Terence Stamp on playing characters in superhero films
Terence Stamp is no stranger to comic books. In Elektra, he stars as the title character's mentor, a blind, mystic, sort of sage-warrior named "Stick," an old man that can see the future and raise the dead. All in a day's work. Before Elektra, of course, Stamp turned in one of the greatest villain-performances in comic book movie history, stealing each of his scenes in Superman II as the black-clad General Zod.
Even over the phone, from Switzerland, his voice rings loud, clear, and incisive. A polite English accent flutters through each word, and it's easy to visualize his patented imperial stare. Given his omniscient-sounding voice, it came as a shock to me—and to him—that before today, he hadn't yet heard of the new Superman film [due for Summer 2006]. But, now that he has, he's intrigued by the idea of again waging battle with the son of Jor-El...
I understand that the creators of Elektra would KILL to have you in the movie. What finally convinced you to take the part?
Terence Stamp: They wouldn't go away. [Laughs.]
Kind of like the reporters today, right?
Terence Stamp: [Laughs again.] No, no. Look. There are certain things that you think you can do, and there certain things that you think you can't do. I met those guys, and they were really nice and really smart, but I just couldn't see myself [in the role], you know?
Given your other comic book films—Superman, obviously—was there any reluctance to do another comic book role?
Terence Stamp: No, it wasn't that. Well this is my third, because in 1966, I think, I did Modesty Blaise. I loved that. I was disappointed with that, actually, because I didn't think it turned out as well as it could have. But I had a great time on Superman. Especially with Brando and Gene Hackman.
The reluctance I had, really, was that I didn't feel that I could make a reality out of the linear version of Stick [who is blind.]
I thought you nailed it, personally. You added an element of gravitas to the film, and it really needed it. Was the tricky part playing a blind man?
Terence Stamp: Yeah, that was the thing. It's something that actors like to do, but in this particular instance, because it was a comic book, and not really grounded, it's one thing to say, "Oh, he's blind, but he sees the way a Dolphin hears. He's like a bat." Or something. That's all very well, and that's a wonderful comic book philosophy. But at the end of the day, I'm just Stamp. And I'm up there. And when they say, "Okay, action!" I mean, what do you do?
Right. How do you portray that?
Terence Stamp: I didn't really solve it. I just kept saying, "I can't do this, I can't do this," but they just kept coming and coming. And finally I had to sort of think to myself, what is it they see in me that I'm unaware of?
What do you think it was?
Terence Stamp: I don't really know what it was. I don't know what it was. Once I agreed to do it, then I had to get to grips with it. And my idea was, to play the whole movie with my eyes closed. And I'll force another kind of dimension of consciousness. If I can't actually see what I'm doing, and I have to do the movie, then something will happen. And, in fact, I did the first couple of days with my eyes closed. I don't know what's left of that.
You think we'll have some DVD deleted scenes with your eyes closed?
Terence Stamp: Probably! [Laughs.] And I also know that there is a school of martial arts, where in part of the schooling, you are required to close your eyes and be attacked. You do get a kind of sensation on the area of your body that tells you where it's coming from.
To fully incorporate the rest of your senses in a more heightened degree.
Terence Stamp: Right. So that's the way I engaged in that.
One of Stick's more intriguing lines in the film is, "The war has just begun," hinting at a possible sequel. Is that something that you see yourself doing?
Terence Stamp: Well, I certainly had a very good time with the other actors, and I certainly worked very well with Rob [Bowman, the director.] Having engaged with it, having realized that it's something that's doable—that it's not something too abstract to bring onto camera—then yeah, I would be happy to do it again. Because in fact, he's a rather interesting character. Apart from the extra-sensory perception that he has, he's a guy that's looked over the edge for a long time.
He is. And what I find interesting is that he's not your typical benevolent old wise man; he is benevolent, but he's also Machiavellian. He pulls the strings. He orchestrates the larger role for Elektra.
Terence Stamp: Yeah. There was a kind of philosopher, or sage, really, that came out Russia in the 20's. And I thought a lot about him. He was one of those people who was deadly serious about increasing the consciousness of people. And he did have a band of disciples that he dragged across the world with him. He was cognizant of a much broader reality than most people had.
You spoke earlier about Superman. Given the new Superman that they're making [with director Bryan Singer, due out summer 2006], has anyone approached you about reprising your role as General Zod?
Terence Stamp: To be absolutely frank with you, I just spoke to a guy earlier this evening, and he told me, for the very first time, that this was happening. I had never—ever—heard that before. So within the space of a couple of hours, you're the second person that's mentioned it! [Laughs.]
So you've never heard about the new Superman film before tonight?
Terence Stamp: Never before. The thing is, there's been talk for years, so I don't take any of it seriously. They talk about doing a remake of Modestly Blaise. People talk about all kinds of things. But you're the second person. So it's Bryan Singer?
Right, Bryan Singer.
Terence Stamp: And it's Kevin Spacey, doing Gene's part?
Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. And then Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane.
Terence Stamp: Oh! Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Right.
