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Staying Human in The Twilight Saga Challenges Actress Christian Serratos

As the ardor heats up for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and for its leads and various beasties such as the vampires and werewolves, it's easy to forget all the humans except that most desired one: Kristen Stewart's Bella. But there are the others, from the ever-surging actress Anna Kendrick as head geek Jessica to Billy Burke as poppa Swan.

And then there's actress Christian Serratos's bespectacled Angela Webber, who kind of reflects the film's own core girl-geek squad.

After the 20-year-old Serratos made it into The Twilight Saga, she started to tour the con circuit making sure that the humans other than Bella weren't forgotten. So she made it to New York last October after The Twilight Saga: New Moon was released, then to Anaheim this April, and also found time to bare all for PETA. And her few moments of screen time in the installments reveals real flashes of talent -- part of what she discusses in this exclusive interview conducted during one of those con excursions.

It's not like she's a total novice. Though she has limited screen time again in the third installment, she occupies an incredible ringside seat to see this Virgin-Vamp saga emerge and track how everyone has evolved in doing it. As close-up to the media circus as anyone, Serratos has not only witnessed the Twilight phenomenon from the inside out, she has felt the glare of that white-hot spotlight that Kris Stewart and Rob Pattinson have been subjected to throughout.

Q: Now that you know the characters, do you just go with it or do you rehearse?

CS: We definitely go over our stuff, our lines and work together, even off-set when we want to. The only real rehearsals are to get the stunts down. So the Cullens and the vampires have to deal with that.

Q: Did the mood on set change over time since everyone was already like a family, or was there more pressure because of the success?

CS: If anything, it went the other way. Once everyone realized how intense it was, everyone calmed down and relaxed. "Let's not think about it. Let's just do what we're here to do, make the fans happy and go home."

Q: Are the scripts tight or are there some things you make up while you're shooting?

CS: A lot of the improv was literally us trying to make each other mess up. It ended up working. It's really cool. It's funny to see what scenes they end up taking.

Q: It seems like all the actors have built a real sense of family.

CS: They have.

Q: Your character lasts throughout the series, so you're there for the long haul.

CS: Yeah. It's been great. Everyone is definitely close-knit. Everyone is family -- we all take care of each other. We all pick on each other and so it's great. I love everyone.

Q: Do you feel you learned anything from the more experienced actors on Twilight?

CS: Peter [Facinelli], who plays the dad, Dr. Carlisle -- he's pretty fatherly on set. But we all learn from each other.

Q: Do you guys crack each other up on the set?

CS: Yes. They're not specifically planned. We just mess with each other in general. I'm usually picked on the most. I'm not kidding. I'm an easy target. They like to mess with me.

Q: What did you do to immerse yourself in the whole vampire universe?

CS: What was really cool about this particular project is that we didn't have to. I mean, we did and we could, but we had the book.

Q: So you read the book beforehand?

CS: Oh, yeah.

Q: Some people advise that you shouldn't read the book before the role, and others go the other way.

CS: I couldn't help it. I remember being on the third one, and the fourth wasn't going to come out for another week or so. I could not possibly read just one page a day. I would go through a hundred pages a day. So I would force myself to just do one page a day, because I had to have my daily dose, but I didn't want to finish because I didn't want to have to wait.

Q: Have you met Stephanie Meyer?

CS: Yeah, she comes to the set a lot. She's really hands-on. She's really cool. I got a chance to meet her kids and talk to her about the movie and how she came up with it. She's really nice.

Q: Have you ever discussed your character with her?

CS: Yeah. She gave me solid little tips and stuff and told us little tidbits about our characters. I think that a lot of what she told us is now in the public and so everyone really knows the inside stuff.

Q: What is your favorite Twilight character?

CS: It would probably be Edward -- Edward and Alice. He's like the perfect guy ever, and [she] is pretty, sassy and cool. She's got a lot of great one-liners.

Q: Have you seen other vampire movies?

CS: Yeah, I've seen other vampire things, but not necessarily for research.

Q: There’s one, Daybreakers, where all the vampires are going to die because they're losing their blood supply.

CS: That sounds cool. I definitely want to go watch some of the other vampire flicks. I guess I have to go see that.

Q: What do you think of the vampire TV shows?

CS: I think it's cool, a vampire phenomenon. I have not watched any of them. I really want to get into True Blood because that's the one that everyone talks about.

