On Friday 13 April, Christopher Kirby of Iron Sky, Star Wars and the Matrix (among many other roles) talked to Nalini Haynes via Skype. This interview is available in text (just below this paragraph) and in MP3 (podcast) format at the bottom of this page.
Nalini: Thank you very much for agreeing to talk to Dark Matter.
Chris: That’s all right.
Nalini: It’s actually difficult to find much about you on the Internet.
Chris: Yes. Exactly. Isn’t that the whole point though? I’m not one of those who puts my private life out there. I just do my work and let it speak for itself. I think that makes my job a lot easier. When you know a little too much about somebody and then they try to do something that might be different, sometimes it can fall flat. I guess that creative mystery keeps the audience involved. I like to call it old school De Niro or Sean Penn: they said to never give interviews or anything like that. You hear about their work and it’s like ‘Oh, wow!’ so that speaks for itself. I’m not comparing myself to them, but at the same time I do think there is a certain validity that helps you in your art. There is a certain bridge obviously that is built with the audience. Even now, things have changed so much in the last, oh good Lord, in the last 10 or 15 years as far as acting and celebrity – or whatever you want to call it – is presented now. I just tried to do my job the best way I can and let the chips fall where they may, if you know what I mean.
Nalini: If you prefer the creative mystery so people can take each performance individually, how do you feel about being the PR guy for Iron Sky?
Chris: It’s like anything else. Lord knows, anyone who knows me, knows when I get to a party I’m kinda leading the charge. To me it is a little different, but at the same time I am talking about the film, and the role I play in the film. I’m not necessarily putting my X’s and O’s out for the audience. It’s really like anything else: we do the job, it becomes a product, and then basically we’re the cogs in the product that make the connection to the whole. I don’t have a real problem with that. I’m sure there are certain questions where I will go ‘I’m not answering that,’ and Lord knows I’m not shy about saying that. As far as being the lead guy goes, I’m fine with that.
Nalini: There are some questions I have to ask you that you may feel you don’t want to answer, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask them just in case you will answer.
Nalini: First of all, you are here to talk about the film. What would you like to say about Iron Sky?
Chris: I’m sure after everything you’ve read, you know it’s about Nazis on the moon.
Nalini: [laughing] Yeah, I did get that. A hint.
Chris: I was like – everyone is like ‘Yeah, yeah it’s Nazis on the moon.’ ‘But – there’s more to it than that isn’t there?’ Obviously it’s a Finnish Australian German coproduction. It was a job that, when my agent called, I remembered the call too, because it actually happened on Friday.
She went, ‘Oh, I’m going to send you something. Some people want to see you about a film.’
I’m thinking, ‘Okay, what’s the film about?’
Slight pause. ‘It’s about Nazis on the moon.’
I’m waiting for my agent to say something else. Still no reaction. I’m thinking, okay, I’ll bite. ‘No, really, what’s the film about?’
‘It’s about Nazis on the moon.’
‘Are you interested?’
‘Oh, ok, I’ll read it. Just send it to me and I’ll read it. I’ll let you know at the end of the day.’ I read it. I remember I read it about eight times that weekend. I remember the first time I read it, I was kind of like, ‘Really?’ And then I read it a second time, thinking, ‘Wow, are they actually going to make this?’ And the third time I read it, I was like, ‘Okay… Okay I’m in. I’m in.’ Because the little subtleties that you might miss along the way, did I actually read that or what’s going on… I just went, ‘Okay, if they’ve got balls enough to make this, alright, let’s go.’
Obviously I wanted to meet them because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to be promoting the wrong message, if you know what I mean. Obviously if someone is approaching something like that you want to make sure they’re above board. I think that was the second thing out of my mouth after I said, ‘Hi. How are you guys? Nice to meet you.’ Just to cut the whole conversation short, I asked what was going on. It was a complete and utter surprise all the way round, from the phone call to even after meeting them and seeing the way they put the production together. I just kind of went ‘Wow!’ These guys are from a very small town in Finland, I mean a tiny town. I guess everybody tries to put a film together. There are so many scripts written a year but let alone scripts that actually get looked at; then actually get funded and then made into a movie. That’s a long, long hard journey but the thing is these guys actually sat there and they stuck with it. And actually put it out there. I admire these guys.
Nalini: What year was it you got recruited?
