Karl Yune is very much aware that he’s having an interesting career, starting with a starring role in 2004’s Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid only to get his "big" break seven years later with a supporting role in Real Steel. (Which we loved.) As robotics designer Tak Mashido, Yune is obviously the bad guy in Shawn Levy’s new potential blockbuster, but with a cool swagger but slow-boiling rage that reaches a zenith in the film’s action-packed climax.
Yune showed up at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood dressed like a star, with a starched collar worthy of Robert De Niro in Heat, but his enthusiasm for his latest film is infectious. He’s not just a hired hand, he’s a fan. And he had a lot to say about why Shawn Levy is, in fact, a genuinely great director, how his character grew in importance and screen time over the course of production, and just a hint of what’s to come in Real Steel 2.
CraveOnline: I actually loved this movie. I went into it with a little bit of trepidation because it’s a bit of a corny concept on some levels, and I hadn’t been a big fan of Shawn Levy before. But then I watched it and it was just awesome. It’s a really good, classic, old-fashioned story and the action’s really cool.
Karl Yune: Well, the problem is that the trailers show what the film is on one level. A trailer is a visual thing. You see robots fighting, and that’s what you think the film is about: robots fighting. But the concept isn’t about robots fighting, as you discovered, and it’s an extremely layered film. It’s entertaining but it’s very profound.
It touches upon some familiar fight movie tropes. It’s got a ‘Rocky’ angle going on, but yeah, it had a lot on its mind. But you’re right about the advertising. All the billboards show are the robots.
Yeah. They did a great job promoting the film, everybody knows about it, but I do believe the emphasis was on the robots, and that’s of course going to lead people to believe that’s what the film’s about. Just fighting robots, but it’s absolutely not.
I think they’re going to see that movie, because it seems really cool, but they’re going to come out telling all their friends to see the movie it really is.
What was your reaction when you first read the script?
Well… For the first time in a really long time I forgot that I was reading a script. I forgot that I was reading, I was just consuming the story. John Gatins did an amazing job. He really made it entertaining. There was a lot of comedy going on in the film, you laugh a lot, there’s a lot of humorous moments, but the bottom line is [it’s] a deep film about a father and son’s reconciliation, and being able to break beyond this barrier of, I guess, emotional guardedness.
Now your character is actually very interesting. Tak Mashido doesn’t speak a lot, which can be great for an actor, but I imagine it must be a weird audition process.
Actually, it’s not necessarily a “weird” audition process so much as it’s… You really have to make sure that you come across, because you don’t have the words to help facilitate that, you’ve got to get across what it is they want to see.
What did they want to see?
You never really know!
Touché. What did you think they wanted to see? What did you show them?
Well, Tak Mashido, he’s a very serious robot designer. He’s the reclusive legend of the sport, and he takes his flawless win streak very seriously. I mean, he’s the guy that is responsible for taking the sport from an underground thing to this mainstream obsession. So that was one thing that I had to convey, was that I “am” the sport. But the other thing that needed to be conveyed was this level of indignance. These nobodies are coming out of nowhere to challenge…
…the great Tak Mashido.
Exactly. Really what it was, is that the brilliance about this particular filmmaking process, is that Shawn Levy tried everything. He tried every possible aspect of expression, for each scene.
In the rehearsal process? On set? How did that work?
In the rehearsal process before we started filming, and each take. He was just open to trying anything and everything, and very open to everyone’s suggestions. He’s not one of these guys who’s set in his ideas. I think that’s the brilliance of filmmaking, is that you collaborate, and I think working on a production of this level you’re working with people who understand that there’s value in other people’s ideas. It was a team process.
It shows, I think. Because you don’t talk a lot, because you’re this untouchable villain, we don’t get a lot of time to see you relate to the other characters. Did Shawn talk to you a lot about Tak as a character beyond what we see?
This was the surprising thing, that when I first got the script Tak Mashido’s role was actually small. It was a small role. It was a pivotal but small role, and I ended up staying there much longer than I was originally planning to stay there because Shawn kept adding these scenes. He would collaborate with his team and come up with new ideas for scenes for my character. It was just a surprise every day to find out that I’d be filming another scene.
