Ottawa ComicCon 2018 ran at the EY Centre over the weekend, featuring all manner of geeky guests from the worlds of comics, cosplay, film, and television. On Sunday, I took in Q&As from burgeoning sci-fi icons Karl Urban and Doug Jones, and stopped to chat with comic artist James O’Barr.
Read on for highlights:
Karl Urban’s Continuing Journey
Star Trek star Karl Urban kicked off the final day of Ottawa ComicCon on Sunday, discussing his nearly thirty-year acting career, his love of multidimensional villains, and the prospect of Quentin Tarantino taking the helm of the USS Enterprise.
The gregarious New Zealand actor, known for roles in half a dozen sci-fi and fantasy franchises, told funny behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, RED, and others. The best story concerned his long-running prank war with LOTR castmate Viggo Morgenson, who once impersonated Urban in a prank call to his agent.
Urban also addressed rumours that Quentin Tarantino, the fiery filmmaker best known for violent genre mashups like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, is in talks to direct an R-rated Star Trek movie. “It’s all speculative at this stage,” Urban explained, noting that a fourth Trek movie (with a different director) is already in the works and that Tarantino is currently busy with his Charles Manson-themed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
“If there were to be a Quentin Tarantino film, it would be a few years away,” Urban predicted.
That said, he would be interested to see what Tarantino would do with a Trek movie. “I think he’s an exciting filmmaker who rings a vitalization – an energy – to his films,” Urban says. “I’m not necessarily fearful that it’s going to be so foreign to Star Trek fans.”
Of course, Urban is no stranger to reinterpreting iconic characters. Signing onto J.J. Abrams’s secretive Star Trek reboot was a daunting prospect back in 2009, especially since very few details were shared with prospective cast members.
A long-time Trek fan, Urban admitted that it was a “challenge” to capture the spirit of beloved Dr. “Bones” McCoy (originally played by the late DeForest Kelley) without drifting into an impersonation. When the movie finally premiered, his reverent performance struck a chord with veterans of the original series: as Urban’s Bones appeared on screen, he found out later, “Leonard [Nimoy] was weeping.”
“It reminded him of his wonderful friend,” Urban recalled, clearly touched.
While Bones McCoy may be his best-known role to date, Urban’s also played his share of villains. He relishes the chance to play multifaceted characters – people who “can be compassionate [and] understanding, but…can also do the most twisted evil things.” He cited Skurge, his conflicted lackey in Thor: Ragnarok, as an example.
“It’s a little less interesting when you have a character who’s a straight-up bad guy,” he added.
As a follow-up, an audience member asks if Urban would consider playing Batman if the role became available.
“What, you don’t like Ben Affleck?” Urban laughed, giving the suggestion some thought. “To have the opportunity to play an awesome character like that?” he concluded. “Hell, yeah!”
Doug Jones on Make-Up, Mimes, and Monsters
The second Q&A of the day was Doug Jones, the man behind the latex in some of Hollywood’s greatest modern creature features.
A contortionist and former mime, Jones uses idiosyncratic movements to bring to life all manner of cinematic monsters, aliens, and ghosts. On the small screen, he’s appeared in everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Star Trek: Discovery, in which he plays Discovery First Officer Saru. He’s a frequent collaborator of Guillermo Del Toro, portraying fantastic creatures in the director’s Oscar-winning films Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water, as well as the aquatic Abe Sapien in Hellboy and its sequel.
Jones’s performances create a sort of cinematic magic, his fluid and poetic movements conjuring magical beings so lifelike you almost forget there’s a man behind the mask. Behind the scenes, though, it takes extensive planning to develop each character’s distinctive posture, gestures, and movements.
After reading through the script to get a sense of a creature’s abilities and motivations, Jones will meet with his director to discuss additional “quirks and nuances” of the character’s physicality. He’ll then head to a 24-hour gym (preferably in the dead of night) to try out various bizarre movements in front of a mirror (often creeping out fitness nuts in the process). The final step is reporting to the creature workshop to rehearse in costume, making adjustments as necessary.
“The farther you get from human, the harder they get to play and to wear,” Jones said of his costumes.
Depending on the elaborateness of the outfit, creature actors may be unable to eat, see and hear properly, or use the facilities during shoots. (In The Shape of Water, the Amphibian Man’s famously toned buttocks came at the expense of a back flap – a piece of trivia Jones revealed in one of the session’s many TMI moments).
Playing characters like the Amphibian Man, Jones acts under layers of latex and rubber with little-to-no control over his facial expressions. Even in films loaded with practical effects, eye and mouth movements must be added using CGI. However, Jones noted that his gestures often influence which facial movements are added in post-production. “A tilt of the head says a lot;” he explained, outlining how subtle bodily movements “can inform what the face does.”
Limited visibility is another challenge he frequently deals with. For instance, Jones’s Abe Sapien costume in Hellboy only allowed him to see by “peering through the tear ducts” of the mask. Once, while filming a scene in Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, Jones mistakenly kicked one of Hellboy’s many cats across the set, thinking it was the sandbag used to mark his place.
To the dismay of many fans, Jones won’t be returning to the Hellboy franchise – and neither will Abe Sapien, as far as Jones knows. While the film’s original cast was eager to take on the apocalyptic conclusion to the saga, Del Toro was unable to secure financing for Hellboy 3. (The franchise is now being rebooted with a new director and a new cast).
Hellboy 3 isn’t the only unrealized Del Toro project that left fans wondering about what might have been – back in 2010, the director was slated to helm a multi-part of The Hobbit (eventually taken on by LOTR director Peter Jackson). Jones was tentatively offered a role in that one, but he never found out what Del Toro had planned.
“[He said] ‘I can’t tell you, because if I don’t get to do it, I don’t want you to kill yourself,’” Jones recalls.
Jones will soon get to realize his lifelong dream of playing Count Orlok in an upcoming production of Nosferatu. Directed by The Witch filmmaker Robert Eggers, the remake uses green screen technology to incorporate footage from the original film. “I got to play in the environment of the original film,” gushed Jones, who’s wanted to play the vampire for decades.
After over thirty years in show business, Jones has played pretty much every type of monster, ghoul and ghost under the sun. Is there anything other role on his bucket list?
“I want to play in a Hallmark family Christmas movie,” he declared, without a hint of irony. “I want to play the dad of a grown woman who’s going through some issues and give her some good advice, wearing a Christmas sweater and holding a cup of cocoa.”
Highlight of the convention: Meeting James O’Barr
James O’Barr’s Q&A on Sunday was cancelled due to a scheduling issue, but the artist and writer behind The Crow was on-hand at Artist Alley for much of the day to chat with fans, sign autographs, and take commissions. (I stopped by to say hello and express my affinity for the comic).
Recently, O’Barr has been consulting on the upcoming film adaptation of his legendary graphic novel, a remake of the 1994 cult classic. (The new film, which will be released in the fall of 2019, is set to star Games of Thrones actor Jason Momoa, who was a featured guest on Saturday).
O’Barr’s last ComicCon appearance was in 2016, where he added his insights and caustic sense of humour to a lively panel on the comics industry.