Interview: JUSTICE LEAGUE's Ray Fisher On Becoming Cyborg

Featured Contributor; New York City, New York (@TheDivaReview)
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Interview: JUSTICE LEAGUE's Ray Fisher On Becoming Cyborg
What do you if your acting debut is as one of the legendary characters in a long-awaited superhero series? If you are rising star, Ray Fisher, you handle your appearance as Cyborg in director Zack Snyder’s Justice League with coolness and grace.
 
In an exclusive chat, Fisher spoke with me about playing Victor Stone’s mecha-man alter-ego, Cyborg, being the new kid on the DC block, Apokoliptian tech, fandom, and making the choice to be a man or a monster.
 
 
The Lady Miz Diva:  Speaking with you before our interview, you mentioned that during promotion for JUSTICE LEAGUE is a labor of love.  Tell us about that?
 
Ray Fisher:  It’s a labor of love because this is something that I’ve loved as a kid, and it’s coming together with what I love to do as an adult, and there is no greater combination than that.  My dream has been realised in the best way possible, so I’ve got zero room to complain.
 
LMD:  With the exception of the brief appearance of your torso in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, this really is your feature film debut, isn't it?
 
RF:  My torso was in BATMAN V SUPERMAN, and now we get a little more of Victor Stone, outside of him being rebuilt as Cyborg.  This is my first feature, but it’s also my first film of this nature, period, that I’ve done.  
 
Growing up I studied theater, and I was a part of the musicals in high school.  I had friends who were very much into the film world of things, and when I was studying in conservatory here in New York, they were going to NYU for directing, so anytime needed an actor to be in one of their short films, they’d call me up and say, “Ray, you want to do this?”  And I’m like, “Yeah, sure, whatever, it’s fine.”  They helped get me acclimated to be in front of the camera.  
 
This is sort of like the dream come true, right?  I didn’t expect to sort of be catapulted in this way, because growing up in the theater world, I was tall, my voice was kind of deep, and they really didn’t know where to place you.  It just so happened that the superheroes landscape just works out.  {Laughs}
 
It feels like a privilege to be a part of the whole process, but it’s also still kind of new to me.
 
LMD:  So, due to the short films you worked on, it wasn’t like you had never been in front of the camera before?
 
RF:  No, no, no.  Luckily, I knew ‘Don’t look into the lens’ – that was rule number one – unless you’re supposed to look into the lens, at which point, they would let you know.  So, I knew some of the technical aspects about how to work with the camera, but a lot of stuff I was learning on the fly, particularly with the CG elements.  
 
But I was like a kid in a candy store, because I would ask people questions, and they would respond to the sincerity with which I was asking, because I had no clue what any of it was.  I was like, “Oh, so what’s that?”  And they were like, “Oh, that’s the crane operator, he’s going to spin this.  He’s going to make the crane do this and that,” and they actually let me play with a lot of the stuff, too.  Everybody was super-knowledgeable, and willing to share that knowledge.  
 
I think a lot of that trickled down from our director, Zack Snyder, and his wife Debbie, and the way that they like to run their sets.  You walk onto the set, and you just feel like you’re part of a family; you feel like you’re part of it.  That’s a feeling that you can’t really take for granted.
 
LMD:  How much of your performance was CGI?  
 
RF:  The CGI was plentiful.  There was a lot of CGI.  The practicality of the costume was nearly nonexistent, outside of the LED light over my left eye, and the chest piece that emits that red light.  For everything else, I’m in a onesie.  It’s like a patchwork quilt that has little white dots on it, so they can differentiate my movements.  
 
So, there was a lot of imagination that went into it, a lot of it.  And in fact, one of the funniest and most difficult parts about it was the fact that I had this LED light in front of my eye, and this is supposed to be the cybernetic eye that can see into outer space, and use microscopic vision and do all these crazy things - and I’m blind as a bat!  I can’t see anything: I’m bumping into stuff, my depth perception is just completely off.  People are trying to look me in the eye on the side, and it’s bobbling up and down when I’m walking and talking.  It’s literally one of the most distracting things, and this is when I was like, you know what, I’m working with some of the best in the business, because if they can look at me and take me seriously, and pretend like I am the thing I’m trying to portray, then thank you.
 
