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March 2005
Ice Princess: An Interview with Michelle Trachtenberg


Ice Princess: An Interview with Michelle Trachtenberg

By Todd Gilchrist

Michelle Trachtenberg is currently best known for her role as Dawn Summers, the younger sister of vampire killer Buffy on the popular television series of the same name. Subsequently, she appeared in the teen comedy "Eurotrip", and this month she makes her first major bid for leading-lady success with "Ice Princess", in which she plays a bookworm who aspires to become a world-class figure skater. In this recent interview with blackfilm.com, Trachtenberg explains what physical and emotional challenges she faced in playing the role, remembers what it's like to meet real skating star Michelle Kwan, and describes what it's like to be dating an X-Man, Shawn Ashmore.


SO IS THIS YOUR MILLION DOLLAR BABY?

MT: Yes. I really struggled with the lack of makeup in this role and just being - no, I'm kidding. In the physical sense, it is. I trained extremely hard for the movie. When we weren't shooting, I was working, training five hours a day, five days a week, and I had ballet every other day. Was constantly on the ice. And then when we were shooting, I was working seven days a week - because five days of shooting and then on the weekends doing all the choreography, learning whatnot, and I was working 20-22 hour days, because I was one of the only adults on the movie outside of Joan and Kim. And everyone else was pretty much a minor, so after 10 hours they went home and I was still there on ice skates, working my way around.


SO WHAT'S HARDER - SKATING OR Acting?

MT: Skating. By far. It's cold and the skirts are short. I thought - okay, I do a bikini scene, I'm done, that's it, that's my sex scene, you know. But you know you have the little skirts and everything. It's an adjustment, but the tights are really thick. So you have the good skating tights on, which is great.


DID YOU HURT YOURSELF AT ALL?

MT: I did. I tore a couple of ligaments, dislocated knee or so, did a little bit of here and there. It sounds really bad, but those are all things that happen to athletes. I mean, I'm very lucky because I didn't get any stress fractures which is oen of the hugest things, but I literally -- I'd never trained to be an ice skater before, so when I was 8 or 9, I was like - oh, I want to be an ice skater. And I took one lesson and it was like - heh, heh,. no. I'll stick to acting, thank you, but I was obsessed with Michelle Kwan and everything was so pretty and Oksana Bayul (SP?), they were just perfect. And then when Disney came to me with this movie, I was like - okay! I can ice skate. No problem. I'm done. I did it at a party once. Yeah, they were like - right. So spiral. Which is you're on one leg and you have one leg completely behind you. And it's really cool because one day my coach came up to me and she said, "If you had started this when you were five years old, you'd be able to do those double axles and everything." So I was sort of natural at it, which was kind of fun.


SO WHAT WERE YOU ABLE TO DO AT THE END?

MT: I do waltz jumps and I can land a single toe loop which was the day I think literally the entire ice rink started cheering. . . it wasn't like the most perfect form but my toe pick stuck in the ice which was all I wanted. But I do a lot of the party tricks like the spirals and (sounds like: bowers) and crossovers, but my big thing, which none of my doubles could do - I had a stunt double who'd do all the falls and one that would do the double, triple whatevers - no one could do an outside edge spreadeagle which is basically your feet like this in one line and you're leaning back on the outside edge and going around on a curve, and not even a lot of skaters who are Olympic levels can do that because it depends on how your body's spread out. So whenever they needed that, there's one shot in the movie where it starts out on my feet and just moves up and it's just across the entire rink. I'm very proud of that shot.


Did it build up your leg muscles?

MT: Oh yeah, I had killer thighs, just like rock hard. I don't exercise at all, and I know that sounds really evil, but I just don't like physical activity. So training for this movie was just quite an experience. It's like - this is the best shape I'll ever be in for my entire life, because after today I'm going back to Nutella and crackers and cheese.


WHAT ABOUT YOUR AFFINITY TO MATH?

