Who is she? She’s a courageous actress doing her own stunts in Poseidon. She’s a New Yorker. She’s an aspiring singer/songwriter. She gets career counseling from Clint Eastwood and Sean Penn. Among all this and other things, she is wise beyond her years. What she’s not… is a tabloid pop tart.
Q: Why did you want to do another disaster movie?
You know, Wolfgang Petersen I’ve always really admired. Films like The Perfect Storm, Das Boot. This is like “Das Big Boot.” I’m always really impressed by how he blends that kind of action thriller suspense with character and with emotion and what real people go through in these kinds of situations. And he sent me this script and called me about it right after the tsunami problems. And it just really hit home for me because I’d been watching it on the news every day. It really moved me because of that and realizing how the everyday quarrels and petty arguments that you have with your parents or the people that you love don’t really matter. Especially when you’re in these kinds of situations, the only thing that matters is being with the people that you love and being strong. And I was really impressed by a character who wasn’t really the damsel in distress which a lot of the times the girls are like whimpering in the corner. She’s pretty courageous for a 19-year-old girl in this kind of situation.
Q: Did Day After Tomorrow help out for you in terms of stunts?
I mean, I thought it would, but going into it, I really couldn’t anticipate how difficult it was going to be. It was really the toughest thing I think I’ve ever done, movie or otherwise in my life. I mean, it was the most physically difficult thing I’ve ever done. To have to learn how to scuba dive and free dive. Kurt Russell got pneumonia, Josh Lucas broke 10 tendons in his right hand, Mia was in the hospital with a concussion, the kid had a concussion. It was a pretty intense shoot. I was pretty much like purple from the neck down with bruises. Every time everyone would fall, it’d be like, ‘Man down, cut!’ It was a crazy time, but it was a lot of fun and it gave me an opportunity to do things and experience things and conquer fears that I never would have done. I mean, our first day of training they introduced me to this contraption called the Cage of Death. I was like, ‘Can’t we call it the Cage of Life? I don’t know. A little more optimism here?’ Which was this plexiglass cube that they would sink over my head very slowly and I would have to gasp for my last breath. I’d basically sit under water until I had no air left and then give them the sign and they’d raise it up until after I was basically half done.
Q: Why was that?
Training to build your lung capacity and also for you to conquer your own panic. To realize that when you’re in situations and shooting really 20 feet underwater in enclosed spaces, I mean, they wanted us to be like little Navy SEALS. But as a girl, I had to show the guys that girls are tough too.
Q: Kurt [Russell, as your dad] overreacts to your lowcut shirt in the movie. Did your parents ever have issues with how you dressed or anything else?
No, I mean, in terms of dressing, I’m pretty conservative myself. I’m not one of those girls to have belly button rings and that kind of thing.
Q: Neither was your character, though.
No, but she’s a pretty feisty, opinionated kind of girl. Which was fun to play. I think I am getting less shy as I get older so maybe I’m getting a little bit more like her. But yeah, my parents aren’t in the business. My dad’s a banker and my mom’s a photographer and they’re divorced and I’ve pretty much grown up with my mom. So I guess because neither of them are in the business and I’ve always done everything a kind of unconventional way — I mean, I started singing at the opera when I was seven after my music teacher sent me over there from school. And became an actress when I was 12 after I got too tall for the children’s costumes at the opera. It all just has kind of snowballed from there and as long as I continue to do my education, my parents supported me. But the things that I am conventional with are like my normal life. Things I’m unconventional with are like my schooling and the kind of work that I do.
Q: How do you mean, you’re getting less shy?
With boys I think. I used to be scared to ask a guy out and now I’m not.
Q: Did you bond with or learn from the older actors on the set?
Yes. Kurt definitely. I mean, I felt like a lot of our scenes are together and the relationship between our characters is quite tumultuous and I felt like I really learned a lot from his ability to improvise. Especially in a situation like this where the emotional intensity is so high and some of the dialogue that’s written on the page just doesn’t seem right so he really took his character from the inside out as did I as well. And just tried to make it as real and in the moment and spontaneous as possible.
Q: How did Wolfgang keep things light on the set?
He’s probably one of my favorite people that I’ve ever worked for. He’s probably the kindest when you really get to know him. He’s a bit shy. But when you do get to know him, he’s so kind and really very funny. He kept the mood light by encouraging everyone to be really close. I know Josh Lucas barbecued every day outside his trailer and Kurt was always ordering sushi and everyone was always having friends over to the set. It was a very warm atmosphere and there was a lot of laughter if you can believe it in between surfacing and going back under. Just sometimes noticing how ludicrous our job is at some points. You’re 20 feet underwater dodging bodies right and left. It’s kind of unbelievable. And I would say Wolfgang, you must have talked about his soup so far — His 11 o’clock soup which is quite famous. Did they tell you every soup has sausage in it? It’s chicken noodle with sausage, miso soup with sausage, clam chowder with sausage, gumbo with sausage, cream of asparagus with sausage. Every soup has sausage in it, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t get a very good rating.
Q: How did he compare to Roland Emmerich?
Gosh, those Germans love me. They’re very, very different. Roland is obviously much more about the overall concept of the film whereas Wolfgang is much more invested in the characters I think.
Q: Did you ever feel like someone might die on the film?
I mean, at moments, yeah, but I just pretty much held onto Kurt the whole time and he just kept saying, ‘It’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be okay.’ So he was kind of my father figure on set which was nice. But yeah, there were moments that were really scary but once you realize that panic and fear is so much just in your head, you can just pretty much put it out of your mind.
Q: Did you ever wonder if wondering if you’d die [for real] was the best thing professionally?
