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Behind the Scenes of ‘Dragonball: Evolution’

Emmy Rossum and Justin Chatwin in Dragonball: Evolution

Emmy Rossum and Justin Chatwin in ‘Dragonball: Evolution.’

© 20th Century Fox

Not everyone on the planet knows about Dragonball, but those who do are pretty passionate about the source material. Now 20th Century Fox brings the Dragonball story to the big screen in Dragonball: Evolution directed by James Wong. Dragonball: Evolution is based on Akira Toriyama’s popular Japanese manga which has served as the inspiration for video games and even a successful TV series. You don’t have to know everything about the Toriyama’s creation going in, but what you should know is that the story follows Goku, a heroic warrior (played by Justin Chatwin) who must save the Earth from evil by protecting the mystical Dragonballs.

At the LA press conference for Dragonball: Evolution Chatwin explained the challenge of making a movie fans will enjoy while at the same time satisfying those who are Dragonball virgins. “The original fans are like 20 or 30 years old. There’s a whole generation of 6 to 18-year-olds that Dragonball wasn’t introduced to because they have Batman and they have all these other cartoons. This is for the new generation – people that have no idea – to get more involved with Dragonball – and also for the fans. I hope they like it.”

Dragonball: Evolution Press Conference with Justin Chatwin, James Marsters and Emmy Rossum

Did you watch the animation when you were a kid or read the manga before you were cast as Goku? What was your reaction when you got this role?

Justin Chatwin: “When I got this, Jim [Wong] called me and I was driving downtown. I didn’t get it at first. I was like, ‘Oh really?’ I didn’t know how to react to it because I was excited but then I was also like, ‘Oh man, now I actually have to do it. It’s not like I’ve just been given a suitcase full of money. I actually have to perform and there are so many people that have an idea of who this iconic figure is.’ So I knew it would be a challenging part, but I was definitely honored to have been given this part.”

“A friend of mine as a kid, I would always go over to his house. His little brothers and sisters would be talking about Dragonball like it was the Grail, and [they were] so passionate about it. I watched it later. I think I was like 18 when I watched it. When I watched it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy. I really like this.’ But it wasn’t until I got the part that I actually sat down with Dragonball and Dragonball Z and Dragonball GT and actually started studying the character. That was the first thing I did. I was like I’ve got to understand this character and understand the qualities, understand all the episodes and the family tree and all that. And then I have to get rid of all those ideas and bring those qualities out of Justin because I didn’t want to play an idea of the character, because that I think would have been the biggest pitfall of the movie – actors playing ideas of what these characters are as opposed to genuinely bringing forth qualities of themselves.”

Why do you think so many people are attracted to Dragonball?

Justin Chatwin: “I went to the manga museum when I was in Kyoto. They had a library and it was like three floors, like a giant natural history museum-size building full of manga and there are so many different kinds of manga out there. I asked myself that same question. Why is Dragonball so big and there’s all these other ones out there that haven’t become popular? I think it comes down to the story. It’s the values. These stories are like these Greek epics. They’re about virtue and honor and fighting evil and becoming a man and serving your country and serving a greater cause. For me, what’s important is to carry on those stories and evolve it from the Monkey King, which Dragonball was based off of, and keep those stories alive because if we don’t adapt them, they’ll just drift away.”

Was there any upside to Lord Piccolo that you discovered? Was there something you liked about him?

James Marsters: “Oh, very much. Yeah. Part of the challenge was to realize that the Lord Piccolo that we see in the first film is the same person as the Piccolo that will be transformed into, which is the more recognizable one for fans who are more familiar with Dragonball Z. There’s a younger version that we’re going to get to. But, as an actor, it was to realize that it was the same person in both sides of it. That he’s going to transform his body but his mind is pretty much the same. For me, it was taking Piccolo, the wonderful guy – and this is what I love about Piccolo – is that he’s not a nice person, he’s not trying to make friends, but he’ll never let you down because he’s living up to his own code. I always thought that was a really wonderful character because of that. And just to take that character and say, ‘Well, what would make me so angry that I’d want to destroy every human being on earth? To know that everybody has buttons – you can do something to anybody and they’ll get that mad. What happened to him?’ So hopefully it’s really the same character as we go through the next phase in the other movies.”

Did you have any input into your make-up?

