Skip to Content

Mark Rylance and Jemaine Clement on Speaking Giant, Whizzpoppers and Sequels

Thank you to Disney for sponsoring my attendance at the #TheBFGEvent!

Mark and Jemaine

Coralie Seright –

It’s not every day that you get the chance to sit down with two giants and talk about their new film. In The BFG, Academy Award winner Mark Rylance plays the big friendly giant, while Jemaine Clement plays the child-guzzling Fleshlumpeater. Both of their roles were created via motion-capture technology for the film, but you can definitely see them both in the characters they play. And you can definitely tell they had fun bringing the giants to life.

How did Mark get into character?

Mark:  Well every morning it took about an hour and a half of them sticking glow in the dark marbles on us and battery packs and having a lot of dots painted on. About 45 minutes of having dots painted on your face through a tight hockey mask. So there was a lot of time to think and listen to music or just get yourself in a certain head space, but apart from that, I don’t know how you prepare. It’s just playful, you know it’s the same as ever, you just start to play like a child, really. You think, “What do I need? Here comes a 50-foot giant into my cave who’s gonna eat my little friend. I need to distract him. What am I gonna do?” And so it’s clear rules to the game and you just start to play. I mean, what was fun for us was in motion capture there’s no cameras, there’s no marks, there’s just a playground, isn’t there? You just start to play and imagine it and speak the lines.

Is it hard to speak giant?

Mark: Very hard. Very hard indeed. Yeah, I don’t think there are any actors in the world that could have done what Jemaine and I have done.
Jemaine: What is that actually, it’s improvising in giant.
Mark: Improvising in giant, yeah it’s like improving in Shakespeare, it’s tricky. I’ve heard people who can do that actually very well, can improvise sonnets. You can say I wanna sonnet on a fried egg and they will improvise a Shakespearean sonnet on a friend egg, they’re from Liverpool. But improvising in giant is a little tricky.

Mark Rylance

Coralie Seright –

Does he have a favorite giant word?

Mark: I know, my favorite word I’ve decided is telly-telly bunkum box. I think that’s such a good word for the television.

What about Whizzpoppers?

Mark: Whizzpoppers, yeah. Are you all happy about your kids having the whizzpopper word? An English mom just told me that her son went in with a story, and it included the word fart and the teacher rejected the story and said other parents would be really offended, that fart was a swear word. I don’t think fart’s a swear word. Whizzpopper’s a better-is whizzpopper a better word?
Jemaine: I think it’s better. For people to have known what it is they have to have read a book.

(Left to right) Gizzardgulper, Childchewer, Maidmasher, Bloodbottler, Manhugger, Fleshlumpeater, Meatdripper, Butcher Boy, and Bonecruncher surround the BFG in Disney's THE BFG, the imaginative story of a young girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the Big Friendly Giant (Oscar (R) winner Mark Rylance) who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country. Directed by Steven Spielberg based on Roald Dahl's beloved classic, the film opens in theaters nationwide on July 1.

(Left to right) Gizzardgulper, Childchewer, Maidmasher, Bloodbottler, Manhugger, Fleshlumpeater, Meatdripper, Butcher Boy, and Bonecruncher surround the BFG in Disney’s THE BFG

What was it like playing Fleshlumpeater?

Jemaine: Yeah, he’s really fun. The bad giants-well, Mark was filming all the time-the bad giants, we would get to rehearse our motion capture and just walk around like big, lumbering, lumps of meat, and that was really fun. You know, smashing things and intimidating people and being stupid is fun.

How did their children respond to the movie?

Mark: My son really loves it. He helped me a lot actually. I read him the book again when we got to Vancouver. He’d already heard it but he would always, if he didn’t like the voice, he’d go, “No the other voice.” And that’s how I found the voice-he’d guide me.

What was Jemaine’s favorite scene to film? And did they do any ad-libbing?

Jemaine: Oh, I think the first time that I come and see Mark in his cave. And I love that part where I ask if you’re there and you say no. Little parts like that part was ad-libbed. But again the vocabulary  reins you in a lot.
Mark: Yeah, I think we ad-libbed because you’re-I mean he’s a genius ad-libber-and a lot of the giants actually were really, really such clever improvisers and comedians and stuff so there was a lot of space. Steven wanted the bad giants to expand from what Roald Dahl had written and [for] each of them to have characters and things like that. But I think Sophie and I stuck pretty closely to the script that Melissa had written, the adaptation of the book. I don’t think we improvised much. I probably put in lots of little noises and things like that between the lines, yeah.

Disney's THE BFG is the imaginative story of a young girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the Big Friendly Giant (Oscar (R) winner Mark Rylance) who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country. Directed by Steven Spielberg based on Roald Dahl's beloved classic, the film opens in theaters nationwide on July 1.

Did Mark have a favorite scene with Sophie?

