At Wondercon 2023, I was lucky enough to attend a roundtable interview with cast members from Knights of the Zodiac. The film, produced by Toei Animation and Stage 6 Films, is directed by Tomasz Baginski, bringing the Saint Seiya saga to the big screen in live action for the first time. The series was initially a manga in Weekly Shōnen Jump in the ’80s, and was then adapted into an anime series with 114 episodes. There are also spinoff series and a sequel manga.
At the event I had the opportunity to speak with Madison Iseman (“Sienna”), Mark Dacascos (“Mylock”), Diego Tinoco (“Nero”), Nick Stahl (“Cassios”) and Famke Janssen (“Guraad”). I asked each of the actors similar questions for consistency and the quotes have been edited for clarity.
Knights of the Zodiac premieres May 12th in theaters.
Jorgie Rodriguez: Can you tell our audience a little about your character in this film?
Nick Stahl: I play Cassios. He is one of the villains in the movie. He kind of becomes the enemy of [the protagonist] Seiya (Mackenyu); kind of a thug type character, a fighter, and his goal is to take this kid down, basically.
Madison Iseman: I play Sienna who is also the goddess Athena trapped in the mortal body of a young woman. She is sort of the heart of our story. She is introduced to Seiya early on, after he learns his true destiny, which is to become one of Athena’s knights and protect her at all costs. She is a little stubborn and hard-headed, but I like to think it comes from just being a frightened girl with quite literally the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Famke Janssen: Guraad is a very interesting woman. She is on a mission that she believes is to protect the world. The problem is that she has several issues. One being her arms have been annihilated when her adoptive daughter (the alleged reincarnation of Athena) was young and blew her arms off in a fit of rage. When she realized the potential of her at that age, what is it going to be like when she’s grown? She believes she needs to stop this from happening, and protect the world from a great danger, but that is going after her own daughter. And she needs something called “cosmo” for her arms to stay alive, because they are incredibly powerful, but only fed by cosmo, which comes from other people. There’s a lot of interesting aspects about Guraad but she grows through the film, which is nice to play in an action oriented film like this and have an arc.
Diego Tinoco: I play Nero, AKA the Phoenix Knight. Nero is a very complex and complicated individual; very committed, dedicated and deviously intelligent. At the beginning of the film we find him partnered up with the scientist Guraad. Together they are on a mission to eliminate the beautiful but deadly goddess of war Athena. We’re gonna see how dirty Nero is willing to play to accomplish what he wants in this film, no matter the cost.
Jorgie Rodriguez: What are some films that inspire you?
Diego Tinoco: I mean, there are so many talented directors. Alejandro Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón. Robert Rodriguez movies truly inspired me. I mean, Robert was directing, writing, producing, acting, everything in his first film called El Mariachi. And I think that one really did it, because they tell you, “yeah just focus on your one lane.” But no no no, if I can’t find a team to do this for me, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna put out the best work and let it level me up. Robert Rodriguez and all of his work definitely motivated me and still does to this day. I wanna work with him. I need to work with him.
Famke Janssen: Oh boy, those are so different from what people who are into this type of thing would know about. I love films from the 1920s and ’30s and 1970s, like The Godfather and Harold and Maude. I have a very different sensibility when it comes to film. I took a film class when I was at Columbia University in New York. It really inspired me to watch old movies that I had never been exposed to as a kid, so that really gave me my education in film.
Jorgie Rodriguez: How does it feel to get to share this with the fans now?
Nick Stahl: It’s exciting. We’ve been waiting a while for them to make the film look like it does now. We’ve been kind of patiently waiting to see how it turned out. And it’s cool, I’m really excited to unveil the trailer today and see how the fans react to it.
Madison Iseman: I am so excited. It’s been a long journey, you know, when we got announced two years ago, I guess it was. Watching people’s reactions, and we’ve even gotten in trouble for things that were dropped that weren’t supposed to be, and people catch onto things. These fans are so dedicated that they will hunt and find anything. Like once I posted a picture in my hotel room, and someone screenshotted and found a tiny piece of purple hair and like… Wow, they’re good. So I hope they’re really happy, because they’re the reason it’s even happening in the first place.
Jorgie Rodriguez: What is your favorite thing about this movie?