Chris: I would say I probably got recruited, yes. I mean, we did a little audition. I kinda went – I sort of see this guy – my character – as one who starts off quite self-centred but into caring about something outside of himself, which is a bit of a journey in and of itself. With that being said, I’d thought it is a character arc that we see in certain films, but I personally don’t think we see it enough. It has a universal theme that I think a lot of people actually miss in their own lives.
Nalini: When did you come on board with the project?
Chris: I didn’t come on until late like, really late. I know Julia, who plays Renate, and Gotz, who plays Klaus, they were there from the beginning. I think it was – I don’t know – maybe six years in the making?
Nalini: I heard about it in 2008 and it was already in process then.
Chris: Wow. Yeah, but the question is, did they already have the scripts and things like that? I didn’t get on board until the June before rehearsal, before we shot in September in Finland. Then we shot the following December.
Nalini: So was this 2010 or 2011?
Chris: This was 2010 so I came on really late. Basically everyone was sort of up and running. You’re doing a film where you have Germans, you have Finnish people, and you have me. Everyone speaks English but I think there’s always certain things that don’t get translated if you know what I mean? I would sit there and when something wasn’t going right, I would just make a face. I made this face and they’d go ‘Huh?’ I just grab someone’s attention and I’d be like: ‘I don’t understand.’ So we’re all on the same page, you find different ways of communicating and trying to get things through. That’s like anything else, it’s always a process. You soon discover what you can and cannot get away with. That being said, everybody on the shoot was just fantastic. There wasn’t an ego thing or anything like that. Everyone just sort of got in there and said, ‘Okay, this is what we’re doing, let’s go.’ I just thought that was quite professional and quite refreshing, because sometimes you do work on a set and it’s not all hunky-dory.
Nalini: Yes, sometimes there are divas.
Chris: Sometimes you get that, yeah. But it was good to actually see the people working together. The crew was just amazing in Germany and here. It was just a pleasurable experience.
Nalini: Great. You’re the first African American astronaut on the moon in Iron Sky. In LeVar Burton’s keynote speech to the publishing industry earlier this year (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXLju6cBDwI), LeVar said that, as a child, seeing Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise told him that there was a place for him in the future. He then went on to star in Star Trek. Do you recall any similar moments for you?
Chris: Wow. That’s a very good quote. Actually, there probably would have been, but this is probably the actor in me speaking. When I was little, me and my mum would always go to the movies. She’d take me to see all these classics, these fantastic films. We went to see this Sydney Poitier retrospective. I don’t know how old I would have been – maybe eight. I remember just sitting there kind of going ‘Wow!’
I guess in my mind I always knew that my world had to be better, my future had to be better than what my present was, because I grew up in south-central Los Angeles right amongst all the gangs and things like that. Yeah. So this kind of made me go: ‘Oh, wow, it can be done,’ and with strength and dignity. If anyone knows me, I am probably the easiest going – I get along with everybody. I like to think I do, anyway. When I feel like I’m not being done right by, that’s when I put my foot down. I hate to see anyone treated unfairly. I have an innate sense of fairness, regardless of where you come from. That kind of gripes at me so I guess I always try to do something. It is not always available to you, but you always like to say what you can, no matter how big or small the role is. I like to make a difference.
When I saw Sydney Poitier during those films, it was like, ‘Okay, okay…’ I think probably then and there, something probably clicked in me and said I can do this. But where I grew up, you’re not going to get people going: ‘Oh, yeah, go ahead, do that thing.’ It takes a while to build up the courage in order to say, ‘You know what? This is it. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ Then seeing movies like Jaws, I was kind of like: ‘Oh man, I just have to do this.’ But I would say that Sydney Poitier moment, that just did it, that was it.
Nalini: He’s an amazing actor, as well.
Chris: Oh my goodness. I think everybody’s still striving to get there, you know? He’s left a legacy that nobody can ever overshadow. To say the least. Using ‘amazing’ may not be enough. Considering the time he did it in, just incredible, incredible.
Nalini: Do you hope that your role in this science-fiction comedy will shake up people’s expectations? I know it’s a comedy but it’s still out there.
Chris: Maybe. Maybe. I’ve been in the business for a while now. I know people will interpret it their own way. Like any entertainer, I hope that people will leave with a smile on their face having been entertained, having liked the film, and weren’t distracted by anything. And as far as my role is concerned, I’m here to serve the story. If people actually kind of go ‘Oh, wow,’ then that’s just a plus. I think there are certain statements made in the film that probably people could read certain things into but, as I say, I leave interpretation up to the audience.
