“It’s not the Tarzan that you expect,” Alexander Skarsgård said last week at CinemaCon in Las Vegas about the hero he plays in the upcoming adventure reboot, The Legend of Tarzan. While most Hollywood remakes focus on origin stories, this movie goes in the other direction.
Directed by four-time Harry Potter helmer David Yates, The Legend of Tarzan opens a decade after its hero has left the African jungles, where he was raised by great apes since he was an infant. He’s now a fully-clothed, tea-sipping British aristocrat named John Clayton (no relation to the ESPN analyst). There are no fish-out-of-water antics here: Clayton is fully acclimated to sophisticated society and happily married to Jane (Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie). “I thought that was really smart when I first read the script,” Skarsgård said.
Of course, no one wants to see Merchant Ivory’s Tarzan. “He plays the part of a Victorian lord really well,” Skarsgård said. “But he’s also not happy. And Jane can tell that he’s not happy. She’s not happy, either. They spent most of her childhood in Africa — that’s where they met.”
Enter Samuel L. Jackson’s George Washington Williams, who lures Clayton/Tarzan back to his homeland with news about the cruelty of the evil Captain Rom (Christoph Waltz), who’s based on the real-life Congo conqueror King Leopold II. “People are going to learn something about King Leopold, and the Holocaust that was happening in the world, and how many animals he killed in his quest for diamonds, ivory, and rubber,” said Jackson (who, incidentally, revealed that he did drop a few f-bombs during filming, but doesn’t know if any will make the PG-13 release’s final cut.)
Williams persuades a reluctant Clayton to return home. “He’s afraid, primarily of himself and what he’s capable of as Tarzan,” Skarsgård said. “And slowly the layers come off, physically and literally, and he reverts back to a more animalistic state.”
It doesn’t take too long before Tarzan is back where he belongs, shedding his shirt, swinging through the trees, and howling his head off. Skarsgård, who promoted the film by going pants-less at the MTV Movie Awards earlier in April, wouldn’t say too much about perfecting the iconic yell, saying only that it was all about trying out various “guttural, primal screams.”
Said Jackson of Skarsgård’s attempts: “We made fun of it and played around with it quite a bit. I did it myself a couple times, and they were like, 'No, you can’t do it.’”
The Legend of Tarzan opens July 1. Watch the trailer: