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"John Carter" Week, part 4: Dominic West's George Lucas experience

Published March 8, 2012 9:34 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This Friday, the Disney sci-fi blockbuster "John Carter" — the most expensive movie ever filmed extensively in Utah — opens in theaters around the country. All this week, The Cricket will bring you tidbits from the cast and filmmakers who made "John Carter."

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"John Carter" isn't the first time Dominic West has spent time in front of a green screen.

Early in his career, West — who plays the villain in "John Carter," the warlord Sab Than — had a one-line role in "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace."

"I was desperate to meet George Lucas," West said at a press event last month outside Phoenix.

West, the British actor best known for roles in "The Wire," "Chicago" and "300," took two roles in "The Phantom Menace" — a palace guard (which made it into the film) and a Naboo officer (which was cut).

"The only thing I asked him was, 'What sort of accent do you want? Do you want American?'," West said. "And he said, 'Of course.'"

West had to deliver his only line — "The boy is here to see you, your highness" — into his lapel, as if speaking into a microphone. "Lucas said, 'Of course, they wouldn't need to speak into any microphone because there'd be a little chip in your chin. But we can't see that on screen.' I thought, 'Oh my God, a glimpse into the future from George Lucas.' And, sure enough, a year later, everyone's walking down the street talking to themselves on their hands-free sets," he said.

Overall, the experience was a bit of a disappointment. "George Lucas wasn't as interesting as I thought he might be," he said.

But the memory did help him on "John Carter."

"I was prepared for the green-screen work in 'John Carter,' because of being on 'Star Wars' and seeing sets that are only 10-foot high and having to imagine the rest of it," West said.

When acting against a green screen, having to imagine seeing things that will be added in post-production, West said, "you can so easily look like a twit.…

"I'm haunted by Patrick Swayze's shot in 'Ghost,' where he's looking at this ghost or whatever it is coming out of the sky. It's quite a lingering shot," West said. "It's so awful and so easy to do. That was what I was terrified of. … At the back of my head was, 'Don't be Patrick Swayze.' ... It is quite tricky not to be daft."

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For a view from the set of "John Carter," and a look at the Utah connection, read The Cricket's article from Sunday's Tribune. Also, read this story about how the film moved from the page to the screen.