Q: Do you have any dream projects you'd like to do?

CS: Sure. I'm very open to anything. I'd love to play someone who's insane or something, just so I can go flake out. I like a superhero. I know that's ironic. That's where we are, but seriously, it'd be really cool to play a superhero.

Q: Are you an anime fan?

CS: I'm really not. I'm not a really big comic book person. I know the typical Spider Man and Wonder Woman and Storm and that stuff. Don't quiz me, because I'm not good at things like that.

Q: Are you a fan of specific characters?

CS: I guess if anything, it would be [I Love] Lucy. I do have a lot of Lucy stuff.

Q: What about being in a Lucy biopic?

CS: That would be so cool. I know every single episode. The newer stuff would be Friends. I've seen every episode one too many times. I watch them for like the fifth time, each episode, and I still think they're funny.

Q: You seem to have your share of one-liners. Do you have a comic side to you?

CS: Yeah. That's how I started.

Q: When you think about your next project, do you want to look for a comedy, coming off of Twilight?

CS: I really like comedy. I'm into doing comedy. It'd be fun. [And] I would definitely like to do something a little more dramatic.

Q: Do you also sing?

CS: I do. I took a break from that when I got Twilight because it took up a big chunk of time. I'm going to get back at that, though.  

Q: What are your influences?

CS: I listen to the Mars Volta and Fiona Apple every day. I feel if you do write music, you write what you listen to and you couldn't possibly write in another genre. So those are the two that I usually use.

Q: Have you thought of bridging the two interests and doing musicals?

CS: That would be really cool. It would have to be a really bomb musical.

Q: A vampire musical.

CS: A vampire musical. That would be really cool. I'd be down for something like that. It would have to be something really creepy, like Repo. I feel if it's going to be a musical, it has to be really edgy.

Q: Can you imagine a Twilight musical?

CS: Imagine Robert [Pattinson] singing as Edward Cullen? That would be cool.

Q: The emotions in the film would [work] for breaking out into song.

CS: I feel that, too. It's actually funnier when you really think about it.

Q: Whom else do you admire?

CS: I love Sandra Bullock. I think she's really cute. Chelsea Handler, although she's more of a comedian, but I still really love her. Ian McGregor—love him. Parker Posey. So many.

Q: Do you have actors you want to work with that you especially admire? I can see you doing something like Parker Posey, who does all kinds of interesting roles.

CS: Right, and that's why I love her. There's nothing ordinary about the things that she picks. I think that you have to have guts to do some of things that she's done.

Q: Are there directors you want to work with?

CS: Gus Van Sant would be really awesome. I like Gus Van Sant. I like Steven Soderbergh. The guy that did Pan's LabyrinthGuillermo del Toro. And Steven Spielberg, naturally, just because he's Steven Spielberg. But there's a whole list of people. I wanted to work with Catherine Hardwicke before I got to work with Catherine Hardwicke. So I got to check that off my list and that was really cool.

Q: Would you work with her again?

CS: Oh God, yeah. I love Catherine.

Q: Whom do you get excited about meeting in the business?

CS: The J's from America's Next Top Model. I saw them at this US Weekly party and they were fabulous. I couldn't even go up to them. I just wanted to watch them, how they work, so that I can imitate it. They're so cool. Love that show,

Q: Do you get recognized a lot for Twilight or even for Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide?

CS: Yeah. It's usually when I'm in a Twilight-oriented environment. I do a lot of the Twi-Cons and I get recognized a lot. But I don't wear my glasses on a daily basis. Those are the ones that I wore in the film. So it's pretty easy. I just take off my glasses.

Q: You haven't had to suffer too badly from the press, right?

CS: Not too bad. There have been a couple of incidents. You think that you can ease into it. Not with this project. It's going to be hardcore.

Q: Do you keep the fans in mind while making the film?

CS: Absolutely. When we first started working on it, we all did our research. We went online and saw what the fans had to say because this is definitely a fan movie. We love the fans.

Q: Has there been something that a fan did that made you nervous?

CS: There was one guy in Vancouver. I don't even think he was fan. I didn't get close enough to ask. He sat outside our place. We had a Starbucks across the street, so we'd go over there every day. He would follow me.

My friend came into town and I told her about it. We were having fun with it and trying to get away from him. We went behind the Starbucks into the alley, to go home because it connected. So we were strolling along, cracking up because we lost him. All of a sudden, he comes up the alley.

