In John Carter, the ruling Thark king (or Jeddak) Tars Tarkas is probably the most conflicted creatures on the entire red planet. And at the John Carter press day, we sat down with Willem Dafoe — the man behind the giant alien monster — to get to the root of Tars' misery. Meet some baby Tharks and learn a little bit of Thark talk. In the words of Tars, listen you tiny white apes!

When we meet your character [Tars Tarkas], he seems a little conflicted with his people. Could you elaborate on that a little?


Willem Dafoe: He's very conflicted and I think that's one of the interesting parts of the character for me. Because his public face and his private thoughts are at odds with each other. His people, are people that really celebrate brutality, decisiveness and strength above anything else. And he remembers a time when they were more sensitive, more thoughtful, more cultured. He misses that, and thinks they're heading in the wrong direction. But he's their leader, and if he shows any weakness he'll be deposed. So he gets in trouble if he expresses, follows his heart, he's destroyed. And if he doesn't follow his heart, he's destroyed. So he's in a double bind.

What do you think Tars sees in Virginia, or John Carter?

He sees a possibility for change, because it's something new. It's something that's been given to him, he says he's like a sign. And then practically speaking, he sees him as an ally that can help them win a war that they're in the middle of.

Do you think warriors make good kings?

Probably. No, peacemakers make the best kinds. I'd like to believe that, I'm not sure that's true. But...


One of the most interesting parts of this film was learning about how Andrew Stanton made the eyes [of the Tharks], and that how your eyes had a lot to do with that decision. And you can see your face in an alien creature. Was there any particular moment that stuck out, to you, where you thought, "That's me with tusks!"

There were a few, there were a few. It's hard, just like anytime you watch a film. What you do is you watch it and you're bombarded by memories of filming. Because it's the recording that you did, and your memory gets jarred. So I'm mostly watching that. And I'm trying to see myself, and I'm probably projecting too much because I want to see myself in it. But then there were these moments where I would see something in the eyes or the expression that I felt was very human or very rooted to something I did.


What's harder — acting on stilts or acting with four hands?

You know, I probably cheated because I didn't always use all my forehands because I didn't need them. Stilts were more the center of his physicality.


Can you teach us a Thark phrase?

[Watch the above video, we're not going to butcher his elegant turn of Martian phrase.]


John Carter hits theaters on March 9. Full disclosure: Disney paid for io9's travel and expenses at this junket.

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