Nalini: I’ve been trying to walk a balance between avoiding spoilers and researching this interview, so I’ve read half the plot outline on Wikipedia. Your character in Iron Sky was the token black to help a Sarah Palin-esque presidential campaign and Nazi racism is also part of the plot. How do you feel about working on the film with these themes?
Chris: Well, you see, that’s the whole thing. Having those themes, it will speak to people in a certain way. How deep it sinks in, that is the main question. But working on a film with those themes – I think you need those themes, you need the opposite, in order to pull the story along, and that’s fine. Especially when you’re talking about certain prejudices. Sure, let’s get in there and let’s mix things up. People are obviously going to see how you handle it. It’s a reflection. It’s a reflection so people might go away taking something from it. In the end, that’s what I initially held – being entertained, but also take something away with you, and I think that’s quite important. So me being in that film I said, ‘Yeah, bring it on. Bring. It. On.’
Nalini: There’s been a lot of controversy about Game of Thrones being too white, and, more recently, Salidor Saan being misrepresented comparing what happens in episode two with what happened in the book, after his race was changed to African. Do you have any comments to make about those problems?
Chris: Okay, in Game of Thrones… I think, hopefully, we are beyond that. I would like to think we are. But there have been some things that have happened recently. And I might get a little political here…
Nalini: Go right ahead.
Chris: You know the Trayvon Martin case in the States?
Nalini: Yes, I have been following it.
Chris: I think everybody has. The question of whether or not he was black or not, really, to tell you the truth as a HUMAN race – as a HUMAN race – that shouldn’t even come into it. Unfortunately it does. I think we should have – and when I say WE, all of us as human beings – WE should have transcended that by now. As my friend once said, it’s kind of funny how we are still stuck in the same patterns. We think we move forward, but really we don’t. What happens when there is a tragedy, we recoil and do the things that we have practised, that we have always done. We do it out of fear. My friend actually says, ‘You know what man? I am waiting for the day when all of us are not even moving our mouths to talk.’ We’re actually speaking through another thing. That’s the thing: it’s not a white thing, it’s not a black thing, it’s not Chinese, it is not Australian, it’s a HUMAN thing. We ALL have to push forward regardless of where we are and what we might think. It’s the old thing where when a butterfly flaps its wings – what’s that thing?
Nalini: A butterfly flaps its wings and a cyclone happens somewhere else.
Chris: That’s life isn’t it? That’s how life is. If we can actually make things a little more open… It all starts with a ‘Hi’. It’s as simple as maybe going somewhere that you normally don’t go, maybe saying ‘hi’ to somebody, getting to know somebody outside your comfort zone. That’s how it starts. If everybody does that, how can the world not be changed? Those things, Bring. It. On. To tell you the truth, I want to do more of that, because it reflects life. It puts a mirror up to society and society goes: ‘Oh, okay.’ What was it that Aristotle – I could be wrong – but it was a philosopher that said Greeks need to see themselves in plays in order to understand the society around them and their own lives. I think that’s why we do go to the movies. Obviously we go to the movies to escape, but when things resonate, we kind of go ‘Oh.’ When you laugh at something, you laugh at something because you recognise the human folly. Not to sound like a schoolteacher, but we constantly are learning. Sorry, I probably –
Nalini: No! What you’ve been saying is fantastic. That’s great. I’m kind of now going from this awesome platform to a bit more of the mundane.
Chris: Right on, that’s life though, isn’t it? All different colours, yeah.
Nalini: Yes. Where did you train to be an actor?
Chris: Wow, good Lord… how many places? I started in a school at Point Loma College then I’ve also studied in New York, in the Howard Fine studios in LA and here. The thing is, too, with my study – you’re always a student, you know what I mean? No matter how long you’ve been doing it, you might know a lot of things but I think if you’re not always picking up little things that are a little different, then you’re not being in the moment and not actually creating. It’s really important for us to create. I was the type of person growing up who was the class clown not the class clown to the point I was being destructive because, obviously, with my parents I probably wouldn’t be alive today. But to the point where you have an audience. Any time there was an opportunity to say something or do something, I would take it. Luckily enough, I ended up with teachers who – I guess – they thought I was charming because I didn’t have anybody kick me out or flunk me or anything like that. But there’s always different training. And you always do little other things, like you might do voice with someone or you might do movement, things like that. You’re always putting tools in your belt in order to do the job that we do. Even sitting here talking to you, I’m going to take something – probably – away from this interview and I’ll use it somewhere.
