ComingSoon.net recently sat down with Ed Skrein (Deadpool, Alita: Battle Angel) to let us in on what it was like to work within the world of Maleficent as the dark fairy, Borra. He also spoke to us about his impactful working experience with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Angelina Jolie and the importance of tackling the themes within a film of this massive scope.
In Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Aurora (Elle Fanning) and Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) decide to marry and leave their royal nests–which doesn’t sit too well with either set of parents. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is cautious about Phillip’s intentions and Phillip’s mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) raises concerns about Maleficent’s influence over Aurora–the kingdoms give to dark forces at play. Maleficent is still seen as a dark and dangerous foe to humans but when unexpected allies come forward to help her, the fate of the land is in her hands as an insidiously veiled threat rises.
CS: I’m really excited to talk to you. I’ve been such a fan since Game of Thrones and to see you returning to the fantasy world is super exciting. I want to know what drew you to the project and were you excited to jump in and be a dark fairy?
ES: Yeah, there was much to look forward to with this project. Such a nuanced character grappling with such interesting moral dilemmas and inner struggles, you know? I love the fact that Borra hasn’t got it worked out. We watch him in real-time deal with this moving situation, this changing situation. I’d say him, Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Maleficent for pretty much the first hour know what will happen next. Things just keep changing and we’re reacting to them. All of us just want to be left alone; we just want to be left in peace. We just want to be able to carry on our rich cultural history and for that history and culture to be respected, but to be able to live together.
I think these themes are very important. I come from a very diverse multicultural part of London. I thought it was normal, growing up, that you’d have a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, an Atheist, and a Rastafarian, all just living together. And one day, we’d go and eat Egyptian food and the next we’re going to have Jamaican food, and the next day we’re having Greek food. And every day I’d hear a different accent and language in each house, and this was beautiful to me. This is something I celebrate, and I love. We would allow each other’s cultures to be celebrated and coexist together, you know, and it was beautiful.
The themes in Maleficent reflect this and it was an interesting proposition to be involved with this character and get into it. It’s an interesting place to go to, conceptually and intellectually, but also an interesting vessel for change in a time when we need to be having these conversations. It’s a time during the rise of nationalism and closing of borders, you know, and a time of a lack of empathy and love. It’s a time of fear for otherness and oppression, direct oppression of otherness and sometimes it feels like, even though we are making such wonderful progress in so many areas, we are still able to take steps back and it’s a worry.
Angelina Jolie is someone who has such a strong, positive moral code, that every time you speak with her you feel her passion with this project. Chiwetel and all of us would have these conversations on set, and it’s clear how passionate it was for everyone involved, for all of us to explore and dive into.
CS: Did you and Chiwetel do a lot of work on the backstory, having different schools of thought on the ways that your characters approach the human conflict?
ES: This is really interesting. Yeah, Chiwetel and I, we created our characters in isolation. We met on set for the first time on the first day. We may have met once before during a make-up test, but we didn’t discuss things conceptually. I suppose that could have gone one way or the other. Luckily, it went the right way and we just clicked, and the chemistry was incredible from the first moment. What was important to me in representing this much more lifelike representation of two brothers or two colleagues or loved ones that have different opinions, was that we clearly have this respect for each other. We clearly have this love for each other, and we certainly have a certain amount of trust for each other, but we disagree on the best way to get peace for our people. In every political struggle, you see opposing opinions on how people should deal with it.
CS: Even amongst revolutionaries.
ES: One hundred percent. Every conflict, you know, we’ve always seen that. The people have the same goal, but different ways of approaching them and I thought that was fascinating. And it was so great to explore that bond and that love, you know. All the scenes I shot without Conall, all I could think about was him. He was driving me, you know, this is my brother, the co-leader of our people. So it was a kind of profound connection. And I think that speaks to the generosity of his energy, but also to the incredible depth to his performance and his commitment to these themes.
CS: To bring it back to stuff we can talk about, what was it like to become immersed in the character through the tactile costume with the horns and wings?
ES: Yeah, it was amazing, I really enjoy going head over heels into my characters and really embrace the whole world and I embraced this guy. I didn’t put shoes on for like, three months on set. I was leading these beautifully diverse group of people and we celebrated the beauty of everyone. Everyone looked so stunning and gorgeous and it was like a carnival of beauty; the birds of paradise, we would say, is all around us. I felt such pride for my people, the dark fairy, and the duality of that is also great.
It led to me feeling so angry toward the humans and anytime I did a scene against them I was always like grrr.. hahaha. These humans, what are they doing here? And I’d be in the human world with my bare feet and I’d be like, I shouldn’t be here, I should be in the nest with my people. I really enjoyed that world and in terms of the horns and the like, it was so funny.
CS: How did it impact your performance, did it make you aware of how you moved your head while wearing the horns?
ES: Yeah, you know if I was playing a character with what I’m wearing today, the shoes and the trousers today would affect the way I stand. When I’m walking around my hotel room in a bathrobe, I walk differently than how I walk right now with these dress shoes. Everything we wear affects us physically. To have those horns to have the contact lenses, as soon as I put them in, I become more feral; it’d informed the way I moved. And fear, fear makes you move like a wounded animal and the physicality would just ooze out of every pour when I had all of this, when I had gone through this 4-and-a-half-hour process.
CS: Definitely felt lived in.
ES: It was very lived in. But this is also a testament to the work of David White and Steward Richards, my prosthetics team. They were incredible. The designs of the work meant it was comfortable. The first time we put the horns on they were shaking around on my head and it was really uncomfortable, and I was thinking, “Am I going to have to wear these for three months and fly with these?” They went in and made them lighter and in the end, they were like carbon fiber and it was just seamless. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even notice I had it on. And as I say this now, I kind of miss wearing it.
CS: You weren’t able to keep them?
ES: The horns? Nah. That would’ve been cool though. Really what we should have done; I should’ve done the press dressed up as Borra, shouldn’t I? It would’ve been a lot more difficult and a lot more of a process every morning, and I wouldn’t have been able to go get a coffee or pack of gum, but it’d be fun.
CS: These types of films seem to always inspire cosplayers, do you look forward to seeing people go all-in on dressing up as Borra or even for Halloween?
ES: Yes! Of course! That’s the most exciting thing ever for me. I’ve seen the AJAX cosplay from Deadpool and Zapan from Alita: Battle Angel. I would love to see Borra cosplay, however, it might be the most challenging of all of them so far. I think it’ll be a very difficult one to do and I can’t wait to see what people come up with. Any Borra stuff that comes out, I’m buying for my office.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil opens this Friday!
(Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage via Getty Images)