Coming out this week from 20th Century Fox is Alita: Battle Angel, which stars Rosa Salazar in the title role, along with Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz, Jackie Earl Haley, Ed Skrein, Eiza Gonzales, Lana Condor, Leonard Wu, Michelle Rodriguez, Jennifer Connelly, and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali.
Produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau, the film is directed by Robert Rodriguez from a screenplay by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis.
Battle Angel takes place in the 26th century and tells the story of Alita, an amnesiac female cyborg who is rescued from a scrapyard by a doctor, rebuilt with no memory of her previous life excepting her kickass martial arts skills, and becomes a bounty hunter tracking down vicious criminals. Within the context of an epic action-adventure, the film aims to explore a young woman’s journey of self-discovery and finding love.
For Salazar, this is a big leading role for the Washington D.C. native. Previous seen in Maze Runner: The Death Cure, CHIPS, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, The Kindergarten Teacher and more recently Bird Box opposite Sandra Bullock, Salazar is rising up the charts as an emerging leading actress.
Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Salazar about her experience working on Alita, being a Latina actress in a lead role and working with the cast.
Can you talk about the pressure of being the lead of a film?
Rosa Salazar: It was a responsibility that I was ready to take on. I have been doing a lot of work in a supporting capacity and I had a lot of creative energy. I was really wishing for a role that would allow me to show the sort of level that I have as a performer. By the time this came around, I was so ready. I shot right out of the gate. I didn’t really feel any pressure. I definitely felt the responsibility to do the source material justice, but I really came on board as a collaborator and less than a contestant in a sweepstakes.
What was the most challenging aspect of doing this film?
Rosa Salazar: In a practical role, you have a lot of cues that tell you where you are in the story, where your character is and I didn’t have that here because I didn’t have any physical cues, prosthetics, costumes or makeup to help me transform into the role and challenges for that day and that time in the script. So, basically I had to track her growth while shooting out of order. That trajectory was pitch perfect all the time because I’m a grey suit that neutralizes me as a person. That was sort of challenging. To make sure I was tracking her trajectory appropriately.
What did you do physically to get prepared for the role?
Rosa Salazar: I did five months of martial arts training and that was really challenging as well. I didn’t want to one of these actors that looks good on screen but can’t do any of the moves. I wanted to be good on screen. I wanted to be great. I dove head first into the training and I did about 2 1/2 to 3 hours everyday for about five months. I did a lot of kickboxing because I needed to get my endurance up to a new level to be able to perform stunts in a performance capture suit on set for 13-14 hour days for months. I need to get myself into a place where I can do that physically.
For the fans who know the story, will there be a difference from what they see on screen?
Rosa Salazar: I think that we were really faithful to the source material to what Yukito Kishiro created in his manga. We really included him in the process. A lot of times when they translate a manga to the screen, they do the Hollywood version. They don’t do the cinematic version. We wanted to do the cinematic version of his work. He was heavily involved in the process. I also spent a lot of time with the manga. I read all of Last Order. I spent a lot of time with the character and with his world. She was ingrained in me before I started. Obviously, some things changed in translation when switched to different mediums but overall, I think that we were really faithful as a fan myself now, I was really protective over that, especially the character of Alita.
What did you learn from Robert Rodriguez that you can take to your next project?
Rosa Salazar: Robert is an actor’s director. What he did for me was that he gave me back my voice, the same way Ito gives Alita her body. As a Latin actress who mainly was doing supportive roles, I was sort of relegated to the backs of scenes and silenced in some ways. I wanted to fully flesh out characters. I wanted to add suggestions and I wanted to be more of a team player. In a way, I was told to do my part and we’ll handle the rest. I really felt stifled creatively but nonetheless I still did a good job and kept my head down and did those parts hoping that I would be able to win a part like this one where I could flex a little bit. What Robert did when he gave me the role, was say that it was now my time to shine. He stood back and let me step forward. All of my suggestions and all of my thoughts and all of my creative juices were always welcomed and that empowered me in a way that I always thought it would. He is an empowering director. He hires you because he knows who you are and that you are capable of doing this job. He knows how and when to step in. There is no ego there. It’s all about empowering the actors and watching them do their thing that you hired them to do and stepping out of the way.
Can you talk out being a Latina actress and being in a lead role?
Rosa Salazar: Yes. This is definitely something to help that movement. It’s a new wave of casting and here’s why. I’m a Latin actress and a lot of the times they want to cast a Latin actress in a specific Latin role. I’m a Latin actress who got cast in a role that is not Latin centric. It was just that I was the best person for the job and I happen to be Latin. This is the new wave of casting people based solely on their merit and what they can provide to the character and to the story and it doesn’t have to be a Latin centric role to cast a Latin actress.
How was working with the cast?
Rosa Salazar: It was wonderful. John Landau is one of the greatest producers to ever produce and his insight to the casting process was vital. He knows what energy might work together and with him and James Cameron and Robert, also casting geniuses and Mary Vernieu, the casting agent and also a casting genius, they knew who might work well together and they were right.
I had such an amazing experience working with Mahershala Ali. The night we worked together, he had just been nominated for an Oscar for Moonlight and his beautiful wife was about to give birth to their first child. There was so much energy and so much going on in his life. When he was on set, he is so cool and he gave so much of himself at a time when he had so much going on in his life. He really knocked it out of the park and working with him was inspiring. I have a wish list of people I want to work with and he’s right at the top of it and so is Christoph Waltz and Jennifer Connelly. In fact, I was just thinking of the films she’s done from Requiem for a Dream, and Labyrinth and Dark City and A Beautiful Mind. She’s such an amazing and versatile actor and to get to work with her a little bit was a charmed experience. Christoph is so highly intelligent but he’s a player. He plays in the scene. He’s very subtle in everything that he’s giving you but he’s giving you so much and it was such a joy to see that energy back and forth.
What do you have coming up?
Rosa Salazar: I have this amazing show called Undone that’s for Amazon. It’s eight episodes of a wild ride. It’s brilliant story, also father-daughter centric story. It’s a Latin character but that’s an afterthought. It’s just a girl who happens to be half-Mexican, half-Jewish. She does go into it. She investigates her heritage but it services the story and her spiritual journey. I’m very excited about that.
The film is slated for a February 14, 2019 release in 3D & IMAX!
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