CS Set Visit Interview: Nonso Anozie on Disney’s Artemis Fowl
Nonso Anozie stands out, even under normal circumstances. Tall, broad, with a deep, rumbly voice his presence announces itself before he even enters a room and once he does all eyes tend to go him like lighting looking for the tallest object to strike. Once he’s donned the white hair and piercing blue eyes of Butler, the ancestral protectors of the Fowl clan of the Artemis Fowl series the effect is magnified tenfold.
CS: Is that dyed or a wig?
Nonso Anozie: It’s a wig. It’s like a two-hour process every day. It is quite striking. I love it. It gives you the character for free. As an actor you’re always looking for a way into the character and when you look into the mirror and you see someone else looking back you’re almost immediately transported into that character. So for me, I look into the mirror after they’ve done their thing and I’m like ‘that’s Butler.’
CS: How are the contact lenses? Are they a pain in the ass?
Anozie: No, they’re pretty surprisingly good. They’ve got a great company called Eyeworks who developed the contact lenses and they provide someone who comes and puts them in for me.
CS: Did you have input in that character design? Because it’s very different from what see in the books.
Anozie: We talked about this a lot, that they have this recessive gene, almost similar to albinos and vitiligo that passes through the family. I don’t know if you’ve gone through the house and seen all the portraits … some of them have white hair, some of them have blue eyes. Some are bigger and smaller … different traits that have been passed down. It was something we talked about … what his look would be … maybe he’d be bearded or totally bald and this came up. I think Carol [Hemming] had some ideas and showed us some pictures and I was like ‘that!’ and showed it to Ken [Branagh]. And Ken loved it but said ‘the beard’s got to go.’ I was like ‘no, my beard’ but it went and I really loved the look.
CS: Does that impact how Butler lives in the world because he looks so distinct?
Anozie: I think in this installment of Artemis Fowl you don’t see as much … maybe in Vietnam … the way he interacts socially in that way because the story is so tight. It really focuses on us trying to get his father back. But it would be interesting to explore the social effects of him being perceived by others in the street.
CS: There’s a great shot of you and Ferdia Shaw [who plays Artemis Fowl] walking down the street in Vietnam.
Anozie: That was a funny shoot. I don’t know if you saw us on the motorcycles? That was an experience. Riding down the street in Vietnam with thousands of other bikes around that don’t know you’re even filming is an experience. We did a lot of training with motorbikes before we went out there but I don’t think anything can prepare you for it. It was an amazing experience.
CS: And you’re wearing the matching black Armani suits. It seems in the movie that Butler has a real impact on Artemis such as how he begins to dress like Butler.
Anozie: I think Butler is quite a stylish guy! [Laughs]. I think Artemis sees that and wants to follow in his footsteps. He actually starts to dress like him quite early on in the movie although there’s lots of different looks and outfits. I think it does reflect the relationship. It ties the relationship in together, it’s a good way to keep it tight and for me as an actor, I think it’s quite cool when you have the symbolic similarity it helps you convey that story more deeply.
CS: What’s Butler’s relationship like with Artemis?
Anozie: I think Butler and Artemis’ relationship is one… he’s kind of a father figure at times, an older brother at other times. His duty is to protect the Fowl family. He is part of a long line of generational Butlers who have looked after the Fowl family. There is a kind of a backstory to that that’s quite long so I won’t go into it, that we came up with. It’s not really in the books but we came up with the backstory to that. So it’s his duty, it’s something he loves doing, he loves the Fowl family, but he also has his own life, his own family and his niece. In the books it’s his sister but here it’s his niece because she so young I don’t think it would work if they were brother and sister. But the relationship between them of respect, of protection, of loyalty and in some ways of love as well.
CS: How does his relationship with Artemis compare with his relationship with his niece?
Anozie: I think with Artemis he guides Artemis in a way but he can’t really… with his niece Juliet [Tamara Smart] he’s training her to become the next Butler, the next person to look after the Fowl family so he’s much more strict with her. He talks to her in a much more domineering way. With Artemis… I wouldn’t say he’s subordinate but I would say he’s… he has a respect because [Artemis] is next in line so Butler works much more closely, almost as an equal.
CS: Does that mirror some of your relationship with the young boy playing Artemis, that you’re sort of looking after him in a way?
Anozie: Yeah, Ferdia is a great kid. I read with him when he did his audition and I spent a lot of time with him when we’re waiting to go on set. He likes lots of different things, he likes Dungeons & Dragons and I played D&D when I was a kid, and magic cards and that kind of geeky stuff and he likes that kind of stuff so we find things we have in common. So it’s a really, cool relationship is what it is.
CS: The sets are incredibly detailed, you could almost live in that house. Does that help you when it’s not all green screen?
Anozie: Absolutely. I’ve done lots of productions where they’ve used blue screen and tennis balls and x’s and we do use blue screen here … mainly for scenery stuff … and I think having the house and walking through it the week before we started filming and inhabiting it and seeing all the different artifacts and portraits it really puts you in that world. I did an exercise walking up and down the stairs really fast and seeing how out of breath I got and seeing how that made me feel.
CS: Ken Branagh said you were the only one had pre-cast in his mind, he knew he wanted you for Butler. Did he –?
Anozie: He did tell me that. I take no claim for that [laughs].
CS: Was that part of the attraction, working with him again?
Anozie: Yeah, absolutely. I worked with Ken in 2003 in a play called Edmond for the National Theater and since then… he told me when we did the play he said ‘I really think you’ve got some talent, I really want to work with you again and when I’ve got something I’ll think of you.’ And Jack Ryan happened and Cinderella which was also with Disney and this now. And it’s almost like coming back to a guy, another coach that you’re familiar with working with and you know that what you’re going to be doing is really top-notch. Someone that won’t let a scene go until he’s done it a million times, a million different ways and he’s gonna get what he wants from the scene and I like that. It gives you a chance to play. Within a structure because he’s very structured in his work but it’s for me I like the way he works.
CS: We’ve heard Josh Gad was improvising as he was going along, is that something you’re fairly adept at as well?
Anozie: I think you’ll see it in this [troll attack] scene, it’s almost like something for Saturday Night Live or something. It’s a really, really fun and we had a lot of fun doing. I love improvising especially as we do a lot of different takes and try things in different ways and do something you wouldn’t have thought of before. I think that’s fun. Have you seen any of the singing we’ve been doing? I won’t ruin it but there’s a kind of comedy moment that came out where Mulch is trying to sing the troll to sleep and it was supposed to be just him doing it and just a moment in the script. But he improvised and I started singing and Artemis was dancing along and it turned out to be a really funny moment. That was probably my most favorite moment in the film.
CS: And Ken’s very good at allowing that?
Anozie: Yeah, especially if you talk to him about ‘I want to try this.’ If you’ve locked something in and filmed it one way you’re going to have to keep on reproducing that but I do like to improvise.
CS: Is it turning out more comedic than you thought it was going to be?
Anozie: The great thing about this is that there are moments of great drama and moments where it gets really, really serious and it’s like heavy drama and moments of almost slapstick comedy. It’s got moments for everyone and I think it’s going to keep parents and children alike entertained.
Artemis Fowl will begin streaming on Disney+ on Friday, June 12.