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Q: Did you identify with your character?CM: I think mainly in the way she feels about school. I got quite bored with school towards the end. When I was 14, I was really academic, and then I slowly lost interest in it towards the more important parts. It was just that I felt like I was doing things to tick boxes and to get on another level, and to just pass that exam so that I could get onto that exam, and I just thought, “This isn’t interesting and I’m not learning anything that I’m interested in.” I just felt like I was doing it for other people, and I was doing it to please other people. But then I didn’t take advantage of my education, and that’s quite sad. I admire Jenny, in that she really does want to learn and feel passionately about things. [I attended] a really nice school in Surrey, and we went on really amazing school trips to really amazing places, even just museums in London or concerts and things. But it was just an opportunity for us to run out and find a Pizza Hut that serves alcohol, like where can we get drunk in 45 minutes before we have to be at this thing. So I related to her in the fact that she wanted to escape all of that, because I thought it must be better somewhere else. Q: You and the other actors have a lot of theater experience. With this movie that would contribute to making some of the set pieces in the house and some of the other interactions work because you’re really familiar with that kind of interplay of dialogue, that talk back and forth. Did the film have a theatrical, on the stage quality to you?CM: When you do a play you come away from it feeling like you’ve really acted for a bit. But it pretty much would have come out of lots of people who are brilliant and have done a lot of film. It’s the cast [that matters] — when you get a group of people together who genuinely like each other a lot, and make each other feel comfortable. Those sort of things work when everyone feels at ease with each other, and so you don’t feel nervous about making mistakes or are embarrassed. Because I was probably the least experienced person, [that was] certainly the case for me. I never felt embarrassed, and that was because I was around a lot of people who don’t worry about perceptions of themselves like that. So it had more to do with that; I’ve not done that much theater [actually]. We didn’t have a huge amount of time [for rehearsal]; we had 6½ weeks and then two days in Paris. Q: Did you enjoy having a chance to live through the experience of the ‘60s — especially with the clothes, and hair?CM: It was great; I loved all that. It’s always helpful to put on the shoes of the character you’re playing, and it certainly helps wearing a school uniform. And then being surrounded by girls who really were 16 or 17 years old; all the extras that age were really helpful. When you wear no makeup, or film no makeup — which is lots of makeup to make it look like you’re not wearing anything — and a school uniform, and then someone puts on a nice dress and does your makeup, you do feel like you’ve been done up and transformed.
You walk around and don’t feel so horrible in front of the crew; all those things make you feel generally better about yourself. It was great and it was fun, with girls false eyelashes are always fun.Q: Was the '60s music a revelation?CM: Lone [Scherfig, the director] made me lots of CDs before we started shooting. Also they’d written this sort of soundtrack, or the piano piece that goes over the whole film, and I had a minute of that, it was put on one of the CDs. And then it was on my iTunes and I didn’t know what it was, and six months later I was going through it and played it. I had no memory of where it had come from, so I labeled it because I was going through a labeling phase. I labeled it as “Pretty Song." It wasn’t until I went to Sundance and heard the song that I realized it was from this. I love the music in the film; the Duffy track at the end is cracking.Q: What was Lone's direction like? CM: she doesn’t see the task of making a film as stressful. I’m sure she has enormous stress, but you never feel that stress from her, and she sees it as a really joyful thing that we’ve all be given this gift of a script. So it does feel very measured really.Q: Do you think that 16-year-old girls nowadays could fall in love as easily as a girl in the ‘60s?CM: Yeah, definitely. Probably the only difference is that I wouldn’t advocate getting in the car in 2009. Don’t get in the car. But then, my dad would tell me that when he played on the streets — he'd played football in Liverpool when he was growing up — if you got thirsty you just knocked on the door and asked someone for a glass of water.You just wouldn’t do that now. So I think the only difference is she wouldn’t have got in the car. God, girls at my school would just go crazy, and instantly, and I don’t even think Jenny ever falls in love with him; I think she loves him and finds him endearing and he introduces her to a different world, but I don’t think she’s in love. I don’t think the sex would be so calculated. But I think she does love him.Q: Is she more in love with her projection of herself in that world?CM: Absolutely. She’s becoming who she thinks she wants to be, and then realizes of course she’s not. There’s one good thing that someone said the other day, there are a few shots in the film where the lighting changes, or moments when she’s realizing stuff about herself that she doesn’t particularly like, and every time there’s a shot like that, in the car when she reads and she finds out that he’s married, and there’s another moment as well, the makeup suddenly doesn’t sit on her face anymore; it looks like she’s put on her mum’s shoes and done her makeup. The lips look wrong and the eyes look wrong, and I like that. I think the lighting suddenly becomes harsh and you see a really young face with too much makeup on it, and you suddenly see her, and those are the moments when she realizes that she’s just gone way too far.Q: It wasn't a problem for a girl that young to get involved with a guy that old? Not a problem conceptually, but did it seem realistic?CM: Oh absolutely; definitely.Q: You get a chance to live 16 again, so were there things you've thought about or learned or reflected on so that you say, "At least I didn’t do that," or "Oh yeah, I didn’t think about that?"
CM: She’s more rebellious than I was; I wasn’t that interesting. And I wasn’t that bold either; I would never have got in the car, and not even in the ‘60s, I would have just walked away and waited for the bus. I think I wish I’d taken more advantage of the stuff I got to at school. I think I wasted quite a lot of time. I had fun, but I didn’t do very much.We went on a choir trip once to Washington and we spent the whole time being like, “Oh it’s so hot.” Like, come on; we had amazing opportunities and threw them away, and I feel a bit guilty about that. Every time I do a job I’m always amazed by how knowledgeable people are, and on Wall Street, the amount that Oliver [Stone, the director] and Shia [LeBouf] and Frank [Langella] and Michael [Douglas] have all learned about, they already knew so much, but the amount they know about finance and the economy, and I kind of come in a go, “God, give me a copy of The Economist, I need to figure out what the hell you’re all talking about.” So I think I’m trying to learn more for myself than I was before. I was kind of coasting along before, quite happily ignorant.Q: Have you ever tried singing?CM: I sang a lot at school but I’ve never done it professionally.Q: Who are your role models as actresses?CM: I think people who’ve had interesting, varied, gone back and done plays and lots of different things. Like Samantha Morton, Emma Thompson obviously, Kate Winslet, Toni Collette, Claudie Blakley, but lots of American actresses as well. Penelope Cruz; I met her in Toronto and almost cried. Q: [Actor] Dominic Cooper [of An Education] said you went to lots of readings and auditions together but never got the role. What do you remember from that time?CM: I love how he’s telling that story. The reason Dominic and I know each other is that, when [the production company] Working Title has a new film they have a big roundtable read and they just ring up actors to come play the parts, not necessarily the people who will play the parts, and in our case, definitely not. So we’ve been in, a fair few times where we’ve been called in to play very small parts in big films, and we sit around and we get really horribly nervous because we’ve got like three lines and then we just make a complete mess of it and then they never call us.
Then you find out when you watch the film that everybody else around the table ended up playing those parts, apart from me and Dominic. So that’s how Dominic and I met basically, by being rejected together.Q: Dominic made it sound much more glamorous when he was telling it.CM: He does.Q: After all that rejection how do you feel about everybody saying this movie is a big vehicle for you?CM: I’m amazed by the reviews. I’m not amazed [in that] I think it’s a lovely film, but I think it’s been wonderful to be part of something that people seem to genuinely like. But it hasn’t come out yet, so. It hasn’t been years and years of rejection; I’ve a had a really lucky, nice career so far, Dominic’s just made it sound like we lived in hovels and occasionally sang songs for people.Q: Well he did.CM: He did; yeah that’s true. But I can’t say enough about what this has all meant to me. But really the best thing that’s come out of this has been spending time with the people we made it with. Nick just gave me this, and when we were about to do a Q&A and showed me the dedication at the beginning and I just burst into tears. I’ve got so much love for all the people that we did this with, and the fact that I get to spend all this time around them again is just great. But if these nice things mean that more people will see the film, that’s nice, because it won’t just be your aunt and my Welsh granny.Q: How are things on Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps?CM: Good, they’re good, yeah. Q: How did you land the role in Wall Street 2? How is it working for the first time here?CM: This is not the first time I worked here; I did a film here last summer, The Greatest — which was also at Sundance — and then I did the play here. But someone slipped Oliver a copy of An Education and my agent rang me when I was still shooting Never Let Me Go and said, “Oliver Stone’s going to give you a call.”
