Andrew Stanton began his career as a writer for a new series of Mighty Mouse cartoons before joining the nascent Pixar studios in 1990. He was one of the leading voices that fashioned it into the movie powerhouse it has become. He co-directed A Bug’s Life in 1998, then flat-out directed Finding Nemo and WALL*E… both of which netted him Academy Awards. His first live-action project is the new version of John Carter, a lifelong passion that finally found an outlet. He spoke with the press about the project at the recent junket for the film. A partial transcript of his comments follows.
Question: You seemed to have a lot of passion for the source material.
Andrew Stanton: I read it when I was 11, I think... ironically the year before I saw Star Wars. It's tailor-made for a boy that age. I just got hit with it right at the ideal time. I had lots of friends who could draw. I would go over to my friend's house and all his brothers were drawing these tharks, these four-armed tusk characters. I would be like, “What the heck are those?” And they told me about the books, and so I started reading the books. We're talking almost 30 years from then until now; I pretty much spent that whole time just waiting for somebody to make the movie. I just wanted to go see it. I never planned on making it; it I would just pay any money go see somebody make this. When it got really close to being made with Jon Favreau, I was one separation away from a lot of artists that were working on it and I started to get really excited about it. When it fell through and went back to the estate, the property, I was really crestfallen. And it just happened to serendipitously be at a point where I was three years out from finishing WALL*E. I always like to think about what I might do next, so I won't have a blank canvas when I finish. I took a serendipitous phone call with the head of Disney at the time. I said, “Would you consider letting me maybe get it made? And if you don’t, you should buy it and have somebody make it. It's just a crime that it's not going to get out there.” It's one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for moments, because a month later they bought the three books and said, “Do you want to do it?”
Q: What were the biggest challenges of taking this one?
AS: It’s a tough property to tackle as a movie because so much has been derived from it. How do you find the thing that made it special? I felt like I found a way in which was to make it feel almost like a historical piece. Beyond that… there's nothing harder than live action. When you're making a film like this, you're standing in every kind of weather, been in every kind of environment, for 100 days. I don’t think you stand when you animate at all.
Q: So after this, would you want to jump to another live action movie or would you rather go back to animation?
AS: I fell into animation because I loved drawing and I fell into animation features without planning it. It just was like I was in the right place at the right time working at Pixar. I just got driven by ideas. We would take ideas that we couldn’t do. We loved the idea so much it would make us rise to the occasion and solve it and figure it out. We realized that the key is that you need to be that inspired. I've always followed that muse since then. I just go with the idea I love so much, because I know that a point will come when it's going to let me down and it's going to fall apart and it's going to go through a horrible puberty phase where it's ugly. And what's going to get you past that and make it great is the idea. I just have always loved this idea so much; I'm dying to see it on the screen. That's what's gotten any movie I've worked on made.
Q: Who is the most difficult character to cast and why?
AS: I didn’t have a lot of difficulty casting, I think the only thing that I spent the longest time deliberating on were the leads: specifically Carter and Dejah, because they're such a duo. Very few people have read these books these days; there wasn’t this kind of Tolkien or Harry Potter kind of pressure on it. But for me, they were my Harry Potter, so I cared as much as if I was casting Superman or Bond. When I was a kid, I thought Carter was an older guy, in his 40s. So I was looking at this whole range of people between like 35 and 45. Then I went back to IMDB; Sean Connery was 29 when he did Dr. No, Harrison Ford was 31 when he did Star Wars, Christopher Lambert was 27 in Highlander. So that kind of opened my eyes to Taylor because I'd always thought Taylor would make a great Carter.
Beyond that, I wasn’t too worried. Lynn Collins was trained as a stage actress and had done enough film so I knew that she was you know she would be good. When you've got Willem Dafoe, you let him tell you how it's done. He's the one with all the experience. And I really tried to get the best British actors, people that I've always admired. British actors predominantly come to work. They don’t come in with an attitude or an agenda. There's no Prima Donnas with them.
Q: Did you speak to any other live-action directors in preparation for this?
AS: I was fortunate. When this was really starting to get serious, conversations like that were happening was right at the same press junket time for WALL*E. So I was going around the world and I was getting to meet a bunch of film makers. I ended up spending an afternoon over at George Miller's studio in Australia, for example, and I was given these opportunities to get some quick advice.
The most consistent notes I got were pretty much in the camp of “plan to death and then be prepared to throw it all out once you're on set.” If you don’t plan and you just wing it, you're screwed, but if you go in with a plan and you throw it out and wing it, that makes all the difference in the world.