06 Aug Mackenzie Gray Interview Part 1: Man of Steel and Henry Cavill

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Mackenzie Gray was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. A professional actor for over 30 years, he has appeared in over 130 films and television shows and was a series lead on a major US network. He has worked on stage in Britain, Canada and the United States in hundreds of plays, musicals and cabarets, and has provided many voices for animated series and documentaries. In addition to performing, Gray is a prolific director, writer and producer in film and theatre. He wrote vignettes and "shorts" for several episodes of Sesame Street (1969) and was the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the popular Toronto rock band The Fridge Stickers. His most recent turn was as Jax-Ur in the Man of Steel. In part one of our interview, he talks about his time on Man of Steel and working with Henry Cavill.

 

How did you end up getting the part of Jax-Ur and was it the role you originally auditioned for?

I was submitted for an un-named part, that turned out to be Jax-Ur, but was simply titled Counselor or something similar. I had a rather traumatic ordeal getting to the audition, involving a psychotic taxi driver who threatened me with a club and promised to kill me or have me killed. I had reported him to his company for taking off with all my belongings as I dashed into my house from another audition and changed for the "Autumn Frost" (as Man Of Steel was then named) audition. He was ordered to return to my home and pick me up. He was extremely disgruntled and purposely dropped me three blocks from the audition building, after threatening to have me killed.

As you can imagine, I was a bit shaken up when I arrived. The Canadian Casting Director, Michele Allen, offered me some time to get myself together, and I went in trying to keep my adrenaline from pumping like a wild oil rig. I also had to keep calm as I was leaving just after the audition for Toronto, for a memorial for my younger brother Angus, who had been killed in a car crash the year before. Something must have connected, as I got a callback.

When I returned from Toronto, I was told that Zack and Debbie Snyder would be at the callbacks, and I was actually a bit nervous, because by then I knew it was the secret Superman project. I was chatting with my ex-wife Andrea Simpson, who is a top Film and TV Hairstylist, about my nerves, and she said "Just go in there and be yourself. That's all you need. You have it all, already." That was great advice. And, I thought I should bring a picture of myself when I played Lex Luthor, and tell them I'd worked on Smallville, in case it had any interest for them. So, I slipped the picture in with my resume and photo.

Mackenzie GrayTaken by Toronto/New York based photographer Taffi Rosen

In the room, Zack and Debbie were very charming and friendly, and welcoming. Just before I started, I told them about the photo. Zack pulled it out and his eyes lit up! He said "THAT is a BADASS picture! Whoa!" and he showed it to Debbie, who immediately concurred. They whispered for a bit, and Zack explained about the world he was creating, and wondered if I could do a German or Australian accent. I told him I could, and he asked if I could do a gentle, "New Euro-style German accent" not a cliché. I said I could. He asked if I needed 20 minutes and I said, "No, I can do it right away." I went through my beats for a moment in my head, and then did it, making the read more intimate and intense. When I finished, Zack slapped his hands on the table and said "You are an AWESOME actor! We'll see you in the movie!"

And, I left there over the moon! Or over Krypton, I should say. I got a bit nervous when we didn't hear from anyone for a month, but then all the paperwork was sent and it became official. And, that's how I got the part.

 

What was your experience overall making this movie and how did it compare to other films you have been in?

It was a great experience in every respect. The attention to detail was extraordinary, Michael Wilkinson's costume designs were fantastic and so brilliant .It took several fittings and every inch of me (and I mean EVERY inch) was measured to make that suit fit perfectly. The Producers were wonderful and communicative - particularly Chuck Roven, Lloyd Phillips and Debbie Snyder, and David Goyer was extremely nice. It had a great crew, in Chicago AND Vancouver, and the whole ship was run superbly with grace, fun, intensity and enthusiasm by Zack Snyder. Henry set a wonderful tone for everyone on the film, he was always friendly, always focused and he carried the film really superbly on set and between takes.

Mackenzie Gray on set of Man of Steel in VancouverGetting dressed in the shackles for the Phantom Zone sentencing, on set in Vancouver

The cast were terrific. Particularly, for me, were Antje Traue and Michael Shannon, both of whom I spent so much time with. Antje and I became very close, often spending time off set playing music, recording songs, taping auditions for other projects and just having coffee and working on the script. Michael and I bonded because we both work, and began our careers in the theatre. I had just done August: Osage County at the Arts Club Company at The Stanley Theatre in Vancouver, and it was written by Tracy Letts, who is one of Michael's best friends, and whose plays he has starred in for years.

So, we Kryptonians bonded.

It was great to watch Russell Crowe work, especially his scenes with Michael Shannon and with Henry. So, all in all, it was a lovely experience, despite the over-riding tension of working on such an expensive, top-secret project.

 

Tell us a little bit about the scene you are in with Henry Cavill on board the ship.

Well, we had two, but one of them got trimmed — where he arrives on board and breaks down, spitting blood and collapsing. In the scene we shot, he is brought on board by Faora, then met by Zod and Jax-Ur. Unfortunately, a stunt actress playing one of the Kryptonian guard, stepped on to my mark, trying to keep herself on camera (she did this a few times, to other actors, before she was figured out) and I was forced to stand out of frame a bit during the exchange. We corrected it, and she was moved, but the subsequent takes probably weren't as good for Henry and Amy, so they used the first one. So, my interchange with Henry and Amy is gone.

Mackenzie GrayMackenzie Gray as Jax-Ur in Man Of Steel — Phantom Zone sequence — Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers

But the big scene, in my "clinic", was a long shoot, and very cramped — it was real walls, rather than Green Screen. And Henry had to lie on the angled table for hours which was very uncomfortable in that suit. But, Henry never complained, and we talked about England and acting between set-ups. The device I used to pinch his arm and extract his blood was very difficult to use properly, and the camera angles were tough, so it was a tricky scene. But, it came off very well, I think. (I've been asked by MANY women, "Did you actually TOUCH Henry?" When I tell them yes, they get very dreamy. And, a bit envious!)

 

What was Henry Cavill like to work with?

As I said before, Henry was delightful to work with. Very friendly, very professional and with an easy laugh. He has a droll sense of humour and he is a great guy. And , such a wonderful actor. Very honest and very direct.

 

More info:

 

Mackenzie GrayOn set with Ayelet Zurer in Vancouver's Mammoth Studios
Mackenzie GrayMe with Henry at The Vancouver preview
Mackenzie GrayAt the opening of MAN OF STEEL in Vancouver, July 14, 2013 — Signing autographs for young Superman fans

 

* Stay tuned for Part 2 next week when Mackenzie tells us about Man of Steel 2 and his thoughts on Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo in the new Man from UNCLE movie!

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