Sunday, 23 March 2014

interview: Brooke Nevin

Brooke Nevin played Rachel in the children's TV series Animorphs. I interviewed her over the phone in August 1999 for a piece that appeared in The Sunday Times - no, honestly! She subsequently appeared in episodes of Smallville, Supernatural, Charmed and The 4400 as well as the DTV sequel I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer.

How would you describe Rachel, your character in Animorphs?
"I'd say that she's the bold one of the group. A leader, in that she's a risk-taker and she's a go-getter. She's very outgoing and very adventurous."

How did you land this role?
"We all auditioned for the parts. My agent sent me out and then they called me in to audition. So then, I guess, three auditions later they decided to pick me."

What did you have to do in your auditions?
"Basically, for the first audition they gave all the girls one part and then they gave all the boys another part, so everyone initially tried out for Rachel. So they had me read for the role. And then they gave me more specific sides - sorry, I'm using the TV lingo! - other scenes to do. And then I just redid them for the third audition. They paired us up at the end: I was paired with a Tobias in the audition. And thank goodness - they picked me!"

How did you feel when you learnt you had the part?
"Oh, I was ecstatic. I couldn't believe it, actually. I think I was almost shocked too because it was the biggest role I'd ever gotten. So it was definitely very exciting."

I suppose an ongoing series requires more commitment than a guest role.
"Yes, it was actually a little scary at first, because when you're doing a series it's going to be five months' non-stop filming. I thought, 'Oh my goodness. How am I going to do this?' And then everyone was older than me, all my co-stars, so I thought, 'Oh no, what if they think I'm a baby?' So it was nerve-wracking until the first day of shooting and then after that it was all fun."

What did you think when the five cast members got together for the first time and you all got to know each other?
"I think I knew from the first day that we'd have good time. Everyone was very pleasant, very fun-loving, outgoing, special in their own way. So I think we clicked right off the start. It was a good match."

Had you read any of the books before you made the series?
"I had gotten the books initially to study for my audition. So I got a couple of books before they called me in - which helped a lot for character study and looking for the Rachel personality. Some of my friends had heard about the books before, but I didn’t know of them before I auditioned for the role."

Are you reading them now to keep up to date with how the character's developing?
"I have read a lot of the books. I think I'm up to... 25, or something? I know there's more, but I keep up with them every so often just to make sure that I know what's going on."

Is there anything in the later books that you can see has been based on what you do in the TV series?
"For the TV show, we do tend to take some of the storylines from the books. Some of them we just have to omit because it's really hard to film some of the scenes. Of course in books everything's left up to the imagination but it's definitely harder to actually put that onto film. I haven't read any the really recent ones lately. But we have done The Stranger and The Reaction and basically the whole story premise has stayed the same."

How are you finding working with the animals?
"Oh, I love it! It's a wonderful learning experience. And it makes for some candid moments, I have to say, as well."

Like what?
"Well, okay, the tiger. Shawn had to actually put his hand on its nose once and that was pretty scary fun because a tiger is pretty big, right? So he had to go and actually touch his nose, but he told us afterwards that when he had gone to put his fingers on its nose, they actually went right up it! His instinct was to pull them out quickly and run away, but you can't do that or else it'll eat you or something! So he had to do it very slowly, very carefully and the trainer is like, 'Okay, back up, back up.' 'Okay, okay.' So I'm sure that was quite an ordeal for him. I have mishaps with the hawk now and then; it does funny things sometimes."

Are you okay handling the icky animals like the cockroach?
"The cockroach? That was fun. Nadia and I, we're not particularly fond of bugs. Nadia actually was the one who had to hold it in one of the scenes where we all acquire DNA. They had sedated the cockroach by putting it in a jar sitting in cold water, but it didn't work. So it was very skittish, the little cockroach, and it jumped out of our hands. And they said, ‘Whatever you do, don't let it get away because you wouldn't want a film set infested with cockroaches.' So we mustered up enough courage, while everyone else is screaming and jumping, to actually pick it up and put it in a bucket. So we were pretty proud of ourselves."

