He proved to be as intelligent, considered and candid an interview subject as you could hope for, covering his own route into the film, along with his thoughts on its strengths and those of Singh. We started off asking him how he came to be cast as The Monk:-
Greg Bryk: Initially I read for the part of Hyperion, but the studio wanted a name for that role (it eventually went to Mickey Rourke). Tarsem’s producing partner had seen me in A History of Violence and really liked me, so asked me to put together about 20 minutes of my favourite stuff. They mulled that over and knew they wanted me in there somehow.
HeyUGuys: Tarsem Singh has a uniquely arresting visual style, but what is he like to work with as a director of actors?
He is a composer of shots and art direction rather than a director of actors. He trusts his actors and rather than drawing out the performances he trusts his actors’ instincts. His excitement on set is contagious.
How was it working with a lot of CG and green screen rather than physical sets?
The sets were built to a height of around 30 feet, so it was not like a film like 300. You had enough physical reality to feel like you were in a real space and there was such care and artistry with the costumes as well. Tarsem wanted a physical reality and then built the fantasy around it.
Was it harder to find your character, given the fantasy setting, compared to more real-world characters you have played previously?
No, I felt The Monk was a really interesting character, I think the idea of betrayal was key to him, as well as his love for and devotion to the Oracle. There were moments of pathos and nuance, especially his death. I felt he was struggling with lust for revenge, but his higher faculties intervened.
Generally speaking, the film was not too well-received by critics on its release. As you were filming it, did it seem to be coming together well?
As we filmed it, it felt like a better film than the final product ended up being. Tarsem’s vision needed room to breathe, glances needed to be allowed to linger, but the demands of the studio and producers were to keep it moving along rather than pausing. Some of the human elements were taken away or truncated and it felt like skimming along the surface. I would love to see a 3hr director’s cut. But it is not intended to be a historical document and of course each critic needs to have their own opinion and film criticism is an art form in its own right.
Your character gets pretty badly treated in the film, was it an enjoyable shooting experience regardless? [SPOILERS]
I love Tarsem. I think he is a genius with context and visual energy. After a read through of the script, Tarsem said he thought the character was impossible to play and certainly it is a challenge as an actor – once he loses his tongue he becomes a silent character and in fact I went on to beg Tarsem to have The Monk’s hands burned as well. My feeling was that he was unable to act as a character, but why? Why can’t he act? My character had to be trimmed in the editing of the film, for example we filmed a four minute version of his death scene, where the Monk fights then realises it is against his higher values to fight. There is a real seductive and erotic quality to that fight sequence but in the end a quicker death was felt to better fit the tone and style of the film. At least I was able to give that longer performance on the day, but in the end your ego has to step aside in service of the film as a whole.
What is next for you?
I’m shooting another season of XIII, which is based on a graphic novel and is about an unravelling conspiracy.
How do you find working in films and TV?
With television there is a regularity to the work schedule and a familiarity with the character that is enjoyable, but the shooting schedule is so fast that you can lose some of the grace notes when you’re hosing pages down so quickly.
You can read our review of Immortals here and check out an extra clip below, as Poseidon not only decides to rescue Theseus, The Monk and The Oracle, but also shows Henry Cavill how to do the Superman thing. He’s got a cape and everything.