SIN CITY - Q&A with JESSICA ALBA
Jessica Alba is Nancy
SIN CITY provided Jessica Alba with some of the most nerve wracking days of her professional life. But it was worth it. After all, when you are playing an exotic dancer who has to perform on a bar top in front of a crowd of leering guys (even if those guys aren't actually there) it's a pretty daunting experience.
"A lot of the other cast were put into the scene later in the editing room," she explains. "Even when I was dancing on the green screen, there was still a lot of crew around so it was as if I was in a bar and a bunch of people were looking up so it was just as nerve wracking."
To Ms Alba's eternal credit, she does one impressive job. Just ask her director, Robert Rodriguez: "Jessica was just fantastic. It wasn't easy for her, but she was just great."
Ms Alba, 24, is on the verge of big time stardom. The release of Frank Miller's SIN CITY - followed by her role as The Invisible Girl in THE FANTASTIC FOUR and the underwater action adventure INTO THE BLUE - will let the rest in on to what millions of fans already know - this beautiful young actress is destined for a glittering career.
Jessica has already achieved considerable success playing the lead in James Cameron's television series, DARK ANGEL. Her film credits include NEVER BEEN KISSED, IDLE HANDS and HONEY.
In Frank Miller's SIN CITY she plays Nancy, a little girl who was rescued from a monstrous kidnapper by a rugged, determined cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) who then pays the ultimate price for his heroism when he is framed for the crime himself.
Throughout years in jail when he refuses to confess to a crime he didn't commit, and after losing his career, his family, his whole life, the only thing that keeps him going are the frequent letters from Nancy writing under an assumed name.
When Hartigan is released, he is re-united with the all grown up Nancy but even then the pair are not safe - especially not in Sin City.
Frank Miler grew up reading superhero comics which eventually led to the discovery of hard boiled crime writers like Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, master of the 'pulp fiction' genre.
When Miller first showed up in New York, as a teenager desperate to make his way in the world of comic books, his early drawings featured 'guys in trench coats and beautiful women in fast cars and stuff and they not too politely told me that all they did was people in tights hitting each other."
Miller happily obliged and over the coming years built a formidable reputation at the cutting edge of comic books, both as an artist and a writer. He worked for publishers including DC and Marvel and it was his work with the latter, on Marvel's Spectacular Spider-Man, in a story in which he united the web slinging hero with another character, Daredevil, which led to Miller being given the title to develop.
He also created the powerful and extremely popular Elektra and during the early eighties, Ronin, which marked the first of many collaborations with his partner and future wife, Lynn Varley.
Miller, 48, is also credited with reinvigorating the Batman franchise thanks to his work on Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. In 1991, Frank created Sin City, drawing heavily on his knowledge of both New York and Los Angeles but mostly, his ever active and incredibly fertile imagination.
Sin City marked a return to the pulp fiction that he loved so much - a stunning landscape peopled by voluptuous broads, crooked cops, evil predators and desperate hoods who sometimes, follow their hearts and try to do the right thing. It's dark, brooding, violent, often funny and always sexy as hell.
The dialogue crackles with devastating put downs, snappy one liners and a rough poetry and rhythm which owes much to the likes of Chandler, Spillane and Dashiell Hammett and those other crime writers that Miller first fell for as a teenager.
Understandably, many filmmakers realised that the cinematic potential of Sin City was huge. But Frank Miller, who has had plenty of experience, sometimes negative, of Hollywood in the past, didn't want to compromise his vision - and felt that if he handed over the film rights, he would inevitably be doing just that.
Robert Rodriquez, however, was determined to convince Miller that his intentions were honourable. The filmmaker works in his home town of Austin, Texas and like Miller, he's a bit of an outsider, a visionary who often bucks the system to do things his way.
And the key to convincing Miller was that he wanted to translate - not adapt - Sin City to the screen. "He was reluctant in the same way I thought somebody would ruin it by turning this into a movie and that was my whole point. I said 'I've figured how to do it, we're not going to turn this into a movie, we're going to make movies into the graphic novel.'"
At his own expense, Rodriquez planned to shoot the opening sequence - featuring Josh Hartnett as a smooth talking killer - and let Miller watch. If he didn't like what he saw, then nothing more would happen. But if he did, they were in business.
"I had to reverse that whole tide of all the bad things that had happened to him and I knew if he came down and saw us shoot the opening and then he would be convinced," says Rodriquez. "He saw us there with the books opened, we were all following the shots and he was just like 'wow, this is unbelievable...'"
Rodriquez used ground breaking filming techniques to shoot the film on digital almost entirely against a green screen background - one of the few sets to actually be built was the bar which, at some point, features almost all of the vivid characters in the three different segments. It meant that the actors were often working alone with very few props.
Such was Rodriqeuz's commitment to remaining true to the integrity of the project that he wanted Frank Miller to be his co-director who would be there, by his side, every day of the shoot. But one week before the start of production, the powerful Director's Guild of America, refused Miller a co-director credit, claiming it was against their rules and Rodriquez promptly quit the DAG in protest.
"It was like obey the rules or make this movie," says Rodriquez. "I was already at a point where we were a week away from shooting, I didn't know that it was against the rules to have a second director, I'd seen multiple directors before.
"I just thought it would be better to leave than stop shooting or not shoot the movie. I mean, everyone just feels that this is something really new and exciting and different and at that point I was going to bring Quentin on as a director so they wouldn't have gone for that anyway. And you know it's better that I'm just not in that group because we have such crazy ideas, it's better than I'm just free."
The Quentin in question is a certain Mr Tarantino, his close friend and director of such classic modern masterpieces as RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION. They have a history of working together, swapping creative ideas - they both made FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, Robert scored the soundtrack for KILL BILL 2 (for a nominal sum of $1, the same fee paid to Tarantino on SIN CITY.)
This time, Robert wanted Quentin to have the chance to work with the digital technology and green screen so he invited him to direct a stunning sequence involving Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro. So Frank Miller's SIN CITY, has not one but three directors.
It also boasts a truly exceptional ensemble cast who jumped at the chance to work with Miller, Rodriquez and - for a lucky few - Tarantino. Benicio Del Toro is Jackie Boy, a cop with a mean dark side, and Clive Owen is Dwight, who sets out to help the hookers of Old Town when Jackie Boy and his friends turn up to cause mayhem.
Mickey Rourke makes a memorable appearance as Marv, a brutish hood who loses his heart to a hooker called Goldie (Jaime King) and sets out on a devastating trail of revenge when she is killed, which leads him to the discovery of a chilling cannibal, Kevin played by Elijah Wood,
The Ladies of the Night - the hookers who control their own patch in Sin City's Old Town - are memorably led by Gail, played by Rosario Dawson and the deadliest of all of these proud and predatory women is Miho, played by Devon Aoki.
The film also features Michael Madson as Bob, a corrupt cop, Michael Clarke Duncan as the ultimate enforcer, Manute 'a man so immense his punch is like a freight train...', Nick Stahl as the evil kidnapper known as 'Yellow Bastard' Powers Boothe as Senator Roark, Rutger Hauer as Cardinal Roark and Carla Gugino as Lucille.
When someone comes to you and says 'we want you to play a stripper with a whip...' How do you react to that?
That wasn't quite how it was presented to me (laughs). It was a Robert Rodriquez movie with a character who was so earnest and so innocent and madly in love with this man who had sacrificed his whole life for her - and then I saw the pictures and I was like 'oh man, those are naked!' (Laughs). And then I said 'would it be a problem if I don't do the nudity?' Because I don't feel comfortable doing topless or bottomless and Robert said it was OK and I didn't have to do that and Frank agreed and that's how it went down.
So this is a romantic movie for you?
Yeah, it was. It was this really romantic, beautiful story about love and soul mates and these two people that know this truth and are constantly being shut down and then they come together.
Which is a big contrast to the depravity of Sin City?
Yes, there's light and heart in my character's story whereas everything else is so heavy and so down, there is so much weight on everybody. Nancy is so free. She is the only innocent in Sin City. I don't think any of the others are.
Do you create a back-story for a character like this?
Yeah, you know, what I came up with in agreement with Robert (Rodriguez) and primarily with Frank (Miller) was maybe what Nancy had in her relationship with Hartigan, why it's so intense, is because it's essentially because he is the only person that really knows her. So everything, her growth as a person, what she was thinking, her best friend, her family, anything you would go through with individual people she went through with one person, in her letters to him. So it was kind of like a diary, an eight-year diary. So that was mostly what we talked about because it directly pertains to the relationship when he comes into her life and how intense it is in that instant when she sees him,
How did you react when you saw the finished film?
