NarniaWeb and NarniaFans get Exclusive Interview with Tony Nixon
Recently NarniaWebber Pshawn sat down with actor Tony Nixon to talk about Nixon’s role as Rynelf in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They touched on everything from costumes to the Dawn Treader set itself, and much more. This 30-minute audio interview gives us a great look into the making of the latest Narnia movie. Don’t miss it! Transcript below!
Thanks to Pshawn and Tony Nixon for the interview! And to coracle and johobbit for the transcript!
9:58am, sitting at “The Chopping Block” a coffee shop in Buderum, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. It’s a very warm Spring day… Why did I decide to wear a sweater?! I nervously begin to pace around the back of the room. I don’t even know who I am supposed to be looking for. I nervously pull out my phone and begin to compose a text message just in case he doesn’t recognise me. I look up from it distracted by movement in the room to see a short gentleman approaching me beaming a well used smile.
Relieved sighs let out we quickly fall into introductions. I’m surprised with Tony’s candour and after several minutes have passed I pinch myself and realise I should probably start recording this interview we had planned.
INTERVIEW WITH TONY NIXON — BY PSHAWN 4 SEPTEMBER 2010
P: Well here we are, we have…
TN: ..Tony Nixon, who played Rynelf.
P: And we’re both here sitting in a cafe, catching up, having a brief chat about your role as Rynelf, in the new movie coming out December 10th. So, I’ve had some questions come through, a lot of them have come through from Narniaweb fans because they were the ones who got back to me in time. So we’ll start off and we’ll see where we get to and we’ll see what we can find out. So, can you give us a quick rundown of how you’d explain your character to someone unfamiliar with the movie and the role, and exactly what you do in the movie.
TN: Okay, well, that’s a big question. Rynelf is a member of the crew of the Dawn Treader. It’s no secret that in this film he is a First Mate, and I know that in the book Rhince is the First Mate, and there’s been some conjecture about blah blah blah, Rynelf’s the first mate and Rhince’s role has changed and so on and so forth. I can’t go into that too much for obvious reasons. But actually on the DT there are a number of people who wear First mate uniforms. It’s certainly not unusual on a ship to have ranking officers. So my role on the ship is as First Mate, so therefore I am answerable to Drinian directly, played by Gary Sweet, and then I pass those orders on to the crew. So that’s basically my role as an officer on the Dawn Treader, the Narnian navy’s finest ship.
P: Lovely. So how much screen time or dialogue would you have in the actual movie?
TN: That’ll be very interesting to see how that comes up in the cut. Dialogue-wise, I do not have a huge amount of dialogue; I’ve gone to great pains to let people know that I don’t have a huge amount of dialogue. But because this film is mostly set on a ship, all of us have a lot of screen time as you can imagine with a crew of about (not a film crew, the ship’s crew) thirty or so sailors. We’re all in a lot of shots pulling on ropes and crossing through frames and a lot of the reaction shots to the stuff that the leads are saying.
P: Excellent. And we’ll get to some reaction shots in the questions a little bit later. How did you get the role?
TN: Well that’s interesting, because everyone knows that actors have agents, and agents are wonderful people (if he’s listening; if he’s not, agents are about as much use as a chocolate teapot!). I was very fortunate that the way things work in the film industry, particularly in Australia, is through the grapevine. Now I had been touring overseas for two years on and off with a live show, really out of touch with what was happening in film and television. For various reasons I decided I wanted to move on from that show, and a very good friend of mine, Neil Fanning, who incidentally plays the voice of Scoobydoo in both the Scoobydoo movies, said to me “Are you doing anything in Narnia?” And I said,”in what?” He said, “in Narnia”. I said,”I didn’t even know the film was being made here.”
And so I got online onto a casting site called 82/AT2, which is an internet casting site, and looked at the roles, and saw the role of Rynelf which particularly interested me, but actually to be honest with you I’d have been happy to get an Extra gig as just one of the crew, because it’s such a huge film to be made here. I then contacted my agent, my agent contacted the casting company, sent photos, and like everybody else, I auditioned. The different thing is with this audition, normally when you audition for a major feature film what happens is you have your first audition, and then you have what they call Call-backs. So you have a second audition, you go back, they pick out maybe half a dozen people who they think might be close for that role. Well, my agent phoned me, and he said “Congratulations, you’re Director’s Choice; Michael Apted said you’re Director’s Choice.”