Q: Do you ever think about not taking parts that give you a high profile?

CS: You're definitely right, yeah.

Q: You were on Hannah Montana?

CS: I was on one episode and in one scene. Alexa—that was the character's name. I was having a party and I wanted to invite everyone, and that was it.

Q: Was it a big adjustment living in Vancouver?

CS: No, I love traveling. I love going to other places. It may be hard when I get there, like it was in Germany. I don't care. I like seeing a new place.

Sometimes we're only there for a millisecond and all you get to see is things on a taxi ride to the airport. I still think it's cool. You walk away with souvenirs, like different currencies and stuff. That's fun.

Q: What's the farthest you've traveled so far?

CS: Germany. It's so cool. They have amazing architecture. That place is beautiful.

Q: Do you ever get jet lag traveling all over the world?

CS: I don't anymore. I think I've gotten used to forcing myself to fall asleep at a certain time because I have to wake up early.

There are definitely days where I feel too tired and I feel my body can't take it and I feel like I'm going to pass out. Other days I'm just stoked.

You have to wake up around 4:00 in the morning because we have 4:00 A.M. pick-ups. So sometimes we're like, "No, we're not getting up." That's why it's really cool to have everyone living next door to you in this big house. They just bang on your door. I don't know how many times we've woken up each other banging on the door, half asleep, saying, "Get up."

Q: How much time do you have in between to do other projects, and what opportunities has this opened up for you?

CS: It's opened up a lot of doors. There are a lot of opportunities that get shot our way, which is great. But they've been doing these so quickly that no one really has time to do anything else. When they do, it's very planned out and very coordinated. So there's really no time for random things.

Q: You started out pretty much as a kid. How does it feel maturing through this whole process? Do you take it less seriously because you see it for what it is?

CS: I don't think I take it less seriously...

Q: Will you do more risky roles, ones with more sexuality or nudity in them?

CS: I don't know about that. But I don't mind risqué or edgy. Nudity? I feel it's super-important when it comes to some projects, and I feel it's completely ridiculous and stupid when it comes to others. So it would definitely depend.

Sherie Rene Scott Gives Audiences "Everyday Rapture"

She earned a Tony Award nomination for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and originated the role of the sea witch Ursula in Broadway's The Little Mermaid. Yet Sherie Rene Scott still calls herself "a semi, semi semi-star" in her Tony- and Drama Desk-nominated semi, semi semi-autobiographical Broadway show Everyday Rapture, which runs through July 11, 2010, at the American Airlines Theatre.

Scott's not-quite one-woman-show, which earned equally rave reviews Off-Broadway last year, was a quickly slotted replacement for the Roundabout Theater Company's Lips Together, Teeth Apart, shuttered during rehearsals after co-star Megan Mullally pulled out. 

For Scott, 43, that became the kind of now-go-out-there-and-come-back-a-star break of which showbiz legends are made. After many theater roles including Amneris in Broadway's Aida and the title role in the Off-Broadway musical Debbie Does Dallas, she seems happily overwhelmed by all the attention she's getting for her show about, well, getting out there and trying to be a star -- even when you come from a Mennonite family.

Scott, who with husband Kurt Deutsch co-founded the Grammy Award-winning cast-recording label Sh-K-Boom Records (pronounced "shik-a-boom"), spoke in her backstage dressing room shortly before earning Tony Award nominations for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical and, as co-writer with Dick Scanlan, Best Book of a Musical.


Q: One reviewer, writing about the show's original Off-Broadway run, compared you favorably to Bette Midler as a "diva-as-trash-goddess." How does one take that?

SRS: One doesn't. (laughs) The word "diva," I don't even know what that means; I'm so not a diva. But I love that I've created this character who is a diva, and it's fun to play this character who happens to have my name, this character who I think is much less insightful than I like to think I am, and this character who is wrong in all the right ways -- that kind of foul, sexy, grungy [persona] that I am more interested in [playing] than some kind of, I don't know, ingénue part, I guess. Old ingénue!

Q: People call Everyday Rapture semi-autobiographical, but as you say, the show's Sherie is just a character. How much should we take as genuine? Are you really half-Mennonite --referring to the generally Amish-like religious group -- for instance?

SRS: In a way. A funny thing happened when [co-writer Dick Scanlan and I]  were writing. When I would write completely factual stories, everyone thought I was making them up. So what we were able to do is write stories that are really genuinely true, but are not necessarily factual.

Q: So about the half-Mennonite thing…?

SRS: That's true. My dad wasn't -- my mother married a non-Mennonite.

Q: So when she married a non-Mennonite, your mom was shunned?

SRS: Her whole family was almost shunned. [Her church] stopped shunning with my mother. Most Mennonites don't shun.

Q: Have any Mennonites complained about the show?

SRS: No; Mennonites love it.

Q: Mennonites come see Broadway shows?!

SRS: Oh, yeah. There are different levels. None of my family's been to see the show, though. They're not interested in theater; never were. But now my mom says she really wants to see me on The View; that's her dream. Barbara Walters did love the show, I have to say.

Q: This theater used to be the Selwyn back in the good ol' days of Times Square B-movies and peep shows. Do you remember that 42nd Street?

SRS: I would try not to walk down it. When I was in [the rock opera] Tommy [beginning in 1993], we used to trade stories about what heinous things were said or done to us on the way from the subway to the St. James Theatre. I remember we'd see baby carriages and think it was tantamount to child abuse! It was usually a crazy person carrying around a voodoo doll or something. 

A friend's mother came from Canada, and in-between shows she was going to go see a movie. And she wanted to go see that new Kevin Costner movie that was playing on 42nd Street: Dances with Foxes!

Q: (laughs) How long did it take her to find out it wasn't Dances with Wolves?

SRS: Not too long. At first she thought,  "This is New York -- maybe all movie theaters have people in raincoats with odd smells." I think it was very soon into the previews [that she caught on].

Q: In your show, one conceit is that Idina Menzel had actually replaced you in Wicked. That really happen?

SRS: No, I wasn't in Wicked.

Q: Was she okay with being a presence in your play?

SRS: She came to see it at [Off-Broadway's] Second Stage; she and [husband] Taye [Diggs], and they got a real big kick out of it.

Q: The whole Idina Menzel riff was a very funny bit. That and the one about strangling the cat.

SRS: Yes. Any kind of cat strangulation usually goes over well.

Everyday Rapture
American Airlines Theater
227 W. 42nd St
New York, New York 10036
(212) 719-1300

Runs through July 11, 2010

For more by Frank Lovece:

Exclusive: Author Danny Peary on "Baseball's Reluctant Hero"

I was never much for sports even though I grew up in a town like Cincinnati where the Reds were kings. When I was in junior high, if the coach put together a playing squad, which ever side lost the coin flip, they got me. So I never got into sports beyond collecting baseball cards and eventually I sold them preferring to amass vinyl records, read comics and see movies.

But I never forgot that 1961 season when the Cincinnati Reds battled the New York Yankees in the World Series (they lost) and Roger Maris beat Babe Ruth's batting record of 60 home runs in one season. At the time, I had a vague appreciation of the impact of this feat but over the years, after all the steroid charges leveled at players who went on to beat Maris's record, I came to appreciate the enormity of his toppling Ruth's place on Olympus.

What I didn't get until I read co-authors Tom Clavin and Danny Peary's book Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster) was the contextual significance of this act, what it reflected of the culture at the time and, more importantly for me, it humanized a shy ball player who I had previously cared little about because I was more into rebellious rockers or loner film stars than team-conforming sports figures.

In fact, I would have looked askance at the book or Maris' story if it hadn't been co-written by Peary, who also happens to be the guy who wrote a series of film books including Alternate Oscars (1993); Guide for the Film Fanatic (1986); Omni's ScreenFlights/ScreenFantasies: The Future According to the Science Fiction Cinema (1984); Cult Movie Stars (1991) and the three Cult Movies books.

Being the film and genre geek that I am, I had read most of his books and they were a big part of my cinematic education -- so when Danny e-mailed me about his new book, it aroused my interest; especially to understand how his fascination with film transfers to that of his interest in sports, particularly baseball.

Now his writing partner, Clavin, seems particularly well-suited to complement Danny with his own set of literary achievements having written 11 books on pop culture and sports, and he has been a New York Times reporter as well.

So I sent off to a set of questions to Danny cross-referencing his fascinating book about an under-regarded sports figure with his love of covering films.

Q: How would you describe the difference in writing about film and sports.

