Did the fact that it was a performance capture role appeal?
Yeah. I wanted to do performance capture, because I love acting. And I love finding new ways that I can bend my craft and use it to funnel it towards this goal we're all trying to create. So it was a combination of things that appealed: the writing, the pedigree, these two guys that know how to direct a woman who is dynamic, has a range and is fighting for something. All of that's compelling to me. Even the studio it was at ¬– I've worked with Fox for so long that I love them. So, it was everything really: the stars aligned for this. And I really wanted to be a Latin woman who is leading a studio franchise with a big budget. Just to show that you can be a Latin woman leading a huge budget studio film.
Is performance capture acting very different from ‘normal’ acting?
Well I would say that in the beginning you think that there's a huge difference. After doing it, I would say that there's no difference at all, except that you have to accommodate all of these extra things like the wetsuit they put you in and the dots, and coming in every day and scanning into the system and having a helmet, having a boom on your head, having the extra weight, compensating for the weight and then when they take the helmet off, your head leans the other way. Like bodily things, physical things that you have to deal with and incorporate as an actor. But in terms of performance, I found out that it was very much the same.
Did you do any research or prep?
I am such a big fan of Andy Serkis that I watched every single behind the scenes featurette a long time ago on DVD. And then I was watching Benedict Cumberbatch as Smog, and a lot of the Apes movies which were done by Weta Digital Effects who also did Alita. I talked to the technician, Paul Alvarez, who was the one hands-on working on the boom and fixing the helmet and making sure I have the dots on correctly. He enlightened me so much to the process and now I go to Manhattan Beach Studios just so I can shadow Jim as a director of performance capture, because that's where I think it gets really, really technical and interesting because I'm dealing with this set of things that I have to incorporate with the motion capture, but Jim's dealing with 75 million other things that he has to incorporate to make it work. Performance capture is so interesting. You can be in a scene with someone, say, a love scene that I have with Keean and really it all melts away. You hear actors say that and you're like ‘Okay, you're wearing a boom on your head, it's five pounds. Like, how does that melt away?’ But it just does. The shock value melts away when you're in those scenes and you're really focused and in it.
It sounds like you’re already prepping to one day direct a motion capture film.
Yeah, I secretly am. I'm eager to learn and I feel like Robert and Jim respond to that. They want to be mentors. There are some people in this business that don't and that's perfectly fine. But Robert and Jim do. They are really generous with their wisdom.Did you have to learn a lot of fighting skills?
Yeah. Training almost killed me. When I walked in there, I was made out of croissants. I was writing my short film. And writers don't eat well. So, I was really out of shape. I mean, I was thin, but I had no endurance, no core. I trained with Keith Hirabayashi for months and months and months. And I changed to a plant-based diet and it was very hard. I'd never changed my diet in that way before. Does it feel almost like you have kind of a different body?
Well, now I'm vegan. Because James Cameron convinced me to be vegan and he's right. Plant-based diet. So, yeah, I am constantly finding that my body is very different. But you feel stronger, more capable. And it's not just me. I have to say there are nine women that bring Alita to life. Whenever we reach my physical capabilities or abilities, another person takes over who's been doing this for life. So you have many, many martial artists. You have contortionists. You have rollerbladers. You have different kinds of rollerbladers, trick rollerbladers. And then you have me doing all the acting when they're recording the bodily info.So emotionally, Alita’s human. But in terms of physicality, did you have to play her slightly…
No. Although I had practiced and practiced with a friend who helps me read lines. And I was very stiff, very Ex Machina. I had all of these movements, all these intricate finger twitches and whatever. As you do. And right before I went in to audition, I suddenly thought, ‘Hey, wait a second. She’s not a robot, she's a cyborg….’ Her body was created by Ido [Christoph Waltz] who is a cybernetic surgeon, so he knows what he’s doing. She doesn’t move in a stiff way. In fact, the way she moves is very cat like. Even smoother than a normal person. Not only is she not stiff or robotic, her body movements are very fluid.