I said, “Great, when’s the Call-back?” He said, “No, no, you don’t understand, you’re Director’s Choice.” So Michael Apted actually personally chose me for the role.
P: Fantastic! That’s a pretty significant sort of thing to happen, especially on a movie of this scale.
TN: Yes, it is. When I met Michael (because it was done on tape), he was very dry, very English, and he just said,[imitates MA) “Lovely to meet you, you look very good on tape!” And that’s about all you get out of Michael.
P: I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not! So was it what you thought it would be?
TN: No, it wasn’t what I thought it would be. Because we were working on a gimbal, on a ship, that rolls and pitches and moves, with 30 actors at least playing the crew of the DT, plus most of the time 30 crew members (who are like film crew), in very cramped conditions, although the script didn’t change and the action didn’t change,the process of getting it done was quite arduous and a lot different to what I was expecting, yeah.
P: So as part of that process, obviously, there was the costuming and the makeup and all that sort of preparation that you need to put into it … was there any sort of physical preparation for the role? Going and working out in the gym for a while? Or getting your battle scars, or making yourself look really sunburned all the time?
TN: I tend to keep myself pretty fit anyway, I do like to work out; they had said from the word go that we’d need to look fit. So I did actually put in a lot of extra work in the gym, I did bulk up. It was rumoured that there’d be a scene on the oars deck where we’d be sweating with our shirts off, which is terrifying, because I was about to consider the possibility of wax. [laugh] But ultimately it didn’t come to that. The bizarre thing is -you look at the Narnian costumes: we are wearing great big shirts with huge puffy sleeves, so my perfectly-formed pecs were nowhere to be seen! I’d already done a fight training course, because I knew there’d be some sword fighting in it, so I’d bought a practice sword and basically just brushed up on some of those skills — so that I didn’t take somebody’s eye out during the sequence.
P: Probably pretty important.
P: Makeup-wise, was there much to do to make you look beautiful for every shot?
TN: Absolutely not, what are you saying?! [laugh]
P: Was the reverse true, they had to deteriorate your face to make you look weather-beaten?
TN: No, fortunately for me it only involved growing a beard and growing my hair longer, and the makeup girl every morning filling in a few bald patches. That was about all it amounted to; I didn’t have any prosthetics or anything like that. The poor guys who had to go in every day for two hours pre-shoot… We’d shoot for 10-12 hours a day; an extra 2 hours in prosthetics is no fun. Even though Howard and Tammi are beautiful people, they realise too that for those actors. So I was very fortunate that I had half an hour in makeup every day.
P: So what about the props, did you have any actual props that you got to handle, or that you got given and you went,”Wow, this is pretty…”?
TN: Well, I got a sword!
P: Well, that’s the way. Did you get to keep the sword?
TN: No! In actual fact we used the same swords that were used in Prince Caspian. So it’s kinda nice, because there’s actually a shot of Edmund, one of the publicity shots where he’s got two swords in a battle sequence, and one of those swords is mine now (Edmund if you’re listening, Skandar, it’s now mine). Yes, so I remember coming home to my son and saying “I’ve got this role in Narnia”. And he’d read the books, he said “That’s fantastic”, — he’s eleven. But when I told him I’d got a sword it was like all the trumpets in heaven had gone off – “Wow, you’ve got a sword!”
Other props — there is another prop but I can’t tell you.
P: Interesting. Okay, we’ve talked about the gimbal before. How was it working on the gimbal? What was probably the most interesting part of it for you? For those that don’t know what a gimbal is…
TN: Yeah, a gimbal is a hydraulic platform that the ship sits on. And if you’re familiar with the movie Master and Commander, that’s how that was shot. It’s a lot easier to shoot the film on dry land, obviously, than out on the ocean. That way you get camera cranes and equipment on the outside of the boat shooting in. So basically it’s like being on a big fairground ride; it rolls the boat around and pitches. It was fascinating to know how it worked, because for each sequence they would program the gimbal to go through various set movements, so that when you re-shot that sequence from a different angle or from a pickup or two weeks later you might pick up some more lines in the same sequence; it was already pre-programmed to pitch and roll or do what it was supposed to do. From an actor’s point of view, it’s certainly another thing that affects your focus. Because you’re delivering lines basically on a stage that is moving — so yeah, it was interesting.