What a strange phone call to have. I was sitting with Andrew Garfield, who was in Never Let Me Go with me, and he just went mental. I went and got a hands-free [phone] so we could both lean over the table and listen, because we just wanted to hear Oliver Stone speaking, which I’ve never told Oliver and now he’ll know. Then he offered me the job and I went over to LA a couple of weeks later and read it and loved it. I had versions of the script since July and we started rehearsal; we had about three weeks of rehearsals about two months ago, and then we’ve done about four weeks of shooting. I haven’t had to do very much yet, they’ve been kind to me and [scheduled] all of my big stuff for after I’ve released this. But it’s great; it’s an amazing cast.Q: You’ve seen the original movie?CM: Yeah. It was weird actually because the day before I was going to meet Oliver to read it, and I still didn’t know if it was something that I, I didn’t know what to do really, I didn’t know what the part would be like and I didn’t know if I should just dive in regardless of the part because it’s Oliver. I was staying at this hotel and I was doing this thing with The New York Times and I went to rent a DVD the night before I left, and I opened the dvd player to put in the one I’d got — I got Risky Business — and Wall Street was in there. And then when I was flying to LA I was reading this magazine and my horoscope said, “blah blah blah blah blah, rubbish rubbish rubbish, like Gordon Gekko said in Wall Street, "Greed is good.” And I thought, “Why is the universe telling me to do this film?” Q: Who do you play in the movie?CM: I play Gordon Gekko’s daughter.Q: Working with Oliver Stone, and all the good reviews and award notices for this movie, it is a big break in a sense of global domination. How you feel about that, because everyone wants a piece of you; there’s also the bad side of fame and the paparazzi and of course once everyone recognizes you on the street...CM: I mean, I’ve been recognized twice [laughs].Q: That could change.CM: Well, I don’t really look like I do in this film. My years so far, and my life so far, and even to do with Wall Street, and there are paparazzi and it is distracting because you’re trying to film a scene on the street and you’re trying to think about your character or the other person you’re acting with, and you have 20 people taking other images of you. When you think there should be just one image of you there are all these images of you, and so you have to try and not think about any of that, so it’s distracting for your work. But ultimately, you can get upset about it, but it’s not a bad position to be in. I’m doing the job that I love with people that I really respect, so it’s like a 98 percent good situation with a 2 percent downside. I’m so absurdly lucky to be working, let alone working with the people I’m working with. I don’t even know if it will enter my world, but if it does it’s not bad in the grand scheme of things.Q: Are you irritated that when you’re out with Shia that everybody’s is clicking cameras and, everybody surrounds you? He’s probably stalked by people.CM: At work there are always paparazzi there, but there are always paparazzi on the set of Sex and the City and everything else that shoots in New York or any major city, so it comes with the territory. it’s irritating at work really because you don’t want to think about it, but then they’re doing their job and ’re earning their living for their families. You just have to block it out.
For more by Brad Balfour: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brad-balfour
Who would have thought that this quirky, controversial, though sometimes uneven film, District 9, could have knocked a tentpole picture like Paramount's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra off the top of the charts after its first week. But besides being a classic science-fiction tale in the best sense of the term, it has two other charmed words behind it — Peter Jackson -- and as a result, it not only had huge success in theaters but it will most likely have successful sales now that the film is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009.After complaining that there's a paucity of fresh ideas coming out of Hollywood, the Oscar-winning Lord of The Rings-leader put his imprimatur on District 9 as a producer. Nonetheless, this feature is thoroughly the creation of 29-year-old South Africa-born writer-director Neill Blomkamp, based on his 2005 short.Twenty-eight years before the "now" of this near-future thriller, crustacean-like humanoids inhabit a vast galaxy-spanning spaceship that appears in Earth's atmosphere. Not there to make formal first contact, the "prawns" (as they become labeled) arrive here because of some unexplained (at least to humans) mishap that forces their ship to hover motionless above Johannesburg. After some debate, humans helicopter up to the ship and cut their way in to find thousands of aliens starving and stinking up their vessel.Relocated to Earth, they are crowded into a small neighborhood called District 9 where, over the ensuing 20 years, it becomes a shunned slum (a clear reference to District 6, the Johannesburg slum created by the once-ruling Afrikaans as a ghetto for its Black population).
