STAND-IN FOR KEANU REEVES
THE ORIGINAL FILM
MATRIX: Were you a Stand-In for Keanu Reeves on the original film?
THOMAS: Yes, I did this on the first film, so it’s a continuation. The first one I did was in March of 1998, and that went for about five to six months.
MATRIX: Now we’re a day away from the wrap of the sequels; how long have you been on this project?
THOMAS: This one started on the 24th of September , so just under ten months if you take away the Christmas holidays and things like that.
MATRIX: How did you first get the job?
THOMAS: Basically Tim [Littleton], the Extras Casting person who’s also working on this group of films, found my photograph at a casting agent and he called me in for a few interviews and I was lucky enough to get the job.
MATRIX: At that time did you have any idea that THE MATRIX would become the phenomenon it is today?
THOMAS: No. I did read the script of the first one and I was really impressed by it… I couldn’t put the script down really. From reading the script I knew that it was going to be something pretty big, although a lot of the crew at the time didn’t really know what they were actually making.
MATRIX: What went down in the interview; what did you have to do to get the role?
THOMAS: I just walked in, said hi and what I was doing, gave my height and a Polaroid, and said I’d be available for about four months, as they were thinking then, and that was it. He had a look around for others then asked me to come in for another interview where I met James [McTeigue] who’s the 1st Assistant Director and still is on the sequels. Actually, James was the 2nd AD at the time because we had another person who was 1st AD, but he had to leave for health reasons. Tim said that everyone liked me but he had to have a look at another person. I thought I probably didn’t get the job actually, but eventually Tim told me I had it.
MATRIX: As a Stand-In, what do you do on a day to day basis?
THOMAS: Basically you stand-in for your character – in my case Neo. The setup is that the actors would do their rehearsal – block through the scene as to where they’ll stand, where they’ll move and what they’ll do in it – and you basically watch them and see what they’re doing. Then they’ll go off and get into costume and makeup, and you go onto set and do exactly what they did while they frame you up in the camera with the right lights so you look spectacular. When the scene is set up right they kick you out and bring actors in.
MATRIX: What are important qualities for a Stand-In?
THOMAS: It’s the skin tones, the hair color and the height. You also have to be good at watching what they do in rehearsal because sometimes there’ll be a little move – that’s for intricate scenes – and if you get the move wrong or something like that, things may not look right. For instance, in the Matrix a lot of the characters wear sunglasses, and right at the very beginning on the first film when we were all pretty new at this we didn’t all have our sunglasses on, and they set up the scene and made sure everything looked right, then just before we were about to step off set they realized we didn’t have our sunglasses on. When you put your sunglasses on they reflect everything, and they could see all the cameras reflected in the sunglasses, so they had to set it all up again and rearrange things. We learnt all those tricks on the first film.
MATRIX: Coming into the sequels, was it like coming home?
THOMAS: Depending on who you were working with and what scenes you were doing, it was like taking up from where you left off. It was like you had a break and you were back on. Not all the other Stand-Ins were available so there were a whole lot of new people who had never done anything like this before. Basically they had to learn everything and you had to sort of tell them what to do, and what not to do as well.
MATRIX: Was the original film the first time you’d done this kind of work?
THOMAS: Yes, although since then I have I stood in for Anthony LaPaglia on Looking for Alibrandi. On the first film I felt like I was doing an apprenticeship, because being a Stand-In you’re a bit like a fly on the wall. You’re actually so close to the Camera crew, the actors and the Directors that you hear everything that’s going on, and you’re allowed to be on set as well. The first one was a huge learning experience, but the second and the third were more like a carryover and a refresher course, so to speak.
MATRIX: How would you say the first film compares to the sequels?
THOMAS: Production-wise the sequels are much bigger and more intense, and because of that it’s a lot more draining on the crew. With any production and any job you get your ups and downs, and on the first film people didn’t realize what they were making, but on these, since we had two films together, it was an extra long time. Usually, films are twelve weeks long and people know it’s going to come to an end. This really ended up being almost like a full-time job with overtime every night, and everyone has got really tired. But I think everyone knows what they’re doing – because it’s such a big spectacular big film everyone realizes what they’re in for, and they’re going along with it because they know we’re working towards a particular goal.