James Marsters: “The first time we did the make-up it took 14 hours and it was nobody’s fault but my own because I was really married to the idea that my character be old and decrepit and ugly. I told them that when my girlfriend comes into Durango, I want her to run for the hills. And then she did, which was not so great. In the manga and in the anime, he is so old that he needs a walking stick. It’s only at the end of the season of Dragonball that he throws off the cloak and you see he’s all cut, and then he starts to fight and it’s a big surprise. The difference that we’ve done is we don’t do the fake out. We just reveal him from the first shot as being powerful, but other than that, it’s kind of the same as the manga.”

How many hours did you end up in make-up?

James Marsters: “Oh yeah, oh that was so funny because I kept saying, ‘Uglier, uglier, more lines, more age, more uglier.’ And finally after 14 hours the make-up artist just slapped me upside the head and said, ‘I’m done! Go to set!’ That was it. But then we got Edward French to come in and do the make-up and he got it down to 4 hours and I shut up.I let him do his job.”

James Marsters Dragonball Evolution

James Marsters in Dragonball: Evolution.

© 20th Century Fox

Dragonball: Evolution Press Conference with Justin Chatwin, James Marsters and Emmy Rossum

How did playing Lord Piccolo compare to playing Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

James Marsters: “Piccolo is less tortured than Spike. Piccolo is asexual. Spike was always kind of confident, except for his love life. That kind of mixed him up a little bit. But Piccolo just does not have that side to him. He’s not male or female. He’s a Namek. So, some of the same colors as the darker aspects of Spike enjoying hurting people, being really angry, stuff like that, but just take all the sex away.”

Goku is a super action guy. What did you do for preparation?

Justin Chatwin: “We had five weeks before we went to Mexico City, and I was pretty out of shape, not to mention I wasn’t happy with like, I wanted more muscle for the character, and so I had to start the next day after they told me I had the part. I’d go in there and do half an hour, forty five minutes of weightlifting, and then we would stay around for like four, five hours, and learn the different styles of fighting, Capoeira, Kung Fu, Jujitsu, wire work, acrobats. And then I’d eat six meals a day and then go home and watch Dragonball. We did that for five weeks and then we continued it when we got down to Mexico. We needed it, too, because the elevation was so high. When we were fighting, like especially in that party scene, I remember I had to get a shot. They had to give me a shot in the ass, a cortisone shot, because my lungs couldn’t take the altitude. So we needed to be, A) in shape, and B) we needed more oxygen in our lungs because we were used to the sea level here.”

How was it fighting Chow Yun Fat?

Justin Chatwin: “What was it like fighting Chow? It felt good. It felt really good. My experience working with Chow, fighting with him was great because he’s a pro at this. I was a fan of the John Woo movies like Hard-Boiled, so fighting him was great because he was already a pro at it. I remember the first day when I saw him doing his Master Roshi. In the process of auditioning for this, I remember reading with other Master Roshis and people were playing the part small because he was a feeble old man. I remember when Chow came in and he just did this huge…I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s overacting. This is crazy! What is he doing?’ And then as he kept on doing it day after day after day, I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s something I didn’t see in the manga which is the broad comedy, almost like Kabuki Theatre that manga has to have that makes it different from movies like Iron Man and Batman.’ It’s this broad comedy, almost Stephen Chow-ish, that Chow really understood. I really think it rubbed off on us because we started getting goofier and goofier, almost like Three Stoogee because of what Chow brought to the film. He was really a great influence on us.

Emmy, how difficult was the training and did you want to play an action role?

Emmy Rossum: [Laughing] “This completely kicked my ass. I had never done anything like this before. I grew up loving Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, it’s kind of a little bit embarrassing to say, just anything with him is awesome, and I’ve always kind of wanted to do a film like that. I always wanted to play a kind of tougher, more independent woman kind of character, and this was the perfect opportunity to shoot three guns, learn how to ride a motorcycle, and dye part of my hair blue. In addition to the training we all did as a team, which was pretty rigorous I think, thinking back on it, I can only imagine it’s kind of like how women describe childbirth, like it’s really awful when you’re doing it, and then… Hold on, let me go, I’m going somewhere with this! I just thought of this over lunch… [Laughing] Like two years later, you’re like, ‘Oh it was amazing. It’s great.’ But when you’re in it, it’s awful. But also fun, because we’re doing it as a team, and it’s like group childbirth.”

