The Legend of Tarzan hit movie theaters on July 1st, 2016. By Monday July 4th, it had racked up nearly $65 million in worldwide box office. The basic story goes something like this: Boy raised by apes in the African jungle after his English parents died. Later, he marries Jane and returns to England and takes up his life as Lord Greystoke. Then, he gets talked into returning to Africa to investigate some bad guys. With Jane at his side, he returns. But wait, he and Jane are captured by the very bad guys he had come to investigate. He escapes and goes back to free Jane. Think chase movie and you’ve got it right. The chase is the main thing. Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter), the film has a knockout cast. There’s Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad) as Jane Clayton, Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood) as Tarzan/John Clayton, Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers: Age of Ultron) as good guy sidekick George Washington Williams, and Christoph Waltz (Spectre) as the bad guy Leon Rom. And trust us, he is very bad.
Tarzan, like Sherlock Holmes, is a character some people think is real. Not so. The character of Tarzan is based on a series of successful novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan movies go back to a silent version in 1918, starring Elmo Lincoln. Then, enter the broken English savage Tarzan (“Me Tarzan, You Jane”) of former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, in the 1930s and 1940s. Let’s throw in a bit of movie trivia: Weissmuller’s Jane was upper crust English actress Maureen O’Sullivan, mother of Mia Farrow. Next to Jane, Weissmuller’s favorite thing was Cheeta, his comic chimpanzee. The trained chimp laughed on cue. The last Tarzan movie was a wildly successful Disney animated version in 1999, and now 2016 brings us a sexy Victorian gentleman turned ape man. Here are 15 things about The Legend of Tarzan you did not know.
15. David Yates Told Margot Robbie to Punch Alexander Skarsgard
Okay, remember the story. Tarzan and Jane come back to Africa, having spent years in stuffy Victorian England as a lord and lady. So, they get back to the jungle and can you guess what happens? Well, they do stuff together. Apparently in one s*x scene, director David Yates encouraged Margot Robbie to punch her on-screen hubby, Tarzan. He positively encouraged her to land one. Something about being primal and animalistic. Yes, he positively egged her on. It’s unclear what happened, but Robbie has said she and Tarzan really, really were in the primal moment. They were totally there. But what about the slap?
14. Pity About the Loin Cloth
Everybody knows Tarzan wears a loin cloth. Johnny Weissmuller wore one. The cartoon Tarzan in the 1999 Disney film wore a loin cloth. And bless him, Alexander Skarsgard pushed hard to keep Tarzan’s costume of choice for the movie. It’s iconic and seemed to make perfect sense. Mean old David Yates said “no way”, and Skarsgard wears long board shorts in the movie. Like he’s ready to catch a wave or jump in a river full of crocodiles or something. Skarsgard was a good loser. IMDb reports that he said the way the script was written, Tarzan comes straight from a civilized existence in London and, according to Yates at any rate, there is no way he would just jump into a loin cloth. It just didn’t make sense the director said. But wait; isn’t this the same guy who wanted primal and animalistic? Besides, where was a guy going to get board shorts in Victorian England? Let alone in the middle of a jungle?
13. He Needs To Act and Look Good Naked
Like film projects everywhere, The Legend of Tarzan went through a lot of changes. At one point, Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Michael Phelps, was said to be in talks to play Tarzan. We can’t see it. More plausible are reports that Tom Hardy, Henry Cavill and Charlie Hunnam, were being considered as the chief vine swinger. But we already know that David Yates is a man who knows his mind and his first choice was Alexander Skarsgard. The director said that he knew pretty early on he wanted the Swedish Skarsgard. He wanted both a good actor and a great bod. Okay, we get that. But then Yates started going on about Skarsgard and his “verticality”. That means he’s tall, we think. Yates has said he went through the motions of talking to others, but the role was built for the vertical Swede. We still think his verticality would have looked better in a loin cloth.
12. Nice Outfit. What Happened To The Pants?
Here’s a guy who did full frontal nudity for the season 6 finale of True Blood. Then he showed up at the 2016 MTV Movie Awards alongside Samuel L. Jackson, almost totally clothed. Skarsgard looks dressed for a formal affair, save for one small point. No pants. Apparently it was part of the promotion for the film. He was certainly showing off the muscular legs he had developed for the movie, plus certain other assets. “Me Tarzan”, he said from the stage. We bet there were a lot of hopeful “Me Janes” in the audience. Personally, we would have preferred it if they had sent Margot Robbie. The only other instance of “actor no pants” we can find is Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris, standing on the stage in his underwear. We prefer the Alexander S. version of no pants, though.