Nalini: Well, that’d be great. Do you have a preferred genre?
Chris: I just say ‘whatever comes up, comes up,’ but I have done a bit of sci-fi, there is no doubt. It’s kind of funny how sci-fi is one of those genres that seems to be a little more colourblind than most genres. If you know what I mean.
Chris: There is the old joke about Star Trek. During that time I don’t think there was one black face on network TV except for that one lady who was black on Star Trek. They kind of went, ‘Oh, they don’t want us now, so maybe we’ll be somewhere in the future.’ The thing is, too, I do prefer the whole colourblind thing because, really, we’re all in the mix together. I think we’ve come to the point where we can actually accept the fact that this guy has a black father, his son who is a little bit of a different colour than him, and the daughter might be a different shade… because that’s how life is. Different people do get together. That’s the thing about sci-fi because it does take you to different worlds. But those different worlds, obviously, are a reflection of our own. In that way, maybe you have to say sci-fi is onto something. Hopefully we can get that in other genres more regularly.
Maybe some will go outside of themselves, and say hi to somebody outside their comfort zone. Obviously I have done quite a bit of sci-fi. And the thing about sci-fi fans, too, not to sound like I’m sucking up here, but the thing is they are quite loyal. I have had people just walk up to me and say, ‘Oh my god, you were in such and such,’ or ‘you were in this.’ I’m that type of person where, if people ask me for an autograph, I’m like, ‘Yes, sure.’ Who am I to say no to somebody who really keeps me in a job. Really, that’s what fans do; they keep you in a job. As funny as the acting business can be, they do keep you working. I appreciate – I don’t meant for this to sound corny – but I appreciate each and every fan that I have. They could’ve just went ‘Uh, whatever,’ but they’ve been so supportive and open and honest… it’s just been – it’s just amazing.
Nalini: I was interviewing Brandon Sanderson this morning – he’s an internationally renowned fantasy author – he was saying something fairly similar, but he was talking about how people who were in the arts used to need a patron. These days the fans – in his case the readers – are the patrons, buying the books, buying the films.
Chris: Mm. That’s true. That is so true. It is definitely give-and-take. Any time you do a job, no matter what the role might be – you could be playing the nastiest person on earth – but it has to come from a place of love. You’re putting it out there, you’re putting it out to the audience. The question is whether or not – I guess it’s like any form of love – whether or not it’s mutual or it’s requited. I’d like to think that – whatever love I happen to put out there – hopefully the fans are going ‘Okay, we accept that.’
It’s a really funny business in a lot of different ways. Obviously, with actors, sometimes we might not work for months or, heaven forbid, for years. But the thing is, you’re always keeping the nose close to the grindstone to find out what’s going on. I was supposed to be doing Paradise Lost here in Australia until they cancelled the film. I didn’t know the film was cancelled until – because they already took us over to LA and photo-scanned us and did all that stuff. Basically I’m in Berlin and I find out: oh, the film has been cancelled. Legendary pulled out. Oh, that’s a bit of a drag. I was actually looking forward to working with certain people, so I kind of went: ‘Wow, that’s a bit… hard-core.’ But that’s the nature of this business. You never know until you’re actually on the set and you start saying words and hopefully the next day we’re back again, let’s do it again. It can be fickle in that way too. It can be a bit hard-core. People ask for advice: I think you have to love it; you have to love it with your whole heart and soul because if not it’s just too hard. It’s just too hard. If you can’t do anything else then I’d say: yes, go ahead, be an actor.
Nalini: You moved to Australia from Los Angeles while pursuing a career in film. This is kind of the opposite way that it is supposed to work. It is supposed to –
Chris: Backwards, yeah.
Nalini: How is that working out for you?
Chris: I’ve done pretty well, knock on wood. Obviously there’s going to be more opportunities for things in the States, which I have travelled back for also. I guess I was just looking for a little more peaceful existence, if I can put it that way. I know I’ve always been a bit of a traveller. I guess officially I actually moved out of home when I was 10 or 11 to go to boarding school, and basically I haven’t lived at home since because I’ve always travelled. Moving to another country seemed like a natural extension really.
