Channel24’s Graye Morkel visited the set of Scorpion King: Book of Souls in Cape Town recently and sat down with American actor Zach McGowan to talk about what went on behind-the-scenes of the film.
Cape Town – Walking through the large industrial doors onto the set of Scorpion King: Book of Souls I’m immediately transported to a fantasy world molded and sculpted to represent ancient lairs and mystical caves.
I’m greeted by an easy-going cast, and crew while patiently waiting my turn to interview Zach McGowan and Pearl Thusi.
I’m seated next to a friendly stunt-double and production assistant, and opposite us a “monster” made-up with prosthetic material and latex waits to be called on.
I’m invited to watch (quietly) as the team wrap up the last scene before lunch, and I’m surprised by a request to join the cast and crew for refreshments.
Later I’m making small-talk with Zach McGowan in the drizzling rain – who I’ve seen on Shameless, UnREAL and Blacksails – while he casually smokes a cigarette, before he escorts me to a quiet area where we conduct the interview.
ON WHAT DREW HIM TO THE MOVIE
McGowan worked with Don Michael Paul on Death Race: Beyond Anarchy and when the opportunity arose to work with the well-known director and producer once more his immediate response was “of course!”
He says: “We had such a fantastic time working together before. When he sent me the script it was just such a great tale, and very similar to the movies that I loved as a kid.
“The movie is rated PG-13 which means that at some point my kids will be able to watch it. It’s tough because most of the work I’ve done is not rated for kids. What drew me to the movie is a combination of the two things, and I’m always down to work with Don.”
Speaking about his character Mathays (The Scorpion King) he says: “When we first meet him, Mathayas is living the simple life in a small village as a blacksmith, when the evil forces seek him out. He is then forced to fight because innocent people are being slaughtered. He gets beat up pretty bad, but Pearl Thusi (Tala) saves him and convinces him to go on this quest.”
ON FILMING IN CAPE TOWN
Scorpion King: Book of Souls was filmed entirely in and around Cape Town and McGowan’s favorite scenes were filmed on the sand dunes in Atlantis.
“Riding the horses through those beautiful mountainous dunes and sand locations is just such an archetypal image. And they [production] let us ride through these vast landscapes. It was just such a pleasure as an actor. I’ve never been able to do these type of archetypal work. A lot of my horse work has been more contained, so this was certainly a high point for me.”
On his South African co-star Pearl Thusi he says: “I thought she looked absolutely perfect when I was first told about her joining the cast, but you never know how someone is going to be. But we’ve had so much fun together in all these amazing locations.”
He adds: “We have a lot of downtime so we have so much fun together. We’ll blast the music in the cast tent and have a dance party.”
McGowan, who spent three years in Cape Town while working on Black Sails, says he has fallen in love with the energy in Cape Town and missed working with his friends from Black Sails – who most have rejoined him on this new production.
“I think there are only like 10 people that I don’t know on this set.”
When he has some time off – which is one day per week – he enjoys going the ocean and really appreciates our local cuisine.
“There is a reason people come here for vacation and to work here. Of course the American dollar goes a long way too,” he laughs.
While working away from home for such long periods of time, McGowan always travels with photos of his daughters. He says: “It’s nice to fall asleep next to the photo of my family.”
He also never leaves home without an abundant supply of hair ties, as our locally produced hair accessories he says just don’t cut it! “I wear them around my fingers, and people often mistake them for rings.”
ON COMEDY VS. ACTION
McGowan has portrayed characters on a vast genre of movies and TV series, including comedies (Shameless), and hard-hitting action roles (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) but says he approaches all roles in the same way.
“What I do with the role as an actor really isn’t any different regardless of the material. People think that action movies are about fighting but actually all script contain dialogue and action. Dramas tend to be heavy on the dialogue and light on action. But actions refers to what the actor is doing. On Shameless I was doing a lot of action, it might just not have been fighting action.”
“For instance on Shameless breastfeeding a baby is actually action. You don’t say it, you do it. I just want to be real and in the moment, whether it be swinging a sword or breastfeeding a baby.”
Having worked on so many interesting productions before, McGowan says he always keeps a memento from the set.
“I keep all my chair backs [he turns his chair around and points at the large printed letters “Zach”] and at this point I might need a bigger office,” he laughs. “I have a collection of swords from Black Sails, and I kept my drums from Shameless.”
This might also be a good time to point out that I was sitting on Pearl Thusi’s chair.
He cracks another joke, “I’m wearing my leopard print thong from Shameless underneath my costume right now.”
He ends off the interview with a message to his South African fans: “I love you, and always keep watching.”