Mark: Oh, so many of them. I think the thing that someone asked me on television this morning what was one of the difficult things about being BFG and the most difficult thing is letting a young person go, isn’t it, that every parent has to do? My parents are both teachers-high school teachers-so every year, I would know that there were favorite kids that really resonated to their work or were witty or just wonderful kids and it was always sad every year that those kids had to go off. They had to go off to college and to marriage and their lives and so that thing of being an adult who really loves a young person, and if you really love them you have to encourage them to leave you and to go away. That is a scene I love very, very much. It’s on the hill at the end and she doesn’t even want to go away, she thinks she’s gonna stay and live there, but he knows that she’s got a wider life to lead. She’s mortal of course and he’s immortal so I was thinking the other day-I was thinking yesterday-that the sequel I’d like to see would be when Sophie’s a 90 year old woman, and she’s had a family and maybe she has a grandchild, and the BFG still visits her, he’s the same, of course. But he visits her maybe in her old people’s home and that friendship after she lived her whole life, that would be quite resonant wouldn’t it?

What do they want children to take away from the film?

Mark: I think that, you know the film tells a story of what kids have to offer older people, that older people get tired, they lose faith, they think maybe the world is just a jungle, a dog eat dog kinda thing and nothing will change. So best to just do the best I can, give some money to charity, maybe. Be kind to some people. But the big problems, nothing’s gonna change and we get tired. Young people don’t have this, there’s still the bravery and the hope like Sophie does to say, “No I think we don’t have to put up with this, we can stop these people eating kids, let’s go to the Queen.” There’s such a lot of criticism of young people and things seem so hard for the-certainly for my daughters, life looks so difficult and hard-but they’re so essential and that they keep their bravery and hope and don’t get pressed down by the fears and the apathy of older people. It’s not their fault we’re just tired, but I think that young people can change things. Things can change, you know? So that’s a good thing. I also think that you can get into phases as a young person where you feel really alone like Sophie does, and isolated or with no friends. But the thing that happens to her because of that is she develops this great imagination, and when she does meet a friend, it’s her imagination that’s able to really solve the situation. So there are good things even in the worst situation. You know, so many great adults have grown out of very difficult childhoods where they’ve been bullied or they’re been poor or they’ve been lonely or isolated and…not to give up hope in those situations I guess. I would have said that to myself when I had difficult times when I felt bullied or whatever. But those are the times that-it’s like Bob Dylan says-where did his imagination come from, people ask him. He said, “Well if you sit in a house for seven months of the year looking out at freezing cold snowy weather in Hibbing, Minnesota you develop an imagination.” So there’s good things in that kind of apparently bad situation. Sorry, that’s the long answer.

Jemaine: As Mark said, it’s a lot about letting children know that their thoughts are valid, and they can have an opinion that’s important as well.

Coralie Seright -

Coralie Seright –

What was it like to perform in their motion capture roles?

Mark: It’s more to do with the people you’re working with, to be honest, than the technology or the medium. I’ve acted in operas, in the Globe Theater, in stone circles, in little church halls, in my basement for many years. So this whole thing could have been very… You know, if it wasn’t Steven directing and the wonderful people I had to work with, that’s when it’s really, “Oh God, I wish I wasn’t here.” But as long as the people one’s working with are playful and not too panicked if you make mistakes-but can see that mistakes often are a new doorway into something new, better? You just don’t wanna work with people who are very frightened and repressive.

What went into creating the villain, Fleshlumpeater?

Jemaine: You know, I think one part of this villain is he is-see the bad giants are kind of a satire of adults and that they’re very stuck in their ways and fearful of things. They’re so stupid that they’re dangerous, without realizing it. It can be funny, but also there’s no reasoning with these characters because they won’t understand and they don’t care. The redemption: There’s no redemption from these villains, it’s really for the BFG’s character, he needs Sophie to help him overcome them.
Mark: Melissa, you know Melissa Matheson who so sadly died, she did research into giants and she was of the impression that at one time the giants didn’t eat kids, didn’t eat people. They actually were warriors who fought with the people, I think against the Romans. That’s the kind of mythology of it, with the Druids and the Boadicea, the great female warrior of England. But maybe it’s even earlier times than that. So that they’ve fallen into a decadent period . So, I guess the hope is that with a little bit of dietary control on that terrible island they’re put on, put on a vegetarian diet, maybe they’ll change their habits? I don’t know. It leaves open the possibility of a sequel doesn’t it, that island?

Mark and Jemaine BloggersStay tuned for full coverage of #TheBFGEvent right here on As The Bunny Hops!

The talents of three of the world’s greatest storytellers – Roald Dahl, Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg –finally unite to bring Dahl’s beloved classic The BFG to life. Directed by Spielberg, Disney’s The BFG tells the imaginative story of a young girl and the Giant who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country.

The BFG opens in U.S. theaters on July 1, 2016, the year that marks the 100th anniversary of Dahl’s birth.

As The Bunny Hops®