- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Glasgow, Scotland born actor, Iain De Caestecker is a man of many charms. Humble, funny, and a very talented actor, De Caestecker has assembled an impressive resume of appearances in just a few short years, with turns in a range television series and films, from the long-running British soap, Coronation Street, to Jon S. Baird’s Filth and Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River. Since 2013, he has portrayed the role of Leo Fitz/The Doctor on Marvel’s popular Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In 2018, he was cast as part of an ensemble in Overlord, the World War II/horror film hybrid from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot, playing a war correspondent. Home Theater Forum had the pleasure of talking to the actor about his character, the horrors of the Overlord version of the WWII, and the importance of honoring servicemen whenever he put on the soldier’s uniform.
Overlord is available now to rent and own on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD from Paramount Home Entertainment.
HTF: Good morning, Iain, how are you today?
Iain De Caestecker: I’m doing great, thanks. It’s good to hear a Brit’s voice!
HTF: Yeah, I understand that. I've been living in the U.S. for over 23 years now, and every time I come across someone with an accent, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, or English, I'm like, "God, I love you."
Iain De Caestecker: We're immediately good friends!
HTF: That's right [laughter]. Well, let me start with what drew you to Overlord. As a movie lover [I found it] such a fun combination of war film and bizarre horror tale. Something almost twilight zone about it, and A-quality telling of a B-movie story. I loved it. What was the draw for you? What pulled you in?
“[Julius Avery is] one of those directors that can really direct with a real pulse, kind of intense, it just runs through his movies…]
Iain De Caestecker: I mean, there [was] lots of different things. One of the first things of course when you hear J.J. Abrams, he's kind of someone who can do no wrong. You know when you are part of a project like that you're in very good hands. And [when I saw] director Julius Avery’s first movie, Son of a Gun, I just loved it. He's one of those directors that can really direct with a real pulse, kind of intense, it just runs through his movies. And here in the cast, Jovan [Adepo] and Wyatt [Russell] who I am huge fans of. And along the lines of what you were saying, there's kind of a nostalgic element just on the terms of it's got kind of a “Spielbergian” –I just made that word up [laughter], kind of tone to it, but a more adult version, clearly. So all of those kind of things together, it was a no-brainer.
HTF: Overlord it's about as authentic a World War II movie as I've seen. In the special features, J.J. talks about wanting it to be, for as long as possible, a routine or a familiar war film that just starts to go off the rails in weird directions later in the film, so you're fully grounded. And that even though weird stuff is happening, it's not sort of left field weird. It could possibly have happened. Now I know that on set you had a military adviser helping with the actors to be authentic as possible. Did you, in advance of taking part in the film, watch any of the great war films like Where Eagles Dare or Guns of Navarone or A Bridge Too Far?
“You learn very, very quickly-- if you're going to put on one of those uniforms and try and retell that story - and our story is a bit heightened because obviously it has that supernatural element - but if you're going to put that uniform on, you have a responsibility, a code and a level of respect”
Iain De Caestecker: That is such a good question. There was lots of stuff we all did together as a group. We watched movies together. One of the biggest things that happened was our military adviser Freddie Joe Farnsworth, he kind of fixed a way for a four or five day boot camp. So, one day we came out, they gave us our World War II kind of costumes, shoved us in, and put us in the back of a minivan and took us out in the forest. He really drilled into us what it was like. It was a small version of boot camp, but we stayed together in the tent together. We went out in the drills. We were up at four or five every morning kind of running around, just chucking logs over the top of our heads. We were going out for night patrol as well. All of that stuff just gave us a small insight what it would be like to suddenly be thrown into the midst of a situation like that. And, I think you learn very, very quickly-- if you're going to put on one of those uniforms and try and retell that story - and our story is a bit heightened because obviously it has that supernatural element - but if you're going to put that uniform on, you have a responsibility, a code and a level of respect.
And just in those four days, as a group, in that kind of environment with four other people, four strangers, you get to know each other very well, very quickly. You learn how to work as a team. So, there was a level of history between us by the time we started the movie that was valuable, that you couldn't manufacture. And, as I mentioned, there was that level of respect that was built up - a small portion of what it would be like and the courage it must takes to prepare to go to battle like that. The idea of being 15 or 16 years old and being dropped into a foreign land in the midst of night and not knowing where the next enemy's coming from, you know, it's obviously a very scary thing, but it's kind of an unthinkable thing for my generation.
HTF: As I recall, among the first sequences shot for the film was the airplane drop, with you all spending a lot of time in that tin can. That was an incredibly intense sequence, and it's obviously not meant to be as emotionally retching as the opening of Saving Private Ryan, but it's in that realm in the pure chaos and madness of what these young men went through. Was what these kids were going to be going through in war in your mind?