DP: Film is an art, and art tends to be subversive so the people who read my film writing tend to be receptive when I express any left-wing bias. I don't necessarily censor myself when writing about sports but I am aware that my audience is more conservative, so I make sure I'm clear with what I write when I venture on the baselines, rather than assuming that everyone automatically understands and agrees with what I'm saying.

Otherwise, I think I write similarly, not writing for other writers in my field but hoping to stimulate readers, even surprise them with my unusual takes on subjects. I always view myself as an outsider looking in, so my thoughts are typically different from others, which I believe is my most positive attribute.

When I write about both, I try to share my passion, which has been there since childhood, and to be somewhat conversational because I am revealing my thought process as I try to discuss a film or sports event and in many cases "figure it out" as a detective would. Readers respond, I think, because they can relate to how I try to find the keys to a mystery.

I love exploring themes in movies and in the lives of ballplayers like Roger Maris, and movie people. That usually leads to my emphasizing to the reader that a director, screenwriter, character, manager/coach, or ballplayer makes huge (though often seemingly subtle) choices, going in one direction and not in another, at pivotal points in the "storyline." I do care about the "Who?" and "What?" but the question I always want answered in film or sports is: "Why?"

Q: Because Roger Maris has been dead since 1985, you were obviously unable to interview the main character for your biography. What were the advantages and disadvantages of that?

DP: I found it amusing that a couple of Roger's teammates told me that when they asked him questions he might not give a reply until the next day, if at all. They loved Roger and that was fine with them. Maris was at best an inconsistent interviewee and could be dreadful even when he tried because not only did he not want to talk about himself, but also he could never figure out what reporters or readers would find important. So even if he patiently answered questions, he would never offer anything that wasn't asked for specifically.

Of course I would have loved to have spoken to Maris but I'm not sure he would have given me anything better than what Tom and I found in our research, taking a few good lines he said in, say, 1960, and a few good lines in, say, 1967, and a few more good lines he said long after he retired, and putting all those lines together to make one solid interview.

That he didn't want to write an autobiography or have anyone write a bio about him, and didn't want a TV-movie made about 1961 (long before Billy Crystal's HBO film 61*) tells me he wouldn't have been a great interview for this book. There were four things I really would have wanted to talk to him about and fortunately late in the research I discovered he did touch on three of them late in his life.

He said overall he was happy that he played major league baseball despite his miserable treatment in New York; he thought he was foolish for sitting out a game after hitting his 60th homer although he had only a few games left to try to break Babe Ruth's record -- because he said the difference between having hit 61 homers and 60 was enormous; and he believed he would have had a much better career if the fans hadn't booed him, which, he finally admitted, really hurt him. I would have liked to have asked him about the fourth subject, his relationship with his strange mother. But I'm sure he would have refused to tell me anything.

Q: By their very nature, ballplayers seem more taciturn than actors being more physical and less in their heads. Do you draw a distinction between interviewing performers and ball players?

DP: That hasn't been my experience with ballplayers. Roger Maris, a shy, private Midwestener who had many family secrets, was an exception because he never liked answering questions after 1960 -- although most ballplayers aren't always patient about answering the same old questions after games, particularly losses. It's not always cool to talk to reporters. Young ballplayers aren't particularly worldly and unless they came from Japan or Latin America don't have particularly interesting life stories, but they are media savvy at least.

Although Maris would have tested me, I prefer interviewing older ballplayers -- my big baseball book was about 1947-1964 -- because if they know you are a true baseball fan and know of their careers and all the obscure people they played with, and, thus, can ask interesting questions, they will talk endlessly about their fascinating lives and careers.

Most of the old-timers didn't go to college or even finish high school, but I've never walked away thinking that they were anything less than smart. Maybe it's because they can tell I'm genuinely grateful to them for their contributions and making my childhood wonderful and they appreciate that I'm a fan first that we instantly bond and they feel they can give me their "A" answers.

With film people, I am rarely interested in their personal lives,or anything about their main squeezes and the names of their dogs. I always like talking about the movies and their characters. I think they appreciate that I'm not into "stars" and will ask questions that make them think and say things about the movie they never thought of until then.

Q: You've a learned a lot about a life that lead up to those two great years of ultimate success with the Yankees and of the hidden conflicts both in Maris's personal and professional life. How did you contextualize all that incorporating the big themes in his life.

