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Djimon Hounsou is about to be a big hit at home, and probably everywhere else.
The 50-year-old actor has admitted he made a few of his recent career decisions solely to please an audience of one: his 5-year-old son Kenzo, whose interest in cinematic superheroes led the two-time Oscar nominee to take on the role of relentless interstellar tracker Korath the Pursuer in Marvel’s upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, and also influenced his choice to voice of Drago Bludvist, the explosive dragon-hoarding villain of DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2.
Hounsou sat down with Spinoff Online to reveal his approach to performing while relying on his voice alone, the inherent appeal of escapist fare, the extent of his research for Guardians, and the latest project he hopes Kenzo will love, Tarzan.
Spinoff Online: This had to be a fun challenge, breathing all that fire and passion and anger into an animated bad guy like this while still giving him a little nuance.
Djimon Hounsou: It was gratifying to see something that seems so farfetched, because reality is you have nothing, nothing to relate to. You’re working and you’re making, contrarily, a live feature where you’re obviously interacting with other actors, but here you’re not interacting with anybody. It’s just you and the mic and your director guiding you in a way. And also this adds to another challenge where my character is so explosive, and you’re also riding dragons, and you’ve got to be projecting so much. So yeah, it felt clinical, at first, but wow, what a relief to discover – Kit Harrington’s often used this word – it’s very theatrical, yes, in the sense that you can be as big as wear your animal instincts on the outside whether wearing it on the inside. In society, we’re asked to not be reactive about things. I don’t cross the street and say, “Hey, asshole!” and have to turn around and be all mad about it. No. See what I’m saying? But in acting, you have to be reactive. You ask to be reactive. The passion has to come out. You see what I mean?
I always think of you as a very physical actor, where a lot of your performances are keyed into your physicality, but lately you’ve been doing a lot of voice work. Did you find that you act with a different technique when relying on just your voice to sell a performance?
I think so. Again, this was the best experience as far as doing the 90-minute feature, where I didn’t really know what goes into it all around. And so this was a great learning process, learning that you could be as big as you wanted, look as crazy – you just have to be shameless as you’re going into it and let yourself completely surrender to that moment and that world. It’s been an amazing experience, an experience that didn’t limit you to anything, and I think that’s the luxury of doing an animated feature. In feature film, we have to hit a mark. Makeup comes in and wardrobe comes in to adjust and then you have to hear “Action,” and then you have to continuously be there. Here, you either come in and then you say, “It’s you and the world.” And that’s it. It’s great.
And the voice you did was really fresh and unique. It took me a moment to place it as yours.
Drago Bludvist! I mean, when you hear a name like that – Drago Bludvist: bloodthirsty, dragon-indoctrinated. It’s powerful. So the name itself already gave me such a volume of as far as who this character is.
You’ve been working frequently in these film fantasy worlds lately – the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the upcoming Tarzan film, for instance. What did these worlds mean when you were a kid? Were you always really into that kind of escapist fare?
I must say, one thing is, it is what we live for: the escaping of self; the experience of experiencing self. You’re always experiencing self. You’re the instrument of interpretation, so therefore part of you is going to be left in some of the stories, organically. But at the end of the day, you still have to be organic, still have to be, feel real and then let the magic take its own course. It’s beautiful. But listen, this was like such a surprise the way it came about. And I’m so thankful that they called me in to do this and trust that I could possibly deliver.
How heavily do your son’s interests ultimately influence your choices? Are you looking for projects that he’s specifically going to get excited about?
No, no. That’s difficult to do, but certainly he comes to pretty much every set that I go to now and he quite understands the work. I’d like to do a little bit of everything, but again, it’s touchy: everybody wants some of those great roles and some of those great characters and some of those unbelievable franchises, but yet you’re pretty much at the mercy of what you have on your table. But this experience and having a kid is just like…it brings a wider understanding about life and tolerance, and it’s not so much about me now.
With your experience making Guardians of the Galaxy: Did you fully nerd-out learning about your Kortath the Pursuer from the comics, or you did you rely primarily on the version appearing in the script they gave you?
No. I relied on the script because I think Korath did not have …I mean, other than he’s a killing machine designed to pursue relentless pursuit – yeah, there was nothing else in the comic book world that really could give you an understanding of who that character is. I mean, he’s just a killer. Let’s just stick with that. I mean, what else are we researching? That’s all you need to know. And in each and every one of us, there’s a bit of a struggle of living on a daily basis and trying to live in a social environment. Trying to keep from wearing your ego like an animal on the outside, but more on the inside. So, you know, the task in the film world and what we do, as far as being an interpreter of some of those characters, is to live your life on the outside like an animal. But that’s what’s interesting in films: not hiding and suppressing.
Tell me what attracted you to playing M’Benga in David Yates’ Tarzan.
Mostly, I think here it is the director first. David Yates is such an accomplished director, an amazing director, and so that was that – and I guess, it’s one of those films that my son, growing up a little more, would love to watch.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 opens today nationwide.