Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Featured Presentation

Derek Mears

Photo By: Brezinski Photography

The coolest thing about Derek Mears isn’t that he’s getting to play Swamp Thing in the new original series set to premiere on the DC Universe digital subscription service May 31, but that he is so grateful to be doing so. As a fan of the iconic character himself, the California-born actor first picked up a “Swamp Thing” comic book as kid – before he could even read – only to find himself bringing the misunderstood creature to life on the small screen decades later. Full circle at its finest!

We recently sat down with Mears to discuss what his younger self would think of his latest role, the wearable art that is the Swamp Thing suit, and why he prepared by reading about everything from existentialism to botany.

: What would 12-year-old Derek think about getting to play Swamp Thing?
Mears: 12-year-old Derek just stares at a wall for his entire career going, “Are you kidding me?” I don’t understand how this happened, but I am in no way sad about it. If I had six guns right now, I’d be shooting them in the air. So, pretty excited.

TrunkSpace: Because it’s such an established character, did you feel pressure to make Swamp Thing your own?
Mears: For sure. Any role that I do, I approach it that way. It’s like handwriting. If you and I were to play Pinocchio, we’re going to approach it different. It’s our own kind of style and it’s naturally going to happen. But yeah, of course, I did put my own little spin on things, but also tying back the fan pressure… I wouldn’t really say it’s fan pressure, it’s… on my end, more of a responsibility. I‘ve been getting so many lovely messages on social media from people who have grown up with Swamp Thing being their guy, and they already have this personal relationship that has given them crossroads in their life, and given them answers, and given them joy. It means so much to these people that I knew I had that responsibility of making it right for them, because it’s almost like you’re babysitting their child and going, “Oh, I want you to be happy in what we’re doing, and be on board,” because you don’t want to ruin those memories. You want to make those memories that they have – and the love for the character that they have – flourish.

TrunkSpace: In many ways Swamp Thing has always represented what The X-Men have for people, which is, characters who are outcasts. For many readers who feel that in their own lives, that helps form a connection.
Mears: Oh, 1,000 percent. That’s a huge theme that we’re doing in this version of “Swamp Thing” where a lot of it is about acceptance that we can all kind of relate to. I’ll call it trying to accept, or struggling to accept, who he is as Swamp Thing. It’s something that we all feel, because at certain points, we feel we’re too tall, or too short, or too thin, or too wide, or our teeth just aren’t right, so there are elements of humanity that we all gravitate to with this character. So in a sense, he represents us.

TrunkSpace: In many ways, he was a more relatable character than the super-powered heroes. He was more human than some of the human characters.
Mears: Oh, absolutely. That’s what’s kind of beautiful about it. He’s such a balance. Where there’s good, there’s bad, but there has to be a balance and he strives to do the right thing. But as humans, we’re all fallible and we’re going to mess up somewhere. It wasn’t just the stereotypical black and white of things. There’s so much gray to this character, but the intention is to do good.

TrunkSpace: Were you nervous leading up to the first trailer being released and fans having their first look at what the series and the character would represent?
Mears: Honestly, through my own vision or through my own rose-colored glasses, when I first saw the concept for the character of how they were executing it, my mouth dropped. I was like, “Are you kidding me? That’s what you’re going with because that is pretty right-on!” And I kind of knew ahead of time because the buzz on the set has been sort of there the entire series. It’s one of those special jobs where the cast and crew get along so well, and there’s no hierarchy between the different departments. It’s like, “Oh, we all want to row the boat in the same direction to accomplish the best possible story that we can.” And once I saw how the suit looked, I went, “Okay.” Some people tear up over it. It’s like, “I can’t believe it.” Also, seeing that teaser shot, I go, “Wait until you see it in the different proper lighting, it looks even better than that.” And I’m not bragging because I’m in the suit, but I’m just trying to relate that as a fan myself, I get to wear art. And that art is pretty darn accurate. I don’t know how you could get much closer to the bullseye with that.

TrunkSpace: What’s so great about that is, with this kind of wearable art, you’re leaving a mark on pop culture and the suit could end up in a museum some day.
Mears: I’m thrilled about that. The work that the Fractured FX guys did, with Justin Raleigh at the helm, they put so much time and effort into this. There are some times where people kind of rush through and go, “Oh, what’s the minimum that I have to do to do my job?” I know for a fact that they went above and beyond, and went outside their own budget and used some of their own budget to make it right, because they knew how much this meant to fans and to themselves as artists. I’ve been so blessed to wear different prosthetic characters throughout my career, but I tell you, man, this suit is the Cadillac of suits. The way that you can emote so well through the face, the way that the prosthetics move and work… but it’s all within the design. It was done on purpose. So even like spending so much time in the water, they designed it to be a quicker drying suit than it normally would be. I’m looking at it in a mirror after wearing it I don’t know how many times… because after a while, you kind of get like, “Okay, that’s what I’m wearing,” but every time I’m suiting up, I’m staring at a mirror going, “Are you kidding me? I can’t see the lines on this, the way that it moves.” If I want to, I can kick over my head. It moves so well. So it’s really a pleasure. I’m not trying to pump it up more than it is, but just from my eyes, I’m really lucky to wear this. I can’t wait to see the fans’ reaction when they see it onscreen.

