Rhys Ifans on How Drugs and Cigarettes Informed His Portrayal of the Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man
06.13.12 by BrentJS
Actors use various methods to portray the characters they play on stage and on screen, but most attempt to draw from their own experiences and emotions whenever possible to help make their performances as "real" as possible. But, what experiences and emotions could possibly be of use when the task is to portray an angry 9-foot lizard with a prehensile tail? According to Welsh actor Rhys Ifans, his experiences with drug addicts helped inform his portrayal of scientist-turned-monster Dr. Curt Connors, aka the Lizard, in director Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man. That, and his own proclivity to smoke cigarettes and the resulting irritability he feels when he is denied his guilty pleasure for too long.
Like many of the villains in Spider-Man's rogues gallery, the Lizard is more of a by-product of good intentions gone bad, rather than a megalomaniacal monster out to take over the world — Dr. Connors is a war veteran seeking a way to help himself and other amputees regenerate lost limbs. But, as Ifans explained in a recent interview with The Sun, the "euphoria" Dr. Connors feels after experimenting on himself quickly turns to "destructive" addiction.
Unfortunately, [Connors] decides to become his own lab rat and the drug he takes gives him this kind of euphoria — I guess something like crystal meth. That feeling becomes addictive to Connors and that’s why he keeps returning to The Lizard.
You know, when guys are on these drugs they feel so brilliant and they want the rest of the world to feel as good as them, even though their behaviour is ultimately destructive to themselves and everyone around them.
Ifans went on to say that Webb even encouraged his comparison of Dr. Connors to a drug addict by playing The Velvet Undergound's Heroin during the filming of one scene.
When we were shooting the scene when Connors sees his new hand appear for the first time through this kind of reptilian chrysalis, the director played The Velvet Underground's Heroin song sung by Lou Reed. You know the lyrics, "It’s my life, and it’s my wife."
It’s a beautiful song about addiction. So we let this song run and just let this hand appear. It was really moving.
Ifans also revealed that his performance got a little help from the long hours he spent sitting in a makeup chair deprived of his cigarettes.
[Becoming the Lizard] would entail me sitting in a make-up chair for seven to eight hours with four make-up artists. I emphasise the word artist. They were working on various parts of my body, applying these silicone pieces and painting each scale individually.
That might sound excruciating but it was actually fascinating to see how these people work. I was able to view in slow motion, over the period of seven hours, this very dramatic physical change.
After seven hours in a chair with not enough cigarettes, I was kind of in the right mental state to play a man who was about to transform into a nine-foot lizard with a dangerous tail.
Ifans said that he used to scoff at acting coaches who would instruct him to do strange things like pretending he was a piece of bacon, but his experience playing the Lizard has given him a new appreciation for their lessons.
So I’d say to any drama students, whatever they tell you to do, do it. If they tell you to be a tree, be a tree. You never know.
The Amazing Spider-Man also stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Campbell Scott, Annie Parisse, Irrfan Khan, Denis Leary, Embeth Davidtz, C. Thomas Howell, Chris Zylka, Martin Sheen and two-time Academy Award-winner Sally Field also star. The screenplay was written by James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent.