When I got to visit the set of director Jonathan Liebesman’s Battle: Los Angeles when the production was filming in Shreveport, Louisiana in October of 2009, I was able to interview Aaron Eckhart, Michael Peña, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan and Ramon Rodriguez. While some of the group had been filming all day (the interview was one of the last things they did), the group was still really excited to talk to us about how the shoot had been going and why they were excited to be a part of the movie. They also talked about how they got ready for the movie, the challenges of shooting in extreme heat with all the military equipment they had to wear, who they play, the boot camp that some of them had to go through, and a lot more. You can either read or listen to the interview after the jump. Also, if you missed my video blog about going to the set, you can watch it here.
Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the awesome trailer for Battle: Los Angeles, I’d watch it first.
As you can hopefully see in the trailer, the movie is something that you should definitely be excited for. I know that being on set definitely raised my expectations, and I’ve been waiting over a year to be able to freely write about the movie. While some set visits aren’t everything you hope for, the one for Battle: Los Angeles was a lot more than I expected.
Anyhow, if you’d like to listen to the interview, click here for the audio. Otherwise, the complete transcript is below. Battle: Los Angeles gets released March 11, 2011. It should be a hell of a ride.
Question: I’ve heard that you’ve been attached to this from the very, very, very start. Correct?
Aaron Eckhart: Yes, sir.
And you’ve been fighting for it to get developed because you really liked Jonathan’s style and take on it. I was wondering if you could talk further about…
Eckhart: That sums it up. [Everyone laughs] I mean, I met Jonathan before Jonathan was hired and he said he wanted to make the most kick ass, fucking door to door documentary war, alien movie ever and that’s what we’re doing.
We just saw footage for the first time and obviously you saw footage for the first time. When doing a film that’s intense like this, you’re working long hours and putting in such energy, does this sort of recharge your batteries when you see the footage? Could you talk a little about that? Like your reaction to seeing it?
Michael Peña: I haven’t seen the footage but I’m excited to be on set. The way that everything is… the way that Jonathan is directing it. It’s pretty bad ass. Sometimes you see it in play back, but I haven’t seen any of it.
Michelle Rodriguez: I like the whole package, man. I like to wait. I’m that kinda girl. Sometimes they’ll show me like 10 minutes of something and I’ll just be like, ‘I don’t wanna see it, you’re going to ruin it for me!’ I trust. All of the preliminary judgmentalism occurs before I sign onto a movie. [Laughs]
Something that struck both of us when we were watching it is the fact that he is shooting this handheld, and we noticed in some of the scenes you were in earlier, that there were three cameras going, each one is sort of moving on its own… no two takes are exactly alike. How does that free you as an actor to not really have to worry so much about being exactly on a mark? Or maybe you do have an exact mark and I don’t know that.
Eckhart: You do, but a lot of the energy is created through camera. Our operators are fantastic, and they find shots. A lot of this is dirty and documentary. You have movement to move wherever you want, so you really feel like… this is not a shot, reverse-shot kind of movie. So we have the freedom. Plus we’ve been using a lot of long lenses, so you don’t even feel the camera. It’s way over there. So you can do whatever you want. He gets it from so many different angles that you have many shots added. Often you don’t even know when you’re on camera. You feel like, because three cameras are going at the same time, that you have to act no matter what. Because you don’t know when the cameras are going to be on you or when the cameras’ are not going to be. So there’s a lot of freedom in that because you’re just being yourself.
M. Rodriguez: And you got to see these guys in action. They’re kinda like superheros. [Laughs] Lucas [Ettlin] and BJ [McDonnell], I mean, they’re pretty sick with it. Just the positions they get themselves on with this heavy ass camera. It’s like, ‘How the hell is this guy doing that?’ Then I look at him and he’s got a viking for a focus piller. [Laughs] I’m like, ‘Yea, OK, I get it now.’ [Laughs] These guys are like superheroes.
Peña: You do anything that’s cool or like, when people are in the moment and really in character and stuff, they get inspired. They’ll be like, ‘Ohhh, before we leave, let’s do this one thing that I saw.’ When someone’s doing anything interesting. Same thing with Jonathan. Everybody get in character, stay in character, and if there’s any cool behavior, he’ll shoot it. If you’re doing anything interesting, he’ll make up a shot right then and there.
I hate asking this question, but since we’re so early in advance of the film, could you each talk a little bit about who you play in the film?
Peña: Well I play Joe Rincon, who’s a civilian along with…
Bridget Moynahan: Michelle. My character’s name is Michelle.
Peña: Yea, we’re like the civilians, and I have my son and she has her two nieces. Hopefully, these guys lead us out to safety.
Eckhart: I play Staff Sergeant Nantz… I’m… Staff Sergeant Nantz.