What's interesting is that Bryan Singer said that he wants to honor, to some extend, the continuity of the Richard Donner universe. So that made me think, well, in the Richard Donner universe, there's General Zod—
So it would be fun to see everyone's favorite villain back in action...
Terence Stamp: Well, the truth is, I know that Dick Lester is credited with Superman II, but...
Donner essentially directed II, right?
Terence Stamp: Donner did about seven eighths of II. Richard Lester just finished it off. The important thing, I guess, is that Richard Lester did edit it.
So, theoretically, would you want to be General Zod again?
Terence Stamp: Well, there's a special place for Zod in my heart. And the fact is, I'm rather thrilled at the amount of people for whom it was their first film. At the time I did it, I thought to myself, by the time a lot of these kids grow up, there's going to be many people who love General Zod as they do Superman.
Terence Stamp: And that's come to pass, so I'm rather proud of that. I've also discovered that there are several General Zod websites [chuckles.]
I have friends who walk around saying things like, "Kneel before Zod!"
So. Theoretically. In this imaginary world where the contracts are worked out and so on, you would be open to the idea of reprising your role?
Terence Stamp: Oh, I'd love to reprise the old general.
There are rumors—again, rumors—that Jude Law is in line to take the part.
Terence Stamp: Really? [Surprised.] You're telling me this for the very first time. If Jude Law played Zod, I'm sure he'd do great. He could be "Son of Zod," couldn't he? Unless it was a kind of prequel.
And if he's "Son of Zod," then you could have a cameo, right? Everyone wins!
I've also heard that there were some talks of you being involved in a Smallville episode. Any truth to that?
Terence Stamp: No. The thing is about Smallville, I was rather flattered to asked to be the voice of Jor-El. And I did several episodes just doing that voice. But it hasn't come up for me to appear in it.
Interesting. Were you credited officially as the voice of Jor-El? I hadn't heard that.
Terence Stamp: I'm not sure, to be honest. But I would imagine, yes; I did do about four episodes.
But we won't be seeing you as Zod in Smallville?
Terence Stamp: I don't think so. But the young porters at the building that I'm staying at in London were very thrilled that I was the voice of Jor-El. They knew it the minute it hit the TV screen.
I'm not surprised. I think a lot of fans out there are happy to see you involved in the Superman mythos once again.
Terence Stamp: [A tone of genuine surprise] So are they really going to do this? Singer? Is it attached to a studio?
Oh, Yeah. Warner Bros. I believe they start filming in a few months.
Terence Stamp: [Again, surprised] Wow!
They have a relatively unknown in the lead role, a soap star, Brandon Routh. But yeah, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, they're all officially involved. Well, it would be great if we could see you somehow get attached to it again. It would make a lot of fans really happy.
Terence Stamp: Ahhhww. Sounds good to me.
Speaking of upcoming projects, what can you tell us about These Foolish Things?
Terence Stamp: I generally try to get a couple of weeks in London during the summer. I go to Wimbledon, the flower show, that kind of stuff. This year I was there, and a job came up that was a couple of weeks, and it coincided with the time that I was in London. It was a project with Anjelica Huston and Lauren Bacall. It was a young, first time woman film-director who had written a script, and had raised the money herself.
And I met her, and I was impressed with her. It turned out to be a kind of bittersweet, feel-good movie that took place immediately before World War II. It's about a very young girl who wants to be an actress; it's about that theatrical milieu in London at the end of the 30's.
And can you talk about your character?
Terence Stamp: When it starts off, you think he's a butler. But in the description, it said that he's more like an actor who's playing the role of a butler. As the film unfolds, he's one of those people that's all things to all people. He's one of those people that can turn his hand and do anything.
So there's more to this butler than meets the eye.
Terence Stamp: Yes. Exactly. He's not like Ramsley [Stamp's character in The Haunted Mansion]. He's not a ghost-keeper. [Laughs.]
Much like Stick. More to him than meets the eye.
Terence Stamp: [Laughs again.] Right. He's an ordinary fellow who knows a few things.
Gotcha. So is there anything else out there on the horizon?
Terence Stamp: No, sir. That's about it. I just take it a job at a time. We're in Switzerland, right, and we're recovering from days on the slope. And in the evenings we read. And I've almost finished the Da Vinci Code.
Just read it myself. What'd you think?
Terence Stamp: Wow, I just thought it was a real page-turner. And I must say, a lot of the things I agree with, in terms of formalized religion.
Absolutely. It really makes you think about how the church has manipulated things for hundreds of years.
Terence Stamp: Yeah. And I know that to be a fact, but it's one thing to know it, and it's one thing to see it in a big, wonderful, bestselling novel.
They're making a film of that, too...
Terence Stamp: That's what I was thinking. And I think that all the, you know, the Division I English actors will be after that part, but I would certainly love to do that. So, fingers crossed! [Laughs.]
Elektra was released January 14th, 2005 and stars Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Kirsten Prout, Will Yun Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Terence Stamp, Natassia Malthe, Bob Sapp. The film is directed by Rob Bowman.