“That opening sequence is partly my favorite of the movie as well because it really gets your heart racing at the start.”
Iain De Caestecker: Yes, that was definitely something I thought about. Actually, Saving Private Ryan was referenced a few times while we were filming. Another thing about that opening sequence that's really the genius of Julius [was] the kind of way he pieced it all together, because it was a long, tough shoot, that scene [being] shot over numerous days and different locations for different parts of it. But, when the movie starts you have all these different characters, and they're all featured as much as each other. You're not sure at that point who the story is [following], and one by one, very quickly, people die. It was a strong place to start off from. That no one is invincible. That opening sequence is partly my favorite of the movie because it really gets your heart racing at the start.
HTF: Yeah, I'll be honest, part of me was thinking, "If this whole movie's as intense as this, I'm going to need to take some breaks."
Iain De Caestecker: I know [laughter]. It's a lot.
“[My character] thinks that his camera is his weapon and he's not really prepared for what the horrors of being on the front line are going to look or be like. He’s an interesting character in that sense.”
HTF: But really, really good. Now, you play Chase in the film. He's a nice guy and a very green photographer attached to this detail. Playing that sort of green, uncertain character, is that more fun than playing Leo Fitz, the role you play on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, who is much more in command?
Iain De Caestecker: I tend not to correlate it too much to another part I've done, but you try and relate a character to your world experiences, really, to your own personal ones. I'm a big scaredy-cat, you know? So, [Chase] probably wasn't too much of a stretch for me. He was an interesting character, I suppose different from most in the group in the fact that he's a war correspondent and probably the most naïve, idealistic. I think that he thinks that his camera is his weapon and he's not really prepared for what the horrors of being on the front line are going to look or be like. He’s an interesting character in that sense.
“So fairly early on, maybe my first day, they did a body mold [of me]. And a week or two later you go down to prosthetics department and they've got like 10 of your heads sitting in this room, and there's limbs lying around the place and genitals chopped off.”
HTF: And your transformation - I'll call it that - relatively late in the film talk about preparing for that, rehearsing and the physical demands of it, because you had interactions with other characters that were fairly violent. There's visual effects work going on, there's makeup effects. Talk about all that.
Iain De Caestecker: Yeah, there were lots of different things. We'd been working on some stunt training and physical movements for it, and then I think when we got in there, we had like two days to shoot it. We ended up overrunning five days just because there were so many elements to do. I mean, one thing was the prosthetics, [and the] prosthetics in the movie [were] just amazing. So fairly early on, maybe my first day, they did a body mold [of me]. And a week or two later you go down to prosthetics department and they've got like 10 of your heads sitting in this room, and there's limbs lying around the place and genitals chopped off. So, it's kind of this weird thing. When it kind of gets into the heavy transformation stuff, it would be three or so hours of prosthetics in the morning, and I had to get it all off at the end. It was uncomfortable doing that, but the cool thing about it is when you're on set and you've got these amazing prosthetics on you, it does most of the work for you. It really informs how you're going to move your body and what you're going to do next.
HTF: You work with some terrific people. I actually interviewed John Magaro a few years ago and found him quiet and charming. Very different from the character he plays in Overlord, and Jo McLaren, stunt coordinator on the film, an extraordinary human being, and we talked about Annihilation. It's actually Annihilation that brings me to my next question. I don't know if you've seen Alex Garland's incredibly intelligent film, have you?
Iain De Caestecker: Oh, yes.
HTF: You've worked in a few different genres, and you've done some of the bigger ones, obviously in the superhero world, Marvel's world. You've been in what I would call a J.J. world, which is almost his own genre, is there any genre that you’re anxious to work in, or you don't really care the genre as long as the character's interesting?
“You know, the dream is to be involved in good things. Things that stimulate you creatively, and also, you have to be forced into trying different characters and explore new things.”
Iain De Caestecker: Yeah, I think that's probably the best way to say it. It's kind of like, would you rather do theater or TV? Each has its own different set of rewards and challenges and things. You know, the dream is to be involved in good things. Things that stimulate you creatively, and also, you have to be forced into trying different characters and explore new things. One of the amazing thing I always feel so lucky about is you get to visit different countries, you get to explore different topics and learn different skills. And of course, I think everybody has a list of people that they admire that they'd love to work with. And to get to work with people like John [Magaro], who has a big heart. He's someone on set that's just very, very creative, and he's one of the best improvisers I've ever seen on set. And working with him and people like [Director] Julius Avery and Wyatt Russell, that's kind of the dream for me, anyway.
HTF: That makes complete sense. Well Iain, thank you so very much for talking with me today.
Iain De Caestecker: Yes, thank you very much. You too. I hope to speak to you again at some point