Alexander Skarsgård said that one of the main reasons he took this role was to impress his father Stellan Skarsgård. He said, "My dad is a massive Tarzan fan. Growing up, we had these VHS cassettes of the Johnny Weissmuller films and that was my introduction to the character. But those films are seventy years old and so much time has passed that I think mine is a fresh take. I'll never compete with Johnny Weissmuller, but I just wanted to impress my father. He was thrilled; he was more excited than I was."
Alexander Skarsgård's first cheat meal occurred more than five months into his training. Skarsgård had been on a very strict diet for five straight months, avoiding any fat completely, as he was in the process of developing an eight-pack. He said, "It was a Sunday and we were training hard in the gym and my trainer saw that my will to live was fading. He told me to put down the weights and he took me to lunch. That day he let me order whatever I wanted. I got to eat pizza, pasta, tiramisu. I get emotional just talking about that day." On the last day of filming, the crew congratulated him on the end of his diet by gifting him with a huge "Banoffee Pie," a British dessert. Skarsgård said that to celebrate, he ate the entire pie by himself in a single sitting.
Alexander Skarsgård joked that he would like Tarzan to be drastically different in the sequel because of the heavy workout and diet demands on him. He said, "We have an outline already in which Tarzan gains weight. Tarzan remains hairy and does not have eight pack abs. It has no action and Tarzan eats cake, lots of cake. I wrote it."
In 2012, Warner Bros. sent scouts to cross Africa at the equator, in search of locations for the film. Director David Yates was so amazed by the images they brought home, he hopped on a plane to see things for himself. For four days, Yates sat with his nose pinned to the window. The Gabon National Parks team flew him over the most remote parts of an ancient forest to show him spots like the canopy breaking for immense granite outcrops, breathtaking waterfalls and black rivers reflecting the sky like a mirror. Upon returning home, he revised the script to include the incredible features he had seen. The film was shot in the U.K. at Leavesdon. Once principle photography was complete, cinematographer Henry Braham flew to Gabon to capture the awesome landscapes, because Yates wanted to give his film an authentic backdrop. A specially made mount for six high resolution camera was built to capture incredible 160 degree panoramas that appear in the film. Braham flew over the forest for hours each day in search of the perfect moment.
Director David Yates said that Alexander Skarsgård was always his first choice for the role of Tarzan. He said, "I knew it had to be Alex really early on. Finding a really good actor with a really good body is actually very tricky. Someone who can act very brilliantly, which Alex can, but also look fantastic without his clothes on, that combination is extremely rare and Alex has both those gifts. The Tarzan in my head was tall and vertical and had real length. I love Alex's verticality, his poise, his grace. It was always Alex for me. I went through the process of meeting other people, but it was only Alex in my mind. We basically built the role for him."
Alexander Skarsgård was very nervous before starting his training, worrying whether he would be able to achieve the Tarzan physique. He said, "I've never done anything this extreme before and I was really nervous; it was a huge challenge. I didn't know how my body would respond to the intense training and diet. I had a very good trainer and nutritionist, Magnus Lygdback, and I was extremely diligent and did everything he told me to do, and tried not to cheat at all. It was a lot of ab crunches and chicken cutlets to get that body."
In the scene where Jane and Captain Rom are eating dinner, she crosses her fork and knife. The Captain rings the bell and tells the servant Lady Clayton is finished. After she leaves, he places her knife and fork beside each other. In formal dining, when people cross their silverware, it means they did not enjoy the meal. When they are placed next to each other, it means they are finished.
Alexander Skarsgård revealed he was not very apprehensive about the skimpy costumes he had to wear as Tarzan. He said, "I don't want to disappoint the audience. It was important to me that before he met other people, the character never used to wear clothes. It would look absurd if a man raised by apes would suddenly start blushing and covering up. Tarzan would go naked, and so I had to as well. The jungle's very humid. I'm quite pleased I didn't have to wear any clothes."
David Yates asked Margot Robbie to punch Alexander Skarsgård while directing their sex scene. He said, "It is an earthy moment of her enjoying sex with Alex. So I told her just slap Alex while you're making love. Give him a punch." Skarsgård said, "David wanted it to be primal and animalistic, so he egged us on. When you first meet them, they are very civilized and buttoned up. But the first sex scene is when they go back to the jungle." Robbie added, "We definitely got caught up in the moment."
