Back in early May, I got to visit the set of Underworld: Awakening when the production was filming in Vancouver. While on set, I got to participate in a group interview with Michael Ealy. Here’s some of the highlights:
- Ealy plays a human cop who starts to investigate into the world of vampires and Lycans.
- In the world of Underworld: Awakening, most humans believe that Lycans are extinct.
- He was jarred by the fact that the directors and the producers and everyone watched the playback of each scene in 3D in the tent.
- He said at the beginning, when everyone was getting the hang of it, it took a while to shoot because working with 3D was more difficult. But as the production went on, it got faster.
- He’s in the big action sequence at the end of the movie, but he doesn’t get to fight the twelve-foot uber-Lycan?
Hit the jump for the full interview. He also talks about working for two directors at the same time, Comic-Con, sports, and a lot more.
Before going any further, if you missed the recently released teaser trailer for Underworld: Awakening, I’d watch that first:
As usual, I’m offering you two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. Underworld: Awakening gets released January 20, 2012.
Question: So you’re a human in the Underworld with lots of Lycans and vampires, what’s the dynamic like? Are you basically just like a regular detective we’d normally see, or is there something very different about the humans in this world?
Ealy: To my knowledge, from what I’ve seen and what I’ve done so far, there’s not a lot that’s different really, in terms of this world. It is a little bit different, but I’m about as normal as it comes, I guess, which is kinda boring. You know, when I told people, when people found out that I got this movie, the first thing they [said is], “Are you gonna be a Lycan?” I’m like, “No.” And then they’re like, “Well, you’re gonna be a vampire?” And it’s like, “No.” So it’s like, well what are you? You couldn’t be human for some reason. And I think I am that guy. So hopefully I can get bit or something.
How does your character reconcile the real world of drug dealers, murderers, human criminals, with this fantasy world of vampires and werewolves?
Ealy: It’s a good question. I think for my character, because he’s a cop and not like a plumber, I think he can kind of handle the difference. I think to him the bad guys are the bad guys, and whether they’re vampires, lycans, or whatever, if they’re killing people he needs to get involved. So for me, the dynamic doesn’t change simply because he’s a cop.
Talk about how you kind of come into the story and how you relate to Kate Beckinsale’s character in the film.
Ealy: Um…how much can I say? [publicist tells him what the parameters are] Ok, just tap me if I go too far. Um, I basically come into the project – this actually ties in to your question [indicating last person to pose a question] – I come in to the project just like any other cop would. There’s an investigation of a body – you know, body found – investigate, and once we look at it, I’m sitting here and I’m looking at this body and I’m recognizing what really happened here. And there’s other cops circling around and stuff, and my partner is starting to throw out the suggestion that this has Lycan written all over it and what have you. And you know, I tend to brush that off and just try to investigate it kind of on my own. Because of my own interaction with vampires and Lycans, I end up spawning my own investigation – [refers to publicist] ok, I can say that, yeah – spawning like my own kind of personal investigation, and that’s how I get involved with Kate almost, really. Kate’s character, Selene, it’s more of…it’s kind of by default. We both end up being on the same side slowly but surely.
We’ve seen this world of Lycans and vampires for three movies, and we haven’t really seen any humans. We haven’t really seen any interaction with humans at all. So in this world, are the humans actually aware of the Lycans? Are you one of the only humans aware of Lycans, or is it sort of like just kind of theories?
Ealy: Yeah, in this world there’s there’s not a lot of people that are aware of this. I think it’s, the Lycans are “extinct,” they are extinct, and so people don’t believe that they’re around. I mean, if we just thought that, you know, terrorism was gone now, you know, that terrorism was extinct, we’d all be kidding ourselves. And I think that’s kind of the approach for Sebastian, he has evidence that these creatures are still out here, and that they’re still taking the lives, and they’re still feeding on the human race. So I guess that’s the whole purpose of my character is to try and bring that human element that hasn’t been there in the other films.