Every school I went to outside of my elementary school I’ve always travelled to, and I don’t mean like a little bit. Even my high school: I boarded there, and that was still almost 2 hours away. And I was in LA, so it’s not like ‘Oh, I can just go to LA High or I can just go to Power States High.’ No, I ended up going someplace far-off. I guess what you find is your natural fit. Where a lot of people might think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be too much,’ no, if it feels right, then you go and do it. That being said too, about me moving here, I do try to get back as often as I can because you have to stay fresh in the minds of certain producers and casting people. It’s always good to take a trip back. And I grew up in Los Angeles so there are certain things that I kind of need to reconnect with. I do really love living here though it’s kind of like ‘Oh, wow, I kind of hit the jackpot.’
Nalini: Are you living in the city or out in the country?
Chris: Actually it’s probably a little more country. To me that is a complete and utter stretch, because I do miss the energy and the vibe of the city. Something came up and was almost like I got offered something I couldn’t refuse. So I was like okay. But I do try to get to the city as often as I can. I’m like a little kid, ‘I’m driving to the city today, ha ha.’ Anybody who knows me, literally, I can be like a little kid sometimes with stuff like that.
Nalini: So you’re developing a balance in your life.
Chris: I’m trying to. You almost make me sound noble and wise.
Nalini: At some points in this interview you really do sound noble and wise.
Chris: [laughing] I guess – I guess – What I believe, I believe wholeheartedly. I don’t want to half do anything. If I believe in something then I have totally believe in it. That’s just me. Most of my friends, I’ve known for a very, very long time and they know that whenever anything hits the fan I’ll be there. This is how I am. What I believe in, I believe wholeheartedly.
Nalini: Good for you. It’s really important to know who you are.
Chris: I think it truly is because so many people flip-flop: they do this, they do that. Oh, I’m going to get wise again. I think it was Martin Luther King who said, ‘You need to believe in something because if you don’t, you’ll fall for anything.’ So what you believe in, believe it. That being said, I don’t think you can go around believing in things that are going to hurt other human beings. I think that’s the sort of a check you need to put up too. You can’t go around hanging people because that’s hurting people. There has to be a reality check. Which is kind of funny because going back to the Iron Sky story, with me doing anything with Nazis, you’ve got to wonder who or what will come out of the woodwork, you know what I mean? That’s why it was so important for me to meet the producer and director, to make sure we were not doing any form of propaganda. Because that’s against everything I believe in.
Nalini: That’s a risk.
Chris: That’s why it was important to me to meet them and find out what was going on here.
Nalini: What does the future hold for you now?
Chris: There’s quite a few things that I can’t really say. I hate it when I hear that, but I can’t really say. One thing I do have coming up is a movie that I think is retitled now, it was called Movie 43. It’s based on the old 1970s skit comedy movies like Kentucky Fried Movie and another one that might have been Onion Ball or something like that. It’s a series of skits that actually make up a film. I remember seeing one, a revival of Kentucky Fried Movie, and I just cracked up. I just thought oh my god, they were making this back then. A friend of mine came to me and said he was wondering if I would do this thing for him and I said sure. I read it and it was so outrageous, it was so outrageous, I said, ‘Dude, are you really going to do this? I am so in! Are you kidding me?!’ I think it’s really important to laugh, too, you know, because I don’t think the world laughs enough. You can care about things deeply but also we were put here to enjoy this thing called life. No matter what harsh things we are going through, we have to be able to find some sense of humour. I think that makes up a career really where you can do a whole array of roles that are different. A full-fledged career, anyway.
Nalini: They say variety is the spice of life.
Chris: Variety is the spice – yes, it is.
Nalini: Do you have any particular plans for this weekend apart from surviving Supanova?
Chris: Yeah, doing that. I have a birthday party for my little girl, so I have to make sure that she is happy. I don’t know how it’s going to be. But you’ve got Supanova this weekend and I get to go on to the premiere in Australia.
Nalini: Yes, on the Gold Coast next week.
Chris: Yes. That kind of keeps me afloat, then I have auditions to send off. That’s the life we have.
Nalini: Thank you very much for talking to Dark Matter.
Chris: Thank you.