Joseph Gatt says his character in Disney's 'Dumbo' is Darth Vader to Michael Keaton's The Emperor

The actor in an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide, spoke about working with movie legends like Tim Burton and Michael Keaton in Disney's upcoming movie


                            Joseph Gatt says his character in Disney's 'Dumbo' is Darth Vader to Michael Keaton's The Emperor

Actor Joseph Gatt who plays the villain's right hand man in the upcoming Disney film 'Dumbo' finds his character interesting and is pleasantly surprised that it was not OTT, something that Disney villains sometime tend to be.

Gatt plays Neils Skelling, the guard at the circus owned by VA Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and where Dumbo, a baby elephant with oversized ears and flying powers, is housed.

Skellig serves VA Vandevere and in Gatt's words, "I do the dirty work. I am the Darth Vader to Vandevere's Darth Sidious."

In this exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide, Gatt spoke how he landed the role, working with director Tim Burton and actors Michael Keaton and Colin Farrell. 

Things took off when one of the producers of the film, Derek Frey, got casting to reach out to Gatt for an audition. He recalls that he sent a self-tape when the movie team was already two months into shooting. He was also surprised that he was asked to make his audition as realistic as possible.

Joseph Gatt plays Mr Vandevere's right hand man in the film 'Dumbo'.
Joseph Gatt plays Mr Vandevere's right hand man in the film 'Dumbo'.

 

After Gatt finished the auditioning, he was told that Burton wanted him to read the script to see if he would be interested in working on the project.

"I got a call early morning from my London agent and they said that Tim wanted to forward me the scripts because Tim would like to know what you think of the script and if you would like to be involved. I said, 'I don't know if I need to read the script, of course, I want to work with Tim but if he wants me to read the script, I will read it." 

Gatt also recalled that he cried almost on every page of the script. His initial reaction to the script was also that the character of Skellig was nothing like him.

"It was very strange when I first read the script and read the role, I almost laughed because the character Skellig is so opposite to who I am as a person in every respect. The only thing that he and I have in common is that Skellig takes his work seriously." 

It was this common thread between him and his character that helped him play the role.

In the film, Skellig is not someone who loves animals, contrary to Gatt. The contradictions, however, also helped him break out of the character easily after work.

"Every time I play a role like this, I try to find some kind of commonality between myself and the character to get me into the role, to find a way of getting into the headspace of such evil people. And in this case, yes, Skellig is not a nice person. I guess, that in a sense, makes it easier in the end because it's so different to me. I never had any problems getting lost in the character and that was just the case. 'Okay, now I am playing the villain, the cameras are rolling'. As soon as I the cameras stop rolling I am back to being Joe, laughing, joking with everyone in the cast." 

A still from the film 'Dumbo'. (Source: IMDb)
A still from the film 'Dumbo'. (Source: IMDb)

 

Gatt said working with Burton, Keaton and Farrell was a dream job and "like going to work with people you ahve kown yoour whole life."

"The whole atmosphere on the set was always so welcoming, lovely and warm. It was like going to work with people you've known your whole life. Everybody was excited to do their best work." 

Speaking of Burton, he added, "Tim is such a wonderful director and wonderful leader just through his sheer artistry and enthusiasm. That emanates down and it started from day one, the first time I met Tim.  I hadn't met him before and on my first day on the set, he comes up to me and he gives a massive hug and says, 'I am so happy you took the job. I feel that you are great for this role, I cannot wait to work with you'. So it was incredible every day."

Michael Keaton plays the main villain Mr Vandervere in 'Dumbo'. (Source: IMDb)
Michael Keaton plays the main villain Mr Vandervere in 'Dumbo'. (Source: IMDb)

 

Gatt also said that working with Keaton was quite interesting as he was a fan of his work. "Actually getting to make friends with Michael, hang out with him, work with him, see his how he works is very interesting. He's very organic in how he works. He likes to figure things out when we are in the set and he likes to work through the character when we are on the set, all together in a rehearsal process which is really lovely. We figured out our relationship quite early on." 

As both Gatt and Keaton are the villains, he explained the dynamics between the two on screen, "He's the big businessman. Everything is all about money and it doesn't matter who he uses and who he steps on and what damage he does as long the profit margin is acceptable. Whereas with Skellig, he is about doing his job properly. He just gives orders and I do the dirty work. So I'm actually the one in the end to face up to Dumbo, Mrs Jumbo, Holt (Farrell)." 

He also added, "I like the analogy of 'Star Wars' movies. He's (Keaton) the Emperor. I am Darth Vader.  The Emperor (Darth Sidious) is the person at the top always giving you the orders and never really gets his hand dirty. Whereas Darth Vader is the person that has a lot of power, and he's the person who gets hand dirty, killing people, getting into the fight. Similarly, Skellig is the one that goes out of the zoo, disposes off the animals if they are not working out or making money for Dreamland. Makes sure that all the staff and workers are kept in line." 

Colin Farrell plays the role of Holt in 'Dumbo'. (Source: IMDb)
Colin Farrell plays the role of Holt in 'Dumbo'. (Source: IMDb)

 

So what was it like to work with Farrell, who plays one of the good guys in the film? Gatt has worked with Farrell before on the second season of 'True Detective' a few years ago.

"Holt (Farrell) seems like a passive character in the beginning because he is a soldier, he has come back from the war, has lost an arm and I guess Skellig thinks that they have this in common because he thinks of himself as a soldier - only he kills animals instead of people. And a particular line, which was unfortunately cut during a scene set in the stable sees Skellig tell Holt, 'You know, I am a hunter also'. The animosity between the two characters rose throughout the movie, especially towards the end when Skellig is chasing after the kids, trying to find Dumbo and Holt comes to the rescue. There is a nice kind of battle between the characters."

Gatt feels that 'Dumbo', which comes out on Mrch 29, is a special movie because it is about being accepting of differences -- about understanding that it's okay to be different. And not just about acceptance, but about actively being proud of being different, being happy to be different.

After having dealt with bullying because he suffered from alopecia - a disease that led to the loss of his hair when he was just twelve years old, 'Dumbo's message is something very close to his heart.