So often in films, cops basically play the role of detective exposition. You know like, “What’s going on here?” “Well, let me tell ya…!” and then gives him the whole thing. How much of that is going on, or does that information get passed along to the audience in a more organic way?
Ealy: Um, I certainly feel like it’s pretty organic. I mean, yes there is some exposition that has to come out, but it’s more in how to solve the case, and this particular cop, Sebastian, has his own storyline, he has his own reason for why he’s personally involved and why he’s keeping this quiet from his peers, from his other human peers. You know, so that’s how it comes out. To me, it comes out pretty naturally and you know, if I do my job right then you won’t even feel like it’s exposition. And that’s kind of the joy of this, actually. Yes, he’s a cop, and so there is a sense of justice that has to be involved, but it’s not good vs. evil so much as there’s a thin line between the two. And I think for Sebastian, you know, yes he’s a cop, but we haven’t…have we seen…? There’s no cops, really, in any of the other movies, right? They were like the, the guards and the –
Most of the humans are always running away, right?
Ealy: Yeah. There were some guards or something in the second one, but it hasn’t really…you’re right, there haven’t been a lot of human interaction.
I hear there’s like three big action set pieces in this.
Are you in any of them?
Ealy: Well…[laughs]…the action stuff for me unfortunately begins today. So I can’t give you much in terms of what it’s been like shooting, because all of my action stuff starts today, and over the next couple weeks, so.
So you’re involved in the big finale.
Ealy: I’m involved in some of the action pieces, yes. [Laughs] That’s what I can say. You know what I mean?
Publicist: They know that we’re moving into the finale sequences now –
Ealy: Ok, cool.
Publicist: – but they don’t know who’s fighting who, yes.
Ealy: Ok, yes I am involved in the finale.
You wouldn’t be involved with the twelve-foot uber-Lycans?
Publicist: And that’s okay too because they know that the uber-Lycan and Kate are fighting in that final sequence.
Ealy: Right, OK. No, I don’t. I don’t get involved with the uber-Lycan.
Would you like to? No, I’m just kidding. [Laughter]
Ealy: That’s a big dude! You know, I mean I’m trying to get bit, but not by him. He’s a monster! But yeah, no, but so far the cameras – I will say this about the cameras: I’ve never been one to watch playback, never, never, never. And the first day, one of the directors, Bjorn, comes out and he comes out of one of the mini-tents that are on this production, and he has on these white glasses, like these white-rimmed glasses. And he looks like he’s going hiking or something, you know what I mean? And I was just like, “Why is he wearing those ridiculous-looking glasses on set?” I thought maybe it was a Swedish thing, I didn’t understand – and I realized that they watch everything in 3D. They watch every take, they watch it in actual 3D. So everybody in that tent, from all of the producers to the director, they all have these glasses on. And that was jarring to me. And then on top of that, when you actually go in there and see the footage, I’ve never seen anything like it. I just haven’t. And I haven’t even done some of the creature stuff yet, so it’s just, it’s special. You know what I mean? It’s a slower process, it’s a much slower process, but I think at this point they’ve got the hang of it, and it’s probably a little bit faster. You just can’t do as much work in one night as you can with 2D.
Publicist: We have to say that Michael’s prior work on set was the first week of the show.
Publicist: But I think [they've] actually sped it up. You’re gonna be pleased.
Ealy: Right, right. Yeah, it would take like 20 minutes to change a lens. Last time I was here, like two weeks ago, it was much faster. But it’s just a slower process, but the cameras are fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. I can’t wait to see it.
We’ve been hearing a lot today from the filmmakers about practical effects, you know, that they’re doing a lot of practical, as much practical as possible, along with CGI. As an actor, in this fantasy world, how much are you seeing when you do scenes of vampires and werewolves? How much do you see of practical you can look at and react to, and how much of it is just your imagination with CGI and stuff like that?
Ealy: So far I haven’t. I’ve only seen the creatures walking around at base camp, you know, smoking cigarettes and drinking Gatorade. Which is weird. “How you doing?” It’s bizarre. But I haven’t interacted with the creatures yet, so I couldn’t tell you what that’s like.
It seems like a lot of movies you’ve done over the years, For Colored Girls, and like you did the Spike Lee movie, and it’s very based in reality. It as not genre stuff, it was not action stuff, it was not like horror/fantasy…so coming to this it must have been very different. Are you a fan of this genre stuff? What was the big draw to something like this, which is just so different from those other things?
Ealy: That’s the big draw. It is so different. I’m not a sci-fi guy. I never really cared about vampires. You know? I’ve always thought vampires were interesting because they live forever, they’re always well-financed, they dress well, you know what I mean? And they’re like cool. Usually vampire – you’ve never seen a broke vampire. Have you?
Ealy: No! You’ve got long money, you’ve got old money. But it’s one of those things where for me, it was just a great opportunity to go into a different genre and experience. To me, this has all been a great experience, in learning how things are done on a much grander scale. And so for me, dealing with creatures and people flying and stuff, it’s fantastic. I play pretend for a living, and this is just going into a whole new world of fantasy for me. Because you’re right. Most of my material is grounded in reality, and so it’s not as fantastical, you know what I mean, as a production like this.
Could you talk a little bit about how you got involved in the film? Was it a part you went after? Did they come after you?
Ealy: Basically, you know, I had done Takers with Screen Gems, so they kind of called me and said “Are you interested? There’s a part.” And I read the script and I was like, “Hell yeah, let’s do it.” You know what I mean? I just, I love the character, I love his circumstances. I thought he brought some gravitas to the whole special creature fantasy world. And you know, it was just a big challenge. Again, going into a world, going into a 3D movie, like a real 3D movie, that was all just challenging to me, you know? And it was like, “Let’s do it. You haven’t done it, let’s do it.”
What’s it like working with the sexiest woman alive? As voted by the readers of Esquire magazine.
Ealy: Yeah…it’s, you know…better than you could imagine. You know?
[something about him being the sexiest black man alive]
Ealy: Did you hear that?
She told us.
Ealy: Did she really?
Ealy: Ok. Listen, she’s gorgeous. She’s gorgeous. The thing I noticed about Kate first off was she’s like so cool off-camera. And she’s so into this character that literally she could be talking about golf, and then they say action, and the switch is like schizophrenic. It’s like crazy. She just – BOOM – she’s Selene. And she gives you just as much on-camera as she does off-camera. So when she’s on-camera, she’s giving you Selene full-[on], there’s no holding back or anything like that. She’s a total professional. And as an actor who’s doing this kind of movie for the first time, I appreciate that, truly. Because she could easily be like ‘eh, I don’t really wanna do it full-on.’ You know what I mean? But she’s such a professional. And you know, that means more to me.
Are you at all jealous of the other actors? Cause she gets to wear the latex, and all these guys are running around in these suits and these cool like helmets and all this other stuff, and you have all the lycans and all that stuff. And you’re basically just wearing a suit and tie and all that. So is there any kind of like outfit jealousy or anything going on with the other actors?
Ealy: Again. Vampires – well-dressed, well-financed, you know, the coolest guns, whatever you wanna call it. I drive a Volvo. Something out of a John Hughes film, which is freaky to me. But you know, I like standing out, and yes, I’m wearing a suit, it’s a European cut. After this I’m sure I’ll do something else where I can put on a long leather trenchcoat or something and some boots and fly, or something like that. But right now, I’m cool. This has been a great experience for me.
You mentioned that this is the first time you’re doing a project like this. As an actor, did you do anything special to get ready for the role? Obviously I’m sure you watched the other films, but do you do research into detectives? I mean, could you talk about what you did?