Did your dance background help with the choreography of the fight scenes?

Emmy Rossum: “Yeah, I was a ballerina when I was little, a lot of it is kind of similar to a dance in that it’s a choreographed motion. But Justin tells this story really well… Stunt guys have a thing that they call the box, which is when you’re hitting, or kind of like a ballet move like when you’re in first position, your hands are like eight inches from your belly button, there’s like a box that you’re not supposed to hit out of when actors are fighting each other and that’s so they don’t hurt each other. So there is a lot of coordination and kind of dance combinations that kind of come in handy. It’s kind of coordinated and rehearsed a similar kind of way, but when actors kind of get all method and really emotional in fight scenes, people bust their lips and break their toes and all of a sudden the box is like a whole big circle.”

Is it tough to keep your acting concentration when you’re fighting at a speed that you would not fight at if you were angry?

Justin Chatwin: “Yeah. It was like repetition because I’m not that coordinated and I’m not really much of a fighter, to be honest with you. We practiced that bully fight for five weeks. I got it down and I just remembered it. You just get to the point where it just gets in your head.”

Did Justin hurt you?

James Marsters: “Justin can punch. I’ve still got a separated clavicle. Every hit was always right chest. He hurt me good.”

What was your take on your characters?

Emmy Rossum: “Well, I loved the manga because it was a little more R-rated, and I thought that the relationship between Bulma and Roshi always was very funny. I really enjoyed that in my studies of her. And I think we kind of took everything we could from the manga and understand that some things are going to be changed. But just by virtue of the fact that you’re a live actor playing it live action, it can’t be exactly like the manga. But you try and bring the spirit and the energy to the characters and the backstory that you learn from the manga and bring it to this story,which is really an introduction of those characters. [Laughing] And then don’t do it naked.”

Justin Chatwin Dragonball Evolution

Justin Chatwin in ‘Dragonball: Evolution.’

© 20th Century Fox

Dragonball: Evolution Press Conference with Justin Chatwin, James Marsters and Emmy Rossum

While you’re talking about your character, did you enjoy the costumes? You had some serious hair in this.

Emmy Rossum: “It was actually really good padding, for any kind of somersaults or kicks to the head.”

Was it easy to work in those costumes with that hair?

Emmy Rossum: “It was fun for like whipping your head around…got kind of whiplash.”

Were you a fan of Dragonball? You said the hair had to be right so you must have known the character?

Justin Chatwin: “That was one of the first questions that I asked. ‘What are we going to do with the hair?’ All these animes have crazy hair and I was like, ‘Am I going to be wearing a wig? Oh my God, this is going to be wacky. This is going to either be really interesting because it’s the first anime film or this is going to be the last film I ever do.’ You know, like orange ninja suit and two-foot hair. [Laughing] So I was like a bit of a freak in it. I think my hair has an arc of its own in this movie because I was such a freak every day. I’d say, ‘Okay, this is the high school look. Okay, this is the post-Goku look. This is the journey look.’ And I kept on changing it because I honestly don’t know if I ever got to a place where I was like this is Goku from the manga. I felt a big responsibility to the manga and to the fans and just to everything that had been done, so the hair I guess was a challenge for me.”

James, is it past the time where you would do a series on Spike?

James Marsters: “I think if we did that we’d have to do some camera tests with some lighting tests because Spike doesn’t age and I have.”

Or we could say the soul aged him?

James Marsters: “Well, yeah. Or you could say he’s drinking pig’s blood so he’s aging slowly. I always thought that one of the cool things about being a vampire is that you’re immortal and if you take that away, it’s not quite so cool. The good news is that I never got any fill light. Sarah [Michelle Gellar]] got all the fill light and I got all the slant shadow light because they wanted me villainous and that’s cool. But what that did is I wonder if they actually put me in that costume and actually gave me some fill, it might actually look about the same now. But we’d have to test that because I don’t want Spike to age. So I don’t know. We’ll see.”


April 11, 2009 - Posted by | 1


  1. I have seen ” ‘Dragonball: Evolution’” last week , and i was thinking about this till now, thanks.

    Comment by Helen Keller | April 13, 2009 | Reply

  2. Cool post, Nicely written, Do you know much about the sequel to this movie?

    Comment by watch dragonball | April 15, 2009 | Reply

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