Trainer Magnus Lygdback revealed to Muscle and Fitness magazine that ten days before filming, the filmmakers and Alexander Skarsgård panicked that he was not physically ready to start filming. He said, "Ten days before filming began, he had to do camera tests, and that was the first time he had taken his shirt off in front of cameras since the training began. He was on a very strict diet, so he looked flat, pale, didn't have volume in his muscle, and had way too much body fat. He was in great shape, but not how we wanted him to look. David Yates wasn't very happy." Skarsgård was in "very good shape but looked very soft with little muscle definition, due to excess fat, and his abs were not showing through as prominently as they wanted." Skarsgård said, "I was freaking out because we weren't quite where we wanted to be. I was eating what I was supposed to eat and rigorously training twice a day, but my body was holding on to that last bit of fat." Nevertheless, Lygdback assured them that it was a false alarm and that it was how pre-competition bodybuilders also looked. Changes were made to Skarsgård's diet and training regime "so that his body could burn away the last bits of body fat and shed all subcutaneous water, which was obscuring his muscle definition." By the time filming began ten days later, Skarsgård turned up on set "completely cut and shredded with a clearly defined full eight-pack of abs."
Trainer Magnus Lygdback revealed that Alexander Skarsgård impressed the entire cast and crew with his physical transformation. He said, "On the first day of filming, when he took off his shirt for the first time, the first thing you noticed was his huge back. You could hear people whispering; that's when I knew we had done it." Margot Robbie added, "Words failed me. My jaw was on the floor. As was everyone else's in the crew. People stopped working and were staring. Even the men were like, 'Wow.' It was amazing. He worked so hard; I am so impressed."
Alexander Skarsgård said his biggest fear in taking on the role was that his little brother, who was 7 years old, would think that Skarsgård "is a shit Tarzan." Skarsgård said his little brother looks up to Tarzan as "his ultimate hero," and he did not want to let his little brother down.
To get in Tarzan shape, Alexander Skarsgård spent four months training non-stop in an "intense and all-consuming" workout regime where he said he "basically didn't see any family or friends" for the duration of the training period. He bulked up using a heavy weight-lifting routine and chicken diet, eventually building highly developed eight pack abs as he is shirtless throughout the film. Director David Yates described Skarsgård's Tarzan look as more of a "modern man" that "still has big muscles," but is "more lean, more ripped, more vertical" than the audience has seen before.
On designing the look of Tarzan's physique, Alexander Skarsgård said, "It was a combination of putting on weight and being cut. I didn't want to just bulk up. When Tarzan moves through the jungle, it is important that it looks like he grew up there, that he looks like an animal. So I worked on being nimble and flexible. I worked a lot on the physicality because you can't have a bodybuilder swinging through the jungle; you have to look sleek and defined."
Captain Rom is based on Léon Auguste Théophile Rom, a Belgian soldier in the Congo Free State during the late 19th century. He became controversial for his brutal treatment of Africans in the Stanley Falls area. Missionaries said Rom used the severed heads of 21 Congolese to decorate his flower beds. He died in Brussels in 1924.
As part of the promotion for the film at the 2016 MTV Movie Awards, Alexander Skarsgård presented an award without his pants and wearing just a shirt, jacket and tight white underwear, showing off his muscular legs that he developed for the role of Tarzan. He said on stage, "Me Tarzan. I gotta give the fans a little skin," making a nod to his scanty costume in the film.
Alexander Skarsgård actively campaigned to keep Tarzan's iconic costume, the loincloth, in the movie. However, director David Yates vetoed him, and so the character wears pants in the film. Skarsgård explained, "The way the script is written, it opens in London. He's Victorian and he's acclimated to life in London, and then he goes back to the jungle. David was like, 'It doesn't make sense. That little loincloth's got to go.'"
Alexander Skarsgård revealed that he had to obtain the Tarzan physique twice for the film. The original shooting lasted eight months and he had to be in shape for that throughout. But six to seven months after the end of shooting, they went back to shoot for three days so Skarsgård had to go back on his training regime and diet for that. Skarsgård said, "I was on a strict diet and exercise plan for eight months to get in shape. It was really hard. I got called back again to do more filming months after wrapping up and I was like, 'Nooooo' because I didn't want to go back on the diet again."
Tarzan does not appear shirtless in this film until over one hour and 10 minutes into the film and director David Yates said that it was deliberately done on purpose to chart the character's arc. He stressed that the character when he first see him is the English Lord John Clayton and very slowly transforms back into Tarzan over the course of the film. He said they reflected that in the costume design by "performing a very slow strip-tease in a way" so that layers of Clayton's clothing come off one after the other until the scene where he is fully transformed back into Tarzan and you see him shirtless for the first time. There after, he remains that way throughout the rest of the film because he has now "finally embraced his identity as the Lord of the Jungle."