MT: It's funny. I hate Math. I'm just going to get it out there. When I was in school I always thought Math was stupid and pointless until one day my teacher came up to me and he was like - yeah. It's pointless. You won't ever use Pythagorean theorems, you won't ever apply any of these formulas, but you can solve problems. Yeah, yeah, everyone can solve problems. No, math teaches you logic, so that was one way I was able to accept Math for getting to a, b, c - that's what Math gives you. So that's how I connected.


WHAT ABOUT THIS?

MT: I actually understood the physics. I was really proud of myself. I was like writing things out. And on my second or third year deferring from USC, so as I'm writing out all these physics, I'm like - oh, I'm so smart, I remember these things! And I was able to write it out and then it was checked by a physics person, and they're like, yeah, that's great, she's good.


HER THEORIES OF PHYSICS IN THE FILM RE FIGURE SKATING? THERE IS A LEGITIMATE BASIS FOR IT?

MT: Oh, Every theory that I say in the movie, every physic shout out is all correct. In fact, we shot one scene where I say m x a = m mass and all that stuff, and we mixed up a letter, so there's one shot where you're like why are we on the back of her head? Because we looped in the right term, because we didn't want to teach any kids wrong.


IS YOU MOM MORE LIKE KIM OR JOAN?

MT: She's actually not like either mom, not like either mom at all actually. She is really proud of me, and is really happy that I'm doing something that I love and am most passionate about, but when I started acting, the first thing she said was: Great. If you want to be an actress, that's awesome (but) you have to go to school. You have to have your education, that's first and foremost, and everything else comes separate. She's never a stage mom. So she never pushed any of her particular ideals or opinions on me. She always just did what was best and she's been my inspiring force. She's just always been there for me, and that's really important. Very supportive and of course now she's like - oh, I'm happy that you stuck with the acting thing. You're so pretty out there honey. She gets so excited. Like we just got Tivo and she put my name in and now she watches every single thing. I'm like, "Mom, no, just don't." She's like, "But look, that episode from when you were five is on." Like, "Yeah, I can't watch it." She gets really excited.


EVER HAVE ANY BAD HIGH SCHOOL JOBS?

MT: No, I've been acting since I was three, so I've never known any other job. One day I worked at a friend's store and (laughs) I'm so good at sales. I just have to say that, because it was a baby store and I sold like $5,000 worth of baby stuff in one day. I was literally pulling people off - it was like: You need to buy this for the baby. This is perfect and it's so pretty, and you're going to have babies so you should be prepared. I sold and that was really fun because I actually got to see and talk to people. The one thing that you don't get with movies is that you don't actually get to talk or experience the people that you're putting these things out for. With sitcoms, the audience is right there. You can hear them laugh immediately. TV it's right away. With movies you gotta wait some time. So it's interesting.


DO YOU THINK YOU'LL EVER HAVE THE URGE TO ICE SKATE AGAIN?

MT: You never know. I'm honestly very busy right now with acting stuff because that is my first and foremost. To be an athlete takes a grueling amount of discipline and just everything. I don't know that I have that focus right now because it's all about acting. I think in a couple of years my friend's going to have an ice skating party, and I'm going to be like "watch what I can do. Who thinks you're cool now?"


YOU ADMIRED MICHELLE KWAN WHEN YOU WERE LITTLE. WHAT WAS IT LIKE MEETING HER?

MT: Amazing. It was so cool. I was just like the biggest nerd. It was like - you're Michelle Kwan. That was literally my first thing. It was like really? Cause she didn't know she was Michelle Kwan. I had to tell her, and she was so so cool and so nice, and she was just supposed to do a cameo in the movie. We had B roll that day and somewhere someone asked her if she would get on the ice with me, so we all expected Michelle Kwan to be like - well, no, I'm sorry but she was like Okay. She got on the ice with me, skated around. First of all, to see her on the ice is like I would imagine watching Sean Penn or Dustin Hoffman work. It's just so effortless and brilliant. And she turned around to me and she's like - you're good, you're a natural for what time you've had and what you've accomplished. I'm impressed. So that to me that was the utmost compliment. She's a really cool girl.