11. That All Important Tarzan Call
The best Tarzan call of all time? Absolutely no contest: Johnny Weissmuller. He had the lung power to pull it off. We sometimes heard him off screen, but our favorite ones are when he stands in front of the camera (in that loin cloth) and belts it for 10 seconds or more. When he did, elephants and apes and Jane came running. If only to shut him up. But we live in a different age and in The Legend of Tarzan, we get a remix of a Skarsgard rumble and an unidentified singer blasting out, with just a hint of animal growls and synthetic sonics. Skarsgard has joked that his part of the sound came when he was promised a treat for lunch and opened up the box and found broccoli. It’s a kind of rumbling, guttural lament. And he doesn’t even have to lip sync the remixed version. It’s heard off camera.
10. How That 8-Pack Came About Amid Dreams Of A Cake Eating Tarzan
Skarsgard has joked that he has written an outline for a sequel in which Tarzan puts on weight and eats cake. Why? Apparently, because of the grueling training schedule he endured for months on end to get ready for the film. Personal trainer and nutritionist Magnus Lygdback, who also did his thing in The Justice League, really put the young Swede through heck. There was the diet. There was training twice a day. They weren’t going for bulk, but for definition and flexibility. He had to look like he grew up in the jungle, even if the jungle was in an English studio. There was a moment of panic about ten days before filming was set to begin. Those all revealing camera tests he did weren’t right. He seemed to lack muscle and have way too much body fat. Lygdback said chill, he’ll be fine on the day. And he was. 8-pack abs and all. The question is, will we see a 10-pack in our lifetime?
9. About All That Vine Swinging
Apparently, Alexander Skarsgard did some of his own swinging. That’s on vines in case you are wondering. Well, he is tough, the kind of guy who went on a Walking with the Wounded Challenge in Antartica (we won’t mention that he posed naked while he was there for a True Blood spoof. He froze something off, we think). The actor reportedly did the easy swings and left the more complicated stuff to trapeze artist Augusts Davidenas. Then the production people digitally doctored it, so it appeared it was actually Skarsgard doing the work. He wondered if he should take the credit, as it really did look like him. But the guy is honest and owned up to Davidenas’s skill. The Antarctic pics were posted on Instagram. Skarsgard is totally okay with that. He said his dad, iconic veteran actor Stellan Skarsgard, was an ageing hippie who walked around in the buff an awful lot. He joked that he didn’t see him in pants until he was 14. Well, you know the Swedes.
8. A London Jungle With Cardboard Animals and Margot Robbie
Don’t be fooled by all those breathtaking aerial shots of the African wilderness. Shot in and above Gabon, it reveals a stunning landscape of granite outcrops and tumbling waterfalls. It would be the perfect home for Tarzan and Jane. Not to be. As one crew member said, there’s no infrastructure in the rain forest. So, the actors never left Great Britain. The dramatic Gabon landscape was filmed by a cinematographer after principal filming ended. The jungle Tarzan and Jane run through is on a sound stage in the outskirts of London and was designed by the guy who did those staggering Harry Potter sets. Plus, all those apes and creatures are thanks to Computer Generated Imagery (CGI). While they were shooting the scenes, Margot Robbie said she had a hard time pulling them off when there wasn’t an animal in sight. So, apparently, the obliging crew provided cardboard cut outs of animals. Personally, we think it’s a little joke.
7. David Yates and the Tarzan Love Story
If you are David Yates, you get a lot of scripts to read. So, why go for The Legend of Tarzan? Yates has said that it is the dynamic between Tarzan and Jane that is the strongest thread in the story. It’s the love story that is at its heart. Tarzan and Jane have a deeply personal and intimate relationship. They complete one another. They rely on one another. Plus, there was the chance to plot a thrilling chase movie where Tarzan goes heck for leather after Jane, after she is captured by bad guy Leon Rom. And he was also drawn by the idea of being able to bring in a new Tarzan to a new audience. The movie and its story are set in Victorian times, but Tarzan and Jane both seem fresh and modern. And very animalistic.
