The great love between Tarzan and his Jane is one of literature’s most enduring romances. The strong ape man falls for the beautiful American girl, living in Africa with her father. Tarzan marries Jane, and the two move to England to live as the Claytons, Lord and Lady Greystoke. Except civilized life isn’t really for them, so they return to Africa to live out the rest of their days.
In the newest version of the classic story The Legend of Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie bring the iconic characters to life and display a real chemistry, making Tarzan and Jane’s love affair very romantic and oh-so-sexy. When they are called back to Africa (under false pretenses they soon discover), it becomes a rescue mission for Tarzan to save his love – even though Jane does a pretty good job fending for herself.
At the recent press day, Skarsgard and Robbie talk about taking on these larger-than-life characters and making them their own.
On landing the role of Tarzan:
Alexander Skarsgard: Every Saturday my dad [actor Stellan Skarsgard] and I would go to the matinee in the small town in Sweden where he grew up and watch the old Tarzan movies, so he introduced me to Tarzan and that’s how I fell in love with him, the jungle and that whole world… I was actually on a sailboat in the Canary Islands about to said across the Atlantic and I was looking forward to three weeks of being off the grid entirely with no e-mail or cell phone or anything and I was on the boat, we were getting ready to push off and [director David Yates] called me and said “It’s looking good. I think we’re going to do this” so that was quite exciting. I was pretty stoked when I got off the phone and set course for America to sail across the Atlantic. It was an incredible moment.
On Jane’s modern sensibilities:
Margot Robbie: I think it was important to make sure that a contemporary audience could relate to Jane. The book was written a very long time ago and I think ideologies have changed since then and [director] David [Yates] and I spoke right from the beginning about it. I agree that there is a love story at the core and I don’t think that being in love with your husband should be a weakness. I think that actually makes her stronger so I wanted that definitely to be the focus and though they are so dependent on each other and can’t live without each other, when they are apart, which they are for a lot of the movie, they are incredibly capable when they are alone. It just would be kind of boring just watching her sitting there waiting to be rescued… I don’t want them to sit there and think, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that. I would do this.” But, I hope women watching would be like, “Yeah, good on ya, girl!”
On working with Robbie:
Skarsgard: Margot and I worked a lot on just trust exercises and we played games and would recreate scenes of how they met that aren’t in the movie and it was so nice to have that because we have so little screen time before we are torn apart in the movie so it was so nice to build that relationship off camera so that when we have those moments, hopefully the audience will feel that we have a deeper connection and we’re so comfortable around each other.
On the difficulties of playing Jane:
Robbie: It was new to me to be reacting to things that weren’t physically there in front of me but we had the most incredible sets that I’ve ever seen in my life so everything was tangible like the jungle, those things were there but the animals sometimes weren’t and to get a grasp of the scale of these animals is mind-boggling. We’d have someone run out with a cardboard cutout of how big a wildebeest would be or a lion. I was like “Oh, I need to adjust my eye-line from here to way taller than me.” They’re huge and the same thing with the hippopotamuses and stuff. You can’t really comprehend what that situation would be like. So it was really bizarre kind of acting and trying to keep my reactions big enough.
Skarsgard: We were slightly worried there for a second, weren’t we? When we were on the Savannah and there’s a scene with the big male lion running across the Savannah and there were two guys holding a cardboard cutout of a lion and they were running like this and Sam [Jackson], Margot and I were like “This is going to be a great movie. They really went all out on this one.”
On that loincloth – or lack thereof:
Skarsgard: I was trying to get a little sexy loincloth. I was trying to convince [David Yates] for weeks when we were doing prep and unfortunately, the way the script is written, it opens in London, it’s Victorian and he’s acclimated to life in London then he goes back (to the jungle) and David was like, “It doesn’t make sense. That little loincloth’s got to go.” It shows up after that when he swings through the trees but it’s more like a little mini-sarong.
On becoming Tarzan, King of the Jungle:
Skarsgard: It was different phases. The first phase was three months of bulking up while I was wrapping up True Blood here in L.A. so it was Tupperware with 700 calories a day, steak and potatoes, that kind of stuff and weightlifting. Then, when I got to London about a month and a half before we started the movie, I had a great opportunity to work with Wayne McGregor who is one of the biggest choreographers in the world and that was one of my favorite parts of the whole experience was working with Wayne on the physicality of the character. It was very important that Tarzan is flexible and agile when he moves through the jungles and that he doesn’t look like a body builder so even though I wanted to put on some weight, the goal wasn’t just to get buff, it was to look athletic.
And on what happened right after the movie wrapped:
Skarsgard: When we wrapped the movie, my father was shooting this Netflix mini-series River in London at the time and I got in my car and went straight to his house. My dad loves to cook so I spent four days on his couch just being fed. It was the most incredible week of my life. It was pasta, fried mozzarella, pastries and red wine.
On getting Tarzan’s iconic jungle call just right:
Skarsgard: It was a tricky one because you obviously have to have it in the movie otherwise people would be like “Where’s the call? It’s not in the movie.” But also, when you watch the old movies, they are quite dated and especially the call. It comes in these moments when he’s hunted and you definitely don’t want it to be a comedic moment. It would just take you out of the movie watching it so I didn’t come up with the idea of doing it the way it is now but I think it’s really smart to, instead of having a cheesy shot of Tarzan doing the call, you see the impact on the antagonist’s face, Christoph Waltz’s face, because it makes it more eerie and haunting. I thought that was really smart, having it in the movie but you kind of avoid it being cheesy or comedic, which would be even worse. I did the call for sure but it’s kind of a hybrid.
On the differences between Jane and her upcoming turn in Suicide Squad as Harley Quinn:
Robbie: They are on total different ends of the spectrum so it was kind of fun to go from one character to the other. I really can’t find any similarities between Harley Quinn and Jane at all but it was kind of interesting to play Jane who is so composed in the face of danger and very strong-willed and strong-spirited and emotionally strong and then play Harley who is a bit more of a basket case in most ways. It does end up affecting you because you ask yourself questions like, “What would my character do? What does my character think?” Ultimately, you are asking yourself those things as well. Every character I play makes me look at myself a little more so it’s interesting. But they are totally different. It was cool to explore one kind of person then the complete opposite.