What scenes were added?
I’d say half the scenes were added in, on the spot!
Were they existing scenes, but you were added to them?
No, I’d say half the scenes were added in throughout the course of the whole filmmaking process. Like for example, the one scene where I’m punching out the glass.
That’s a great scene. You were there smoldering all this time…
I wasn’t even supposed to enter the ring, actually.
Oh really? It’s so much better that you do, because it turns into a fight between two people.
They’ve already green lit the sequel.
I get the impression that a lot of the stuff between you and your boss, what was her name again?
Farra Lemkova, played by Olga Fonda.
I get the impression that a lot of that relationship is being saved for the sequel. They talk about her father, but we never meet him…
Are they mentioning details about the sequel?
They’re not mentioning details, but I was wondering if they’ve talked to you about where it’s going yet. Are you signed on for a sequel?
The last I heard about the sequel was [when] Shawn told me that Gatins was really giving me some cool material to work with.
Because you’ve been humbled a bit. I don’t want to give away the ending, but it does feel like we’re building to a rematch.
[Playful] I mean, you’re taking a big guess right now. We really don’t know…!
Yeah, but that seems to be where the character is headed. Where do you feel that Tak is at the end of the movie?
By the end of the movie, I feel like he’s going to come back with something… He’s thinking, “Okay, I’ve got something for your ass.”
One of the interesting things to me about the movie is that it’s the future, and traditional physical combat, at least as a spectator sport, has been completely sidelined. It’s been replaced by robot boxing with video game-style controllers, and one of the reasons why Hugh Jackman is so successful is because of his experience as a boxer. Your character is much more about the programming. How does he approach his job?
Well, the way that I perceive Tak Mashido is that he was the pioneer of robot boxing design. If there was a living equivalent to him, I would think Bill Gates. How he describes Zeus’s programming was that Zeus was pre-programmed for every possible eventuality. He was running autonomously, on his own; just the highest level of artificial intelligence. So obviously when there’s a threat, that’s when Tak decides to take over the controls and ultimately finish the fight.
[At this point Karl and I pretty much ended the interview, but after a few minutes of chatting about the movie and, for some reason, ‘The Human Centipede II,’ we realized that we were basically still doing an interview and turned the recorder back on.]
[Shawn Levy] literally is, and I’m not just saying this, alright? He literally is the most human director working in this business. I mean, there’s none of this “I’m up here, you’re down here. I’m the director and you’re the actor.” It’s like he’s really collaborating. He really wants to know your ideas.
I bet that comes a lot from working in comedy so much. You have to improv a lot.
Yeah. Yeah, that probably is the case. But he’s just one of those real human beings, and I felt really lucky because on this production I was working on a team where I had the Team Captain… We got the General, which is Shawn Levy, and we got the Team Captain, which is Hugh Jackman. And I’m working with the two realest human beings in the business. To work on a film of this scope, it could have been an intimidating thing, and it was not, at all. So I think that if you allow someone to operate in that space you’re going to get the most authentic performance.
I think it came out. There’s an authenticity to ‘Real Steel,’ even though, if you wanted to take it apart, you can see the genre trappings. But the genre trappings are just there to keep the story moving. Everything else is very relaxed, very real. You like everyone in it. You even like Tak! We don’t get to know him, and he’s established as a bad guy, but…
Wow, dude, you just paid the ultimate compliment to me.
Well, I think it was Hitchcock who said that it doesn’t matter so much if you like someone, if they do their job really well. If they’re good at their job, you respect them.
And we respect Tak. There’s a certain sympathy for Tak. Here’s a guy who, clearly, is kind of a dick. In real life, a dick. But he’s good at what he does. Even the protagonists respect that. They don’t want to fight him! “Oh crap, we just challenged Tak Mashido.” He even says that, “I’m going to fight for you, I’m going to fight with you, and we’re gonna lose.”
[Laughs] Wow, dude. I’m so flattered, man.
If I don’t like a movie I won’t say it, but I won’t talk about it too much. I don’t start the interview with “I loved your movie.” But I loved your movie.