Eat My Brains has certainly been mixing it with some pretty young ladies recently. Last month we had an exclusive interview with Amber Heard (All The Boys Love Mandy Lane) and this month we got to rub shoulders with Jessica Alba. To many she’s just a bit of celebrity eye candy who was voted ‘Sexiest Woman in the World 2007’ by the readers of FHM Magazine, but savvy film fans will know her from a series of genre roles over the past ten years.
First coming to our attention as the girlfriend in comedy/horror Idle Hands, she got her big break when James Cameron cast her as Max in his post-apocalyptic action series Dark Angel.
Since then she’s appeared in the underrated underwater thriller Into The Blue, both Fantastic Four movies, and is probably best known for her role as dancer Nancy Callahan in the live action adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City. So when I received an invitation to meet her in person at an exclusive preview of her latest movie, The Eye, I naturally accepted.
Casting my mind back to August 2005, one of my key memories of that year’s FrightFest event in London was the farcical attempt to conduct a live satellite link up with Hideo Nakata. The Ring director was in Hollywood at the time working on an adaptation of The Eye with Renee Zellweger, and from what we overheard (with Nakata totally unaware our eavesdropping) things were not going to plan…
Two and a half years later and the studio remake of The Eye finally reaches our shores courtesy of Lionsgate (the film opens nationwide on 24th April) with different directors – David Moreau & Xavier Palud fresh off their hit French thriller Them – and a new leading lady in the form of the aforementioned Jessica Alba.
Click on the image for the hi-res version
The latest in a long line of hit Asian movies being updated for subtitle-dodging Western audiences, The Eye is one of the better examples of its type. Based on the Pang Brothers film of the same name, it focuses on Sydney (Alba), a blind violin player who has ghostly visions after undergoing a cornea transplant. With the support of her sister (Parker Posey) and her doctor (Alessandro Nivola) she embarks on a journey to unravel the mystery behind these visions and to find out exactly what happened to the girl whose eyes she received.
Despite its troubled production, The Eye turns out to be a faithful remake that retains all the chills of the original film, so fans of The Ring and The Grudge should like what they see. Whilst it certainly serves its purpose it adds little fresh to the mix, so basically if you’ve seen the Pang Brothers version then there’s no real need to see this new one. Of course, fans of Ms. Alba will take some pleasure from the film as she’s really quite mesmerizing, you can’t take your eyes off her – which is just as well as she appears in virtually every scene.
In town for a few days of promotional work, the actress was at the One Aldwych hotel near Covent Garden to talk about the film in front of a select audience of just 30 lucky fans. Radiating a real glow and looking every inch the glamorous Hollywood star that she is, the heavily pregnant Jessica appeared relaxed in our company and was more than happy to pose for photographs and sign items for everyone. After a preview of The Eye in the hotel’s luxurious screening room she answered questions from the audience in a talk chaired by FrightFest’s Paul McEvoy.
To find out how she prepared to play a blind person, which horror films she likes and what exactly the situation is with Sin City 2, read on…
Jessica Alba with FrightFest’s Paul McEvoy
Q: Would you like to say a few words about the film?
Jessica Alba: Yes, I've wanted to do a horror film for a long time. I read this and I thought it was quite different from a lot of horror movies that we make in the States. They use a lot of vulgar things and in this it’s more psychological and you get to go sort of on a first person journey with the character which I thought was pretty interesting. So I hope you guys enjoy it and I hope it’s scary.
Q: What attracted you to The Eye?
JA: The character of Sydney, she was great. Getting a cornea transplant and having to really question her sanity and find her truth was, I thought, a great journey and quite unusual for this genre. Certainly the from other scripts I've read where it's a girl getting chased by a madman, he catches her and she gets tortured for the rest of the movie. This is a bit different, a little more complex.
Q: Why did you choose to do a remake rather than go for an original script?
JA: When I read it I didn't know it was a remake until I saw the (original) film. And like I said, it was a lot more complicated and a lot more interesting kind of story for me to be part of as an actress, rather than running around in a white t-shirt screaming. You know, I broke my back and my head, had terribly sleepless nights and I was giving myself such a horrible time about not playing the violin properly, and all these things. I was torturing myself through this entire movie but it was worth it. I wanted to take on something that was agonizing, I think it must be the sadist in me or something, I don’t know!
Q: So you’d seen the original version of The Eye?
JA: Yes, I saw the original when I read the script because I think you just have to, especially if you think, "I’m doing a remake". I was a fan; I thought the girl was much more stoic, much more internal. The movie itself was different in tone because in the Eastern culture ghosts are much more accepted and part of the culture whereas in the Western culture we just think you're bananas if you think you're seeing ghosts at all, and so we had to approach ours from a more Western perspective.