I loved it.
What about when you are on stage and dancing?
I didn't like it so much (laughs). I was in love with Rosario's (Dawson) character, I thought she was really cool. And Clive's (Owen) character, I thought he was cool.
Would you have preferred to have more of a part like Rosario's character?
I've played that type of girl before, but she is just so sexy and so commanding and it almost seemed like she enjoyed getting smacked because she couldn't wait to smack 'em back or something.
Does it make you proud to be part of such a groundbreaking movie?
Yes, when we were shooting we were proud to be part of it. We knew it was going to be incredible.
How was it on set with the other girls?
Well, I didn't really work with any of them, but we were all out there hugging and kissing each other all the time (laughs). They are beautiful women.
But you did a lot with Bruce Willis. How was that?
What was it like 'making out' with Bruce Willis?
Well, the way you make it sound it was like some teenage make out steamy car thing (laughs) and it was actually a very romantic grand passionate kiss and we spent a lot of time trying to make it as epic a moment as we could.
What did you think of their relationship in the story?
I think it's beautiful. I think it's a really beautiful love story and I think his sacrifice is unbelievable, you know somebody who sacrifices their life for somebody is the most beautiful, romantic thing.
You studied theatre with William H Macy, has that helped prepare you for roles like this?
If you sat down with Bill, he's not a very serious guy. The technique is serious I guess but I approach it all the same way. If I was sitting there poking fun at what I do in this movie then nobody would believe it was real. I do everything with conviction so whether I do a movie that is the heightened reality of a comic book or a heightened reality in a movie it's no different. I think every good movie is ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
You've been working non-stop for the last year. Is a vacation on the cards?
No, I don't think so. I think I'm going to live here and enjoy my house and see what happens with FANTASTIC FOUR and see where I can go next with my career.
Are you nervous about that?
Yeah, a little. I want to see it, for sure. The special effects look really good.
It's a big summer for you with all of these films coming out. How do you think that will change your life?
I don't know. We'll see how it goes. I don't really think about it too much, I just want them to do well and I want to continue to do this for a living.
How was it acting with the green screen?
Well we had a bar set and then we also had a stage with green all around. Even when I was dancing on the green screen, there was still a lot of crew around so it was as if I was in a bar and a bunch of people were looking up so it was just as nerve wracking.
In terms of the craft of acting, were you comfortable with that?
Well, you know Robert had shown us some pictures of the set that he had already taken and some footage and with Frank's books, I pretty much knew what I was looking at.
Did you know Frank's books before taking the part?
No, I'd never seen them before. But when I did I thought they were excellent, I never knew comic books were written so well. I thought they were larger than life super hero stories and I never really thought of them like this. They are very dark, very complicated.
What did you think of the dialogue?
To me it's like film noir, classic, it's like the way people spoke back in the thirties and forties and there's a rhythm to the dialogue that we just don't have anymore and it was neat to play with that and find that rhythm.,
What about the visual style. Does that dominate everything else?
No. I think the style enhances the film. It put the movie on a pedestal and never took away from it and I think it brought to life all of our characters being surrounded by all these great visuals, the black and white, all the contrasts.
Was it essential that Frank Miller was on set?
Yes, he created this world, he invented these characters, he has been through everyone of their journeys, I think he needed to be there because this is his baby.
What was it like to witness the relationship between Frank Miller and Robert Rodriquez?
They are kindred spirits but completely polar opposites. From Robert being a musician, very out going, being a star himself and then Frank is very internal and very intense and very quiet. But they got along like apples and oranges.
Was there a feeling among the actors of being part of something groundbreaking?
Everybody knew it was going to be cool, everybody knew it was going to be pushing the boundaries, everybody knew it was going to be special. I don't know how you can do the movie and not think that.
Did you ever feel that the film ever bordered on the misogynistic?
No, I thought it was kind of empowering. All the women were very strong, very opinionated, living their own lives. No, not at all. If anything there was a lot more violence towards the men in this movie. You saw Mickey Rourke get the crap beaten out of him several times (laughs). I was like 'oh no, not again!
Question & Answer Text Copyright Buena Vista International