Did they explain to you at the audition that you would be handling animals?
"They did ask us, but they put it in a discrete way: 'How do you feel about animals?' So I think we're all enjoying working with the animals. I don't think there's any particular animal that we don't like working with."

How are the actually morphing sequences filmed?
"There's a couple of different parts to it, I guess. In a morphing scene, we'll do the beginning of the morph on location, with the background, and then we have to do it again in front of a green screen. And that will be filmed after they've filmed the animal doing whatever it will do, because we'll try to mimic whatever the animal has done. We have to match our faces together, or our body or whatever part they'll be morphing in the shot. Then they add the sounds or whatnot in post-production."

How did you feel when you first saw yourself morphing?
"The very first morph that I saw was Jake's morph when he morphs into a dog. We were all together when we saw the first morph and we were all amazed; we thought it was wonderful. It was nothing like we'd ever seen when we first saw it, so it was pretty exciting, pretty different."

How has being in a regular show affected you? Are you recognised on the street?
"I do get recognised here and there. I went to my sister’s dance class a couple of months ago and some little kids were looking up through the window and pointing and saying, 'Um, who is that?' My sister gets a kick out of that! Here and there. Not too much though."

Are you getting fan mail?
"I think most of the fan mail gets forwarded to Scholastic Productions, so I don't get any direct fan mail."

How has this affected your career? Are you getting offers to do other shows?
"Well, I'm still in the auditioning phase, so I don't actually get offers to do things. That would be nice though! But I'm not at quite that point yet"

What do your friends think about you starring in a TV series?
"Oh, they think it's great. They have a ball watching it. Sometimes they make fun of me, but they treat me just the way they always have and that's just how I would like it. I wouldn't want it any other way."

I understand you've just finished season two. How does that differ from season one? How have things developed?
"There are some changes. It has less of a dark feel. I think we added some more spunk, I guess you could say, to the series. There's some funnier moments, it's more comedic. So it has a bit of a lighter feel. So maybe little kids that were too afraid to watch the show for the first season might be able to handle it for the second season. And I think they're getting more high tech with the morphs too. They're going to try morphing when we're moving and things like that. So it's something to look forward to, I think."

What about the characters? How have they changed?
"I would say some relationships have evolved here and there. I think as a cast, as a group, we all had more fun this season. We were much more relaxed and I think our acting abilities have improved since the first season. So I think it's a general, overall improvement."

How do you cope with having a different director every episode?
"We actually did have quite a few different directors. I think it gave a different flavour to the show each time. It was fun having different directors, being able to work with their different styles, so I think it was a good experience."

You were in an episode of Goosebumps.
"That was called 'A Shocker on Shock Street' and I played the part of Erin, this crazy scientist's daughter who dares her friend into going into her dad's workshop and checking out his scary monster things that he's made up for this amusement park. We end up going on a ride and meeting these monsters."

Did having worked on Goosebumps help you in getting the Animorphs role?
"I would say that any role I got prior to Animorphs as an actor definitely took me one step closer to getting bigger and better roles, for sure. Because you have to start somewhere, and it’s just a case of building up experience - and a longer resume, which always helps!"

You were also in an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
"Yes, I did that this past January. I played the part of Danni on that one, and my best friend goes missing after snowboarding and it's presumed that she's lost or dead or something like that, but I'm determined to find her. It turns out that there's a certain energy-sucking monster involved in the story. I set out to find my friend but certain things get in the way, I guess."

What do you think are the main differences between Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps?
"I would say, normally Goosebumps tends to end on a lighter note and Are You Afraid of the Dark? tends to leave the audience a bit 'hmm…' afterwards. But I remember on this Goosebumps episode it was sort of a spooky feeling too. Maybe Are You Afraid of the Dark? is geared towards a slightly higher audience range, age-wise. There's not too many differences, the genre's very similar. When I filmed Are You Afraid of the Dark? I filmed it in Montreal so most of the crew spoke French - that was the main difference, I guess."