M. Rodriguez: I’m Elena Santos, Air Force Tech Sergeant. Intel division.
Ramon Rodriguez: I play Lieutenant Martinez. New Lieutenant in the Marines.
So I’m going to take a stab that three of you did some boot camp and two of you, perhaps, did not?
Moynahan: You’re good.
Peña: You’re good, duuuude. Buddyyyyy.
I’m going out on a ledge. So did you sort of want to do some boot camp or were you sort of like…
Peña: I tried. I asked.
They wouldn’t let you?
Peña: No, it’s like… ‘Nahhh.’ I thought it would be cool, but it served me well. Because there’s a different energy with them than there is with the civilians and I think it works well.
So I have to ask, do you even bother doing the boot camp?
M. Rodriguez: [Laughs] I like to because it gets me to understand more of what I’m around. The Marines… I’ve never trained with. I’ve trained with Navy Seals before, but I’ve never trained with Marines before. It’s kind of cool. Even though I’m Air Force now. [Laughs] I got to learn a lot. I can take apart an M4 and put it back together in less than a minute. That’s a cool skill acquired by boot camp. The guns shift and change so much. So it’s kind of cool, every three years, to kind of get some new training.
I’m noticing a lot of military support for this film. How is that, with your performance, when you are portraying real military people… How’s the interaction? Are they right there with you if you’re doing something wrong, can you ask for assistance? Could you talk about the…
R. Rodriguez: The advisers have been there the whole time. We’re very lucky and fortunate through boot camp, through the entire process of filming, they’re there. Or wherever we need, any guidance. If they see something that doesn’t look right, that doesn’t agree, that doesn’t look Marine… they’ll immediately jump on it. They’ll tell us the dialog, the movement. Whatever it may be. And that was the great thing about boot camp was that we really learned how to become Marines and how to work as a unit. How to work as a platoon. Hopefully that translates to the film.
I noticed the Osprey. I think that’s what it’s called. That new helicopter that the Marines are… Are you allowed to go up in this thing? Have you been up at all?
M. Rodriguez: I wasn’t working today, they were.
Eckhart: No, I don’t think so. Marines are behind the movie. They’re giving us every toy. This movie’s a love letter to Marines. It’s very respectful to our armed forces or Marines, out in the field.
There’s a big battle that we know you shot right at the beginning on the highway. I wanted to know were you guys in that sequence?
R Rodriguez: Yea.
OK. I’m putting together a little bit more of the film now. Could you talk a little bit about filming that and the fact that first day filming, you’re on the highway and you’re dealing with, I guess 100 degree heat, and everything else that’s going on. And you’re still finding your character a little bit, or finding how the movie’s going to go. Could you talk about filming that first 10 days and that sequence?
M. Rodriguez: I’d say for me, specifically, it helped out a lot to do the boot camp just before because I never workout. [Laughs] And running, or trying to run, two miles a day at five o’clock in the morning really sets up the tone for a highway sequence that elaborate and physical. I mean, that first day, what did we sweat? We sweated like our body weight. [Laughs] In the first two hours, because it was so hot. It was insane. So definitely very, very, very thankful for the training at that point because I was ready for it.
R. Rodriguez: I mean the boot camp got us through some heat, it got us through some gear, so by the time we started filming we were a little bit adjusted to it. But the beautiful thing is when we got there, I mean if you looked at the set it was incredible. It looked like there was war on the highway, I mean it was real. Helicopters were thrashed, everything you can imagine was there. And it actually did look like LA, which surprised me, cause I didn’t know how that was gonna work either.
R. Rodriguez: It was really accurate. And by that point I think a lot of the people, a lot of the Marine characters found their characters in boot camp. That was the beautiful part about boot camp was we had three weeks to learn about your character and discover.
And how was it for the two of you, jumping in no boot camp? Does that help your performance?
Peña: Oh yeah, the fact that all these guys were used to the heat. I mean they had backpacks on, they had like shirts and all that and they were okay. Me as a civilian I was wearing like a shirt and I was like, “Oh man, how do you deal with this bull crap?” No, I’m just kidding. I mean first of all as a fan, just as a straight fan when you walk onto a set—the highway is closed off and there’s big props, like real props that just put you in the moment really quickly. Maybe it was in the teaser trailer?
Moynahan: Yeah it was.
There were some really nice shots in that trailer
Moynahan: I thought it was really great to start with those scenes because it got you right into what we were trying to what we were trying to do right off the bat, the explosions, the gunfire, trying to get out of this situation. We were just high-energy right off the bat.
Aaron’s already stated that he went after this, were you guys fighting for your parts? How did you guys get into this movie? Could you talk about how you came to the part?
