Christopher Eccleston has been a staple of genre filmmaking since his debut in 1991’s Let Him Have It. He scored breakout roles in Shallow Grave, eXistenZ, 28 Days Later, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and Doctor Who, where his fantastic work as the Doctor was unjustly lost in the shadow of David Tennant. He joins the cast of Thor: The Dark World as the evil elf Malekith, a role that feeds his knack for playing sinister characters. He spoke about the role to the press at a recent junket for the film.
Question: In terms of the tone, the Marvel cinematic universe is getting more fantastic, more out there. What did you find to hook yourself as an actor into grounding your performances and trying to stay true to your character?
Christopher Eccleston: It’s interesting talking about the humor of the film. I saw it last week and was really surprised at the amount of humor, because I’m such a miserable bastard in this one. I was completely excluded from any of the joy. My character was completely grounded in vengeance. He was like a maniac for revenge. The idea, I think, was to suggest that the dark elves were as ancient a race as the Asgardians, and had a history which is why we gave them a language, and had a culture, but most of all, they had a grudge, which they had slept on for millions of years. What’s interesting about the film is it does have a variety of tones, including a lot of wonderful humor. Our job – the dark elves’ job – was to bring the threat and the menace and the jeopardy. To balance the fun with some real consequences. So we, we ground it in bitterness.
Q: The make-up must have helped find that mindset.
CE: Oh yeah. My makeup call was about three o’clock. I was in the chair about four o’clock, ten o’clock, I hit the set. I was not a happy elf.
Q: What’s the dynamic with Malekith, and how does that interact with the romance and the sibling rivalry: the other parts of the film?
CE: That’s what I said to my agent. “The point of my storyline is for me to get paid.” [Laughter.] Seriously the point of my storyline, again, was vengeance. He is a maniac for vengeance. There were some scenes which, for understandable reasons, didn’t make the final cut, which explained a bit of a backstory between me, my ancestors, and Borr, who is Odin’s father. The dark elves were humiliated in defeat, and ground into the dirt by Odin. Malekith has slept on that. He’s had nothing but time to dwell on that. As someone once said, “Let he who seeks vengeance be careful to dig two graves,” because it’s a pointless exercise. It’s ultimately self-defeating. My job was to find that nihilism, to find the dark in the Dark World. To play a man who doesn’t care if he lives or dies, so long as his enemies are destroyed too. Malekith is the opposite of Loki in some ways. There’s no ambiguity with him, no gray areas to sort of dance around in. He is a purist. He’s a fundamentalist. He’s a zealot.