Interview: Andrew Stanton (2012) John Carter

Andrew Stanton is trying to become the second notable Pixar director in a few months to make a successful transition to live action films, and he’s going to try and do so with a project dear to his heart: John Carter. Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) successfully jumped into a ready-made franchise with Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Stanton, on the other hand, was tasked with a 100-year-old work of the man who created Tarzan. Fortunately, Stanton grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs.

“I read it when I was I think 11,” Stanton said. “Ironically I read it like I think the year just before I saw Star Wars and so…you read that book and you think it’s tailor made for a boy that age. I would go over to my friend’s house and all his brothers were drawing these – what I now know are these Tharks, these…four armed tusk characters and I would be like, ‘What the heck are those?’ And they told me about the books and so I started reading the books.”

Stanton said he always believed that the property, with its obvious influence on any number of science-fiction properties, would make it a natural fit for a movie. “We’re talking almost 30 years, I pretty much spent that whole time just waiting for somebody to make the movie. I just wanted to go see it.”

At that point, Stanton was working on WALL-E and began hearing rumblings about an attempt to make the property into a film, an attempt involving a number of colleagues. “I was now one separation away from a lot of artists that were working on it I was just getting the scoop on like oh, ‘it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.’” When the 2006 attempt fell through, however, Stanton said he was “crestfallen.” But things changed soon. “I was three years out from finishing Wall-E. I was deep into working on it, but I always like to think about what I might do next, so I won’t have a blank canvas when I finish,” Stanton explained. “I just happen to have a serendipitous phone call…with the head of Disney at the time, Dick Cook, and I said…’I don’t even know if you know because you weren’t around then, but in the ’80s Disney had it for 10 years and didn’t do anything with it, but you’re now in good stead with them because you made this animated Tarzan movie so maybe, you know, maybe, when I finish Wall-E, if I’m not a one-hit-wonder, would you consider letting me maybe, you know, get it made and if you don’t, you should buy it and have somebody make it. It’s…just a crime that it’s not going to get out there.’”

Stanton realized, however, that adapting a property that inspired so many others would pose its own special challenges, since so many other science fiction films have used the John Carter stories as a template. “I felt like I found a way in which was to make it feel almost like a historical piece, of a place that just you didn’t know about. My brother saw it and he goes, ‘Oh, I get it, it’s Masterpiece Theater for guys,’ and I went, ‘Yeah, I guess that’s kind of it.’”

Stanton noted that his love for the character may have made casting it more difficult, since he’s had a picture in his mind for so long, before landing on former Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch. “When I was a kid I thought he’s an older guy, so I kept thinking well, I’m an older guy, I should be in the 40s. And then I’m looking, looking at this whole range of people between like 35 and 45 and then I’m kind of going, ‘Well, wait a minute and I went back to IMDB and Sean Connery was 29 when he did Dr. No, Harrison Ford was 31 when he did Star Wars, Christopher Lambert was 27 in The Highlander, I was doing ageism here. You have to start in your late 20s, that’s a man.”

John Carter opens in theaters on March 9, 2012.