Thank you. No, I don’t think I really ever want to die on set. But when I was doing Songcatcher, there were such dangerous moments where we were on the side of a cliff and I was tied to a tree because the cliff was so steep and the horse that was pulling a buggy with Janet McTeer in it literally toppled over the mountainside and she went toppling and broke her arm. So there are moments in big budget films or little budget films where they don’t have the money for all the special effects they’re trying to accomplish. You’re sometimes always in a dangerous situation.
Q: Besides bruises, did you have any injuries?
Q: How did you do the jump with Kurt Russell?
Well, we really did it over that pit of boiling/broiling water and it was really that high, long of a drop. And I was really hanging onto his back by that thing but we were tied to the ceiling by a very, very tiny little wire which was really more like a spool of thread which they assured us would hold us and we just had to put our faith in that.
Q: How many takes?
10. But I think it’s funny because I said to the guys, ‘Can we construct some kind of platform with crash mats? God forbid.’ And they’re like, ‘No, we feel that might give you a false sense of security.’ And I was like, ‘Really? Because I’d be okay with that.’ But there were a lot of times like that.
Q: Did you look at any character from the original?
You know, I’ve never seen the original. I didn’t want to be — I hadn’t seen it and I didn’t want to be influenced by the original material. I think I’m making a habit of that because I didn’t see the original Phantom of the Opera either. But no, I just looked at news footage of the people who survived the tsunamis and the hurricanes and things like that. I tried to base the experiences on that and find a real level and somebody in particular whose voice I heard in a recording in a disaster I could identify with and gave me the key into the character.
Q: If you were in this situation, would you stay with the captain or try to go up?
I’d go wherever the people that I love are going. And if they happened to be as cute as Mike Vogel, I’m definitely going with them. [laughs]
Q: How is your singing career going?
Really well. I just signed a record deal with Geffen and I’m recording my first solo record which is pop actually, but not bubble gum. It’s much more like David Grey, Sarah McLachlan, Annie Lennox which is really exciting because I’m writing a lot of it. Most- – all of the lyrics actually and I’m collaborating on the music with Glen Ballard who’s a really great record producer, so I’m really excited about that. We’re doing that right now and I think it’s a great opportunity because I don’t really live my life in the media spotlight and people don’t know that much really about me or what I think. So I’ve spent really time becoming other characters and viewing films that way. So I think this is an opportunity for me to kind of talk a little bit from my heart. Q: How have you been able to stay out of the spotlight? You’re not considered a tabloid “pop tart” like Britney Spears or Lindsey Lohan.
You know, I live in New York and it’s a lot easier because of that. There are paparazzi there and tabloids that sometimes follow me around, but I don’t date celebrities really or I try not to and all my friends are the same ones I’ve had since before I was an actress so that’s how I know that I can trust them. And I don’t really run with that kind of LA young Hollywood party scene. It’s just not my thing.
Q: Are you still in college?
[pause] Yes. Yes, I am. I’m playing hooky right now. But I do plan to go back at some point but right now, I have to kind of go with the momentum that I have of working on the record and the films. I’m still learning, reading all the time and traveling. I’m going to China this summer so I’m pretty excited.
Q: How many semesters would you have left?
Q: You won’t put your film career on hold while you pursue music?
Q: Why do you like Ralph Lauren clothing so much?
Well, he was kind of the first designer to approach me, to help me. He’s personally very friendly with Joel Schumaker and that’s how I kind of connected with him after we shot Phantom. And I really like his aesthetic. It’s kind of New York feminine chic but not overtly sexy which is kind of my thing. And he’s a lovely person and I’ve gotten to know him and his family very well and he’s very generous with me with offering to design me clothes for premieres and things like that. So that’s just why I like him, but I’m also friendly with other designers like John Galliano at Dior. I’m not really like other young actresses. I don’t have a stylist so I kind of do it all myself which is really fun.
Q: When does your album drop [laughs], to use the vernacular…?
Word. Top of next year, I think.
Q: You’re writing the songs, are you drawing from your own life?
Yeah, which is great because I feel like I’ve spent so many years playing characters that this gives me an opportunity to get to know myself a little bit.
Q: Do you have a theme you’re going for?
Not especially. I mean, just speaking honestly. It comes also from a frustration of when I listen to the radio in the last two years, nothing seems really emotionally honest or moving. So I kind of want to bring some of that rawness back.
Q: What is your love ballad about?
Love lost, of course.
Q: Are there difficulties shifting your voice from opera to pop?
No, not at all because the first film I did was called Songcatcher and it was about country music and I ended up doing a song with Dolly Parton. So I’ve actually found that my classical foundation and just keeping your voice healthy in that way doesn’t mean that you have to sing obviously in that kind of classical way. It just means that you keep yourself healthy and you never lose your voice.
Q: Would you like to do another musical?
Yeah. Definitely at some point. It was the perfect blend of things for me. I mean, if it was the right thing, if it was going to be totally different, probably contemporary but nothing that’s come by my desk right now that I’m really into.
Q: Do you listen to the CD of your Phantom?
No. I heard it enough over the six months and I sang it on Good Morning America and all those kinds of things that I got it out of my system.
Q: What’s next for you?
I’m working on my record and then I don’t know. I’ll probably go back to school a little bit and I’m really picky about films. I only like to do things that really come along. Sean Penn and Clint Eastwood have told me a lot that I shouldn’t feel that I need to be in the limelight or the spotlight all the time, that I should just — a career is about longevity, as shown in their careers. So I really want to only do the best things and work with the best people, and that’s what I strive to do.