Filmmaking is in Danny Huston's blood. Son of John, grandson of Walter, half-brother of Anjelica, he belongs unquestionably to the family business. He started his career behind the camera, directing such films as Mr. North and Becoming Colette before turning to acting in 1995 with a small role in Leaving Las Vegas. He has since appeared in over two dozen films, most of them decided departures from mainstream fare. His genre appearances in particular are offbeat, eclectic and always unique. He played a hunted outlaw in The Proposition, an obsessed art historian in Children of Men and a truly monstrous vampire in 30 Days of Night. This Friday, he joins Hugh Jackman on the screen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, playing a younger version of Colonel William Stryker. In an exclusive interview with Mania, he talked about stepping into Brian Cox's shoes, the challenge of finding the humanity in darker characters, and that little piracy dust-up you may have heard something about.
Question: What drew you to the character of Stryker?
Danny Huston: He has this wonderful evangelical quality to him. He feels he has the God-given right to rid the world of mutants. There's a love/hate relationship with them: he admires their strength and abilities the way a horse trainer might admire a great thoroughbred. And he has this very gentle way of manipulating them until he understands them. These kinds of stories are almost Biblical in some ways, like Cain and Abel. Stryker belongs to this mythical world--these demigods in conflict, which makes this such a wonderful palate to work from.
Q: Were you familiar with the X-Men before starting the project?
DH: I was familiar. I wasn't a huge fan, but I was familiar. The most daunting thing was actually watching Brian Cox's brilliant performance as Stryker [in X-Men 2]. I didn't quite know how I could do better or bring more to the character. That's really when I went back to the source material and looked at how Stryker was brought to life in the graphic novels.
Q: How much work did you do with the director in determining the character's direction?
DH: The wonderful thing about Gavin Hood is that he set out to make a rather gritty and realistic version of the X-Men… assuming that realistic is a word that still applies to characters with such abilities. We worked to approach things from an emotional point of view so that the action scenes didn't become too operatic. Gavin was very helpful in that regard.
Q: How about Jackman?
DH: Obviously, Hugh Jackman has played this character several times before, and has defined it very well. It's impressive to watch; he's such a sweet, lovely guy, but when that camera turns on, he instantly becomes this beast of a man. He can literally do it in the blink of an eye. That's helpful because you're inhabiting a world which has already been defined. You have people around you who know and understand it so profoundly. There's a lot of green screen and a lot of stage work and stunts, and a lot of stuff broken up into small pieces. It's helpful because the producers and people like Hugh understand the process… and more importantly, how the process ties into the characters. That makes it easier to do your own work.
Q: Was this your first experience with green screens and that style of filmmaking?
DH: On that scale, absolutely. Some of the sets are really spectacular, and then on other occasions, you have nothing but the green screen. It took some getting used to.
Q: Will that experience have an effect on future projects? Would you like to try something of this scale again, or are those decisions more dependant on character and script?
DH: It's always about script and character in the end, but it's great to inhabit a world which is being created for you. These CGI geniuses are painting with such a rich palate. In a way you're very dependent on them. When you see a scene that's been put together, you're really taken aback by the world which you're inhabiting. That's another sad thing about having to deal with this leak of the work print. It's disappointing to imagine people watching it when it's not finished.
Q: What do you think is the solution to leaking movies onto the Internet? I mean you can catch the guy who did it and hang him up by his toes, but the environment for that sort of mischief is still there.
DH: I'm sure there's going to be ways to secure these prints more thoroughly as technology advances. But as you say, piracy is practically the norm by now. Some people have said that the leak has brought more awareness to the film, but certainly nobody wants to garner awareness in that fashion.
Q: You've played a couple of memorable villains recently: Arthur Burns in The Proposition and Marlow the vampire in 30 Days of Night. Those guys are pretty big-time evil. How do you go about finding the motivation for characters like that? How do you find what makes them tick?
DH: There's a slow, gradual dissection of the characters as you work to figure them out. And gradually, as you understand more and more about how they think, the evil side of them diminishes. In a sense, Arthur Burns is the most morally uncompromised character in The Proposition. He has such a clear understanding of his enemies, and this slightly psychotic protectiveness of his family. He just lives in a very violent setting. In a way, violence is a part of his habitat. With Marlow, he's really cursed as a vampire. He's unable to survive without blood, he can't survive in the sunlight, and there's a sort of deep-set anger about all of that. Anger towards God, towards whatever created him and made him this way. One of my favorite scenes is where the little girl whispers "oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," and he actually searches the sky to see if there's any such thing. He's trying to understand what created him and why. Those kind of qualities help… not to justify their actions but at least to understand where their actions come from.
Q: Do any of those qualities apply to Stryker? Marlow's anger? Burns' protectiveness?
DH: Somewhat. Stryker's son, who's a mutant, killed his mother, Stryker's wife. So there's that love-hate emotion which I mentioned earlier. He's quite righteous and he feels he's on the side of right. He understands the potential danger that mutants represent to the rest of humanity. I suppose anyone who possesses that kind of deep fear can justify any action towards someone they perceive as an enemy.
Q: It's a silly question, but it has to be asked. If you could have a mutant superpower, what would it be?
DH: Tactile hypnosis would be a very useful one, where you just touch somebody and they do whatever you like. But they're all quite wonderful. And as I said, there's something mythical about the X-Men. They're these demigods, fighting out these epic battles in the sky. To have those sort of godlike powers would be quite strange.