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David J. Peterson

David J. Peterson: “Does it fit the culture?”

September 23, 2020

Mr. Peterson, as the language creator for productions like Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World, and Doctor Strange, what would you say makes a fictional language convincing?

Well, to start, the sound of it has to be convincing. And then also, the actors have to, not necessarily believe it but they have to get the feeling of it as if they speak this language very well. Part of that is the performance, and part of that is the construction: in order for it to be a believable language it has to have a believable intonational pattern, it has to work grammatically even if that's not something that anybody can tell just by listening to it. Going further, there’s also consistency so that one word means the same thing from line to line. And even beyond that is functionality: does it have a full and complete grammar, does it have all the words to convey any possible meaning?

But so far these standards could also apply to English — are there also considerations for what makes an invented language unique?

That’s absolutely right, functionality is a bit of a low bar to clear because beyond that, there is of course originality. As you mentioned, you could just rework the English language and it would be both consistent and functional but it wouldn't be original. So then a step beyond originality is authenticity. In other words, does this thing make sense as something that might have evolved for the speakers in the show? Not just does it fit the culture but could it actually pass a test of being a natural language?

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Last week’s Interview
Vanessa Kirby

Vanessa Kirby: “Empathy is the job for an actor”

September 16, 2020
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Ms. Kirby, where do you find the stamina to play the kind of emotionally and physically grueling roles you are best known for?

I guess it’s belief in the story. I love depth of feeling in characters. The deeper I can go into feeling is the happiest in terms of, for me, the challenge of a performance; that pushes me into a different space. That’s the kind of thing that propels me through. I just love playing really visceral characters. Margaret in The Crown was very visceral and a real livewire, she had an incredible depth of feeling but she was also unlikeable to many people sometimes. So I am drawn to those characters… But I also always want to do things that are outside of my comfort zone and that are different.

When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone on set?

Well, with Mission Impossible and these other action films… I come from stage acting, so I had no idea even how to even do that world. It was really scary and challenging. And I like to do things that frighten me. Mission Impossible, especially, really did change me. It taught me about discipline and stamina, it taught me the physicality of what is required for different roles. The training really requires you to step up and push yourself. It’s like switching on a different switch.