TrunkSpace: And you touched on it, but the suit’s ability to emote is incredible, which is so important for this character. From a performance standpoint, did this character require a different approach than other characters where you had to wear prosthetic suits?
Mears: Well, yes and no. I’ve been on producer sessions or what not for features or shows, and they’re like, “Oh, we need a big guy to wear a mask,” and I’m like, “Alright, have a good day, guys.” “Are you leaving?” I’m like, “Yeah, if that’s your mentality, I’m not right for this job.” Because there’s so much more that we do for this when you’re behind a suit. You approach it like it’s any other character. You have to add that emotional depth, and that’s why I think it’s so important to do a lot of characters like this practically and not just CGI. There’s the point where the two could marry with, say, they benefit each other, which is amazing, but you have to be able to emote the humanity of the character through that makeup. And especially with this character, there’s such a pathos to Swamp Thing, and the extremes of extreme sadness to extreme violence and anger, and the middle ground of that humanity, and trying to keep that balance that he struggles for. It’s such a challenge. But I prepared. I read so many different books on existentialism, and psychology, and philosophy. I even dug into different books on botany. But just kind of making up my own and… using the Alan Moore run from “Swamp Thing” as a flow chart to draw from. So just doing hours upon hours of extensive research, and to be able to hit some of the emotional depths of this character as he strongly deserves, and tie it into my own past and my own personal experiences, but molded him in a sense that they can be used through the limbs of the character to express. So, just the little, subtle things of something affecting you with the makeup, it really shines through and I don’t have to do much because of the prosthetic, because you can read what’s going on.

Photo By: Brezinski Photography

TrunkSpace: You had mentioned reading Alan Moore’s arc. In going back and looking at the books, was there any iconic imagery that you drew from, and how you physically presented Swamp Thing on camera?
Mears: Oh, for sure. They call it aspect. It’s kind of like Frankenstein. I mean, there’s so many aspects of making a character in general as an actor. There are the physical aspects, and the mental aspects, the emotional. There’s the subtextual, the parables, the metaphors that you try to add in. But on the visual side, absolutely. We’ve taken from the original series with Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson – Bernie Wrightson’s drawings, and we rely heavily, story-wise, through the Alan Moore saga, but there are elements of “52” in some of the design. It’s an amalgamation of all of them. And from time to time, being that I’m a nerd and I learned to read by collecting comic books as a kid, I would do little homages to John Totleben or Stephen Bissette, as well as Bernie Wrightson, so fans could be tied into the characters.

TrunkSpace: And those fans will appreciate that because they will be able to see that you’re just as in love with the character as they are.
Mears: Yeah. It’s weird, because growing up, I grew up on some of those comics. I remember when I was a kid, a little weird story was I remember not being old enough to read yet, and my mom would go get her hair done at a beauty salon or whatever, and every time she went, I got to go across the way to a 7-11 where they sold comic books. Our town didn’t have a comic book store at the time, and I got to choose different comic books to read while she got her hair done. And I remember being a big Batman fan, and I got this one comic, and I went, “Oh, this comic is issue #7 called ‘Swamp Thing’ with Batman in it? Well, Batman’s in it.” And I remember reading it, and being totally into this character, going like, “But he’s a good guy, but he looks so terrifying! Okay!” But I didn’t know what the words were, so later on, having developed to be able to read and understand what it was… and now as an adult, I completely forgot about all that, but when I was doing all my research and going through all the comics, seeing that cover, going, “Wait a second,” and having this rush of nostalgia hit me. “I remember staring at these pictures and trying to understand what was going on in the story, but not being able to read.”

What a crazy full circle to be able to play the character now as an adult.

Swamp Thing” premieres May 31 on the DC Universe digital subscription service.

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The Featured Presentation

Zach McGowan


On your mark. Get set. Let’s go!

We’re celebrating the release of “Death Race: Beyond Anarchy” – available today on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand – chatting with the individuals responsible for revving our blood-fueled engines. This time out we’re sitting down with star Zach McGowan to discuss the double-edged sword that is present when joining an existing franchise, the reason his inner 10-year-old was “losing his shit” every day on set, and why “The Walking Dead” fans better get used to seeing his face.