I think once everyone is rested they’ll be sad this production is over, and they’ll be glad that they’ve worked on something that will be really big – especially when it’s released at the cinemas – I think they’ll realize that what we spent our time on and our energies on was really worthwhile.
MATRIX: What are some differences you note between that first production and 2 & 3?
THOMAS: There’s more story, more characters, and it’s slightly bigger. To me personally it feels like it’s the same film that has kept going and grown bigger. It’s on a much larger scale. We’ve gotten outside the little circle of Trinity and Neo and Morpheus, we’ve gone to Zion, we’ve gone further inside the Matrix, and we’ve been introduced to a lot more different characters and how they intermingle with everything. We get a bigger picture of the Matrix world.
MATRIX: Do you remember getting the call to come back for the sequels?
THOMAS: Yes, I was actually paged. I knew THE MATRIX was coming up but I didn’t know whether they’d ask me back. I did put in an expression of interest, letting them know I was available. I actually did an audition for a play and I was unsure whether I would do that play or not, and then it was the next day that I got the page to call Tim if I was still interested in doing the sequels. That was like a sign saying, don’t do this play, don’t commit yourself because this is coming up.
MATRIX: As for the first film, did you get the opportunity to read the scripts?
THOMAS: I didn’t really get my hands on the scripts at all, actually. There was a request put in, but because of security I never really got my copies. Because a film isn’t always shot in sequence, it came to be like a serial for me where something happened, then the next week something else happened, and then you jump back to another part, so you’d be putting the parts together like a TV series and watching it. I thought that was quite interesting and that I might wait until the film came out, but about six months down the track I thought I had better know what is going on; I should know what the story’s about. I ended up borrowing a script from the Production Office and spent a whole day reading both scripts very quickly.
MATRIX: What was your immediate response from having read them?
THOMAS: They’re very in depth – apart from being spectacularly visual, they’re also very deep. I think they’re films that you can look at on different levels. You can just look at them on a visual level, or you can go on deeper into the meanings of different things, and for that I think you really need a lot of time to spend with the scripts or with the film. I’ve got a few questions to ask, although it might explain itself if I read the scripts again.
MATRIX: Have you had any reaction to what you have seen on set?
THOMAS: It’s a bit hard because everything is jumbled up all over the place and because scenes have been stretched out. Like a two minute fight scene with conversation might have been stretched out over the three weeks it took to make. What stands out in my mind is the scene in the Le Vrai Restaurant where Trinity and Neo go in to see the Merovingian who plays a big part in the Matrix. He talks about karma basically, about cause and effect. I thought the way that that has been put across in the film was something that the majority of people will probably understand. But that’s only a small part of what the whole film is about because the film throws up so many things that you can actually delve into and try and find out more about.
MATRIX: How is it determined which actors get Stand-Ins?
THOMAS: Mainly the main actors have Stand-Ins, and from talking to different people, America seems to be the only country that actually has Stand-Ins. I’ve spoken to a few actors working on THE MATRIX – a French actor and one of the actors who works in Hong Kong – and they said they do their own standing-in, they never get anyone to stand-in for them. Most times in Australian films a crew member will jump in if they need someone to line up. The person who usually gets to be a Stand-In is the right person at the right time at the casting place who looks like the actor that they want to use.
In the really big scenes that we had, like in the Zion Council Chambers and in the secret meetings when there are about twenty different characters, you’d find there are twenty different Stand-Ins waiting off stage to pop in when the actor steps out. Being a Stand-In can be quite a frustrating job in a way because you’re not really acting and there’s a lot of sitting around so it can be a bit dull; a lot of Stand-Ins don’t stay around throughout the whole shoot. That also happens because the characters aren’t there throughout the whole shoot like Trinity and Neo and Morpheus; they might do a week here and then they might do another week a month later, so some Stand-Ins aren’t always available. That means poor Tim has to go hunting around to find someone else with the same measurements and the same hair color and skin tones to stand-in for the same actor.
MATRIX: When standing-in on a scene like the Council Chambers, do the Stand-Ins all wear costumes?
THOMAS: They’re not in exactly the same costumes as the actors, but they will wear something that resembles the costumes, especially the same coloring and the same style and shape. That is so the Camera Department and the Lighting Department can measure the lighting that will be reflected off the costumes, and also the shape of the costumes so they know what will fit inside the frame. The shape of the costume can be important depending on what the actor is wearing; if they’re wearing something quite elaborate, the Stand-In has to wear something slightly elaborate as well. I don’t think anyone is wearing anything like it in this film, but if someone was wearing big shoulder pads and they’re bringing the camera in to frame up on them and they want to get the shoulders, but the Stand-In is not wearing anything like that, when the actor does come in they’re going to find out their shoulders have been cut off.
MATRIX: Have any other Stand-Ins made it through all three films?
THOMAS: Yes and no. The only ones that have actually come back have been a temporary Stand-In for Trinity on the first one, and she came back in to fill in while the main Stand-In was away to help out. And the Stand-In for Switch in the first film came in to do some extra work about a month ago, and they used her to stand-in for one of the actresses in the Zion Command Center.
MATRIX: You mentioned that you were considering a play; what is your acting background?
THOMAS: Not much has been happening, I’ve been doing a lot of small films and that’s about it. It has been pretty quiet because since the first films we had the Olympics as well, so that dried everything up in Sydney because a lot of work was going to Brisbane or Melbourne. In a way this has been lucky because the Brothers [Larry & Andy Wachowski, Writers/Directors] have been good enough to give me a very small part in the sequels, which was a very nice gesture on their behalf. It’s a very small part – a Systems Analyst in the Command Center in Zion. It’s not a major part and it’s not a major character, but I’m there and it’s good to be captured on film and actually doing something in such a big film. It’s a speaking part, but it’s a very small part.
Michael [Budd], the Stand-In for Mr. Fishburne [Morpheus] actually had a small acting part as well as a Zion Controller. He’s also done a bit of extra work as well in other scenes.
MATRIX: Was there a sense of support from the cast and crew?
THOMAS: Yes. It came up pretty quickly and was scheduled for a few weeks away, and it slowly spread across the crew and they started congratulating me. I don’t think Keanu knew until I was actually filming, and then there was this great big thing of making me look totally different, so I didn’t look like Keanu. Thinking back I think I probably still looked the same, but we had to try and make my head bigger and messier and Keanu, from what I believe, asked if they’d cut my hair off so I wouldn’t look like him.
MATRIX: You can’t really get a haircut if you want to while you’re on this production.
THOMAS: No, not with an acting part anyway, and as a Stand-In as well, but I’ve got more say in my hairstyle… as long as I’ve got black hair, basically. I can’t have it shaved off or anything because that would throw the lighting out a bit.
MATRIX: Being by the crew and seeing the actors work, has helped you as an actor?
THOMAS: Definitely, it has helped me a lot. I’ve noticed a lot of film actors use stillness – they concentrate everything almost in their eyes and do what they have to do – compared to theater, which is a lot bigger. Just in general with myself I think I was a bit more all over the place, and so this has helped me a lot.
MATRIX: What are the differences between being physically on film, rather than just being in front of the camera?
THOMAS: It is different because you’re worrying about different things. And it’s totally different because being a Stand-In the cameras aren’t filming you because you’re not the character on screen. When you’ve actually got your own part, it’s your face that’s going to be on the big screen when the film comes out, and you have to make sure that your character gets out and your accent gets out as well.
MATRIX: How difficult was the accent?
THOMAS: I had a bit of a problem because the Dialect Coach [Suzanne Celeste Brown] had gone back to the States by the time I got my part, so I didn’t have someone to actually coach me into the right accent. You’d go to one person and they’d tell you that it sounded fine, and someone else said you should say it a different way. After asking about ten different people you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing because they’d all tell you something totally different. So I just had to play it, and Larry was really good because he helped me to get through that. I think the thing I was really thinking about during that small take was more the accent than about anything else, apart from the intention of what I had to do.
MATRIX: What have you learnt from Larry and Andy Wachowski from watching them direct?
THOMAS: It’s been such a long period it has all sort of sunk into my subconscious, so you just take it as being natural. Their style of looking at a scene and the lighting and the camera angles – basically the way they would set up a scene – it’s very hard to see what they’re looking for. You watch the actor do what they’re doing and you think it is fine, yet Larry and Andy are obviously looking for something else because they’d ask them obviously to do it again or do it a different style.
