Interview with Bruce Spence

Bruce Spence is well known for his various roles including Tion Medon in “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” and the Trainman in “The Matrix Revolutions”. He also voices the shark Chum in “Finding Nemo”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Bruce about his various roles.

Mike Gencarelli: What did you like most about playing the character Tion Medon in “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith”?
Bruce Spence: Apart from the fact that I was delighted to have the opportunity to be part of the “Star Wars” family of characters, Tion Medon was a completely new character from a completely new world that George Lucas had created. In fact it was possibly one of very few new characters in this episode.

MG: Tell us about your experience working on the film and what was your inspiration for the character?
BS: As I spent quite a number of days before the shoot in makeup and wardrobe I had a fair bit of time to absorb Tion Medon. The dialogue was that of a rather ancient leader with considerable authority, obviously of some stature and experience. However his makeup tended to contradict the dialogue with his fierce simian features and rather nasty teeth. He had the visual appearance of a creature who could be construed as someone who might not have good intentions which gave me the opportunity to challenge that in my performance. However any actor will tell you that contrasts and contradictions like that make for a much more interesting character to play.

MG: How long was the make-up process for the character from beginning to end?
BS: Well firstly we began weeks before the shoot day with the prosthetic department taking a plaster cast of my head and hands. This is not a very comfortable experience as the plaster is quite a weight on your head; you are completely encased apart from a couple of straws protruding from your nostrils to allow you to breathe. This process takes at least a half an hour and the relief of having the cast removed is enormous. The prosthetic folk then take a mold of my head and build up the face of Tion Medon upon that. Often George Lucas came in and contributed advice etc. Eventually, when they were satisfied with the image and they made the prosthetic pieces for my head. I came in to the makeup department for a few tests to see just how it would look on me and to experiment on the makeup. Eventually when everyone was happy we tried it all with the costume. So you can see that there was an enormous amount of thought put into just how the whole appearance of Tion Medon would end up. After about the fourth or fifth visit everyone was happy. We had decided not to use the bottom pair of false teeth as I looked too fierce, and that the marks on the face were now just right. So come the first day of the shoot we knew that it was going to take four and a half hours so I was up very, very early. The hours in the makeup chair while I was becoming Tion Medon on the outside gave me time to become Tion Medon on the inside. One must have a lot of patience. The makeup took more than two hours to come off as well, so it was a long day.

MG: You recently played Lord Rhoop in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” and then range to comedies like “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”, do you enjoy working in comedy?
BS: I enjoy exploring all sorts and ways of experiencing the human condition. Comedy though can be very difficult. It is a big help to have a good script!

MG: “Dark City” is one of my favorites, how was it working on that bizarre film during its production?
BS: I spent three months with my head shaved. It was only then that I realized that your head is probably the one spot on your body that is unexplored until you shave it off. I found old scars and bumps that brought back a lot of forgotten memories.
I loved working with Alex Proyas, the director, he has a wonderful imagination. Even though I had little to do I loved working on that film. The story concept was fantastic.

MG: You lent your voice to the shark Chum in “Finding Nemo”, tell us about working on that film?
BS: That was also a privilege, the Nemo creative team were an absolute delight to work with. I put down my voice in Sydney Australia while they were live in San Francisco like a giant skype set up. It was the first time I had put down a voice for an animated feature film and I loved it. We had a script but once we had the character down we put down a few little improvised lines in case they needed them. Once you find your character it is hard to stop coming up with new stuff.

MG: Your role of “The Mouth of Sauron” ended in the director’s cut of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, tell us about how you got that role and working on the film?
BS: It was really a last minute thing I seem to recall. I just got a call right out of the blue. The director knew my work but little did I know I would be hidden under that damned helmet that I found impossible to see out of. So there I was, blind as a bat under this helmet after a four hour long makeup, sitting on a horse that hated the armor it had on which led it to keep trying to shake it off. It was not a very comfortable day.

MG: Your character of Trainman from “The Matrix Revolutions” is so notable, how did you get involved with that project?
BS: The directors Andy and Larry Wachowski, knew of my work and I guess they saw something of the Trainman in me. I loved that role; The Trainman was a rather cheeky sort of guy who stood out in the intensely serious world of the Matrix. Mind you the Wachowski brothers are rather mischievous as well. We seemed to see the character exactly the same way. I found it rather easy to fit into that guy and loved the experience enormously.

MG: Tell us about how you became involved with both “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” & “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” playing different roles?
BS: I had acted in a few low budget films in Australia before Mad Max and had met George Miller on a few occasions. Once again it was a sort of last minute thing. I had heard they had been auditioning actors for quite a while and was beginning to think I had missed out. Then I got a call, hurried over to pick up a script, went away for about an hour and came back for the audition. As the world of Mad Max was so unique and George wanted something different from the first Mad Max I just acted on instinct. Boy when I heard I had got the role I was delighted but I had no idea at all just how big a part it would play on the future of my career. “Beyond Thunderdome” was also very last minute. The shoot was well underway when I was approached to play Jeremiah the pilot. Apparently they had put off casting the role as they kept thinking of actors to play the role but still seem to lean towards me. The stumbling block was finding a character that was like me but not me, as it was another story. Anyway I got the call and it was described to me as being sort of like the character I played in “The Road warrior” but not like him – if you see what I mean.

MG: What do you have planned next upcoming?
BS: I have just been on tour doing a bit of stage work. Who knows what is around the corner?

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