Once we got into Studio, and shot some B action sequences, (which again I’m not allowed to answer too much about, although anybody who knows the book knows there’s a serpent involved), big action sequences with a water cannons and tons of water being dumped onto the deck, and then that thing really rocked. It is capable of moving in ways that you would not believe — it can pitch almost onto its side.
P: Did they have to like harness you in for that sort of stuff?
TN: Well, important people got harnessed in [laugh]
P: The ones who were meant to fall off, fell off?
TN: Yeah, yeah,there were a lot of stunt men falling around. I never got harnessed in.
P: Wow! Does that say something about your role? [laughs]
TN: I don’t know. There was a sequence where one of the sailors gets attacked in the crow’s nest, and he falls out, and I desperately begged Michael Apted for me to do that role. And once again in his very dry way he said “Oh no, you’re far too important, we’ll get a stunt man.” I don’t know what that says about stunt men. But no, I was never harnessed in, but obviously camera guys, especially with hand-helds and shoulder-mounted cameras, were harnessed in. Often the makeup ladies and the auxiliary crew were harnessed in; we were on the deck in shot, so we were either harnessed or stunt doubles were used for the particularly dangerous moments. I had a stunt double, – but he was never used.
TN: [laugh] He was on deck a few times in scenes. Lovely guy, but never actually replaced me, so.
P: Cool! So, with the books, talking pre-interview you mentioned that you read the books as a child and had them growing up; did you read them again in preparation for the role?
TN: I read The Dawn Treader in preparation for the role. I wasn’t good enough to go back and read LWW; but two things about that is firstly, it’s a family favourite in our house, LWW — my kids have read it, my wife works in a bookshop and specializes in children’s books — we know that book very very well; and we have worn our.. was going to say DVD but it’s actually a video cassette…worn that to oblivion. And seen the stage show in London as a child. So I’m very familiar with LWW. But yeah, absolutely, I did read DT again, yeah.
P: So did you notice differences from the book into the movie and how your character evolved or changed or was introduced?
TN: Yes. I’ve got to be very careful here. Of course as you’d all understand, any book that’s adapted to film is going to have changes. And I don’t think I’m saying anything there that people don’t already know. I obviously can’t comment on what those changes are. In my heart I seriously and honestly feel that the film is true to the truths of the book, if you like, the spiritual truths are all there. I don’t think anyone’s going to be disappointed with that, and I think the themes of the book are all clearly there.
P: Right, so, I guess … we’ll ask one question: this actually came from one of the guys on NarniaFans. He asks, more directly towards you and your faith: so, you have a strong faith in your life?
TN: I’m always very careful how I answer this because a lot of people identify as a Christian, and that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and I’m finding myself in the public eye. I certainly wouldn’t put myself up as a poster boy for Christianity, but yes, I do have a faith, and I do have a belief system, but, yeah, I’m nervous of putting myself out there because of other people’s expectations of what that might mean, and I’m going to disappoint someone. [laughs]
P: We’re all human …
TN: Yeah, very human, very fallible, but yes, I have a faith.
P: Yeah, and so in Voyage you mentioned, there is still that spiritual side of it that does come through that, from the original C.S. Lewis, I guess people can read into a lot of spiritual messages. You believe that a lot of those have still remained intact there, being offered in the movie?
TN: I do. I guess it depends what you read in the book, of course, because everyone reads something different. For me, there’s a lot in the book about tackling fear–in the book where they’re going to the mist, or into the darkness or whatever it is, and fear comes upon then, there’s a lot about the need for an external, stronger force to help us overcome our fear. I believe that’s very strong in the film. The whole Eustace, you know, falling and being redeemed by the power of Aslan is very strong in the film. I don’t think any of that is lost. In fact, I’d go as far as to say if you made a direct page-by-page copy of the book, my personal feeling is, that people that watch that would be the people who’ve read the book, the people who probably are Christians already. To some extent, I think this will reach a far, far greater audience with this same message than just a page-by-page lift of the book, but that’s just my personal opinion.
P: Oh, good, that’s what we value. [both laugh]
P: Okay, so, back on to the movies: the costumes. Talk about the props a little bit; the costumes. Now, one of the most famous things about Narnian clothing is that it’s so amazingly comfortable. Is that fair to say about the costumes you were wearing? [P chuckles; TN laughs heartily]
TN: Uh, no! [laughs again] I have to say that wardrobe are fantastic, and wardrobe do their utmost to make you comfortable. I have two costumes; three if you count the hat. Now, I’m a short man and I had a real problem with the hat because I felt it made me look like a smurf, but everyone else said the hat was great, and I wear it in one sequence, and it makes sense to wear it because the weather conditions in that sequence make sense that I’m wearing a hat. The sailors’ uniforms–and they are uniforms: we’re a navy–are comfortable. There’s no problem with that, although working in Australia, even in September outdoors, pretty warm, with very heavy velvet waistcoat.
P: It’s September now and it’s, you know, it’s very, very warm. Everyone’s walking around in t-shirts at the moment.
TN: Yeah, we had some 30° days on set that were pretty uncomfortable, so that costume wasn’t too bad, and I must say the detailing was beautiful. Every single button on my waistcoat had a little Narnian navy emblem, and the belts were all leather-tooled. Nobody in the world could put these costumes on on their own [P laughs] so you have a vision of all these sailors getting up in the morning and helping each other dress, you know, because obviously we had costumers to help us into that …
P: Doing each other’s hair and makeup …
TN: Yeah, exactly. Let’s leave it there … [both laugh] … but, we had to wear armour. Armour is incredibly uncomfortable. Armour is … the first thing that happens when you put on armour is that you get an itch you cannot reach. It’s rather like anything you put over your face, or if you put on makeup on your face, anything, you know, saying “you don’t, don’t touch; don’t touch your face”, you know, you don’t mean to get an itchy nose, but the armour was uncomfortable and, in fact, the first day I wore the armour it cut my back open …
TN: … on my shoulder blades; broke the skin. The costume department were fantastic. Within twenty minutes they had re-padded that but, of course, the damage was done. So, the armour is not comfortable. We spent two weeks on a sound stage where we were soaked to the skin all day, every day, and so, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, that’s not comfortable. And the colour ran in my pants. My trousers are purple, and I remember after one particular wet scene, I had purple legs for about three days. [laughs]
P: The costume department hadn’t checked them that thoroughly.
TN: They hadn’t fixed the dye, that’s for sure [both laugh]
P: Okay, so, back on to the characters. Now, you said there is only so much you can say about the characters …What changes can you talk about that you saw between Rynelf and Rhince’s dynamic?
TN: Oh, well, okay. I actually don’t know what I can say …
P: It’s very — it’s a tough question because it’s really grey …
TN: It is a tough question, and I know that there is so much speculation out there, and of course I had to sign various papers that say “ooo, you can’t say this and you can’t say that”. What I will say is that in this film, Arthur Angel, who plays Rhince, and myself, decided that Rynelf and Rhince would be buddies, so there is some bonding and some camaraderie between the two of us. Yeah. Yeah, that’s probably as much as I can say. There’s no issue with their ranks, shall we say.
P: I know there’s been some talk about the scene, there was the “that’s no volcano” comment …
P: They’re asking what accent–obviously Drinian’s using in the clip–what accent you’d be using? Does it change or are you all going with the same accent, or is there a bit of a mish-mash on the …
TN: There is a bit of a mish-mash. Somebody very high up in Fox, I believe, made the decision that they would go with U.K. accents. I don’t have a huge problem with that. To my mind, when C.S. Lewis wrote this, being English, he would have–I think he would have envisaged English accents, and I know Doug Gresham had no problem with it at all. There were some issues about the Telmarine accent because in Prince Caspian, it’s a very Hispanic accent–it’s a very Spanish-sounding accent. That decision was made back then. Fox decided they did not want that. They did not want that Spanish accent. I don’t know why. Obviously that decision was made well above me, and so U.K. accents are basically what we went for. There’s a certain amount of uniformity–the Pevensies are upper middle-class English, anyway, so they have that fairly set in stone. Probably the most controversial fact is that Ben is now talking with an English accent. We all decided on set to say “Well, you’re the King; you better have elocution lessons”. I think if you watch the two films back-to-back, that might be an issue. I would hope that anybody watching the film standing alone, that won’t be an issue.
P: Well, if you think about it, he’s not the same person.
TN: Well, he’s not, and absolutely right. What we went with for the sailors–what I went with, and what most people went with–was west-country English, but I softened it, because I was aware that, particularly with American audiences and overseas audiences, they may not understand it, and I did not want to sound like a pirate. Having said that, there’s a huge tradition in the U.K. of sailors coming from the west country, so that rural English, that rural west-country accent, similar accent you might hear the hobbits using in the Shire, is kind of where I went with that.
P: So, how hard was it for you to fake that sort of accent living in Australia?
TN: Well, born and raised in England [both laugh], and having lived in the west country, I’ve always been very fortunate with English accents–I can do about 28 … and most of those will pass even to the locals, so very, very fortunate. I need to work on my American accent: anybody who’s seen Mermaids, I apologize [chuckles]. That’s one of the films I did in the past where I used an American accent, and so if I’m going to make it in Hollywood, I’m going to have to work on that a bit.
P: Okay, dealing with the CGI in Narnia, what was the challenges that you faced, and the most exciting parts of it?
TN: Again, for me, not a huge challenge. My background prior to acting was in physical theatre and mime, so I’m very used to working with things that aren’t there, as a mime artist–is one of my skills, and so that wasn’t a huge problem. We always were given an eye-line, a point somewhere to look at, that, obviously, to act to. As an actor the challenge is that you’ll get nothing back. Someone is reading the lines, and they very often are standing in a completely different part of the ship, so from a listening point of view, you’re getting your lines from a completely different area, which is awkward, but you do get used to it. It was a challenge for all of us in scenes where the whole crew had to sight-line, for instance, Eustace, when he was a dragon, or the whole crew had to sight-line the sea serpent–something that’s moving at speed and over the top of the boat; getting everyone to hit the same spot and look at the same spot was difficult. Reep’s very easy because Reep has a little stand-in mouse that they use, and there he sits and you have your eye-line.
P: So, what sort of things did they do? Did they have like a giant tennis ball they would throw across the sky or …
TN: In the studio it’s fine because they just used a laser light and you’d shine it up on to the green screen. Out on the boat, not so easy ‘cause basically we were assigned points that were numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and there’s actually a youtube clip where you can hear the 2nd AD–the 1st AD, actually, Jeff, [possibly Jim] saying [imitates the AD] “The dragon’s at 1; now he’s flying around to 2; he’s at 3 [P chuckles]; he’s on the crow’s nest, and then so you kind of … everybody had to know exactly what those points were. That became more complicated because as the day went on and the sun moved, they would then shift the boat on the gimbal so the shadows were the same, and all those numbers would change. So, I know that in Prince Caspian with the water god, they used their remote-controlled helicopter, and in hindsight, I think that would have been terrific to have done that for us on this. We didn’t have that luxury, for some reason. 150 million dollars, obviously they cut on the remote-controlled helicopter.
P: Okay, this is probably a bit too much of a spoiler, but I’ll ask it anyway … Does your character make it to the end of the movie?
TN: I don’t think that’s a spoiler: he makes it to the end of the book … and therefore he makes it to the end of the movie. Yes.
P: Okay, great! That’s good to know …
TN: It’s always good for an actor, too, because when you read through a script and go “Oh my gosh. I die on page 12” [P laughs], that’s never good. [both laugh]
P: So, I guess then, it points to reason that the great sea battle at the end, you’re going to be in it.
TN: Yes. Yes, I am. Yes. How much I’m going to be in it, I don’t know, because action sequences are shot in such a way that everything is 1 and 2 seconds long, so there’ll be flashes of me.
