NEW YORK — Welsh actor Rhys Ifans asserts that he's oddly and uniquely qualified to play the raging, reptilian villain in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the epic new rebuild of Marvel Comics' classic superhero franchise.
As the earnest, brilliant Dr. Curt Connors, the one-armed OsCorp research scientist who morphs into the rampaging arch-villain The Lizard, Ifans said his ace card in landing the coveted role in what promises to be another lucrative run of summer blockbusters (following the three Sam Raimi-directed films of summers past) was his classical training as an actor at London's Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
“Theatrical training really helps when it comes to green screen performance and stuff like that,” Ifans said during a press conference hosted by Columbia Pictures at the tony Crosby Street Hotel in Soho. “In the theater you do have to apply your imagination a lot more than you would on a film set.
“Generally, if you're looking at a New York landscape in a film they fly you to New York and you look at the landscape,” he said. “In the theater, you have to conjure it all in your mind. ”
Ifans' film resume attests to his wide versatility, ranging from period drama in “Anonymous,” to dark “Harry Potter” fantasy, to light “Nanny McPhee” fairy tales, to the urban angst of “Greenberg.” In addition to loads of live performance on stage, Ifans' career also boasts a gritty rock 'n' roll facet — he once fronted the band Super Furry Animals and now acts as lead singer for Welsh group The Peth.
While Ifans said his personal knowledge of science is sketchy (“Making a cup of coffee is alchemy to me”), he did feel that his rock 'n' roll lineage helped inform his performance as Spider-Man's Jekyll-and-Hyde nemesis.
“There wasn't any specific rock 'n' roll inspiration for playing Connors because you need two hands to play a guitar,” the actor said. “But I just think the whole Spider-Man fantasy is rock 'n' roll in spirit anyway. And often on set, (director Marc Webb) in scenes with no dialogue would play songs from the soundtrack. Marc is also a huge music fan, and we share very similar musical tastes.
“And referring back to Connors, the drug he takes gives him this sense of euphoria and the strength of 10 men, I guess something like crystal meth,” Ifans said. “And that feeling becomes addictive to Connors and that's why he keeps returning to the Lizard because when guys are on these drugs they feel so brilliant they want the rest of the world to feel as good as them. Even though it's ultimately destructive to themselves and everyone around them.
“So when we were shooting the scene where Connors for the first time sees his new hand appear through this kind of reptilian cocoon, Marc played Velvet Underground's ‘Heroin,' sung by Lou Reed, on set,” he said. “It's a beautiful song about addiction. So we let this whole song run and let this hand appear and it was really moving. We didn't use it in the movie, of course. But that's the way Marc works — we were kind of supplied with a soundtrack a lot of the time. That's the rock 'n' roll bit.”
But on a pure acting level, transitioning from Connors to The Lizard and back again was not as easy as it looks. “There were those transitional moments for Connors where he's becoming reptilian or becoming human from the other end,” Ifans said. “And that would entail me sitting in a makeup chair for up to seven or eight hours with four makeup artists — and I do emphasize the word artists — working on various parts of my body applying these silicon pieces and painting each scale individually,” he said. “After seven hours in a chair with not nearly enough cigarettes I was kind of in the right mental state to play a man who is about to transform into a nine-foot lizard.”