Nick Stahl: It’s a movie that can appeal to all ages. That’s what I like about it. It’s got something for everybody. It could be a family film. I haven’t really done a movie like this. There’s darkness, but there’s also this adventure fantasy element that makes it something I could take my thirteen-year-old to go see with me and feel good.
Madison Iseman: Everyone loved this project so much from the story to the characters. Everyone took so much time into making sure everything was done properly and the best that it could be, and with patience. I think that’s what you want everytime you go into a project. We shot 80% of the film on a green screen, talking to tennis balls. So when we filmed it, I had no idea what it was going to look like, so there was a lot of faith and trust. I think my favorite thing was watching it for the first time because it was a whole new experience. I was blown away like “oh my gosh that’s what it looks like?” I had no idea.
Famke Janssen: I’m beginning to get involved in astrology, but more the Greek mythology of it all, and this touches on that a bit. So that’s definitely a fun thing. It has great action sequences in it, which is great to watch; a great cast and it has heart.
Mark Dacascos: The favorite thing for me is the sensibility of hope. I was pleasantly surprised by how emotional I got watching some of the scenes. You see the scripts and it gets you, but seeing the actors do some of the scenes I was like, “Wow that got me.” It had humor, heart, lots of action and beautiful colors and pictures. Hope. Not just in the story, but working with the cast and crew. Everybody was really happy to be there and it was uplifting on set.
Diego Tinoco: I mean it’s no secret I’m playing the Phoenix Knight, which in the anime world is, to a degree, a superhero. So I think my favorite part of doing this movie is I’m a Latino coming from two different parents. My father comes from Morelia, Michoacán México, my mother comes from Quito, Ecuador. It’s very unlikely for you here; someone from immigrant parents who doesn’t live in LA, doesn’t live in Hollywood, to break into the industry, let alone play a superhero. So the fact that I get to do that and I get to inspire young Latinos from all around the world. It’s such an honor and privilege and I hope this message goes to all the kids out there that if you have a dream and you show up for your dream every day, you put 100% effort, that dream will turn into a reality.
Jorgie Rodriguez: What are some of your favorite action movies?
Nick Stahl: I like John Wick. You know Mark (Dacascos) is involved in those movies. I like those a lot. Andy Cheng movies. He did Shang-Chi. Typically action isn’t really my genre but I like those and I like this one.
Mark Dacascos: So this is the thing. Yes, I do love action. On camera and also my parents are martial artists. And to me, the action in the movie is ideally the physical dialogue right? So if you’re not saying it, you’re doing it. Whether it’s walking, running, the way you fight, that kind of stuff. I loved Iko Uwais in The Raid. For pure physicality, Tony Jaa is amazing. Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins, brilliant. And of course the old school that are still my favorites. Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. Into the Dragon is one of my favorite films of all time. And then, Jet Li’s Shaolin Temple. Jackie Chan’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Those three are probably my top three action films. But there are so many incredible martial artist action people out there that I know we haven’t seen yet.
Jorgie Rodriguez (to Mark Dacascos): How does working on a film like Knights of the Zodiac compare to working on John Wick?
Mark Dacascos: I think one of the big differences is the sensibility for sure. Both shows have action, and the John Wick franchise is fantastic. John Wick is definitely for older people; late teens and adults. But for Saint Seiya, you could have young kids to older people and I think they would be thoroughly entertained. I think the biggest thing is one is more hardcore action and violent, and ours is very adventurous, physical and fantasy action, while also having deep relationships and similar issues.
Jorgie Rodriguez (to Mark Dacascos): How would you compare the intensity of the stunts between the two films?
Mark Dacascos: The great thing about working with talented stunt actors is if we all do our parts right, nobody gets more than bruises. I’m happy to say on John Wick I had lots of bruises because Keanu is very strong. And when he grabs my arm and throws me around, I had bruises on my arms for days and I was hoping it would stay longer because it’s cool. “Keanu Reeves gave me that!” you know what I mean? But other than that, on Wick 3 and on [Knights of the Zodiac], just some bruises! And that’s by working with professionals. Andy Cheng did our action. Did you see Shang-Chi? Remember the big action sequence on the bus? That’s him. He’s worked with Jackie Chan and all that. I was in good hands.
Jorgie is a pop culture fan and contributor at POCculture.com. He loves learning about visual effects, production, film, and art, and how they all come together to make films like Star Wars.