The obvious metaphor is there, made even more so, when the South African government of this near-future's present decides to re-locate the one million-plus "prawn" population to a decidedly smaller, more isolated camp — in tandem with MNU, a corporation running the alien ghetto while secretly trying to tap them for their technology and biology. Though humans and aliens can somehow communicate — humans can sort of decipher their gutteral clicks and snaps (it sounds a bit like the real Xhosa language) — there's a huge misapprehension and resistance by the aliens to their forced move.Applying a range of extrapolative techniques to explain this alien society with its heirarchy of common citizens and elite technologists, the film shows how they survive, and hope to cope with a post-20th century South Africa. Blomkamp does a good job in delineating this complex alien culture as one of its scientists plots to get them off Earth. Thrown into the mix is the Nigerian criminal gang that exploits the perimeter of this ghetto and its denizens — much like it happens in South Africa today.While the film challenges expectation and grapples with first contact, it humorously exposes human foibles in an oddly skewed mirror-like fashion. It also offers a cool spaceship, funky aliens and great weapons. Loaded with homages to tons of sci-fi movies and ideas, the film breezily makes its mark on this genre.Q: Why did you chose this direction for your first feature film rather than make a more obvious, socio-political film about the same issues?NB: I grew up in Johannesburg. The genesis for the idea came out of the fact that I just love science fiction and Johannesburg, so I wanted to see science fiction mixed with Johannesburg. It didn't come about like, "I want to talk about these issues that had an effect on me when I was growing up, like segregation and apartheid and everything else."The second you put something in Johannesburg, you start raising these issues. Before [I thought of] District 9, I felt like half of my mind wanted to make some serious film about these topics and the other half wanted to make a bloody genre film. And then I thought maybe I'll be able to do both. So there's never been a second in my mind where it might have been set somewhere else, because Joburg came first.Q: You focused on one character throughout the film — an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley). Why did you identify with him; is some part of him, you, or someone you know or were taking the piss out of?NB: I was definitely taking a piss [British slang for making fun of someone]. Afrikaaners don't occur that often in movies, but when they do, they're usually tough militaristic guys. They are the guys that created the apartheid and stuff. So there's an image of what the Afrikaans male is. The reality in Johannesburg is that lots of those kind of guys work for massive state-owned companies, and are much more bureaucratic, pencil-pushing dudes.I loved the idea of having a guy who is comfortable in his life and with what his company was doing, who always says "yes" to whatever the company asks for, and genuinely believes it is in the best interest of everyone to do what the company wants. It was awesome to take someone like that, who is comfortable in their position, and have them turn into the thing they are oppressing. It's mostly a satirical take on that kind of character, which is what I like about District 9.Q: Do you find it amazing how alien South Africa is to most people?NB: I still don't have a good handle on how alien it is. Johannesburg is weird, because half of it is like Los Angeles. It feels like just wealthy parts of LA. But half of it is severe slummy, something like Rio De Janiero or something. So it's kind of weird, because it's both happening at the same time.Americans will easily understand the company, the way it's being promoted, and most of the white parts of South African culture. But it's the real bad place, the stricken townships, that I didn't know how they would take. They may take that as being very alien, but in the best-case scenario, they'll be interested to see science fiction occurring in that setting.Q: How much experience did you have with the townships? Where are you living now?NB: I left just before I turned 18. I went to Canada in 1987 — Vancouver — so up until I moved at the end of grade 12, I had exposure to the townships but it was limited. Maybe once every six months to a year, I would be there for some reason. Then when I went to Canada, I started going back to Johannesburg every year. That's when I got seriously interested in it, and it was a very different type of thing.I lived there when I was younger, and it was under apartheid; when I was coming back from Canada it wasn't. It was more the stuff you'd see on television, the way blacks were segregated, and you'd see the armored vehicles going in — this oppressive thing that's happening next door to me. It was almost society from a white kid's point of view when I lived there. From 1997 onwards it was like going in the townships, and then I became more and more interested in it.I never viewed that interest as connected to science fiction. That was just one part of my mind that was interested in this topic, and the world of films was in another pocket of my mind and very separate.Q: I see how alien your experiences are from even South Africa so I thought the Nigerians added resonance. And it seems you wanted to give a deeper mythology to all three cultures: the South African, the Alien, and then adding the Nigerian to bring in a sort of African point of view.
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NB: The Nigerian thing is there because I wanted to take as many cues from South Africa as I could. I wanted South Africa to be the inspiration. If I try to keep South Africa as true to South Africa as I could, then, unfortunately, a massive part of the crime that happens in Johannesburg is by the Nigerians there. It's just the way it is. I wanted to have a crime group, and thought the most honest refraction of a crime group would be Nigerians, for one.And then secondly, the Muti, the African witch doctor, is also a huge part of Africa and many African countries. So I wanted to incorporate that as well. At the time I was writing the movie, there was all these tribal witch doctor attacks on albinos, because Albino flesh were worth more than normal humans. That was the analogy to a different group or a different race, [with their] traditional medicine, or traditional Muti — even cannibalism, in some instances. I incorporated aliens into that.Q: In a lot of literary science fiction, it doesn't operate according to obvious, clichéd premises about first contact. By sheer serendipity, a spaceship was damaged and ended up on Earth. I liked that about your premise.You made it feel realistic because you wanted us to accept the realness of it. It doesn't have to be a fantasy.NB: I wanted to make the most real feeling portrayal of impossible elements that I could make. But it's still different from my actual belief as to how first contact with aliens would go down, because I wanted to make a movie, not a documentary.Q: Why does first contact have to be in New York or Washington, especially given the circumstances of your film? It doesn't have to occur in obvious places such as Paris, or D.C. Why not come to Johannesburg? Why not stop there by accident? This was more realistic than what we intellectually envision in our head.NB: Maybe it is more realistic then what we're used to in Hollywood. But still, in my opinion, it's opposed to reality. If some species were able to make some kind of serious interstellar travel like that, or intergalactic travel, they would be at a technological level where there'll be a merging between [them] and [their] technology. It's a lot like what humans will go through as well, provided we don't wipe ourselves out.Whatever this race is, it would merge with their technology at some point on their planet, and it would be a biological, mechanical crossover, as scientist/writer Ray Kurzweil puts it in The Singularity Is Near — and their society would be altered after that point. There would be a new type of life.Because they can exist in binary code, as an algorithm, or can download themselves into whatever physical presence they want or exist on computers, they can then determine how they want to travel through space. They could occupy micro-starships and travel just under the speed of light. They may have figured out beyond-speed-of-light travel and gotten around theory of relativity.And they would come to our planet, for whatever reason, because they chose to come here. There's no way that they would be a destitute refugee group.The concept of xenophobia and us not being able to accept them is also highly unrealistic, because we can only do that with something that mimics the human form at a similar intelligence level to us. It's difficult to apply racism and xenophobia to a supercomputer. So I think it would be a completely different thing.Q: What were the greatest challenges you faced in making this film? Obviously the special effects resonates; that's got to be CGI. Was there any time you put people in outfits?NB: No. It was always digital.Q: With Peter Jackson on hand were you able to get the special effects more smoothly done?NB: First of all, visual effects were done in Vancouver, Canada. WETA [Jackson's effects company] did the spaceships. But the aliens were all Canadian.Q: You must have had fun sketching out what you wanted to the aliens to look like.NB: It actually wasn't that fun. It was kind of grueling. I had a different design for about six months, and it was the one design that I just didn't feel 100%. Then one day I realized that the ride in reflected this insect hive, and we were really dealing with lots of the drone workers in the hive. So when I figured out that they should reflect this insect biology in a way that they're illustrated, then we went down the road of making them more insect-like.Q: You got the texture right. That must have made you nervous. Did you test it, or when did you know it worked?NB: There's two parts to how you pull that stuff off. One part of it is the way that it looks on a frame-by-frame basis, where, hopefully, the goal is that it looks like a photograph and the way it's going to tell what's real and what isn't. That's one part of it.