Alexander Skarsgård conceived his characterization very much as that of a superhero. He said, "I see Tarzan as the original superhero. But he doesn't need a cape or gadgets or a mutation to be bad-ass. His superpower lies in his fists. It's about what's a human being capable of physically. It's someone who learns to work with the jungle and not against it. Producer David Barron concurred, saying, "I do see this as a superhero movie. He has great physical prowess and his senses are finely tuned as a result of his upbringing."
Alexander Skarsgård's transformation was carried out in two major phases, the bulking and the cutting phase. During the bulking phase, for the first four months, Skarsgård did four to five weight training workouts per week, with additional abdominal workouts interspersed between them to work out for six to seven days per week. He did not do any cardio during this phase, as the focus was on adding mass. He did about sixteen sets for major muscle groups like legs, twelve sets for delts, legs and triceps and over twenty sets for the back. The rep range was about twelve reps per set, which he gradually reduced due to increasing weights, but he never did less than six to eight reps per set. He also consumed a whopping seven thousand calories per day. His trainer, Magnus Lygdback, remarked, "It was insane. What I eat in the entire day, he would eat in a single meal." Skarsgård ended the phase by putting on twenty-five pounds and getting up to 225 pounds in body weight. For the body-sculpting and cutting phase, his calories were dropped and the workout sessions were increased to about fourteen per week, including cardio workouts to shed fat. He was put on a diet devoid of sugar, gluten, wheat, dairy and alcohol, leading up to the start of filming.
A mobile gym was set-up on set for the benefit of Alexander Skarsgård by his trainer Magnus Lygdback. Lygdback would always have weights on hand for Skarsgard to work with between shots. Lygdback said, "This new Tarzan is very cut, very shredded. So for the shirtless shots, we want a very pumped look so Alex always likes to pump some weights before he is on". Skarsgard also used the surrounding jungle trees and terrain to do pull-ups and push-ups any chance he got as that further enhanced his on-camera look. Director David Yates said that he was astonished by Skarsgard's dedication. He said, " I have never seen an actor work so hard to get the body right. Alex worked so hard. He was constantly working out between takes to make sure he looked like the best version of Tarzan that you can imagine."
Warner Bros. had previously done the highly expensive Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) a few decades earlier, which was only a modest success at the box office, and they were understandably nervous about embarking on another large scale version 32 years later.
The very first draft of the film was loosely based on two original Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, "The Return of Tarzan" and "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar," but subsequent drafts evolved from that point to be a different take.
John Hurt was originally to have a role in the film, due to helping director David Yates get the film greenlit, but ultimately his scenes were deleted from the final film. On some trailers, Hurt's voice can be heard as the narrator.
Alexander Skarsgård chose not to shave his chest for his shirtless scenes in the movie even though that's a prevalent practice in blockbuster cinema of the day. He said, "I don't think Taran would wax his chest. In general Swedes are not very hairy. I am actually not that smooth but I don't have much chest hair either. But what I have I showed in the film."
Tarzan, contrary to all popular depiction of him, does not appear dark-skinned in this iteration. Make-up designer Fae Hammond revealed that they decided against giving star Alexander Skarsgård a deep brown tan because he had already turned up on set with a hyper-shredded physique and highly defined abs and tanning him further would have "made his body too distracting and in your face", making him appear as if he was "going to pose on a bodybuilding stage" or "be a gay icon". She said he clearly "didn't" need any help" so they let him retain his pale skin color as that made him appear more like a British lord in keeping with this "more reserved take on the character".
In the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan is the king of the apes. The apes are not gorillas, but a fictional species of great apes called the Mangani. Burroughs clearly differentiates between Mangani and gorillas when Tarzan fights and kills a gorilla in the first Tarzan novel. Although the apes in "The Legend of Tarzan" look like gorillas, it is the first film to use the name "Mangani" for Tarzan's ape tribe. One of Tarzan's native friends explains to George Washington Williams that the Mangani are more aggressive and dangerous than gorillas. Tarzan became king of the Mangani in the first Tarzan novel, but never became king in this film.
In this film Christoph Waltz eats a meal with a female character who is not a willing dinner companion. This scene is very similar to a scene in Inglourious Basterds (2009) in a Parisian cafe where he eats a meal with a female character who hates him.
The eel and lobster catching pots used as props in the one of the scenes, were made by community members from the city of Peterborough, England, at a community growing project called 'The Green Back Yard'. They were taught by a professional willow weaver and each eel pot took between 4 to 6 hours to make.