Ealy: Not much. Not much. Simply because I’ve played law enforcement enough to know what a detective/FBI/CIA agent thinks. You know, at this point, unless I’m playing like a CIA agent overseas, I’ve pretty much got it. You know what I mean? In terms of the psyche of law enforcement. I literally just came off a project where I was playing a detective. I mean literally, like I finished that on Friday, flew here on Saturday, started shooting on Monday. So in terms of research it was done, it was pretty much done in terms of how they think. And again, interestingly enough, there’s not a lot of detective work for Sebastian to do, because he’s trying to keep so much of it inside for his personal reasons.
I’m very curious about these personal reasons.
Ealy: I know, I know, I know, but I’m not trying to get fired. [Laughs]
Publicist: You’ll be happier that it’s a surprise.
If your character survives the film, or even if he doesn’t survive because it’s a fantasy, would you like to do another one?
Ealy: Yes. Yes, yes.
Ealy: Um, no, no. I mean, I’ve just been telling people, “Let me get bit.” You know, that way you can keep going. You know, I mean once you get bit there’s no stopping you really. That’s like the awesome part.
As far as the directors, how are they different from each other? Does one work very differently from the other? Have you noticed any big differences between them? Because I know they alternate days.
Ealy: They alternate days, but they really are a two-headed monster. They think alike. They really do. I’ve never seen them disagree. I haven’t. But you know, they’ve said it from the beginning, like, “I’m closer to him than I am to my own family.” We love it this way. And despite only working with one at a time, they’re both there. So it’s like having twins, really. It really is. It doesn’t bother me at all, you know? The good thing that they said would happen up front is “We’ll never get tired.” And it’s true. They both have tons of energy every day. I’ve told some of my friends who are directors the same. And they’re like, “Oh, that would be awesome. That would be so awesome.” You know what I mean? Just because it can wear you out, you know? So it’s been good.
A big part of the first two movies was the romance between Selene and Scott Speedman’s character. Are you taking that kind of role in it? Is there any kind of that? Is there a romance there? Or is that something…you’re looking at the publicist, so I’m assuming you can’t tell me.
Ealy: Um…did you ask Kate the same question?
Ealy: Ok. Ok. Um…
So in your mind there is and in her mind there isn’t, is that what you’re telling me?
Ealy: Yeah. In my mind.
Alright, okay! [Laughter]
Ealy: No, there’s no real romance, I don’t think.
Ealy: I’d like to think there is. You know what I mean? I mean, ask yourself this: can there be real sexual tension? I mean, I know it happened obviously in the second one, but you’re like a vampire and a human. That’d be interesting, to make a child. But I’d like to think that there’s some sexual tension and maybe I can implement it into some scenes, but I don’t think it’s there on the page, per se.
We talked with everyone else about the whole Comic Con thing. Have you been there before?
Ealy: You know what’s funny? A friend of mind did a show, a television show on…I don’t even remember what network it was, years ago. When Comic Con wasn’t what it is today. And I actually went with him down to San Diego, he’s like “Yo, just come with me, because I don’t know what to expect!” So I just went to see what it was like. And it was fascinating. And so yes I’ve been, but not with a project. I have not been with a project like,
“This is my project”, you know? But I have seen what it’s like, and it’s…I see why the studios are like obsessed with having their projects there. You get that groundswell, that buzz, that word of mouth, you get people getting…they get really excited off of the trailers.
But more than that, Underworld was born there. That was the launching pad for Underworld.
Ealy: Was it really?
It was, yeah. They took it to Comic-Con, and that was what created the buzz.
Ealy: Yeah, see. I mean, I would love to go. It just seems like so much fun. You know? That day that I went down I was like “How come I’ve never heard of this?” You know? But I didn’t grow up a big comic book guy.
What is your background?
You say you didn’t grow up as a comic book guy, and you’re not a fan of…sci-fi.
Ealy: Sci-fi and stuff like that.
So where’s your head at as far as that goes?