The second part is, how does that creature interact with the humans? And how do the humans interact with it? That will be the thing that either will make it work or not. So I used an actor who played Christopher to play off Sharlto, and that meant I was filming those scenes a little different to how you film two normal actors. The process was that we would remove Jason Cope and replace him with Christopher, and his performance would be crossed over to the digital aliens, so both performance were organic and real.Once I figured that process out, and we had this process where we would remove Jason but capture the essence of his performance, I then thought, "Okay, we're in a good place in terms of how these two people are going to interact with one another," and that felt good.Then, once you go into postproduction, you work with the effects guys to get the most realistic results. I tried to set that up beforehand — like I tried to make sure that the way I photographed them a lot of the time would be in really harsh African sunlight. That would make them feel more real. Then we had the insect-like, hard-shell surfacing which would make it feel real as well.Q: In writing the story, did you have some science fiction books or films as a reference?NB: All of the science fiction in the film, the fantasy part of the movie, is a distilled-down, melting pot of all the stuff that I like in these genre movies [we all know]. But [for] the story itself and the arc of Wikus' character and everything, I tried to use some of Africa and Johannesburg for inspiration for a lot of that. It's almost like reality provides the inspiration, so the science fiction, is, in a way, was almost meant to be familiar. [It's] the African setting that's unfamiliar.Q: Hopefully, when a writer or producer makes a science fiction movie, they map out its internal logic so that things don't appear inconsistent with the storyline.NB: I figured out their back-story and their way to the world: once they've arrived here, like 28 years later, how that would work, multi-national corporations getting involved, where they're getting segregated off to. How the humans see them, how they see the humans. That's all part of the set in the world, though, before you start writing the story itself.Q: By locating the moment of first contact in a very specific place it makes the story more resonant. Will audiences grasp the alien-ness of the story and how the alien-ness of its location enhances it?NB: That was the goal. Set it in an unusual place, and therefore make it feel more real. So time will tell.
For more by Brad Balfour: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brad-balfour
If you’re an actor or crew person and have a pooch for a pet, there’s no better place to work and relax with your four-legged friend than at Bridge Studios in Vancouver, Canada. That's where the hit SyFy series Stargate: Universe is filmed; also produced there are the best-selling Stargate and Stargate Atlantis direct to DVD movies, based on those successful series in the Stargate franchise. The set “went to the dogs” 11 years ago when the first Stargate series began and continues to be the most dog friendly TV and movie set in the entire world, as actor Robert Picardo (of Star Trek: Voyager fame) found out when he joined Stargate: Atlantis for its fifth and final season as Atlantis’ new mission commander, Richard Woolsey.
“There are dogs everywhere at Vancouver’s Bridge Studios, where we shoot at,” marvels Picardo. “There are dogs up in the production office, in the production meetings, and in many of the actor’s trailers on different days.” Both Picardo and his wife Linda were just thrilled to know that their Chihuahua “Buddy” and Chihuahua mix “Lola” would be welcomed on the Stargate lot at all times. Buddy and Lola’s introduction to the pooches of the Pegasus Galaxy (the universe in which Stargate: Atlantis is set), however, was quite the doggie drama.“We went to the makeup trailer,” recalls Picardo, “and there’s Lucy, a squat mini pincher owned by Leah, the head of the makeup department. Lucy kind of holds sway over the makeup trailer. It’s her turf so she barked a blue streak until we took her outside to meet “Buddy” and “Lola” on neutral territory.” Then she was absolutely delightful.”In fact, Lucy was a little too “delightful” with Buddy for Lola’s taste. “Lola, who considers herself “Buddy’s” mate if you will, was quite jealous. Whenever another female comes in to challenge her relationship with her live-in male, she does bark quite a bit. But I understand that’s common among many females. She was just protecting her man.” Picardo really knew he was on the most dog friendly lot in the world when he saw “the pooch scoop stations,” located conveniently around the studios, in which the cast and crew deposit their dog’s doings.“It’s basically a trash can with bags attached, but it says ‘Pooch Scoop Station.’ I have never seen one at another studio and that says to me that not only are dogs tolerated – they are more than welcome and there are enough of them to warrant their own special places.”“Enough” is putting it mildly. Stargate: Atlantis Executive Producer John Smith says there can be as many as 20 dogs or more on the lot on any given day. Smith is the man responsible for Stargate going to the dogs: “The whole dog thing started out since I’ve been here—since the beginning of Stargate 13 years ago.” In fact Smith always has his permission to take his dogs to work written into his contracts.
