Interview: Matt Kane And Natasha Loring
The Dinosaur Project stars talk about working with CGI beasts and shooting in the jungle.
With Prehistoric Park director Sid Bennett's The Dinosaur Project coming out this week, we caught up with the film's stars, Matt Kane and Natasha Loring. We found a lot to talk about when discussing the finer points of working with heavy CGI, exotic shooting locations and the found footage style.
Can you tell us a little about your characters in the film?
Matt: I play Luke Marchant, the 15 year old son of Jonathan Marchant, who is in charge of the expedition to the Congo. My character is incredibly enthusiastic and eager, just your typical 15 year old really, mischievous. On hearing that his dad is going out to Africa, he has a chance of going, and the mischief and enthusiasm comes into play where he puts himself into a position where he can go along, whether he wants to or not. He has a great arc in the film where he experiences a lot of traumatic things. As a teenager there’s a lot to deal with, but his excitement from being around all these dinosaurs, that’s amazing ,but he realises he needs to grow up.
Natasha: I play Liz Draper, a doctor. She’s recently graduated medical school and says she’s looking for something different, not looking to work in a hospital straight away, she wants some adventure. I suppose it’s also quite a naïve viewpoint - her expectations aren’t that they will meet dinosaurs, but she takes the responsibility of everyone’s health, and the fact that she goes along shows she is adventurous and gutsy. She’s one of the youngest on the expedition, but shows she’s gutsy when she stands up to Jonathan, who is in charge. When his decisions don’t work out for the safety of the team, she knows her place and responsibilities as a doctor.
What was the shoot like? There is some beautiful scenery in the film, it must have been great to be on location.
Matt: Unbelievable – I’d never been to South Africa, and I was just blown away by it. The CGI in the film is the dinosaurs, but everything else is totally real, the scenery and everything. We were staying in these amazing mountains, driving up into the jungle, with trees everywhere.
Natasha: The gorges were amazing.
Matt: Yeah absolutely incredible, we got to fly around the country to all the different locations, and I felt as an actor that it added to my imagination, being so far away from home, out of your comfort zone, but it was wonderful as well. I had an amazing time.
Natasha: I’m from South Africa, but we were shooting far away from where I’m from - it’s such a vast country, with so many different types of landscape. I felt like we could have been in the heart of the African jungle, it felt so far from home. Where we were shooting was in a pretty underdeveloped part of South Africa, still quite rural. Just to drive through there, a part I hadn’t seen before was amazing. To see my own country through new eyes, and imagine it with dinosaurs, especially because there isn’t really jungle in the country, except for this one spot where we were filming, and it was fun.
Speaking of using your imagination, what was it like working with heavy CGI? Did you have to pretend to get scared of the boom mike?
Matt: There were a few options, sometimes it would be working with nothing so you were imagining completely, or if we were lucky there would be a tennis ball, or a claw on a broomstick that we would follow with our eyes and interact with slightly. In the scene where I feed my little friend crypto with sweets, I had to imagine it, or on one take one of the CGI specialists had a blue glove up his whole hand, making the motions of a dinosaur that they took out later. The director and the DP. Their expertise is amazing, and their knowledge and passion of dinosaurs was amazing, and really helped us.
Natasha: Initially when you have this little claw on a stick poking at your face, it’s quite funny! It’s hard to keep a straight face, when this is supposed to be dangerous, potentially the end of your life and it’s this silly little claw poking at you! That’s the starting point though, when you’re a kid playing, that’s what being an actor is, pretending and imagining that world. When you’re working on a film, so much of it is already there, and you find yourself in these beautiful locations and in costume, it gets easier to pretend. It was a challenge without everything in front of you, but you just think back to all the dinosaur films you saw as a kid and try to remember those. I mean, it’s pretty hard to imagine what you’d do if you met a dinosaur, but I guess that’s what you have to do!
Speaking of the old dinosaur films, how much excitement was there about this project – because even before we get to the likes of Jurassic Park, there’s such a back catalogue of dinosaur films out there. Was that ever a worry?
Matt: I don’t think it was ever a worry, it was a challenge with such a strong fanbase – anything about dinosaurs, people will find intriguing as there’s such a strong background of dinosaur based content. It’s maybe the first solely dinosaur concentrated film to come along for a while, it’s not really like any of the others but it’s a great category to be a part of. It’s just exciting, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
Natasha: The excitement for me overrode any of the nervousness about whether we’d do a good enough job. There are so many heavily CGI films these days, so it’s a good skill to learn early on in your career. A film like this doesn’t come around very often, the fact that you get to be in it alongside dinosaurs is exciting. The nervousness comes when the film is in the can, and it’s about to come out, very exciting but the nerves kick in!
Matt: It’s ambitious, to make a dinosaur film on the budget they did, I think it’s great that they went for it the way they did. There are a lot of dinosaurs, and I love that, they didn’t use the found footage genre to hide behind, they focused on the dinosaurs and I think that’s great.
It’s always interesting to get an actor’s perspective on working in the found footage style – how was it for you guys? Did you get your hands on the camera much?
Matt: Tom the DP operated pretty much everything, he operated every camera on the expedition. I can’t take credit for any operating, but because a lot of the film is shot from my character’s perspective, we had to have Tom’s arm dressed up as mine, so his right arm and my left would be on different sides of the shot. It was tricky but good fun! For me, I’m really focused on the cameras, I get to talk into the camera a lot so maybe I had it a bit easier than the other guys, like Tash had to be aware it was there, but also that she was part of the documentary.
Natasha: I guess you have to think of it as a home video, every now and again something will happen behind the camera and you don’t have to ignore it which is quite different. Because it is meant to be a documentary, you have to think like that person, and think of the cameraman as part of the expedition, someone that you get to know. You always try to avoid the camera, so it’s a bit weird at first, when you look at it and think you’ve made a mistake, but it’s actually fine!
Was there a lot of prep work for this? Your characters are a doctor and a sort of tech wizard, so on top of all the preparation for the location shoot was there a lot of character work?
Natasha: I think the biggest challenge for me was working with the CGI, but Sid is just a fountain of knowledge, such an enthusiast, so you don’t have to go far with your research when you’re working with such an expert. The creature it’s based on, Mokele Mbembe, is a real legend, and I read that there have been 50 expeditions to the heart of the Congo to try and find this animal that people claim to have seen. Working with a director like this, so much of the research and work is done for you. You’ve got to have that little self-belief too, like if you were that person. My character is taking a responsibility on, so you have to know the potential dangers and things.
Matt: For me, making it look believable that I can handle technical objects – I had to try and make it look like I know exactly what I’m doing when fiddling with these complicated devices, I’d have a couple of wires to twist with a screwdriver, do it quickly to make it look as if I knew what I was doing!
So what have you guys got coming up next?
Natasha: I just shot season two of Beaver Falls, which I’m happy with, and have just moved over here and signed up with an agent, so hoping for new things on the horizon!
Matt: I have a film to start shooting in a few weeks, I can’t give too much away right now but it’s a very challenging role and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a nice contrast, a drama and I’m looking forward to it.