Lynn Collins, who’s probably most recognizable to this point as Kayla Silverfox from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, knows it’s rare you find a female character as strong as Dejah Thoris, the female lead in Disney’s John Carter. The trick is getting the audience to look beyond her obvious physical beauty and see a character there. But the fact she wears little more than a few pieces of decorative jewelry in Edgar Rice Borroughs’ source materiel makes it all the more difficult.
“We didn’t want to make her only visually enticing,” Collins explained. “We, [director Andrew Stanton] and I, wanted to make sure the first thoughts are ‘who is she? what is she thinking,’ not ‘damn, look at those double Ds,’ you know? In one way, we had to pare it down and cover it up a lot.”
Still, it’s hard to imagine Collins won’t be ushering in a whole new generation of adolescent nerds with a few outfits that rival those of the, now iconic, image of “Slave Leia” from Return of the Jedi, regardless of how much they tried to “pare it down.” But Dejah is very much a warrior, and Collins hopes she can inspire more than just the male fanbase.
“Because I’m playing such an archetypal feminine force, I want children and women, specifically girls and women, to say ‘I can be this, I can be that strong, physically, emotionally, mentally that intelligent,'” she said. “And, for guys, to support such a strong woman, to be on her team.”
Dejah is the titular character in “A Princess of Mars,” the first book in Burroughs’ 12-volume “John Carter of Mars” series. It was published exactly 100 years ago and laid the groundwork for the memorable sci-fi heroines in Star Wars and Avatar.
Dejah is part of the Heliumites, a tribe of peaceful, red-tattooed, human-looking Martians. Her father is trying to force her into an arranged marriage with the evil Sab Than (Dominic West) in hopes of salvaging the rest of the tribe. It’s obvious why she initially catches the eye of John Carter, but her inner strength is what eventually convinces him to use his unique abilities to save her and her tribe.
But there was a point when the filmmakers were concerned she might be too strong. “I punched John Carter twice that they took out, which helped,” she said.
Collins is a black belt in Shito-ryu, a style of karate born in a district of Naha, Okinawa. She also had prior experience in swordplay after tagging along with her father while he trained in Japan with samurai swords, but she admits she was a bit reluctant to see these skills resurface. I was nervous about it and very emotional. It was like, ‘I’m going to hurt somebody,'” she explained. “And I actually did nick a guy, and it freaked me out but he was like ‘you gotta keep going.’ In a fight, if you’re a fighter, you keep going.”
It was largely this fearless tenacity that secured the role for Collins in the first place. Producer Lindsey Collins (no relation, although they look like sisters with Lynn dying her natural strawberry blonde hair dark brown for the role) told myself and several other journalists during a roundtable interview that one scene in which Lynn really shone during the audition process was one that called for her to slap John Carter. I later had a one-on-one with Lynn and told her about what Lindsey said:
“Lindsey told us about the audition and one of the things that really inspired them to give you the role was a scene where you had to slap Taylor,” I began.
“And like five other guys,” she replied
“Yeah, and she told us you smacked them really hard.”
“I think there were a couple friendships I lost,” she laughs.
“She said the other actresses weren’t really doing that so much.”
“Really?” she replied, looking genuinely surprised.
“Yeah, she said they were giving much softer slaps.”
“That’s so funny. Yeah, they loved that. They love it when I fight.”
“Having worked with Taylor before, do you think that gave you a bit of a leg up on the competition?” I asked.
“Yes, because we had already bonded as friends. So it was like, ‘I’m going to hit you really hard.’ He’s like, ‘hit me hard, give it to me.’ I was like ‘OK.'”
“And you don’t have to worry about him getting mad about it.”
“No. God, all the time he was like ‘hit me! hit me!'”
“Well, he is a football player,” I joked.
“He is a football player!” she laughed.
It turns out Lynn wasn’t entirely fearless. She was terrified of heights coming into the film, which was something of a problem when it came to doing all of the massive leaping scenes with John Carter, who appears to have superhuman strength and jumping abilities in the lower gravity on Mars. She quickly got over this fear, with a little help from a phrase that should bring a smile to the face of any “Friday Night Lights” fan.
“The way it first happened was I would go to the set, see the two stunt people way up in fucking rafters and I’m like ‘That is awesome! Awesome!’ They swing down and I’m like ‘Aw, that’s just great.” Then [Taylor] is like, ‘Lynn, it’s time to get into your harness.’ And I was like ‘What?’ And I look at him and he goes ‘No regrets, Collins.’ And I was like ‘Well fuck this!’ and I got in my harness and I did pretty much every stunt.”
So what does the future hold for Dejah Thoris? “We’ll definitely see this character continue to embrace her femininity, which is super fun after her being so masculine,” she replied.
“But you’re still going to kick a little ass, right?” I pleaded.
“I think she’s always going to be able to slice.”
Just what I wanted to hear.