Peña: Um I met with him like a year and a half ago. After Observe and Report. Right after I finished filming that… You know my agent told me about it, and I liked the script and then I met Jonathan and that’s when I was like “Okay, I wanna do this movie.” But he was really enthusiastic and really cared about the project. It’s not like “Yeah I’ve got this job, what do you think?” Like he really likes it. He digs it. So after that I was like, “Any part, man. Whatever you want me to do.”
Moynahan: I auditioned for it, but we did a read-through in Shreveport and he showed a presentation that, I noticed some of the bits were in what you just saw, I mean I was already doing it but it really sold me on what his vision was. Seeing the material that he put together. Because you were just instantly right in the middle of the war. It was really just Aaron in the bits that he showed us, and it got emotional straight off the bat because you were right in the middle of this war with this character and you saw how emotional he was, how scared he was, and you’re in LA. I mean it’s your home. And it was inspiring, I think all of us got really excited about this project after we saw that because we knew it would be different.
M. Rodriguez: Basically I was thrown into the mix through my buddy Neal (Moritz, producer) and he just thought it would be kinda cool to have another chick cause it was all dudes and just one female, so he said let’s balance it out a little bit. So two weeks before shooting [Laughs] I was thrown into the mix. I met with Jonathan and he was just really creative and open, which is the two main things that I look for, and smart. So immediately I was like “Alright, let’s do this.” I’m always in for like an impromptu adventure.
R. Rodriguez: I met with Neal as well, he showed me the same thing that he showed Bridget, that little teaser trailer. I thought it looked really cool. So when I read the script I was like, first thing how are these aliens gonna look? If they don’t look cool, I don’t think the movie’s going to be good at all.
M. Rodriguez: [Laughs] Did he show you the model?
R. Rodriguez: Yeah, he showed me and I was like, “That’s pretty cool.”
M. Rodriguez Laughs
Peña: Me too, man. I was like, “Woa.”
R. Rodriguez: And I was like “Alright.” And then I met Jonathan and Aaron, and I talked to Jonathan a lot and just realized he’s an open person and a solid director man, just off that teaser.
So that openness you were talking about in terms of allowing improv and working on the set, is that important?
R. Rodriguez: Very much. Improv, communication, questions, issues, creative ideas or thoughts. Any of that, he was really really open to. And he has a really good eye for what works and what doesn’t work, and that’s what you need in your director.
With the global recession, it seems like Hollywood has almost slowed down with the amount of movies they’re making recently. I was curious if, as actors, if you’ve noticed this sort of slow down at all?
R. Rodriguez: Geez
M Rodriguez: [Laughs].
Peña: I don’t know man, like… Cuz I don’t do too many movies. I do like one movie a year.
M. Rodriguez: So this is it?
Peña: Yeah, you know what I’m sayin? So like I haven’t worked all year dude. So, maybe.
Eckhart: I think definitely Hollywood is shrinking. The movies they’re making, they’re just making tentpoles movies now and they’re making big remakes, the safe bets. But definitely the budgets aren’t there, the salaries aren’t there. It’s really tightened up big time. I think the agencies are hurting right now, nobody’s working, people are taking jobs they normally wouldn’t take for money that they normally wouldn’t be paid, you know and happy to have it. And same thing with the crews. I think that Hollywood is hurting right now. I think it’s crippled.
I’ve noticed a lot people that I’m not expecting to see, are doing more shows on like HBO, Showtime.
Eckhart: That’s right. There’s no work.
M. Rodriguez: TV’s getting better because of it! [Laughs]. I’m hooked on 30 Rock, I don’t know about you!
Peña: Bored to Death. What’s up, dude?
It seems to me that the quality really has risen, as talent has migrated to TV. Is that something you guys have noticed and is it something you would consider for yourself, doing a show because the quality of the material is there?
M. Rodriguez: Two-year contract, you can’t get me in for more than that, I just wouldn’t do it. I love movies too much. It’s the gypsy life, man. You get six months of your life or three months of your life spent in one beautiful place maybe in another part of the world, and you get to shift that every three or four months. With a TV show, I mean I was stuck in Hawaii for two years dude! You know, eight months! I’m like damn, can I get a break? Can I go to Europe? I like variety, I’m like a gypsy. I’ll go crazy.
Moynahan: But I think a lot of the actors were going to television because the material was so good.
Peña: The Sopranos and all those.
Moynahan: And so many more channels were opening up, and so many more opportunities for actors to explore a character, and especially for women. So I think more people were going to television because of the material that they weren’t necessarily finding in film.
M. Rodriguez: Lots of good directors were working on pilots and stuff too, and good directors attract good actors, and vice-versa. Sometimes I think a lot of good actors, they will change what’s on paper to make it better. Sometimes we’re really creative, and behind the scenes you barely get to see like how much input good actors really do have on the product, the written product. I think a lot of things are altered that a writer gets credit for when in reality, a grand majority of the time with good actors, the actor had a lot to do with those changes.