G.I. Joe: Retaliation Set Visit: Ray Stevenson

Q: How does it feel to be the Big Bad of the film?
Ray Stevenson:
It’s so much fun. I get to blow stuff up and shoot guns. I have a fight with that big man over there. It’s a lot of fun.

Q: You’ve been doing a lot of iconic properties between Thor, The Punisher and this.
Stevenson:
I only do icons. Actually, I’m not sure what it is. It’s a desperate measure to try and get an action figure for my two little boys. Finally, I may be getting one! “Thor” was going to do one, but I haven’t seen it.

Q: Speaking of stuff for kids, the riff on the Punisher you did for “Super Hero Squad” was hilarious.
Stevenson:
Ah, yes. He’s a weird character to try and throw in the mix somewhere. He’s sort of walking death. Someone once asked me, “If you put Spider-Man, Batman and who-ever man in a room with you, who’s going to come out?” I said, “Oh, come on. They don’t kill people.” It’s unfortunate, but if you’re on Frank’s list…

Q: There’s kind of cult growing up around that film now.
Stevenson:
I think so, yeah. It would be nice. Not a lot of fans knew it when it was out, but it really has grown over the years, which is really nice.

Q: There have been talks of turning the Punisher into a live-action television series.
Stevenson:
Really? Why not? I mean, there’s always room for a good vigilante story. Not that I advocate vigilantism! But there’s always room for a good one. I just think that, with Frank Castle, you run the danger of popularizing him to a certain degree. You don’t want Billy Ne’er-do-well’s kid tooling up and going back to take revenge on all the bullies at school, do you? Again. You don’t want to glamorize someone like Frank Castle and say that’s alright to take vengeance into your own hands. That’s why, with “Punisher: War Zone,” we really made of point of showing the world as a dark place. You’re kind of glad he’s there and you want to see what he does next, but it downplays that idea that someone would want to go out and actually be Frank. People wear the symbol. They wear that skull in different ways, shapes and forms. If you cross a line, there’s zero tolerance. If you go and murder children or rape children, you’ve crossed a bloody line. There’s a certain instinct in everyone that there’s a zero tolerance line somewhere and it’s not up to the lawyers to really work that out.

Q: Does Firefly have his own agenda in this movie, or is he strictly working under Cobra Commander’s orders?
Stevenson:
Yeah, he’s working with Cobra Commander. He’s very much a right hand guy, really. But he is a mercenary type of character, basically. He was an ex-Joe and he’s now going for the highest bidder. Now he dresses better.

Q: So he has a history with some of the Joes?
Stevenson:
Not so much personally as just with the whole Joe setup. He’s got no problem with murdering a few of them. He just lights them up, really. One of the lines we tried at one point was, “I’ve broken out of eight prisons, but I’ve only broken into one.” So yeah, he’s got a bit of a sketchy past. He’s just fascinated with things that go boom.

Q: You’re wearing some very distinct makeup.
Stevenson:
This is only half of it because I’m in the car today. Ordinarily, they darken the hair and do more on the scar. I had this idea that it should be a bone white tree of a scar, like the mark of Kane.

Q: How did this project come your way?
Stevenson:
Lorenzo di Bonaventura very graciously called my agent. He said he was a bit of a fan and asked if I’d be interested in playing Firefly. I said, “In a heartbeat. Where and when?” He said, “New Orleans.” I came here once before a few years ago for “Cirque du Freak” and was delighted for the chance to be back.

Q: Were you familiar with the cartoon or the comics beforehand?
Stevenson:
It was all new to me. It was a new world to discover, which was great fun. It’s got its own kind of energy and its own genre. It’s own sort of style. Ninjas. The Arashikage. If you can commit to that world, it’s great. You can only take the comics and the previous movie so far. Ultimately, it’s about the script. That’s what you then zero down on.

Q: Did you find that with your other roles in Thor and Punisher that you were dealing with a fanbase that was already very active and engaged?
Stevenson:
It’s scary, really. But they’ve invested. The fanbase is invested, especially in such established, iconic characters. They’ve invested every week and every fortnight, buying the comics for years. Actually, the characters belong to the fans. You do have to be respectful of that, but you’re not doing the comic. You’re doing the script. With Volstagg, other than having a CGI Volstagg that’s nine feet tall and nine feet wide, it was more to try and get the spirit of it. He’s a guy who has got a heart the size of a planet and wears it on his arm.

Q: It seemed like you sure loved wearing that Volstagg fat suit.
Stevenson:
That suit. Oh my god, it was a nightmare. I remember Kenneth Branagh saying, “You can go larger, love. Go larger.” I said, “Alright, but if I dip my toe in the river of ham, you’ve got to tell me.” He turned around and went, “Darling, you’re speaking to someone who has swam in the river many times.” He just said, “You can’t go too large.” So I thought, “All right.” My son was three at the time and, when something upset him, it’s like his whole body cries. Volstagg has that childlike quality. When it’s time for battle, it’s “For Asgard!” and he just thinks he’ll sort it out later and charges in.

Q: One of the things you’re very good at is jumping into character that don’t just look very different but sound very different. Can you talk about the voice of Firefly?
Stevenson:
I like to just change a little thing. You look at the character’s center of gravity. Frank was a heavyweight boxer. He’s got Judo legs. If you hit him with a truck, he’s still going to be standing there. It’s a different center of gravity than someone like Volstagg, whose center of gravity is much higher, even though he’s larger. I remember looking at the elephants in “Fantasia” or “Dumbo” where they’re up on their toes. It’s a different center of gravity. So you can change the voice as well. How someone speaks can say as much about a character as anything else.