Click on the image for the hi-res version
Q: And had you seen Them?
JA: Yeah, when we went to hire the directors. It was Tom Cruise's production company in Colorado that had the property and asked me to be a part of it and then we went through a process of trying to figure out who would be best to direct it and that’s when I saw Them. You know, it's not heavy in dialogue, nor is it heavy in plot but I thought it was quite captivating; again, you're going through a first person perspective, going through this terrifying experience with the main characters. That's kind of how they shot this, they wanted people to feel what it’s like to see for the first time and see her blurriness, see her perception being skewed.
Q: What’s it like with two directors directing you?
JA: You know, it was similar to Sin City actually because Robert (Rodriguez) and Frank (Miller) were the directors on that and Robert was more technical and Frank was more hands on with the actors, and on this one Xavier was more technical and David was more hands on with the actors - I think it was maybe just because David's English was better! They'd both talk, have a little meeting and then come over and explain what they wanted.
Q: How did you prepare for the role, playing a blind character?
JA: I went to two blind orientation centres where they basically give you a crash course on how to deal with blindness. I was amongst other students, they didn't know I was an actress studying for the role, they just thought I was another person in the class who either had immediately become blind or was rapidly becoming blind. You had to wear sleep shades for the whole time and I was just like them, wearing the sleep shades and learning how to read basic Braille and cane walk.
The most important thing is labeling, you have to learn the basic Braille so that you can label your clothes, your items in your bathroom, your kitchen. Everything needs to be very organised and I just kind of took that home and existed in my comfortable environment with my sleep shades and tried to adapt.
I also studied this woman who is around my age who has been blind since she was three. She's a vocalist and she competes with people who are sighted so she's not getting special treatment because she has this handicap. She has a Masters program at Boston University, she lived in Italy for a year and London for a few Summers and she travels around blind; no guide, no dogs, nothing. I spent two weeks with her and observed everything she did just to see that this is a woman who's independent, intelligent, self-sufficient - and who happens to be blind.
Click on the image for the hi-res version
Q: What I thought was quite impressive is that you're pretty much in every single scene of the film aren't you?
JA: Yeah, I was worried that people were going to get sick of me (laughs). I was telling the directors you've got to write something or have something else in the film or else people are going to get so sick of seeing me from beginning to end! What’s good though is that you really feel like you're going on a journey with the main character and that's what I think works about it. Just visually, seeing through her perspective, certainly death and how she sees it, that was cool.
Q: And how was Parker Posey to work with?
JA: Great... she's fun. She'd always have knitting; she does all these knitting things and so we'd have to do these intense scenes and she would have her knitting and they're like, "Rolling," (knitting, knitting, knitting) "Parker!" (pauses) "Oh right," (puts the knitting down). And then she hardly ever stuck to the script and just played and had fun… and I adore her. I was having so much fun and I love all the Christopher Guest movies, she's so funny.
Q: Do you think you'll do another horror film at some stage or not?
JA: I'm open to it. It's about the material, most importantly, and certainly for me now that I've worked with quite a few new directors it would be nice to work with directors that want to collaborate with me. So I think it would have to depend on the director and the script obviously. I'm a fan of the genre and I think it can last forever. You get quite a cult following and I respect that in films because so many times it's just about making money at the Box Office and then it's out of here. For me movies live with you, it's about you connecting with the characters or the stories or something like that, and that's why I do them.
Q: If you could pick a favourite horror film from way back which one would you choose?
JA: (Pauses) Too many... I mean, a hit list of the ones I really love would be Psycho, The Birds, Poltergeist, the first Nightmare On Elm Street, Rosemary's Baby, those are my kind of films. I have a hard time liking guts and that kind of thing, bodies being ripped apart and blood. I like more of a ghost story where maybe it's happening and you have all these questions; could it happen, is it just people, does that really exist? If there's something paranormal then that is quite fascinating to me.
Jessica Alba with Soulmining (Phil Newton)
Q: So what's next?
Next is a comedy with Mike Myers. It's a very broad comedy; I play more the straight man and he's obviously Mike being crazy, it's really funny. It's called The Love Guru and he's like a Deepak Chopra kind of guy, actually that's his, like, rival.
Q: And how's Sin City 2, how it shaping up? Have you seen the script, are you going to be involved with it?
JA: Well, I would be involved if it was happening but I just don't know if it's ever going to happen. They’ve been talking about it since we finished (Sin City) you know, and I just had dinner with Harvey the producer last week, but no-one ever really talks about it now. I hear more about it from fans and from journalists than I do from the people that are actually making the movie! Frank has done Spirit which I think is coming out later this year - and Robert was going to do Barbarella, so I haven't really heard anything about the next one. It would be fun to do.