You've done a couple of films.
"Yes, I did a movie of the week for Showtime Network in the States called Running Wild and that was actually shot in Zimbabwe in Africa, so that was an experience."

Was that directed by Tim Bond?
"Yes, that was with Tim Bond as well."

He's doing a movie about land mines in Africa right now.
"Yes, I heard he was back there."

What was Running Wild about?
"I played this daughter of an army pilot and her mother dies so to start a new life our father takes us to Africa where he's a helicopter pilot for a wildlife reserve. And I make friends with a baby elephant that was stranded by poachers who killed her mother. So it was a friendship that evolves between a baby elephant and this girl. And poachers get involved in the story, and my brother and I find out that one of the main contributors to this wildlife rehab centre is actually the guy behind the huge poaching operation. It was pretty action-packed."

Did you see much of Zimbabwe while you were there?
"Actually we got to film in Harare which is the capital of Zimbabwe and then for the last couple of days of shooting we all flew to Victoria Falls. But I got to ride in the helicopter on my way from Harare to Victoria Falls, where everyone else had to take an aeroplane. So I got a wonderful view of the whole Zimbabwean landscape for three hours which was beautiful. And we flew over Victoria Falls and we landed in this village in the middle of nowhere. It was amazing."

Did you do a film called Short for Nothing?
"That was a very small actress role that I did in that one. I actually don't know exactly what that one's about – I couldn't tell you! It was very small. They called me actually at eight that night and they called me for a three o'clock call in the morning or one o'clock or something like that. At that time I don't know if I even knew what my own role was about, let alone the movie!"

You were in a show called called Real Kids, Real Adventures.
"That's based upon true life stories of kids who have proven themselves to be brave or adventurous in some way. Some of them are about fires or hot-air balloon crashes or aeroplane crashes. Mine was about a girl who got lost in the woods during the wintertime on a camping trip. So she had to take care of herself and survive for three days on her own until she was actually found."

Sounds like you're playing a lot of quite adventurous roles.
"Yes, it would seem so, wouldn't it?"

Are you happy doing those or would you rather do safer stuff?
"Hmm, I would say the adventurous roles are pretty fun. They definitely lend themselves to more action, but I don't think I have to worry about being typecast or anything."

I read that one of your favourite shows is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
"Yes, that was a while ago. I guess I sort of let that one go for a while. I missed the season finale but maybe one of my friends taped it or something. I like other shows too. My mom and I, we like Candid Camera. I like 20/20. I like Friends, that sort of things."

What would your dream show to be on?
"Hmm… I'd like to be on The Rosie O'Donnell Show! Friends would be fun to be on, that would be a cool show."

You'd like to do some comedy?
"That would be fun actually. I'd like to try my hand at that."

How have you grown and learned over the few years you've been acting?
"I think I've become more in touch with myself. It's always a challenge to be natural in front of the camera, to be yourself, and I think that I've definitely improved in that way over a couple of years. So I think that was the biggest challenge: just to be myself in front of the camera and let myself be open to it all, instead of keeping anything inside."

Do you hang out with the other cast members now you've wrapped Animorphs?
"Oh yes, oh definitely. Nadia's away travelling again so I haven't talked to her for about a week now. Especially her and I we keep in touch because we made best buds on set, so that was fun. I still keep in touch with the others."

Have you heard yet whether there's going to be a third season?
"I don't think we'll know for sure until the end of September. I don't know yet."

Anything else lined up?
"Not yet. I'm trying, I'm auditioning, and I'd like to see something happen. But it's been a relaxing summer for me, which is nice."

Where do you want your career to go in the long term?
"I'd love to continue acting. This is my passion right now and I don't see myself losing that passion for quite some time. But I'd also like to pursue studies in a certain field, like visual arts or graphic design, or law or journalism or something like that. I always see myself, no matter what, going to university. So even if I was given the opportunity to become an actress, I'd definitely make the most of it but I'd definitely go back to university as well."

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