“I’ve had probably eight black Labradors in my career that have come into work with me every day,” says Smith, whose luscious black Lab, Haida, has the run of the lot and even her own chair in the boardroom where she attends production meetings daily. “Haida comes into the office and sits right up at the boardroom table,” says Smith. “She’s always done it since she was a puppy. She’s been coming into the office since she was six weeks old.” That gives Haida seniority at Bridge Studios. “She’s been here a lot longer than a lot of the people on the show,” agrees Smith. Having Haida and the other dogs around “makes for a relaxing atmosphere in the office,” says Smith. And that canine induced calmness translates into everyone’s performance on the lot from the office workers to the actors.“100%,” agrees Smith. “I would absolutely say that.” “David Hewlett (who plays Dr. Rodney McKay on Stargate: Atlantis) brings his dog in everyday. If an actor has his dog in his trailer, he goes back and sits there learning his lines while scratching the dog’s ear. It does bring calmness to you. In this particular line of work, you’re away from home at least 12 or 13 hours a day sometimes, maybe more. This is a way to bring part of your life with you and takes the stress off of being away from all the other things you love at home.”Picardo immediately noticed the difference in stress levels between the Voyager and Stargate sets: “Certainly some of the requirements that were much more strictly enforced on Voyager are a little looser here. I like the fact that in the Pegasus Galaxy you can in fact, eat on the sets.”To be fair, the bridge of the starship Voyager was an immaculate carpeted set compared to the more resilient sets of Stargate: Atlantis. “If you’re going to have an actor drop half a tuna melt or a dog pee on the floor,” points out Picardo, “it might as well be on hard wood or concrete rather than carpet.” Which brings up the question Stargate fans are surely dying to know the answer to by now: In all this time, has a dog ever gone wee-wee or worse on the Stargate — the portal that makes intergalactic travel possible in the series?
“I have not noticed a dog drop a load on the stage,” Picardo replies, “It may or may not have happened. But I am a newcomer, so I would not be the best one to ask. But as I said, we have far less carpeting in the Pegasus Galaxy, so it would be far less of a tragedy.”
Actually, according to Smith, in all the years that characters have traveled to other worlds through the Stargate, it has to this day remained unstained. But should that ever happen, Smith assures fans that the Stargate sets are “very durable.”
For a newcomer like Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe to find a starring role in any film was beyond comprehension. But to find one where her ultra plus-sized frame proved to be an asset was more than extraordinary. Nonetheless, this daughter of R&B/gospel singer Alice Tan Ridley and Senegalese father Ibnou Sidibe got the lead role in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and is now being touted as an Oscar contender.In director Lee Daniels' devastating yet ultimately hopeful film, the adult Sidibe plays the 300+ pound, 16 year-old Claireece Precious Jones, who has been abused and raped by both her mother and father. Though she has two children by her father and is near-illiterate, several adults throughout this saga recognize her potential, and through hard work and a survivor's determination, Precious rises above her miserable situation to look towards the future.Besides the uncanny find of Sidibe, Daniels also got remarkable performances out of other cast members such as Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and Mo'Nique. And he has managed this before; Mo'Nique starred in his hard-hitting directorial debut Shadowboxer; Carey was in Tennessee, a film Daniels produced. Daniels has tackled controversial projects that sit outside the box; the first film he produced, Monster's Ball, dealt with an interracial relationship (and won an Oscar for lead Halle Berry) and the second, The Woodsman offered a sympathetic portrayal of a pedophile (played by Kevin Bacon).Harlem resident Sidibe never expected to pursue acting let alone be in such a bright spotlight, first as the audience award winner at 2009's Sundance Film Festival then the winner at The Toronto International Film Festival. But now, a myriad of festivals later — including a big premiere night as the New York Film Festival centerpiece and as the Denver Film Fest's opener — the accolades, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress, and intense reactions are still rolling in.Q: How did you connect with your character Precious?GS: I felt like she was in my family, she was my friend and was with people that I didn't want her to be friends with. I realized that I had judged this girl and had stopped being friends with this girl over and over again. I actually felt a lot of guilt behind it. So I think in reading the novel it gave me more compassion and it opened my heart to more cases like Precious.When it came time to film, and to actually take on the role of Precious, I felt an immense responsibility to do it justice, to do justice for the girls who have gone through it, to do justice for the men who have gone through things like that [as well].I felt a responsibility to these people as well as to Sapphire the writer, and to Lee Daniels, the director. He plucked me from obscurity and