“The new version of Dumbo is a million times better than the original.”

Photo Credit: Diana Ragland

Already well-known for his roles in TV series such as Z Nation and Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, and with parts in blockbuster movies Thor and Star Trek: Into Darkness, amongst others, actor of Maltese descent Joseph Gatt will soon be gracing the big screen as Neils Skellig in the Disney remake of Dumbo, directed by Tim Burton.

Born and raised in London. Gatt first got the acting bug when his Maltese parents took him to see Star Wars at the age of 8. He went to drama school in London and soon found work in the West End. After moving to the U.S., he immediately booked a lead role in the thriller feature Pulse, opposite actress Kristen Bell.

Newsbook.com.mt recently reached out to Gatt to ask him about his experience being on set of the family-favourite movie which is due to come out in 2019. The lovely, affable actor took time out of his birthday celebrations (it was his birthday on the 3rd December) to answer our questions about Dumbo, and much more besides, including his love for the Maltese Islands.

What was it like working with legendary director Tim Burton and actors Colin Farrell, Danny De Vito, Michael Keaton and Eva Green? 

Working on Dumbo was a truly amazing experience. Tim is like a father on set. He knows exactly what he wants to create his art but at the same time he trusts the choices he makes with the actors and allows us to do ‘our thing’. And when he needs to be specific he uses suggestion rather than simply telling the actors what to do. He also welcomes discussion and is happy to share the creating with everyone around him, cast and crew. Tim and Katterli Frauenfelder (his first AD and producer) ran such a warm set. Never was there a raised word, even at the most stressed moments.

Still from Dumbo trailer; Featured Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios

The whole cast were amazing. It was a real dream to see Danny and Michael ‘sparring’ again for the first time since Batman Returns. Eva is simply a beautiful person and Colin is great! A hilarious guy and very committed to his work. Even though most of my scenes were with Colin, Danny and Michael, I also had the pleasure of working with the iconic Alan Arkin, who is so funny and generous, and Roshan Seth, whom I’ve admired since Ghandi and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom!

How exciting is it for you to be part of a Disney film; moreover, this particular one which so many people who grew up with the original version hold close to their heart?

Even though I grew up loving Disney, I had never seen the original 1941 Dumbo. So, we sat down and watched it a few days before I flew to London to start filming. I’m incredibly excited to say that the new version is a million times better than the original in every way. Ehren Kruger’s screenplay was magical from the first moment I read it. So, if you liked the original, you will LOVE the new version. And for me, it’s another dream fulfilled. I get to be a real Disney villain!! Cruella DeVil is a puppy compared to Neils Skellig.

You’ve also been in another two huge franchises – Marvel’s Thor and Star Trek…

Joseph Gatt and Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart

Thor was my first huge studio picture and it was also my favourite Marvel comic book character when I was a kid. So that was huge for me. My character required a lot of extensive make-up. About five hours to get into the make-up and about two hours to get out. So, 3.00am call times and VERY long days. It was exhausting. It was also how I became friends with Anthony Hopkins. One of the greatest actors ever. And a true inspiration. Star Trek was simply a blast. Tons of fun with a bunch of great people. I got to go to work every day on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Not too many people can say that.

Kristen Bell is one of my very favourite actresses. Please tell me she is as nice as she comes across on social media and in interviews!

I can and will happily say YES. She is one of the sweetest and most generous people you could ever meet. We had so much fun out in Romania working on Pulse. It was quite the young cast I was thrown in with. Kristen, Ian Somerhalder, Octavia Spencer, Jonathan Tucker, Rick Gonzalez, Christina Milian. Wow. And look how far we’ve all come.

“(Malta) has changed a lot in the last 30 to 40 years. More developed. Less space. But its energy and beauty is still there”

I have to ask this one – have you ever been to Malta? And do you have any plans to visit any time in the future?

Joseph Gatt and Mercy Malick

I have been to Malta many, many times. Both of my parents are Maltese. My mom from Lija and my father from Paola. And we’ve also had homes in Paola and Tarxien. We would visit every year and spend our summers there. My dad was a massive explorer and would take me all over the island exploring everything. By the time I was a teenager I knew the island backwards, I could speak almost fluent Maltese and my favourite foods were ħobż biż-żejt and pastizzi. Since my father passed in 1995 and I moved to the USA I have visited less often. It’s not as easy to get there from LA as it is from London. But I’ve managed to visit a couple of times.

My partner Mercy has been there with me a couple of times now and to show her the island is like seeing it all for the first time again. It has changed a lot in the last 30 to 40 years. More developed. Less space. But its energy and beauty is still there and the people are still incredible and I very much look forward to visiting again very soon. Possibly for the next Malta ComicCon.

How did you cope when you developed alopecia universalis? What advice would you give to someone who develops it?

I got alopecia when I was 12, and all my hair had totally fallen out by the time I was 14. It was extremely tough. At that time no one had really heard about it and so no one had a clue what it was. Unlike now. So, I was bullied and basically became a hermit for about 4 years. But it’s also the reason I went to drama school. Looking back, I see that, for all of us, life brings us good and bad. Those good and bad things all present us with opportunities about how we react to them and how we deal with them. So, we make choices. The choices I made were to survive. To keep going. To keep stepping forward. To believe that I wasn’t created for no reason. But I could’ve easily gone the other way with my choices. I could’ve ended up in jail, injured, or dead.

So, the job I try to do, with other kids who suffer from alopecia, but also with anyone who is seeing darkness, is to try to show them that even though that particular moment might seem like the end of the road, that they need to try to look beyond the moment and into a possible future. Because my dreams and desires and hopes are what kept me looking forward, instead of ending in that moment. I used the darkness as a propulsion to be who I am and where I am.

To quote Timothy Q Mouse: “Dumbo, The very things that held ya down are gonna carry ya up, and up, and up!”

I know you’re a huge Star Wars fan. Favourite movie in the SW franchise?

Episode V. The Empire Strikes Back.

What’s next for you, life and career-wise?

Ha. That’s a tough question. I have no idea. But I just want to keep working and creating characters that people love and hate, but most importantly want to talk about. In life, I’d love to just continue to learn and better myself and inspire and motivate others to want to be the best people they can possibly be. Hopefully, I can do all of that surrounded by animals!