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Ben Schnetzer is one of the few stars of Duncan Jones’ “Warcraft” whose performance isn’t crafted around (some pretty impressive) motion-capture, which is convenient, because you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with his face as soon as possible. In addition to his turn as the young mage (think: magician) Khadgar in Jones’ long-in-the-making big screen adaptation of the popular video game, Schnetzer will soon pop up in Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” and Andrew Neel’s Sundance premiere “Goat.” Earlier this year, he starred in the “SLC Punk!” sequel “Punk’s Dead,” and other earlier credits include a heart-rending turn in “The Book Thief” and a big part in the crowd-pleaser “Pride.” See? Everywhere.
IndieWire recently hopped on the phone with Schnetzer to talk about the more terrifying elements of making “Warcraft,” why Duncan Jones is the nicest person perhaps ever and the kind of work he wants to do next. Looks like he won’t have too much trouble getting it.
It’s interesting revisiting “Warcraft,” because we did shoot this film quite a while ago. I was doing a movie called “Pride” in the UK. It came out a year or two ago. I was shooting that when I Skyped with Duncan about doing this film. It was one of the first films I’d ever auditioned for that was so completely under wraps. It was very “they’re not giving the real title, they’re not giving the real character names, they’re not releasing scripts.”
I was so taken with Duncan and his enthusiasm. I had been a big fan of his since “Moon.” As soon as I got the phone call, I was thrilled. It was a scale of film that I had never experienced and had never been a part of before.
Duncan is the nicest, not just the nicest director. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He’s so genuinely enthusiastic and has so much genuine investment in this story and doing this story justice and doing this role and its fans justice. I knew, having seen his work, that he was going to bring an integrity of the filmmaker to his position and the captain of the ship. It was just a treat. I would follow him into battle. I just can’t say enough good things about him.
He created a really safe environment in this for us to work. When you’re dealing with a lot of green screen, a lot of thoughts that are going to be connected in post-production, it can be a little scary. To be in the hand of someone with whom you have no hesitation to just throw yourself into it was a real gift.
Duncan was extremely diligent about being faithful to the mythology of the game. The mythology of this game is so layered and textured and rich. I really feel that respect is paid to it. Duncan is a fan of this game. A huge amount of the creative team on this film, they’re fans of the game, so they’re making the movie that they hope to see, that the fans hope to see. But, at the same time, a great story is a great story whether it’s adapted from a video game or a computer game or a novel.
The story behind the origin of “Warcraft” is a great story. I think it’s a perfect entry point into this world for people who have never played the game. I think the people who have played the game will be relieved and excited and really fired up by the accuracy with which the game is portrayed and the characters. The characters that a lot of these folks have strong relationships with, the respect is paid to them and their stories.
I think any job you do is an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to explore and challenge yourself. I was stoked. I was ready to roll.
With films that are reliant on CG, every new one that comes out, the technology itself has progressed incrementally. At this point, you’re able to act opposite the performance of actors themselves. I think it used to be, they would shoot all their stuff in a little room and you would just pretend they were there, whereas now it’s real time with real actors. There’s times when you’re just playing opposite the actors themselves and the technology is so specific now that their performances are truly captured in the film. The only adaptations you have to make, it’s just like you adapt to the physical dimensions, so if you’re looking at someone in the face, they have to be standing on a ladder, because in the film they’re seven feet tall.
There is a freedom that you have to inhabit another creature. You have to endow your performance with something that may not be of this world, but you have to marry that with a truth and with a through line and with a groundedness in reality. You have to trust yourself and trust your team.
Courtesy of The Film Arcade
I grew up in New York City and I’m a city boy, born and bred. I had to learn to ride a horse for this film. The horses don’t know that you’re making a movie, so when you’re shooting a battle scene, however well trained the horse is, it’s a horse. That being said, I just fell in love with horseback riding and really gained an immense admiration for the wranglers and cowboys on the film and just loved my horse. Any day we had to shoot on horseback I was a happy man. It was a great thing to end up having to do. I fucking loved it.
Last year was my first Comic-Con and this past year was my first Sundance. I think there’s a lot of energy you can erase trying to figure out what the experience is going to be rather than just being open for what the experience actually is. I tried to just go in and be open to it. It’s work. You’re not just being able to walk around and watch movies and go to panels. You’re there on a job, so it’s a lot of hustling around. At the same time, when you have the opportunity to see the forest through the trees and just really kick into the magnitude of both of the experiences, I just loved it. It was just a blast. It was so humbling and so exciting to have people come out and show their support for work that a lot of people poured a hell of a lot into.
I feel really humbled and really grateful to have the opportunities that I’ve had over the past couple of years to work with some amazing people. I think, at this point, I just want to put my head down and grind and do honest work.
There’s your actor hat that you put on where you’re at work and you’re crafting and you’re telling a story. Then every now and then, when you’re doing press and you step back. You can’t always have that actor hat on, but when it comes down to it, I just want to do honest work and I want to work with people who are pushing the envelope and who want to challenge themselves and challenge the audience.
“Warcraft” opens on Friday, June 10.