put me basically in the same room with Helen Mirren, with Halle Berry, with all these people that I idolize, and I didn't want him to be wrong in choosing me.Q: What gives you such a sense of confidence and composure?GS: I'm 26 years old. I'm a grownup. So when I got the role I was 24-years old. It wasn't very hard for me to play a 16 year old. I only operate at about a 19-year old level anyway. So my sense of self comes from being a grownup.I know who I am because I've lived with myself for 26 years. That's really where it comes from. In turn, I know Precious because I know who I am. Does that make sense?The lines don't blur because I know exactly who I am and I knew who I was before I started.Q: Since she is so thoroughly depicted in Sapphire's book, how did you bring this character to life so distinctly? What was it in you that you homed in on to bring her to the screen?GS: As I said, I had a lot of guilt because I'd walked past this character. I had walked past Precious and a lot of different people before in my life, and I felt like I owed it to the people out there who hold this kind of pain, who live this kind of life. And, I felt a lot of responsibility to the writer, to Sapphire.Q: You've talked about the pomp and circumstance around the movie, but what about the negative things that have surrounded this project for you?GS: Some of the negative stuff — things that have hurt my feelings, which I stopped reading — are when people comment on clothes that I've worn or whatever. That's weird, because it's my own style and I've been dressing myself for a very long time and I wear clothes that fit me, things that I like.But people expect more because they think I'm rich or think that someone else is pulling strings around me. No.It's always weird, when someone [says], "Someone needs to get that girl a stylist." It's like, "No." I tell me what to wear. That's the negative part, when people expect something different from me.Also, people expect to me be a role model, which is cool. But I am a role model because I have 13-year old sisters and I have a 20-year old brother, because I have siblings and cousins, that's why I'm a role model. Not because I'm in a movie. My first responsibility is to my family and to myself.It's so weird to turn on a switch and be the role model for all women, for all African-Americans. That doesn't happen that easily. It does not. So I don't act up in public and don't do anything weird, because my sisters are watching me. Not because the world is watching me.Q: There are so many positive African-American stories out there. Why do you think this story needs to be told?GS: I think this story needed to be told because no one has told it and it's reality. When I actually did research — these numbers change from month to month — but when I [looked], seven out of 10 children were physically abused, sexually abused. And out of those seven, one in three were victims of incest. That's too many people.Think about how many people you walk by, how many people you know, and you don't know what their story is because no one is saying anything and because it eats at them inside. That type of secret eats away and destroys a human.This story needed to be told because it starts a dialogue. It says that it's okay, that you're not the only one that's been hurt, that you can get past it, you can talk about it, and that it can possibly save another life.Q: Your mother, Alice Tan Ridley, once said she was offered Mo'Nique's role but that it was too hard for her to do because of the reality behind the story itself. Did that makes it too difficult for her?GS: My mom found it to be really, really hard and heartbreaking. But another reason why she didn't want to do it is because she's not an actress and she's not famous worldwide the way that Mo'Nique is. She was afraid that strangers wouldn't be able to differentiate between her and the role.Also, my mom has been a teacher since she was 12 years old. That's crazy in itself, but my mom loves children and she's like, "There's no way I can do that. I can't even act like I'm going to harm a child." She just couldn't do it.Q: You didn't have that fear that when you took on the role that people would liken that portrayal of what you're doing to your reality?GS: No. I've been in a million situations since filming where people have seen it and seen the trailer and they think that I'm that girl, but all it takes is for me to say hello because I'm so very different. The difference between her and me is so distinct that, in a word, that I'm [very] different.Q: After working with Mo'Nique, you two had to bond in such an emotionally charged project. What was your relationship with her like as you worked together and what is your relationship with her now?GS: Mo'Nique is so full of love. I've been describing her all day as being like the tree in Pocahontas. She's really wise and she's so loving and she is everything.Mary [the mother] is not. Mary is there to degrade Precious. Mo'Nique is there to uplift. Precious and Mary are enemies. They're in a constant fight and they've always been in a constant fight. So when the director says action, we're fighting because we're Precious and we're Mary.When he says cut, I certainly go back to being Gabby and she goes back to being Mo'Nique; we hug each other and we love each other. We really do have to love each other so much more, because while the tape is rolling we hate each other.
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