made some ears to stick onto my helmet. But to be honest with you, I didn’t… on set, the helmet and the little camera that’s down on an arm in front of my face, and then all the dots on my face, and the ears just looked kind of ridiculous because nothing else about me looked at all like anyone — other than some kind of spaceman. So, it wasn’t really necessary.
Would you tell Steven or the effects artists when you thought those imaginary ears might be activating?
At certain moments I said to Steven, “I think I might be reacting at this moment with my ear, like wiggling an eyebrow. So I’m just going to think with my eyes but I’m waiving my ear or I’m twisting my ear or lifting my ear, and then you can fit it in later on.”
Was there a specific scene when you remember doing that?
When the big Fleshlumpeater comes banging at the door — my ears would swivel first like a dog’s ears and hear it. So 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. I learned a lot about The BFG from my dog actually.
Oh, yeah? What kind of dog is it?
He’s a little Jack Russell Terrier, but he is very expressive, you know, where they’re back or they’re up, and he’s just so present. I think mostly I think learned about ears from him.
What’s his name?
That’s a good name.
He’s just woken up from his bed. “What’s he talking about?”
When I read the book, it was about a year ago. I read it to my daughter, who was 5 at the time. She noticed the Giant was lonely because he was trying to be good. He didn’t want to hurt people or be cruel, like the other giants. Behaving and doing good can sometimes be isolating. I thought it was an interesting insight for a kid to have.
Yes. I think that’s very true.
Can you tell me about how the BFG is shaped by this isolation? By loneliness?
Your daughter is really perceptive, and she’s right. I think the heart of the story is a love story between two very lonely people. I mean a platonic love story between a kind of grandfather figure and a granddaughter figure, made more extreme.
Sometimes that generation in between — a very old person and a very young person — can make it easier to be friends, as opposed to parents and children.
That relationship was in my life certainly was so profound, the relationship with my grandmother and grandfather. Most people have that unless they’re unlucky. And so I think the reason the book is so loved by people is that he’s nailed something quite archetypal. There’s something very common about this story, about the loneliness of being very young and being very old, and being rather individual.
Even the Gobblefunk language the giant speaks, mashing up words. That’s something granddads do.
Yeah. Gobblefunk talk. [The Giant] is a little bit more foreign, isn’t he? My grandfather, who lived in Campton and had a garden there, he used to hire some of the local fellows who were unemployed. I think some of the were a little bit… I remember one man, who was called George Greengrow, he’d had shellshock from the First World War and so he was a little bit simple or a little bit vulnerable.
It’s amazing, when you’re a kid, to be welcomed into a group like that, right? You’re a little bit afraid of them but then when they welcome you in, you feel like the biggest person in town. You just feel like such a grownup.
They were interesting old guys. They’d always be down in the shed and we’d go and hang around down there and try and steal raspberries or apples or whatever and they’d chase us, and so they were kind of figures that we were a little bit frightened of — and then realized they had very soft centers and were really lovely guys and very funny guys who were irreverent and very original.
I wish you good luck with the film. Just reading the book out loud, it was a lot of fun to play the Giant, so I can only imagine how it was for you.
Well, I hope fathers will keep doing that. I hope the film won’t stop fathers from doing that. I guess there’s been a recording out of Roald Dahl himself reading it and that hasn’t stopped fathers. So, hopefully the film won’t have a negative effect because it’s lovely to think how many thousands of fathers and daughters have enjoyed that book together and fathers have found their own BFG.
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