MATRIX: In the first case does the actor do it the way they see it?
THOMAS: Yes, they do that as well. They discuss what they want, and then the actor does what they’re doing, then the Brothers will modify it basically. Sometimes when there’s an action they will demonstrate that action, which I think some actors find helpful as a different avenue to go down that they can explore. I find that the Directors are very visual Directors; they know what they want to appear on the screen and that’s what they would like the actors to actually do.
MATRIX: Do you have any communication with Keanu Reeves?
THOMAS: Unfortunately not; we don’t really communicate at all. When I was working with Anthony LaPaglia I was also his driver, so I was driving him to and from set and that was a great chance to talk to each other and bond, and we became quite good friends out of that. With Keanu we just exchange “hellos,” especially before he goes onto set. Different actors have different ways of preparing themselves, and if he’s trying to get himself into character the last thing I want to do is to disturb him. I think this has been quite tiring for him because with some of the scenes he does he comes off and he looks totally exhausted, so I’m not going to bother him with small chat.
MATRIX: Keanu prepares himself to become Neo before he goes on set; do you do a similar thing?
THOMAS: It depends on the scene and the setup of the scene, because there are some scenes where I can just stand there and be me, which is great because there’s no pressure. Then there are other scenes that are quite intricate where they want you to walk over there and look around and maybe talk to another person in the scene. In that case you feel like you’ve got to do it the way Keanu does Neo, so it’s almost like you’re portraying two different characters. It can’t be my interpretation of Neo, it has to be Keanu’s interpretation of Neo. Sometimes you feel frustrated because it’s not right – the mannerism is not right, and my gesture is not right – and you know it’s going to look different because it’s a tight scene and the camera has to see it almost exactly the way Keanu is going to portray it. That gets really, really fiddly, so I get a bit jittery about that.
MATRIX: When you do a movement or take a step, are they actually rehearsing the focus pulling?
THOMAS: That’s right, it’s for the focus pulling. If you stand in one place and then you walk two feet further away, the camera has to adjust for that to keep you in focus. And for panning they have to know how far the camera has to swing so you don’t walk out of camera… well, Keanu will end up walking out of camera if they’ve been rehearsing it with you and you haven’t done it right. So I watch what he does in rehearsal and when he goes off to get ready I’ve got to repeat that. If I haven’t been watching that’s when there are problems, because I might not walk those two feet to the right and that mucks everything up when they come to shoot.
If anything comes up, like being called to wardrobe, and I can’t watch Keanu rehearse, the 1st Assistant Director and the DOP [Director of Photography, Bill Pope] are usually quite good about telling you where he stood or walked to. Also, they usually mark where the actors have been standing, so you basically know where you have to walk.
It’s those scenes that actually make you feel like you’re doing something, but then it gets really frustrating because you begin to work the scene and you know the scene, and then they kick you out. There was one scene where we’re in Zion Dock Area and I was with the Trinity Stand-In, and they wanted to do a rehearsal and tape it on their videotape (they tape everything for archives and reference). We actually did a whole scene of us coming out of the elevator [in RELOADED] having a conversation then talking to the crowd that had gathered outside the elevator, and then me talking to Trinity and then she walks off. We virtually had that scene down, and we’d really got into it and then they brought the actors in. We were actually saying the words as well as getting the timing and the movements right, which was a challenge.
MATRIX: What will you go onto after this project?
THOMAS: I’d like to get more onscreen roles where people can see me and where I can practice acting. Maybe not a major role in the next film, but a small role and then hopefully they’ll get bigger and bigger. I haven’t studied acting formally, but I’ve done lots of smaller classes, like little segments from the bigger courses.
I feel very lucky that I’ve had this opportunity to actually mix with the Wachowski Brothers, a very good film crew, and to work on such a major film as well. It’s a film that will become a classic that people will talk about in fifty years time. It would be like saying today that you worked on Gone with the Wind or The Wizard of Oz; whether people have seen them or not they actually know of the films. That’s what THE MATRIX will be like in fifty years time.
MATRIX: Thank you Thomas.
Interview by REDPILL