Ealy: Honestly man, and I’ve said this before, I think I sought out acting to find drama in my life, because I didn’t have a lot of drama growing up. A very normal, boring childhood. And so sci-fi never really, or comic books, I never felt like I was escaping to some other world. I was just like, ‘that’s just weird’, you know? I was much more into sports as a kid. Sports and interestingly enough architecture. So, sci-fi never really did it for me. I used to love the Star Trek movies, Wrath of Khan and stuff like that. Loved those movies when I was a kid. And Star Wars obviously was hands-down probably – I mean I had the sheets. I was a big fan of that.
It just seems incongruous when you say “I had a great childhood and I was all into sports,” but here you are an actor. There seems a disconnect there.
Ealy: Yeah. Yeah. I know, I know. It’s weird.
Ealy: Like I said, to this day, I ask myself – I mean they would never do a biography about me when I’m old, because it’s just not gonna be interesting. But I felt like I sought out drama. You know, a lot of actors I think go into acting for therapy from whatever trauma has affected them as children. But for me, I think I sought out the drama. That’s why I like doing what I do. I love it, because I get to go into somebody else’s world and be somebody else for three months, two months, or two years, or whatever it is, and just live in their shoes and live with their circumstances that may or may not relate to mine. So for me, in this particular one, I mean circumstances in this, the stakes are high. The stakes are high. Emotional. And you know, and I think that’s where the tension between me and Selene comes from, you know, is my past and what she represents to my past.
If you had a chance to do a sports movie, are you looking at doing a sports movie?
Cause obviously it seems like that would be…
Ealy: Oh, man. Yeah. I’ve been dying to do a sports movie. After Takers I was all about action. Let me get an action [movie], I just wanna be the next action guy. And sports movies, you know, obviously, I was a pretty pure athlete growing up. There wasn’t a sport I couldn’t play. And I don’t say that out of arrogance, I just could actually play everything. But ultimately I, you know, I think they’ve had too many boxing movies at this point, and you know, football movies, and basketball movies, you know. So I don’t know what’s left, you know? Maybe a tennis movie, you know? But definitely at this point, I’d like to get in one before it’s all said and done, you know? I really would. Just a good classic sports film. I mean, I wish I could’ve done Friday Night Lights. Man, I really wish I could’ve done—
Do you like hockey?
Ealy: I know! And being in Vancouver, believe me.
Is it quite a culture shock being here with hockey players?
Ealy: Let me tell you man, last night I’m trying to find the NBA Finals and I’m seeing is hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey. And then that sport with the thing, man -
Ealy: Curling! Oh my goodness, man, I was just like, if I grew up here I’m sure I’d love this, you know what I mean? But it’s playoff time, people. It’s playoff time. Let’s see some basketball, let’s see some basketball. And yeah, you can catch the highlights on their version of Sports Center but yeah, it’s a little bit painful. It’s a little bit painful.
Like a minute at the end and it’s like “Oh by the way, in basketball…”
Ealy: Yeah! They’re not as excited about it, you know what I mean? And I asked one of the teamsters one time, I said “What happened? Why didn’t the Grizzlies work out here?” And he was like, “We’re just not a basketball town. This is hockey land. This is hockey land.”
It’s also the hockey playoffs right now.
Ealy: I know! And here I am, leaving, the last time I left the airport, I’m going through customs and I see like ten or twelve people standing there, you know, saying “There he is! There he is!’” And I’m like…[feigns looking around]…you know, and I’m trying to figure out who they’re talking about. And as I’m walking past him, I look back again and there’s this big tall, tall guy. Just by himself, suit, looks like a businessman. Kessler. They’re like “Kessler! Kessler! Kessler!” And then I see him like on the cover of like the paper, you know what I mean, and I’m like, “Oh.” The guy could’ve sat next to me on the plane, I would not have known. So that’s my love of hockey. And I grew up, you know, the Capitals weren’t good when I grew up. We didn’t have Ovechkin back then, so like now it’s like a whole different thing that they’re good…they were terrible when I was a kid. So I never even got into hockey.
Publicist: They’re asking for you.
Ealy: They’re asking for me? Ok. Gotta go shoot guns, guys.
For more on Underworld: Awakening: