Interview: Actor Mark Strong on Playing Sinestro in 'Green Lantern'
by Alex Billington
June 17, 2011
I've had the honor of interviewing actor Mark Strong a few times over the last few years, while following his career explode with riveting roles as villains in numerous big movies like RocknRolla, Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass and Robin Hood. While some comic book fans may say Sinestro is also a villain, in Warner Bros' Green Lantern movie hitting theaters this week, Strong plays a good Sinestro, before his yellow destiny. I met up with Mark at Comic-Con last year for an interview on this very topic, and followed up with him again a few weeks ago after finally seeing Green Lantern to talk about the challenges of playing the alien Sinestro.
Thaal Sinestro was born on the planet Korugar in space sector 1417 and is dedicated to preserving order, making him one of the greatest Green Lanterns in their history. As always, Mark does a fantastic job in the role, bringing some gravitas to the character. I can't wait to see where Sinestro will go beyond this, as fans definitely know that he has an interesting future ahead of him and hopefully we'll get to see Mark bringing that future to life down the road. For now though, here's my latest interview with Mark on Green Lantern.
You've mentioned how important technology was to making Green Lantern, can you expand upon that and how technology was so important for your character and creating this movie?
Mark Strong: Well, the technology has definitely caught up with the vision, so you can make a film like Green Lantern. But what's been fascinating me over the last few days of talking about it is what I've realized is that Superman and Batman are the well-known DC Superheroes. Green Lantern was always considered a second tier one or "the other one". And I realized the reason for that is because you haven't been able to film Green Lantern before now. Superman's problems - apart from the fact he goes to Krypton and back, and Batman's problems are essentially earthboun-- it all takes place on Earth. So once you've got them in the costume, in the cape and the tights, everything happens on Earth. But Green Lantern, you can't tell that story without going to Oa. So it's not that he's a lesser one, it's just that the technology hasn't been able to kind of deliver him until now. I'm sure that's the reason.
But actually, when you think about it the whole, guy finds an alien, inherits a ring, realizes there are other people within the universe, then goes to Oa, then realizes there's a cosmic police force, it's mind blowing. It's way more interesting and cool than Batman or Superman's problem, which are essentially fairly simple.
Speaking of technology, it seemed like you didn't have much control in this role. As an actor, it's important that to fully embody a character, but in this you are wearing grey spandex, heavy make-up, prosthetics, and all you really have control over is your face and head. Is that restricting for you as an actor? And how do you approach that in terms of still giving the performance you want to give?
Mark: It's something you have to get used to. I mean the prosthetic… Funny enough, even though, as you say, the body is CGI, but they are my movements. So I wear a suit that tracks my movements. My movements have been copied, so it is my body. My head, bizarrely, I'm under a prosthetic with contact lenses, so I feel it's very hard to make the usual facial expressions that you would in order to communicate. I had to learn a slightly different way of allowing Sinestro to communicate, by tilting the head, catching the light in a particular way, turning in a particular way to tell the story, because I couldn't rely on furrowing my brow, for example.
But I quite enjoyed the challenge, once I got used to the idea that none of it was there. Essentially, it's not dissimilar from theater because you have to use your imagination. You have to fill in the blanks. And the same is true of theater. You walk out on stage, you know it's not real. You can see the audience. You can see the lights. And you walk off stage and the stage management person is standing there with headphones and a clipboard, even though you're pretending you're in Chekhov's Russia or something.
So you know it's not real, but that's not the point. The point is how you help the audience suspend their disbelief and transport them somewhere else. So I don't have a problem with the fact that I wasn't in complete control like you are in a normal film.
Did you feel that using so much technology to build this world would help in telling the bigger story, specifically with your character and his progression?
Mark: Yeah, because I don't know how you would shoot it convincingly to allow people to believe that there was this place and that these people existed within this place. So I have no problem with… The truth is, it's born out of a truth. The costumes, and they haven't just made them CGI because of a gimmick. The costume designer wanted to suggest that each of these different Lantern's uniforms was their skin, and that the ring created their uniform on their skin.
So if you look closely, Tomar-Re is a slightly scaly version. And if you look at Kilowog's, it's slightly different from Sinestro's, from the humanoid ones. So you need CGI in order to tell that story. I mean one character, one Green Lantern, is Bzzt, he's a fly. How's he going to get spandex on? He couldn't put on a spandex suit! There's one Green Lantern that's just an eyeball. So I love the idea that it's born of a truth, which is that you could believe that the suit is organic. It comes from the ring and from within them. And you can only tell that, I think, with CGI.
While on set, did they ever show you what the world you were in would look like? And second part of this, did you have the chance to look at your performance in relation to the world, with other elements rendered, almost with some pre-vis?
Mark: To answer the second bit first, no, there was no technique to show you, not even on the monitor. Even if you went to the monitor you were still looking at yourself in the funny gray suit with dots against the blue wall. They couldn't phase in, or never did phase in the background.
But what we did have on set was the artwork so you could go and remind yourself where you were. For example, when Sinestro speaks to all the lanterns, I would go and look at where I was and where they were. And, in fact, that had a 3D model on the side of the set, so I could go and see exactly where I was. But in the end I'm still standing on a green box looking at nobody. And part of the challenge of that is what makes it fun.
How much interaction did DC Comics have, specifically Geoff Johns. Did you know him and work with him on set? How much did DC come in to shape the characters, especially with Sinestro because of his mythology and where he goes?
Mark: Geoff's input, and I got to know him really well over the course of making this, his input all happened before I arrived. I think his input was with the writers, with the producers, and with kind of guiding them in the right direction with the mythology. Once we got on set it was Martin's world. Martin was in charge.
My favorite moment was when I came for a test, because we also had to work out… Once Sinestro had the prosthetic, had the color, we had to work out how to light it, because different kinds of light would make the color fade or would make it look too purple. So we had to do screen tests where the light would be changing and we had to see what would be the the best way. And Geoff was at one of those. And I loved the moment when I was able to just go up to him and go, "What do you think?" and see him go, "Oh my God! That is exactly how I imagined him."
And then Geoff, I would ask him about the history and who Sinestro was, why he was the way he was, all of that. He was always around to talk to. But his input was probably more when the thing was being put together in pre-production.
Finally, I want to ask again about how you play so many different, unique characters, as that's what I really love about you as an actor. How do you choose your projects and differentiate your roles, and how do your career choices work in relation to your family?
Mark: Well, I love the idea of transformation. I come from the theater where you are allowed to experiment way more than you are on film. You can play old guys, young guys, you can play people from all over the world in theater, and you have weeks and weeks and weeks to rehearse that and get it right. So I've always been fascinated by playing something that's other than me. I wouldn't really know how to play myself, I don't think. I wouldn't trust that that was the right way to play it.
And that's why… the head of the Jordanian Secret Service [from Body of Lies], great. That's removed from me. Archy [from RocknRolla], a gangster, it's removed from me. I get to wear a wig. It transports with me to somewhere else. And the same is true with Sinestro. What I loved about him was the potential for transformation. And as an actor, that is the thing that I love most of all. Probably why I'm a character actor. As far as my family is concerned, they love everything I do. My boys are absolutely wild about Sinestro. And, of course, the irony is in my house the bad guy is the good guy.
A big thank you to Mark Strong and Warner Bros. It's an honor to speak with Mark every time and I'm always excited to see what he will do next. Green Lantern is playing in theaters now!