VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Jason Issacs Reveals Challenges Of Being Only English-Speaking Actor On ‘Skyfire’
Jason Isaacs revealed what it was like to work with fireballs and famous Chinese actors on the set of his new movie Skyfire.
“I have built a gigantic tourist resort inside a live volcano,” Isaacs said, describing the plot of the movie to uInterview’s Erik Meers. ” ‘What can possibly go right?’ you ask yourself. And within almost moments a fantastic disaster movie, although I think that in China they call them rescue movies, slightly different tone for the same thing, happens and it’s all those wonderful things that we haven’t seen since the 1970s. It’s, you know, there’s fathers and daughters and lovers and husbands, and there’s many different storylines. The volcano is not playing nicely, and how it all resolves who knows? Will there be any of your fingernails left?”
Isaacs revealed that director Simon West, know for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and The Expendables 2, was given the “keys to the toy box.”
“Entertainingly, some of the journalists I’ve spoken to asked me what it was like shooting near a live volcano,” the actor said smiling. “I hate to pull the curtain back on all this too much, but there wasn’t a live volcano. What there was, was a lot of flame, and a lot of things exploding, a lot of ash in the air, and a lot of what felt like confusion to me, but wasn’t, was carefully orchestrated chaos. So it was hot for a start, and at the end of the day in the hotel room all kinds of strange black objects would come out of every orifice.”
The “roller coaster of a movie” is a Chinese made film, and was shot in Malaysia. “I’m the only actor who was English, and English speaking, so a lot of the instructions from the stunt people and the coordinator and the people blowing things up were shouted in Chinese. So I’m sure I was completely safe, I was in a state of almost permanent panic running around in my many, many suits, many of which got charred and burned and had to be changed” he said laughing. “Hopefully the experience watching it is a little bit like the experience filming it was, which was high adrenaline.”
“I like acting because it’s very social. Every time you go anywhere it’s a new village of people to get to know and yet there I was stranded amongst people I couldn’t possibly understand. … It meant that the few English speakers, like Simon the director and the [director of photography] and stuff, we bonded with each other because we were frankly like we were on another planet.”
Isaacs revealed other challenges of working on a Chinese movie, saying “the work ethic is insane,” and discussing how he prepared for his few Mandarin lines in the film.
“It’s a very difficult language to master because it doesn’t work like any European language,” he explained. “So they have different tones, that go up, they go down, high and low, and you can say the same thing, I’m a pretty good mimic, and if you just get one tone wrong, it goes from ‘sit down have a drink,’ to ‘your mother looks like a donkey,’ or whatever.”
The actor explained that in addition to the language barrier, there was also an emotional barrier: “They’re not just speaking a different language, but of course it’s a completely different culture. So people in China they express emotion differently. They express anger differently, they express grief differently, they ask questions differently.”
Although there were challenges on set, clearly the hard work paid off as Skyfire opened at No. 1 at the box office in China.
“You may not be aware of the scale of the thing,” Isaacs explained. “When a big movie opens in the West, it opens on a couple of thousand screens. When the biggest movies we ever make open, they might open, and this is very, very rare, on 4,000 screens, but that’s almost unheard of. This thing opened on 20,000 screens, the scale of it boggles the mind.”
Isaacs described Chinese films as “sentimental” and “full of feeling.”
“The father daughter relationship is the very heart of this film,” he said. “And I think they looked at other very, very successful Chinese films, and they go ‘What works?’ and ‘What’s important in our culture?’ Well the cross generational thing is very important, almost bigger than romance. You know we in the West, we love romance stories, love stories, and couples kept apart, but there’s the intergenerational thing is absolutely key, and it’s at the heart of this film.”
“The other thing that’s new to me of course is I don’t know who’s famous, I don’t know these actors,” he said. “They’re more famous than any Western actors cause billions of people know them. Hannah [Quinlivan] is the kind of Beyonce, Jennifer Lawrence, she’s married to a massive pop star there. And the gentleman I was opposite [Wang Xueqi], who plays her father, is a cross between every great actor and every great clown and every great presenter we have in the West.”
And although Isaacs said he felt that the cast and crew gave deference to those actors, he said his favorite performance came from a little girl on set.
“She was the most remarkable actress I’ve ever worked with. … But when Simon said to her ‘cry’ and said ‘there’s your dead relative’ or ‘a fireball is about to land on your head’ she could do it all. She could calibrate so perfectly,” he said.
“I was more intimidated by this staggeringly good 7-year-old girl, than I was by any of the other actors,” he said smiling.
Skyfire comes to the United States on January 12, and will be released on digital and demand.