What was great about that CG costume, though, is that Cyborg’s journey is one where he cannot take off his costume:  He feels like an outsider.  So, I’m looking around and I see everybody else in practical costumes, and I look at myself, and I’m like, I’m definitely an outsider; it helped inform that sort of mentality.
 
Comfortability-wise, though, I was the most comfortable, because I was in the onesie.  Everybody else was in these 40-pound costumes; super-elaborate, super-hot, every chance they get, they’re taking off the masks, or taking of the top part of the costume and letting themselves air out, whereas I’m just kicking my feet up, like, ‘Hey, you guys.’ {Laughs}
 
The CG aspects of it were tough to a certain degree, but coming from theater, there’s a lot of times where you’re doing shows where the stuff you’re pretending exists, doesn’t really exist.  You could be doing a show in a black box theater, and there could just be chair on the stage and you’re trying to imagine there’s many different things happening.  Even looking out into the audience and seeing the fourth wall, to me, that was like green screen; I’m pretending that the audience is not there; I’m pretending that it’s something completely outside of what it actually is.  
 
Luckily, with Zack and just his visual mind, he’s got everything mapped out.  He’s able to describe everything to you in such great detail - what’s going to be where - and they have a previous visualisation that he’s done with his VFX team, that just gives you a really good sense of what’s going on.
 
LMD:  Coming from theater, which is so dependent on the body as an instrument, I was curious about the physical choices you made with regard to his movement as Cyborg has a very specific way of moving?
 
RF:  The first thing that I wanted to establish – because there were sequences that we had shot of Victor Stone prior to becoming Cyborg - what I wanted to be able to do was to differentiate Victor Stone pre-accident, and Victor Stone post-accident, because when that accident befalls him, he has to learn how to use this new body.  And one of the things that we touch upon in the film is that where he is at mentally - and how he connects with his body – is how much control he is going to have over these powers and abilities.  So, if he is not completely comfortable in himself, which we see in this film he is not, because he hasn’t really interacted with other people, his movements are going to be much different.  As he starts to loosen up mentally, he’ll be able to move in a much more fluid motion, but it’s a matter of him being able to connect those things mentally.
 
I think because he’s dealing with Mother Box technology, which is the most sophisticated technology in the world, he could move any way he would want to.  I remember Zack talking about how this technology - while it does look heavy, because it is so sophisticated - there may be a point in time where Cyborg could literally just walk on water.  He could adjust the density of the metal, if he wanted to.  So, it’s about Victor being able to unlock his mind and be comfortable in himself, and comfortable in that body.  
 
One of the things I was trying to go for was, as we see him in the film, as we see those moments where he’s like truly in the moment - where there is fear or panic - he has those very human movements, where it’s not as stiff, it’s not as robotic.  But whenever he’s very conscious about what is going on with himself and the world around him, that’s when you see the more static motion.
 
One of the benefits of actually putting on weight to portray Victor prior to the accident, for those Gotham City University scenes, was the idea that that weight, in and of itself, made me feel, as an actor, as an individual, outside of my body.  That was 30 extra pounds on my frame, so while I didn’t have a practical costume, it felt like I was wearing armor.  My body wants to naturally be around 195, which is slim for my height; putting on that weight, it was definitely much harder for me to move as an individual.  {Laughs
 
So, there is also this sort of physicality ritual that I would do prior to shooting, because for most of the initial photography, I wasn’t wearing a muscle suit.  There were certain sequences in the film where there is a muscle suit used underneath the hoodie and sweatpants, just to get the shape and the form of Cyborg without having to use the digital effects, as much; but when I would take that muscle suit off, I would assume this posture right before we would start rolling, where the shoulder comes back, and because the Apokoliptian tech - you’re not sure how menacing it actually is - I wanted it to take this sort of rigid quality in how he set.  Being able to explore that and having them just paint over the top of what I was going for, it ends up working in a really big way.
 
I think that was one of the most rewarding parts was being able to find that physicality, because as an actor, that is one of the first things to go for: How you move in your psychology informs how you move, and how you move informs your psychology.  If you sit down, and if you sit in a very closed-off position for a while, it makes you feel a certain kind of way, and that is something that movement people explore all the time.
 
