DÉJÀ VU - Q&A with Paula Patton
In Denzel Washington's latest film, the intriguing action thriller DÉJÀ VU, the superstar actor plays agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Brought in to recover evidence after a bomb explodes on a New Orleans ferry, Carlin finds himself making a puzzling emotional connection with one of the victims, Claire Kuchever, whose past holds the key to catching the perpetrator of the crime. By tapping into a secret government project investigating the time-bending potential of quantum physics, agent Carlin falls in love with a woman who's already dead and gets the one-off chance to save her by preventing a crime that has already happened. Newcomer Paula Patton plays the object of Carlin's fascination in producer Jerry Bruckheimer's and director Tony Scott's unique love story in reverse. "She came in, she read and I believed her," Scott says of the strikingly beautiful Patton, a film school graduate and former documentary maker. "Hers was a difficult part to cast, but Paula is so vivacious and exuberant. She's very easy to fall in love with on screen." The actress talked to us about taking the fast track to stardom during a whirlwind press tour for the new film.
You're pretty much a newcomer to films. How did it feel to get cast in a big film like DÉJÀ VU?
It wasn't too long ago I was happy getting a commercial and here I am in a movie with Denzel Washington! It was incredible. I had to pinch myself every time I came to set.
Did you have to go through a long audition process to get this part?
Yes, I read for Tony Scott quite a few times and then I read with Denzel, which was very nerve-wracking. The first day that audition was supposed to happen they called and said no, it's going to be tomorrow. I was like "No, I can't live another day". I remember trying to pump myself up just to get in the room with Denzel because I'm just this nobody actress coming in there and he's won two Oscars. Then when I got home it seemed like he was in every movie on television.
However nerve-wracking, you and Denzel obviously had that mysterious thing called chemistry. Did you realize that right from the start?
No, and it doesn't seem to be one of those things that you can make happen. You just feel lucky when you've got it and people say, "Hey, it looks like you guys have a lot of chemistry". I think it really helped that I like Denzel so much as a person.
You also play a lot of scenes in DÉJÀ VU with Jim Caviezel, who was Jesus in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and plays a terrorist here. He's always so intense on screen. Is he like that in real life?
When he's in character he's in character and he's definitely an intense dude. Those eyes are so steely and it makes acting with him so easy because you're scared of him. He really frightened me sometimes. I'd go, "Oh no, he's in character," and walk away from the catering truck [laughs].
At one point there is a close-up you, seemingly dead, in an autopsy room. How do you keep from blinking?
A lot of people ask me that [laughs], but it really wasn't that difficult. You just try to focus as much as possible and take a deep breath beforehand and stare at one point in the wall, and that's what I did. Even Denzel told me I had great concentration. Maybe it's my best work in the film!
There's also a scene where you are trapped in a car underwater. Was that really you?
Yes, and it was scary. I'm not much of a swimmer - mostly doggy paddle - and there I am in the biggest tank that exists in America: it's 50 feet by 50 feet, there are boats on it, and you feel like you're in the ocean. Not only that, they have to put weights on your body to get you to go down deep in the water. I had to do scuba training beforehand, so I had 45 minutes at the shallow end of the Hilton pool in New Orleans, which perhaps wasn't enough. On the first take I forgot that you mustn't breathe through your nose. All of a sudden you see these Navy Seal type guys swarm at you to help bring you up back to the surface. I thought I was going to die for sure.
The film shot in New Orleans a few months after Hurricane Katrina. How would you describe that experience?
It's really hard. You drive for blocks and blocks and blocks and suddenly you've driven fifteen miles and all you have seen is flattened-out neighborhoods. You see water level marks that hit the top of homes and the numbers on the doors telling you how many people died in each house. I felt numb at first and then I started to cry because you begin to think about all those lives lost.
It must have put a different perspective on the process of making a film?
You suddenly realize that nothing we have is permanent. Our jobs, failures, successes, our house, our clothes, all of that can be gone in a moment. But the people in New Orleans still had such a strong spirit and a real optimism. So many said, "I've lost everything but I'm happy to be alive still and I've got my family and we're going to keep on going.
DÉJÀ VU imagines the possibility of literally changing the past. What's your take on that?
I really like the fact that the time travel thing in the film involves going back just four days and not hundreds of years in the past or the future. There's a documentary that I saw about quantum physics a while ago and it made the case that time is not something fixed, but something much more mysterious than that. So I was the kooky girl that thought all these things in the script might be possible anyway. Apparently we only use ten percent of our brain, so imagine what the other ninety percent could be up to.
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