DP: The two major reasons we wanted to do a biography of Roger Maris were to relive the greatest summer of our childhoods, when Maris bested [Mickey] Mantle in an incredible home-run race and broke Babe Ruth's unbreakable single-home run record on the last day of the season, and, having been witnesses, to correct to wrong impression today that Maris wasn't a great player who had many more than two outstanding seasons (he was an All-Star before he played for the Yankees) and isn't worthy of being regarded as a hero and a Hall of Famer.

We knew going in that Maris's sorry reputation today is the result of his being the first sports celebrity that the changing press of 1960-66 tried to destroy with unfair, negative coverage. But as researchers we set out to figure out why the writers, particularly in New York, tried to destroy Maris's psyche and image and turn the fans against him. We found that it was because they never wanted Ruth's record broken, they wanted their idol Mantle to break it if anyone did, and they were angry at Maris because didn't trade them interesting quotes for favorable coverage and in 1962 boycotted them.

Also we wanted to know why Maris was so ill-prepared to be a celebrity and handle the media, beyond that fact that he was shy and a Midwesterner who believed inquisitive reporters were intruding on his privacy. We talked to family and friends from the time he was an infant and discovered that he was so tight-lipped because he'd grown up keeping family secrets. His own parents hated each other and fought constantly, often when drinking; his mother had affairs everyone seemed to know about; and there was drinking, feuding, and dysfunction on both sides of the family.

Maybe to forget his early years, he didn't even tell people that he was born in Hibbing, Minnesota (famous for Bob Dylan and Kevin McHale) rather than Fargo, North Dakota, or that he and his parents and brother changed their name from Maras. Perhaps even more significant is that Roger was uncomfortable boasting about his accomplishments because he felt he was having the career that his one-year-older brother Rudy was supposed to have before contracting polio, which we think was the pivotal moment in Roger's life.

Maris always thought that Rudy was the better athlete and would have hit 62 homers if given the chance. He was wrong.

For more by Brad Balfour:

Exclusive: Sci-Fi Horror Hybrid Alive in "Splice"

Every year at the Sundance Film Festival, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation gives out special awards to filmmakers and screenwriters who craft a project with a scientific underpinning. Minus its creature, Splice could have been one of those films with its forceful depiction of actual science at work.

Best known for his debut feature Cube in 1997, American-Canadian Vincenzo Natali masterminded his latest, Splice. Genetic modification scares the bejeezus out of people. They don't want to allow such manipulation of humans, and least of all, cloning. But in Splice, the implications of such fiddling go beyond mere medical expediency. This hondling (okay, "manipulating" in Yiddish) creates a being beyond human control.

Famed young scientists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) have a talent for splicing DNA from different animals into bizarre hybrids for medical purposes. But in this science fiction-horror film, they go a step too far: They splice in human DNA. Their corporate backers are aghast. So Clive and Elsa experiment in secret, and Dren (Delphine Chaneac) is the result.

She is an amazing creation whose rapid life cycle takes her from baby to adult in a matter of months. Clive and Elsa struggle to keep "her" a secret, but their connection to their "offspring" devolves from the scientific to the personal. Ultimately, Dren exceeds the couple's wildest fantasies -- and their most terrifying nightmares.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, to a nursery school teacher/painter mother and a photographer father, Natali is a cultural hybrid (with Italian and English coding in his DNA). Raised in Toronto, Canada, he attended the Ryerson University film program before getting hired as a storyboardist at the Nelvana Animation Studios.

Cube became a worldwide success, grossing $15 million in France, emptying wallets in Japan and breaking box office records for a Canadian film. It took Best Canadian First Feature at the Toronto International Film Festival, and Natali went on to direct 2002's Cypher and Nothing in 2003 before finally getting Slice pieced together.

Following its release, writer/director Natali's next efforts are expected to be an adaptation of J.G. Ballard's futuristic novel High Rise and a 3-D remake of the Wes Craven comic-book-based horror film Swamp Thing for producer Joel Silver. The Hollywood Reporter recently announced, however, that Natali was to replace Joseph Khan as director of the highly anticipated adaptation of cyberpunk author William Gibson's 1984 masterwork, Neuromancer.

As a certified sci-fi geek, I was psyched for a verbal poke around Natali's past and future film lab.

Q: Rather than worrying about narrative implications, you err on the side of the fantastical, creating a creature that serves a science-fiction fan. Wrong or right?