Q: Are your key weapons the guns you have on you?
Stevenson:
I’ve got the handguns. You should see my jacket. I’ve got my knife and I’ve got fireflies. Bascially, they’re munitions with bombs. Then my bike is one huge weapon of mass destruction.

Q: How much bike riding do you actually do in the movie and what kind of training did you have?
Stevenson:
None whatsoever. I think it was too risky. Even the stunt guys that use that bike were expert, it was their specialized area. And even they had trouble with that bike. It looks great. It’s got machine guns, rockets, whatever but in actually riding that thing, actually controlling it, it’s a beast. So it wouldn’t even be worth training me up and getting me on it.

Q: Are you excited for “Thor: The Dark World” and is there anything you’d like to see Volstagg do in the next one.
Stevenson:
I’d like him to be in it. [Laughs] I’m still waiting to hear. I was very proud of the first one. I thought Chris Hemsworth did a cracking job, as did Ken Branagh.

Q: It was one of the hardest ones to get right.
Stevenson:
We walked a knife-edge on that movie and any slip along that way and you would have lost your audience but he took this behemoth and pulled it off.

Q: The template is set now, so it should be easier for you guys to go back and play in the world.
Stevenson:
Fortunately he did the Asgard stuff first. Because wearing those larger than life costumes, if we’d have done the New Mexico stuff, it would have looked like the medieval fair come to town. But we had done Asgard and seen some of the biggest sets I’ve ever been on.

Q: What are your fight scenes like in this one?
Stevenson:
I have two or three big fights with Dwayne. Fisticuffs. We end up hand to hand twice. One early on and then one big one at the end – very cool fighting. Very unique… Gun-fu. It’s kung-fu with guns. Firing at the same time, and blocks. The whole sequence was worked out where we both have weapons drawn and are literally blocking and kicking. It’s just incredible.

Q: Are you getting ready to shoot that?
Stevenson:
We’re shooting some of it tomorrow. We have to tidy up with the first unit. Second unit spent two or three days last week on the whole fight.

Q: Is the fight choreography more difficult because you have to have that whole extension?
Stevenson:
Well, it’s technical. Since you can’t be shooting blanks. In case one goes off in somebody’s face. So technically the fight is a choreographed dance because squibs are going off in the wall. So when you do that [motions with his gun] there’s an explosion in the wall. So it’s on target. You just learn it.

Q: Johnson seems like a good action partner because he’s the kind of guy who throws himself into it 100 percent.
Stevenson:
Completely. He’s great. Really easy to work with. He’s fast and strong. Even some of the blocks, it’s like hitting an iron bar. He’s great. I’m not sure I’ve ever fought anyone that size before. He’s monumental. It’s interesting to be eye to eye in a firefight with a guy who is six foot four.

Q: That’s one of the rare things about you physically, a lot of actors are not 6 foot 4 and you bring that physicality.
Stevenson:
I just keep my head down. It’s never really posed a problem – or I’ve never really heard about it. Hopefully I just keep working and no one says anything about it.

Q: In this scene here, you crash and then run?
Stevenson:
No. This scene, we go head-to-head. It leads up to the gun-fu fight. And basically he’s in this attack tank and I’m on my motorbike and we’re literally gunning at each other. Firing all weapons at each other. And I launch some rockets as he launches some and both things blow up. He just blew my bike up. But I have this package which has been taken from the Fort, from the Heads of State. It’s my briefcase, which I can’t possibly live without. So I’m hightailing it off to a speedboat out there with a machine gun on it. And he’s got a bigger boat. And he gives chase. We have this chase around the piers with guns going off and then we’re into this mano a mano. It’s going to be great but this is us going head to head. I think Jon Chu is bringing a lot of heart to this. It’s not just about these amazing toys and action scenes. Lorenzo di Bonaventura, that’s his world as well. But Jon Chu is bringing a lot of heart to it as well.

Q: Chu said there was a lot of improv before filming began but since you’re separate – did you go through that?
Stevenson:
No. We kind of Skyped. “Hi Jon.” “Hi Ray. How are you?” It was weird. Jon and Lorenzo must have had a discussion before that. So, I didn’t get grilled. It was Lorenzo’s role: “I want you to play it but I want you to come up with things. See what you want to do with it.” Very simple. No pressure.

Q: You mentioned Firefly is a mercenary.
Stevenson:
He’s an ex-Joe.

Q: He has no actual political agenda?
Stevenson:
Just power and money. And being with the biggest gang. And I think he just likes to dress like this. He dresses like he’s going to Bahnheim in Berlin. A big club in Berlin, rather than on parade. He’s done his parade days. They’re over.

Q: Did he kill that alligator himself?
Stevenson:
Oh yeah. And ate it. He killed it with a bomb. “I’ll put it on the back of that jacket. It’s going to look cool.” In fact, on the elbow is the tongue. Alligator tongue. I’ve got some stingray skin on there as well.

Q: Have you seen any alligators down here while you’re filming?
Stevenson:
Yeah, I’ve done the tours down in the bayou. And there’s that wonderful, wonderful educational program: Swamp People. None unexpectedly, though.

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