LMD: Victor Stone has quite a Shakespearean dilemma; literally ‘To be or not to be,’ as he was meant to die, but was brought back by his father’s experiments, with many regrets.  Victor Stone of the comics was a roughneck, and while he is much nicer in the film, he still has a choice he could make; and he chooses “good” despite his horrific circumstance, his self-image as a “monster,” and the rage and isolation due to his father’s actions.  Why do you think Victor opted to join the League instead of using his powers to rob some banks and live on an island somewhere?  
 
RF:  Or to exact revenge, yeah, I know exactly what you mean.  I think what it is actual explicable; I think it boils right down to the heart of who he is as an individual.  For me, at least, that’s the beautiful thing about these characters is that any of these characters could have turned toward the “dark side,” right?  I mean, Batman could easily have become an alternate version, where he says, ‘You know what?  I had this traumatic thing happened to me, but instead, I’m going to go be a criminal, rather than fight crime.’  I feel like that is what is so interesting about all of these characters.  
 
For Victor, specifically, I think a lot of it has to do with his mother:  His mother who he lost in the accident, as well.  And while we don’t get to see specifically in the film that set up, there are some beautiful elements that Zack had shot with respect to Victor’s mom that I think gives a little more perspective on the character.
 
LMD:  You have experience playing someone extraordinary.  You played the ultimate superhero - the late Muhammad Ali {FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN} on stage.  What is the key to playing someone like Ali - like Cyborg - that the world looks at as larger than life?
 
RF:  I think what people were attracted to about Muhammad Ali was his confidence.  I think that was something that people saw as arrogance, some people saw it as confidence, some people saw it as being cocky; but at the end of the day, whether or not he believed in himself, he got other people to believe in him.  As an actor, the job that I find is important is finding those vulnerable moments; those moments where these characters with a lot of power and a lot of confidence aren’t so confident in their abilities.  It’s in those quiet moments that they have alone, when they don’t have anybody to sort of inspire, they are just there with themselves, I feel like that is what draws people towards the heroic side of things.  But what is also interesting is that Ali, he was a very different person in his younger life than who he ultimately became towards the end of his life; and very much like Cyborg, he showed you the power of transformation.  The power of change.  The power being able to manifest your own destiny.  I think that’s something that we all sort of aspire to achieve.
 
If you look at what boxing meant in the 1960s when Ali became champ; that was probably one of the highest offices anyone could have, outside of being the President of the United States.  I think there was a time where being heavyweight champ of the world, you were a king.  I forget what president was in office, but there was a point in time when Ali was the most recognisable face in the world.  There was a time when people didn’t know what the president looked like. {Laughs} I’m serious.
 
Luckily, boxing gave him a platform; who he is actually made him a hero.  I think the same is true with Victor Stone:  The cybernetics give him the abilities, but it’s who he is that makes him a hero.
 
LMD:  As a new arrival in the DC universe, you’ve got the elders, Messrs. Snyder, Cavill & Affleck.  Did they share any choice bits of wisdom about what to expect either while making the production, or the rabid fandom that comes with the production? What has been your experience with fans?
 
RF:  I don’t think they really offered much in the way of that sort of information.  When I was cast, it was enough for me to know that Zack had confidence in my ability to portray the character, and when you step on the set, everybody’s there to do their specific jobs.
 
The fandom… Although some people could consider it to be rabid, I think it’s a matter of passion.  These are stories that people feel very strongly about, and it’s just like anything else, it’s like sports, you know?  It’s like anything that people have a strong liking for; sometimes it can come off in a negative way, but it’s nothing that I was unaware of.  I mean, I was aware of that before even stepping into this.  
 
I’ve been a fan of these characters for such a long time, and I’ve seen the arguments that have gone on about these characters in general, how they’re portrayed, who would beat who in a fight - all those things.  These have been ongoing conversations for many, many years.  But as an actor, I feel like my job is to sort of tune that stuff out and just try to work with what’s on the page.
 
LMD:  Are you having fun?  
 
RF:  I’m having a blast, Diva!
 
 
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
 
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