DID YOU DO YOUR ROUTINE?

MT: (excited) Yes, yes, yes! She saw it. Then she was like - that was really good. And then the outside edge spreadeagle. And then I did a bower and she's like - you've got more stretch in your bower. And I'm like - I'm sorry . She's like, eh, it's your legs are longer. There you go, that works.


HOW WAS TORONTO?

MT: Toronto was great. Toronto was really, really nice. They're very good to me in Toronto. All of Canada is actually, but my entire life, I've never worked in Vancouver, oddly enough. And that's such a centre for movies and such. I've only mostly done Toronto. My first movie was in Toronto 10 years ago, which was Harriet The Spy. Driving by the Sutton Place (Hotel) which was where I stayed when I was 10 was like (gasp) I remember what that feeling was that first day walking into the big hotel. It was really cool. My boyfriend's from Toronto - he's from B.C. but has a place in Toronto.


Who is he?

MT: Shawn Ashmore, he's an actor. I had to think about that. I was up at 7 this morning, I don't know.


How did you meet an X-Man?

MT: Well, I put out an add in the classifieds: Wanted, superhero. I'm a damsel in distress. No, we just met, which is funny, knowing Shawn, he hates anything publicity. Hes so not into that world. We met at an Oscar party and he was just like Mr. Grumpy unhappy to be out in public and I totally approached him. I was the forward one, I take full credit and actually, we've been together a year.


Last year's Oscars?

MT: Mm-hmm. Today a year.


You seem so outgoing? MT: Really? Damn, I tried so hard to be shy this time.


Does the real you come out in your acting?

MT: I don't know. I should preface the real answer by saying that every character that I play is like a tiny per cent of my personality sort of heightened. So I'm also very adamant about never really playing the same character again. So whereas people might see this and say - oh, that's sort of like Buffy, that's sort of like this - it's not at all because it's my very first character that I have to be unconfident and scared and insecure and everything. That was sort of a struggle and I guess my personality comes through in the skating in terms of Casey because that's like stronger and powerful. I think in acting not necessarily the real me comes out, because you're acting, so you don't ever want to be too realistic. But just parts - like different little parts of you. The real me is sitting at home, no makeup, in my old sweatpants, watching DVDs. And no makeup is a big thing because I love makeup. So that's me. I'm there clicking on my Tivo watching Law And Order with my sister because I'm obsessed.


YOU'VE ALREADY DONE A DVD COMMENTARY FOR THIS MOVIE.

MT: Yes. Actually, Trevor and I and Kristen did it together - everyone's schedules are insane to get it coordinated. It was weird because I so am not a fan of watching my own work. . . The funny thing is originally they'd talked about filming us watching the movie, and I was like - oh my god, but my face is going to like show emotion - it was like oh, no. That's how I am watching my own stuff. I'm the most critical person. It was weird because we haven't even come out yet, and we're like talking about it like - yeah, heh, that's old news. It was fun to see like . oh my god, bad hair day! Really bad hair day! Like you could sort of fix everything that you wanted to when you were shooting. But the best parts about the DVD commentary was when we went to do reshoots, there was one thing missing when we were filming. It wasn't a specific scene (but) it's just I wanted a scene in there for my character to come right out and say: I want to ice skate, this is my passion, this is what I want most in the world and it wasn't there. There wasn't written and it just sort of lacked. And that was something that I felt little girls and their moms can connect to more than anything because how can you deny anyone their passion? I mean, my mom didn't deny it for me and that's been an awesome thing. So when we did reshoots, they wrote that scene. So I was doing the DVD commentary and I was just like - this is the scene that I wanted more than anything, and I hope everyone loves it because I think it's one of the best scenes in the movie - that and when Joan and I are in the dining room and we're eating and I'm telling her just how much I love it. She's like well, I don't. That struggle and that whole thing. So that was cool to do the DVD commentary about that. Those mushrooms were really cold that we were eating.