VN: I always felt the most human character of this film was going to be Dren. And really, if there's something special about the film, it's the fact that it's about how the monster emerges in the humans.

Unlike a lot of Frankenstein-type stories it's not about the creature escaping into the world and wreaking havoc. It's the opposite. It's about how the scientists cage their creation and it becomes a catalyst for opening dark doors to dark places within themselves.

Q: Did it create dark places for the cast as well? Were there anguished debates?

VN: No, it was a surprisingly happy set actually. I was probably the only one who was anguished because it was such a tight shoot. But I had a lovely cast; they were very supportive of me and the making of this film. They have to do some pretty scary, transgressive things, and never bat an eye. They were very much into it all the way through.

Q: I can imagine the debates between you and Sarah Polley, who is a political activist as well as an actor and director. Obviously you had to cast a Canadian for funding purposes. But besides that, Polley is the perfect person for a film with any kind of political implication

VN: Right. Sarah was always on the top of my list, regardless of her nationality, because she's so intelligent on the screen and I needed actors who we could believe are brilliant geneticists while still being attractive. Also you have make an emotional connection to the characters, even when they're doing really transgressive, horrible things.

Sarah was just great to work with. I really respect the fact that, in spite of being an excellent writer/director, herself, she came to the film purely as an actor and treated me with tremendous respect. She's a lovely person. They're all great people.

Q: What was the discussion like?

If you were in on some of the rehearsals, you would have thought we were making a Generation X romantic comedy because we were really talking about the characters and their relationship to one another and not so much about the morality of the science or anything like that.
That kind of came along for the ride.

It was very important for me with Clive and Elsa that we believe this couple, that we like them, that we understand the dynamics of their relationship, because they're fairly complicated. That was mostly where the discussion took place.

Other than that, Sarah and Adrien just got it. When Sarah read the script, to be perfectly honest, all modestly aside, she said there was no role she's ever read for that she wanted more. She didn't read for the role, we offered it to her, but there's no role that she had read that she wanted more than Elsa. She just got it and I think the same was true of Adrien.

Q: Polley isn't known for her science-fiction film roles but Adrien certainly is, having done King Kong. That must have been an interesting pair; that was another transgressive situation. Did he appreciate the irony? Did that have an influence on your choice?

VN: No I don't think so. I cast Adrien for exactly the same reason as Sarah in so much as I thought he comes across as highly intelligent, a little bit geeky, and really lovable, and kind of hip too. I'm willing to bet that Clive in the film is about as close to the real Adrien as any part he's ever played, minus sleeping with a mutant. But he's a very affable, lovable person, much like Clive.

So that was really my motivation for casting him. It was good that he did King Kong because he understood the technology and understood what it means to work with creatures, real and imagined. And that was essential because Dren, much like Kong in the film, is a character, she's not hidden in the shadows, she's part of the fabric of the story.

Q: I read that you found the actress who played Dren on the street, but then she came in for an audition.

VN: It's confusing.

Q: I would have gone to Cirque du Soleil to cast that person.

VN: We wanted to go to Cirque du Soleil, but they won't share their performers. They wouldn't let us. They wouldn't share names or anything because they want to keep their talents. I met a girl from Cirque du Soleil once, and she took me to one of their secret performances, so that was interesting. That was years ago.


Q: Sounds pretty provocative.

VN: It was pretty provocative. But with Delphine, she was always coming in to the audition.

Q: And this was Paris?

VN: This is in Paris. We were specifically casting Dren in Paris because this is a France-Canada co-production, so it made sense to cast Dren there because she's a non-speaking role -- and of course it's not that hard to find beautiful women in Paris who don't have to speak  English. With Delphine, she was the very first person who came into the audition, so we happened to see her on the street, not knowing that she was going to be auditioning for us.

My producer, Steve Hoban, said to me, "Well that looks like a Dren," and that turned out to be her. She's very beautiful and a lovely person too. And very talented; she's written two novels, she's a musician as well as being an actor. She's a very interesting person. I had a very intelligent cast. I had a very bright group of people working with me.

Q: What did you do to research the science of it?

VN: I co-wrote Splice in quite close consultation with a geneticist. Then, when we went to make the film, we had several geneticists consulting with us. The amazing thing about those discussions was that whenever I would propose an idea I thought was ludicrous or beyond the realms of possibility they'd always say, "Oh, no, you can do that."

