Surely one of the great joys of being an actor is the idea of transforming yourself and living with a totally different person’s experiences – but that’s an especially tricky and complex challenge when the character in question is an immortal. The kind of backstory one might do for a normal role becomes exponentially harder when you have to account for being alive for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. However, it very much helps if you have someone like The Old Guard director Gina Prince-Bythewood steering the ship.
In advance of the new Netflix action movie’s release on this weekend, I had the pleasure of conducting virtual video interviews late last month with the filmmaker and members of the Old Guard cast – including Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, and Luca Marinelli – and took the opportunity to ask them how they went about wrapping their minds around the film’s main characters, all of whom for some mysterious reason can’t die. Check out their responses by clicking play on the video below!
Based on the comic by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez, The Old Guard centers on a group of immortals – Andy (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) – who have lived on Earth for hundreds of years. With the gift/curse of all that time, they together choose to dedicate their existences to try and generate the maximum amount of good in the world. Unfortunately they wind up getting hit with a serious double whammy of drama simultaneously, as the unit is first set up and exposed by a former CIA agent (Chiewtel Ejiofor) working for a powerful pharmaceutical executive (Harry Melling), and then they sense that a new person has joined their ranks as a marine named Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) is killed while on tour in Afghanistan and then bizarrely wakes up without a scratch.
Having lived in entirely different epochs, Andy being the oldest, all of the immortal characters in the movie have complicated histories, and Gina Prince-Bythewood was excited even at just the prospect of fleshing them out and making them real. As the filmmaker told me, it really started in the casting process, as there was a special quality that she was looking for in all of her stars:
This was absolutely a challenge and it started with casting. I needed to find actors who we could believe were a thousand years old. You can't just be a great actor. Do you have that soulfulness? And I felt like I was very fortunate in every single role to find actors to embody that. And then how do you embody that? You can't play age, so what are you playing? So a lot of it was interesting.
Once the selections were made, the next step was to make the characters stand out as individuals. While it’s true that the central team in The Old Guard has been together for an extremely long time when we first meet them in the movie, they all have pasts that extend beyond that portion of their existences, and have singular interests and experiences that shape who they are.
To help create the kind of authenticity that she wanted from her actors, Gina Prince-Bythewood worked with them individually and discussed with them the key things that she wanted them to focus on. This process had her talking to not only those playing the long-existing immortals, but also KiKi Layne, whose character’s time in the military is part of a familial tradition. Said the filmmaker,
Each actor was different, and I gave each actor different things. The stuff that Marwan and I talked about in terms of his character, Joe, it was a lot of literature. He's a very learned dude and does a lot of reading, and so a lot of his stuff was quotes and books that he found that he felt spoke to his character. Charlize, I had actually put together literally the history from 600 AD, like all the major things that happened through history all the way to modern [day] to help her understand 'This is what you've lived.' KiKi, just being a marine, what does that mean to be a Marine and following in your father's footsteps?
Continuing, Gina Prince-Bythewood explained that having the chance to work with the actors on The Old Guard (and while directing in general) is one of the best parts of her gig, and she had nothing but tremendously nice things to say about her cast:
That's the fun part about directing, is creating characters, and even more fun when you're dealing with actors of this caliber. I mean, Chiewtel! To work with Chiewtel, you know. It's just a gift to have people at that level who not only embrace the work that you give them, but also are themselves digging in and creating backstories for themselves.
In just a few hours you’ll have the opportunity to see the finished results for yourself. The Old Guard will be available to stream for Netflix subscribers starting at midnight PST tonight – and we definitely recommend checking it out. Also be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interviews with the cast and filmmakers behind the new release!