But they did not film you watching it?

MT: No, no. Because I'm just a spaz. That's what Casey and I relate to. We're both complete - - I'll be just like walking and I can trip over my own feet. I've actually tripped standing, which I don't understand. It's weird. My boyfriend thinks it's cute.


WOULD YOU DO A SEQUEL BECAUSE I KNOW YOU DON'T LIKE PLAYING A CHARACTER MORE THAN ONCE. ANY TALK ABOUT DOING A BUFFY MOVIE?

MT: I'm sure that there was tons of talk. I'd heard something here and there. The thing that I never want to play a character again - I don't mean any disrespect for the creators and producers of my previous projects because I never pick a project carelessly. I always have some heart attached to it. Buffy was my all-time favorite show before I was on it. So I loved Dawn. She was an awesome character and that was where I was at that point in my life. I was, you know, 14-17, which is hugely different. I'm almost 20 now. I'll be 20 in October, so reprising a character is something - never say never. As opposed to a sequel for this - the story would have to be amazing because I really feel so proud of what we have on the screen right now. It's not a Disney kitschy movie. It's a heartfelt loving story. And to have anything less than that as a sequel would be doing a disservice to the original story. So you never know.


BUT IF JOSS CAME UP WITH AN IDEA FOR A TV MOVIE WHERE DAWN WAS IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PLACE AND MUCH OLDER WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN SOMETHING LIKE THAT?

MT: You never know, again, like I said, you'd have to see the material and also I have so many projects that I want to do right now after Ice Princess and all that, that you have to make sure it fits into that vein because I believe every actor's path is sort of set and you don't want to veer too much away from moving on and growing as an actor.


DO YOU HAVE THE SAME PASSION FOR ICE SKATING AS ACTING, AND IF YOU CAN'T GO FULL FORCE, YOU SHOULDN'T GET IN?

MT: I think definitely. I know I'm incredibly lucky to have found my passion early in life, and the second that I say this sucks or it's too hard, then I'm done. Because my heart and soul are not going into my projects any more. But I think that in order to really give respect to your audience, you have to be there full force. And there are so many girls out there that are actors that are sort of about the hype and about the this, and it's just like: you know, that's fine, you'll have your time, that's cool, I respect you for your work. But what I want more than anything is longevity, so passion leads to longevity.


YOU HAVE TWO TOTALLY CONTRASTING MOVIES THIS SEASON. WHAT ABOUT MYSTERIOUS SKIN?

MT: Mysterious Skin was actually filmed before Ice Princess, so it's kind of interesting, it was filmed right after Eurotrip, I was actually 17 when I filmed it. It is completely different. I mean there's no words to describe how insanely different these two movies are, and that's awesome for me as an actress because it shows complete range. I never want to be pegged into something, like I keep saying. It's a true story that Greg Araki adapted into a screenplay about two boys who experience something traumatic in their lives and how they each grow up to deal with it. And I play Joe Gordon-Levitt's best friend who's the wild child boy and it's very dark and very poignant and beautiful and moving and everything, and unlike anything anyone's seen me in, and I'm very proud of it.


AND NOT G RATED?

MT: No, I think we begged for the R rating on Mysterious Skin. Like please? Okay.


HOW MANY FALLS DID YOU TAKE?

MT: A few. That's probably why my knee cap's off kilter because when you're doing a spiral, you put all your weight on the knees. But basically, unless you're doing crazy jumps, you can sort of prevent yourself from falling. You can see the distance and feel yourself on the ice, but I fell on my butt a couple of times in front of a couple of thousand extras. That was awesome. They're like, "Yeah, Dawn fell on her ass!" But for the most part, they were all very nice, so I laughed. When you laugh, it all goes away.


Did you have input into the last costume?

MT: I did. It was all hand done to me and each rhinestone was particularly placed, but I specifically was there because I wanted that moment to just be her crowning glory. It sort of feels like water because I think you're reborn through water, I guess back in the day, so it just flows. And it felt so pretty.

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