P: Pained looks; expressions of shock?
TN: Yes, yes. [both laugh]
P: I guess the only other question is the one we mentioned previous to the interview, which is about certain characters not making it in, and you mentioned that you couldn’t say.
TN: I cannot say, no.
P: Can you even say the character that we are asking, whether they made it into the movie or not?
TN: What I would say is if you go into IMDb at this point in time, if they’re not on the cast list, they’re probably not in there. Either that or they’ve got a very bad agent. That’s as much as I’m prepared to say.
P: I think that’s a very, very non-committal answer.
TN: I should be a politician.
P: Exactly. [both chuckle]
P: The only other thing, I guess, is the opportunity for you to tell us anything that you’d like to. Is there anything you think the fans would love to know about, that you’ve got a special inside into?
TN: We were shooting this digitally, as you know, because it’s being made into 3-D, as well as 2-D, so we were able to watch everything on the split screens, so we were able to go down into the director’s tent, into the DOP’s tent, and look at the stuff on-screen. I think visually it’s going to be amazing. The stuff we saw had not been colour-corrected; the stuff we saw still had green-screens in place and blue-screens in place and various orange marks and points … they’re all, of course taken out at the time the film is produced. I think visually it’s going to be a stunning film. I think it is going to differ from the book. I think if you are wholly and solely locked into a page-by-page lift, let go of that idea, and accept the fact that it is true to the themes that Lewis put in there. Trust Doug. Doug was on set every single day and Doug makes sure that that happens, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the end. The end varies from the book only slightly in that who is there, but the message that I know, particularly you people of faith, want to be put across at the end of that film is crystal-clear, doesn’t change, and if you can walk away from this film without shedding a tear, then you got a rock in your chest.
P: Fantastic. It sounds like it’s going to be amazing. It sounds like it’s going to be …
TN: I’m excited! [laughs along with P]
P: Yeah, well, I can tell you’re excited. I’m excited. I mean … it’s something that we’re going to have to wait until the 10th of December to see.
TN: Yes, and hopefully I’m still in it. What ends up on the cutting room floor; what ends up on the screen. I’ve got all these wonderful people there and thank you, all, for joining my fansite. I hope you’re not disappointed.
P: So, have you got any plans, yet, for the premiere? Have they booked you in to …
TN: No, no. Funny enough, we’re actually finding out–the Australian cast are finding out about the premiere the same as everybody else via websites. We have one or two people that are in contact with producers: it’s now a Royal premiere, as everyone knows, which is very exciting. I don’t know which Royals are going to be there. There are at least four support cast members, I think I can tell you, myself, Steven Rooke, Mirko Grillini, Arthur Angel, who do want to attend, and have made it clear we’re willing to pay our airfares and go and attend in London, and now we’re waiting to hear back.
P: Yeah, look, I don’t think there’s much else to quiz you with at this stage. I’m sure, as the movie gets close to coming out, and there’s a few more facts and tidbits out there that we can start quizzing you about, there may be some more questions that come up.
TN: Let’s see what other trailers come out …see what’s in those, and yeah, I’d be very happy to talk to you after the film comes out. I think there’s going to be discussion …
P: That’s when you can tell us all your secrets you couldn’t tell us before.
TN: Yeah, and also, yeah, and maybe talk about my feelings about what was changed and what wasn’t changed.
P: Yeah, yeah. I’m really excited for it. Thank you so much for making yourself available.
TN: My pleasure.
P: And from NarniaWeb and NarniaFans and everyone else who’s going to be listening to this, thank you so much for your time and we look forward to seeing you on the big screen very shortly.
TN: Thank you very much, and can I just put in a plug for my Facebook site? Guys, I do have a fan site: it’s run by Admin; it’s not run by me because I’m very, very busy, but I do get on there most days and answer people’s questions personally. So, just go on to Tony Nixon Official on Facebook and we’d love to see you there, and there’s lots of news on there about the next film I’m doing too.
P: Yeah, and that one sounds really exciting, so please do go check it out. Thanks very much.
TN: Thank you!
Tony thank you for the interview you are a gentleman and a scholar. It was a privilege, nay an honour.