Your standard fantasy tale has a brave hero and an evil villain at its core, as does “Jack the Giant Slayer,” a hipper-than-usual version of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” You know the story. Young Jack (Nicholas Hoult) climbs the stalk and does battle with, in this case, General Fallon (voice and motion capture performance by Bill Nighy). But there’s an extra surprise or two in “Jack the Giant Slayer.” We get a supporting hero and villain: the dashing Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and the malevolent Roderick (Stanley Tucci). McGregor and Tucci recently chatted about the film and their careers at Hampton Court Palace, just outside of London. The interview took place in Anne Boleyn’s sitting room.
There have been so many versions of this story over the years. Why do you think it took this long for a definitive one?
McGregor: I think technically, we didn’t have the opportunity to make this film as you can today. You couldn’t create the giants as convincingly as you can today.
Tucci: I think that people are finding that to go to the darker side of fairy tales, cinematically, is not a bad thing. It actually has turned out to be a very good thing. It’s just the way we are in society today. There’s a lot of darkness, and a lot of violence, and I think these are examples of that. They’re a way to kind of deal with that in a way.
Do you think very young kids will have nightmares from seeing giants eat people?
McGregor: The eating of people isn’t very graphic in the film, but that’s what we’re supposed to believe giants do. They’re so scary because they eat people. I don’t think you’d want to show it to someone who’s 2 or 3, but the film’s not aimed at people as young as that. But I do believe it’s an absolutely family-friendly movie. There’s no embarrassing moment or dialogue that’s aimed at the parents, for a laugh. It can be embarrassing to sit and watch a film with kids. This really is a film that families could see together.
You both speak with accents that are not your own in the film. Was that a challenge?
Tucci: Doing an accent is the most fun thing ever. If you can do it. There are certain accents that I know I can’t do, no matter how hard I try. This one was a challenge, which you wouldn’t have imagined, because you think the British thing is so easy. But it’s incredibly difficult to do that high British thing ... what do they call it?
Tucci: Right, RP. Which stands for what?
McGregor: Received pronunciation.
Tucci: It was hard, so it took me a while. But I had a great time. My wife is British. So I would sit in my trailer and read things from the newspaper, out loud, on a tape recorder. And I would play it back, play it back, so that I could get all of the sounds, as many words as possible.
McGregor: The accent I used was difficult because it’s quite unemotional. And I’ve often found that as soon as you become emotional, if you’re angry or shouting, the accent can go out the window. I suppose it is manufactured, in a way. This was how “proper” people were going to sound.
Have you both wanted to act since you were very young?
McGregor: My uncle, Denis Lawson, is an actor, and I was very influenced by him. He was in “Star Wars” and “Local Hero.” I would go and see him onstage, and when I was growing up, there were plays on television, on BBC, that were called “Armchair Theatre.” They were one-hour plays, written for television, and he was in some of those. I also had a great love of old movies. I loved watching black & white films. So the two things sort of combined to make me want to do it, from a young age.
Tucci: Me, too. I loved watching movies. I believe that everybody has a multiple personality, and I think that actors just allow themselves access to those personalities. I realized at an early age that I didn’t want to go through life just being one person, that it would be fun to be a lot of people. But also I think part of that is I was never really comfortable as myself, within my own skin. I remember walking onstage as a kid, maybe in fifth or sixth grade, doing a play, and I was completely at home. I felt much more comfortable onstage than I did off the stage. I knew exactly what to do.
You both like old movies. So, Ewan, were you doing you inner Errol Flynn in this film?
McGregor: My outer Errol Flynn, probably. I saw in the script, in the stage directions, it said that Elmont, as he’s introduced, is “a cocky Errol Flynn type.” But I read Cockney Errol Flynn type. So for a week or so I was reading the lines in a Cockney accent, wondering why it didn’t work very well, and then I realized my mistake.
So Stanley, you must have been doing Basil Rathbone.
Tucci: I was. I swear I was! When they offered it to me, I went, “Oh, my God, that’s fantastic! I’ve never done this. I’ve always wanted to do this.” And I love those old movies. I’m telling you, it’s just shameless rip-off of lots of other performances, like Basil Rathbone as the Sheriff of Nottingham. I don’t really have a great imagination (laughs). And it was also like those games you play with your kids. When my kids were little, they would say, “Play mean king.” So you pretend to be the mean king, and that’s the way I would talk: “Give me your taxes.” And they’d give you the money and then they’d steal the money back. So I thought, now I’ll be the mean king in this movie.
Ed Symkus covers movies for GateHouse Media.