6. Thank You Johnny Weismuller (and Dad)
Alexander Skarsgard took on the Tarzan role to impress his dad, veteran Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard. The new Tarzan has said the only thing that scared him about the movie was that his 7-year old brother might think he was a sh** Tarzan. But, more importantly, he has also said that his father, actor Stellan Skarsgard, is a huge fan of the Johnny Weissmuller films and that he has a lot of them in his private collection. So Alexander grew up with old VHS tapes of “Me Tarzan”, “You Jane”, the classic Tarzan yell, and the funny chimp Cheeta. He has also said that the elder Skarsgard was probably more excited than him about the Tarzan role. We bet his old dad is proud of his Tarzan. No word on the brother’s reaction.
5. Jane Becomes a Feminist That Pub Crawls
Well, in the Weissmuller Tarzan films, Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) is reasonably efficient pottering around the tree house, but totally helpless against the jungle without her man. Margot Robbie has said that Jane has moved on for the new film. Tarzan and Jane are totally in love, but each can function just fine without the other. Captured by the bad guys, Jane is tough and unafraid (most of the time). She literally spits at them and causes something of a fuss. There’s another aspect to this. Margot Robbie refused to slim down for her role as Jane. Take me as I am? Well, maybe. In reality, she has admitted that what she really wanted to do was to enjoy London’s pub scene while she was there. Quoted in The Toronto Sun, she said: “It was my first time living in London properly and I wanted to try every pub.” With thousands of pubs in England’s capital, it was too many beers and so little time.
4. Samuel L. Jackson Had to Gain Weight for the Film
Okay. We know that Margot Robbie refused to lose weight for the film, mostly because she wanted free run of those glorious London pubs. Alexander Skarsgard had to develop that cut muscular look. Lots of broccoli and chicken. But Samuel L. Jackson had to put on some 30 pounds. What? Was his character George Washington William a tubby type? No, Williams was a real-life powerhouse activist who opposed mistreatment of Africans. The problem was that Samuel L. had been on a no meat no dairy vegan diet and he was pretty darn thin. So while poor Alexander was munching on broccoli and bits of chicken, Samuel L. got a kind of free pass. And Margot was hitting the pub. No complaints from those two.
3. How Jessica Chastain and Prince Harry’s Girlfriend Were Almost Jane
As of 2013, David Yates had hope to snag Jessica Chastain of Interstellar fame, to play Jane. But it didn’t happen. Then Yates focused on Emma Stone. Stone, who has done star turns in Spider-man films, apparently turned down the role. Other names rumored to have been considered were Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, Sarah Bolger of TV’s Once Upon a Time, and one Cressida Bonas. Who? This upper crust (grandpa was an Earl) English beauty has done some modeling, a few acting jobs, and hit tabloid heaven when she was briefly linked with Prince Harry. Oh, yeah, she was also on Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed List in 2014. The English tabloids still love her, reporting on a possible reconciliation with Harry one day and a hot date for Wimbledon Tennis the next. Thank goodness we’re getting Margot Robbie. But we agree Jessica Chastain would have been a hot red-haired Jane.
2. Skarsgard Made Animal Noise to Get in the Mood
Actors need to get in the zone before filming a scene. Sometimes it’s a little weird, like the time Tom Cruise worked as a Fed-Ex driver to get ready for a role. Some actors’ little rituals they go through or words they say to get in the mood. Well, if you are playing Tarzan, what makes more sense than to go animalistic? Reportedly, Alexander Skarsgard would whip himself up into a frenzy by making loud, guttural sounds. And wait. This wasn’t anything he got into for Tarzan. He apparently uses a similar technique in all his movies. Moviefone quoted him as saying: “When you shoot a scene like this, you’re thrown right into the middle of a big fight sequence. So that’s what I do to pump myself up and get ready for it so I don’t start the scene with a yawn.” What, we wonder, did he do to prepare for his nude scene in True Blood? Don’t ask.
1. The Real George Washington Williams and Leon Rom
The Samuel L. Jackson character was Civil War soldier, activist, politician and minister George Washington Williams. Just like the Jackson character in the movie, Williams opposed the treatment of Africans in Belgian-controlled Congo. While it’s obvious that Williams never teamed up with Tarzan, he did campaign against the treatment of natives in the Congo. His opposite number was Leon Rom, played by Christoph Waltz in the movie. The real life Rom was on the ground as the district commissioner in the Congo enforcing the Belgian King’s policies. The man kept severed black heads in his flower beds and had a permanent gallows erected at his station. So, there is a lot of truth in Waltz’s portrayal of an evil tyrant. Good versus evil. Guess who wins?