The truth is stranger than fiction, especially when you're talking about biotechnology. It's fucking weird. It just gets bizarre. So in the process of writing the script, I began to realize we should make the lab environments real. We should scale everything down to a human, real level.

Q: And you made it contemporary.

Contemporary, exactly. There's no reason to set this in the future. There is some technology in the film that doesn't currently exist, but it seems entirely plausible.

Q: Do you ever worry about the film -- not just the cast -- being too smart?

VN: No. Is it that smart?

Q: Couldn't you have just made a story about scientists debating over this issue without adding in the creature? Why do you need the science fiction at all?

VN: It's interesting because there are aspects of the film that are quite pulpy, which I like. I'm a bit greedy as a filmmaker, or desperate, because I don't get to make movies very often and so when I do I throw in the kitchen sink, like I want everything.

Tonally, the film definitely goes in a number of different directions. There's quite a bit of comedy and outrageous behavior in it. And yet at the same time, some of the moral questions and I think the complexity of the relationships...[operate] at a fairly high level. I think maybe there could be some discontinuity between those two things, but no, I didn't worry about it being too smart. I just don't think about those things.

Honestly, in all of my films, for better or worse, I've really tried to do something a bit different, and I've paid the price. All of these films have been really hard to make, and a number of them have languished in obscurity. I've made my bed so I'll lie in it.

Q: At least you got to be buddies with director Guillermo del Toro, who served as your executive producer.

VN: Guillermo is truly a great impresario of the fantastic arts. I think he supported me -- he supported many other filmmakers and artists -- and I had met him at a film festival and he said, "I'd really like to produce a film for you," which was extraordinary to me because I'm a huge admirer of his, and I immediately thought of Splice, which was a script that had been gathering dust.

Q: That was your script?

VN: I co-wrote it, yes. It had been gathering dust on a shelf simply for the reasons stated, which are it's kind of a hard thing for a studio to digest, and yet it could never be a low-budgeted film because the creature effects were always going to have a certain price tag and on camera all the time. So it was just kind of a bad combination in terms of trying to raise money.

When Guillermo came on board, a lot of doors opened. His name legitimized me and the film, and kind of contextualized it in a way that made people think this could be commercial. It's been a very long and painful pregnancy and a difficult birth as well.

Believe me, the metaphors are easy to come up with on this film because it questions life-imitates-art in the making of this movie, but it really felt like a pregnancy.

I had this movie inside me for a long time, and intuitively I felt if I don't make this film someone else is going to do something very much like it. It was pregnant in the world, out there, just the real science seemed to be mimicking what we had written in the script, so I felt like this has got to be done. And it was.

In a way, the film has been imbued with this life force. And while at every step it's been challenging it's almost like it willed itself into existence; it sort of always found a way.

Q: Does a movie like this always get developed with the potential of a sequel?

VN: No. I know that the ending is open and it seems leading.

Q: It's almost like a classic science-fiction trope.

VN: No, it really does and I kind of resisted it a bit for that reason. But it's the right ending; I thought this is the right ending for our characters and it just seemed very appropriate. But truly, I swear to God, I did not write it with any intention of sequelizing the film. Although, having said that, now maybe there will be a sequel.

Q: You're also interested in making a film of the late British writer J.G. Ballard's futuristic novel High Rise, and you're working on William Gibson's Neuromancer. Which is coming first?

High Rise is cheaper. It might be a little more dangerous commercially speaking, but I don't know. I've been working on High Rise for a long time, so it's at very advanced stage. I have a great producer, Jeremy Thomas [a longtime British filmmaker who has produced everyone from Nicholas Roeg to Bernardo Bertolucci].

Q: Given the films he's made, he's a guy who gets it.

VN: Exactly. He gets it and can make challenging films like High Rise. So I think High Rise is a distinct possibility. It's shocking to me, talking about technology out of control, but it's shocking to me how information travels now by the internet. I haven't officially signed onto Neuromancer literally, but it's all over the place.

Q: Does that make production companies more or less interested to see it done?

VN: I hope more interested. That's why I think maybe the internet technology is great. Certainly it helped Splice. Splice was languishing for a year after I finished it looking for distribution in North America, and it's really thanks to the internet via Sundance that the film created a buzz.

Q: How did Sundance help you?

VN: It saved the film. And truly our guardian angel was Joel Silver; he came in and swooped us away and has been nothing but supportive and protective of us.

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