TrunkSpace: “Death Race” is a popular franchise with fans. As an actor, when you’re going into a new project, is it exciting knowing that there’s already a built-in audience for you on the other side?
McGowan: Always. You look at it both ways. You’re like, “Sweet! There’s already people who love these movies!” And then you’re also like, “Wow, I hope they embrace me.” That’s the double-edged sword of it. I hope I did the fans proud.

TrunkSpace: For those long-term fans who have been following the franchise since the ’70s, what are they going to dig most about this one in particular? What does it do best, in your opinion?
McGowan: Well, for the people who have been involved with the franchise since its inception, basically like me – I started watching them in the ’80s with my brothers, probably too early. (Laughter) When I was like a little, tiny kid, my brothers would play them, and I’d be like, totally desensitized. I think to those fans, I think they’re the ones who will embrace it the most.

That was the whole goal of it, was to make it in the vein of those older pictures. When I read the character I was like, “Oh, this is like Kurt Russell in ‘Escape from New York’ or something.” That was what I saw. Don (Michael Paul) explained to me that they were actually building the cars and they were going to do everything practical and not rely upon the visual effects and all that. That’s when I knew it was going to be awesome, or at least I hoped that it could be. I’ve seen it, and I think that really shines through, so I think the original fans will dig those elements of it.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like a love letter to the fans who have been with the franchise for years, but at the same time, it could just as easily serve as a jumping on point for newbies.
McGowan: Yeah. For sure. I think it holds true to the genre. If you watch it and you have no idea what “Death Race” is, you would still know. It’s accessible on different levels in that way.

TrunkSpace: We already talked about what the fans will dig, but what did you dig about the experience? What did you take from the production that you’ll carry with you?
McGowan: When I first got there, I think what initially just jumped out was, I got to see all the cars that had been built. Literally, while we were doing pre-production for this, while I was in fight camp, the Oscars were happening. This was in 2016 when we shot it. The Oscars were happening, and I was running on a treadmill in the middle of the night, and I was watching the Oscars. That year, obviously, “Mad Max” cleaned house at the Oscars. The original ones were like the Australian remake of the “Death Race” movies back then. It was one of these weird confluences when I was sitting there watching that all happening.

TrunkSpace: And like you said, it has to be wild showing up on set and seeing those cars, especially growing up watching the original. 10-year-old you must have been pysched!
McGowan: Oh yeah! 10-year-old me was just losing his shit all the time.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked with Don before. Was that a coincidence or was there some sort of professional connection that you guys made that carried forward beyond just the one film?
McGowan: Well, we actually shot “Death Race” before “The Scorpion King.” I met Don on “Death Race.” Before I took it, I watched a bunch of his movies. His first movie is called “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s just awesome. People should go back and check it out.

I was excited to just inhabit that world with him. Since then, we’ve done two movies together. I love Don. He’s got to be one of my favorite guys and, as I always said, he’s the smartest director in Hollywood because he cast me as the lead in his action film. (Laughter)

McGowan with Danny Glover in “Death Race: Beyond Anarchy.”

TrunkSpace: So going into “The Scorpion King,” with already having that comfort level of working together, you must have been able to just sort of hit the ground running?
McGowan: Yeah. In fact, actually on “The Scorpion King,” my schedule before it was pretty tight. Because of that, the fight training period had to be made smaller, because I was in the middle of shooting a period drama for USA at the time. But it was like we were ahead of things. We knew how each other worked, so it just all worked out. I look forward to making many films with him in the future.

TrunkSpace: Going back to 10-year-old Zach for a second… you grew up in New York City. If someone said back in the day, “Zach, eventually you’re going to be in one of these big franchises that you’re watching now as a kid.” Would you say they were crazy or was this always your path? Not necessarily this specific film, but acting in general?
McGowan: I decided early that this was something that I wanted to do for sure. As far as seeing myself now, I think 10-year-old me would be proud more than surprised. I had parents who always, always told us that the sky’s the limit and that you can do amazing things. “You can do anything if you just work hard enough at it.” If I ever had faith in anything, it was that. That hard work and dedication will lead to success in the end. I mean, the path’s not over, but I’m glad to have gotten as far as I’ve gotten thus far.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Zach, we know you can’t say much about it, but you’re due to join “The Walking Dead” this season. Just to tie it to “Death Race,” is your character Justin… is he in the same zone of badassery as Connor from “Death Race?”
McGowan: I think that every character’s different. Justin is definitely not the same guy as Connor, but does he do some badass things? I think anyone who’s lived to this point in “The Walking Dead,” who’s a human and is alive, has obviously been through quite a bit in order to have made it that far through the apocalypse. So, yeah, you get to see some stuff for sure. I got to have some fun on the show, and I hope you like it.

Death Race: Beyond Anarchy” is available today on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand.

Next up, Don Michael Paul directs “The Scorpion King: Book of Souls,” due October 23.

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