Tuesday, 17 November 2015

interview: Alice Krige and Alfre Woodard

Star Trek: First Contact opened in the UK in December 1996 so this joint interview with two of the stars of that film must have been conducted shortly before then. Parts of this appeared in SFX.

It's a bit odd interviewing the two of you because you didn't actually work together in the film. Were the two halves of the film like making two separate films?
AW: “No, not from my point of view. Usually when you're making a picture, you only are experiencing what you're in, the person in the scene with you. So it'll be the same all the way through. As a film-maker it's your responsibility every day when you start out - or even scene to scene, or take to take - to keep in the back of your mind where you're fitting in. So basically a film is a story being told by a storyteller, who is the director, bringing to life the written word. So you're just a little part of that one storyteller's mind. So when you're acting a piece, you keep in mind how you're fitting in, I think.”

Was there much contact between the two largely autonomous casts? Did you keep track of how other people were getting on in their scenes?
AK: “Well, you know I came in for the last two weeks. We crossed on one day. Of course, the Borg were there for weeks. In a way they were the ones who crossed over more than others, except for people like Patrick, who obviously was there throughout. But they shot all the Borg Queen scenes in the last two weeks. You guys had been out in the trenches for months, out in Tucson.”

AW: “I think because they were so excited - the director and producers and make-up people - you heard a lot more about what everyone else was doing than normal. They were excited, talking about design, how to work out the problems of your make-up and costume. So everybody, even more so than normal, you kept in contact. You know, it's a script which jumped off the page itself. For me, it was thrilling to read. So I would ask: 'So what time do you start the part where - ? How did it go? Did so-and-so jump?' So there was that awareness of what was going on.”

Did you audition for your roles?
AK: “I did. They just asked me to come in.”

It must have been tricky auditioning without the make-up.
AK: “No, actually, because there was a line in the script. This is something that happens in America, You get what they call 'sides', you get the pages of a scene, which I find a profoundly upsetting experience. Because all you get are like six pages. You have no idea of the context, of the character within the whole, or whether there's any more of her for that matter. Anyway, I got the sides, and on my sides it said: 'The Borg Queen wears no prosthetics. She is, however, bald.' Now, I thought, 'I could get into that: being bald.'

"So I actually went into audition with no sense, no knowledge at all of what I was going to look like. I was under the misapprehension that I would look like myself but with no hair. So it wasn't a bother at all in the audition, because I thought I would look like myself. So I went in, did my sides, and then I went away, and I didn't hear again from them for three weeks. I thought, 'Oh well, that's behind me. Don't think about that one.' Then they asked me to come back, and we did it all again. And then they decided they would offer it to me.”

At what point did they reveal to you that you were going to have to spend several hours in the make-up chair?
AK: “Well, then I went away and I did something in Toronto, and I got a message from my husband saying, 'Paramount called and they say that you've got to go and have a live mask done.' And I thought, 'Whatever for?' I got there and I said to Mike Westmore, 'What's this for?' He said, 'Oh, it's for your prosthetics.' And my heart sank. Because I find it very difficult to work through a lot of foam prosthetics. Did you see that picture, The Island of Dr Moreau? The actors who were these partial creatures – half-human, half-animal - I thought they did such astounding work. They were encased. And it is so hard. I once wore an old-age make-up, I completely disappeared under it, and I found it very, very difficult.

"So when Mike Westmore said 'prosthetics', my heart sank. I said, 'Well, have you got any idea what it's going to look like?' and he said, 'Oh yes, there's a sculpture upstairs.' I said, 'May I go and look at it?' and he said, 'Certainly.' I went up there and I was astounded by how beautiful she was. I said to him, 'Is there going to be a lot on my face?' and he said, 'Oh no. We had the idea of Nefertiti. That was an image.' I thought, 'Oh well, that's not so bad, because she had this clear face.' I was astounded by what Scott Wheeler had created. I hate to think what Scott Wheeler dreams about! But I thought that what they had done was quite beautiful.”

How long did that take to put on and take off?
AK: “It took about six hours to put on the face and head, it took about an hour to get into the suit, and then it took two hours to take it off again.”

AW: “So how much shooting did you do?”

AK: “For the first six days, we worked 18-hour days. And then I started to lose it. I was getting so tired by the end of the day that I felt I was losing my grip on the character. I went to Marty and said, 'You're shooting yourself in the foot by making me work 18 hours a day.' And he said to me, 'Alright then, how many hours do you think you can work?' I said, 'You can't do that to me! You can't put the responsibility on me!' He said, 'Well, we've painted ourselves into a corner here, because we've got this much time left and this many scenes to do.' So for about four days we worked a 14-hour day and then it crept back up again.”

AW: “Did you have trouble getting the adhesive off?”

AK: “They were very careful. That's why it took two hours. Scott said to me, 'Where you really get damaged is when you take it off in a rush.'”

Like ripping off a plaster.
AK: “Yes. So he said, 'We're going to take our time taking it off. You're going to sit here for another two hours, but we're going to be doing it really slowly.'”

AW: “I just did a picture with full old-age make-up, and when I wear my gown tomorrow night, I've got tracks all along here. It took them an hour to get it off, and I had to go and sit in the steam for an hour. But they took it off with something that smelled like kerosene. And I told them adhesive burns my skin. They said, 'Oh, it'll be fine.' I've got scars all across here.”

AK: “Do you know, when I discovered that I was going to be wearing this, I called Mike and I said, 'In the last 18 months I've developed an allergic response to something, and we're not sure what it is. I've been going to a kinesiologist trying to figure out what this substance is that's giving me a sort of rash.' And he said, 'We will send everything to your kinesiologist.' They tested every chemical they used on me, and the ones that didn't work, they replaced. The ones that had a negative response in terms of the kinesiological tests and so on. They went out of their way to not cause any damage. I was so touched by the trouble they went to. They tried all the different adhesives, they tried all the different removing agents, and the ones that didn't have a negative response were the ones they used. They tried everything. You know they spray-painted the make-up on. They sent every combination of spray-paint they were going to use, and they tested them all. They really did go out of their way. When an actor says to a make-up artist, 'This is hurting me,' they really should pay attention, and Mike and Scott did.”

AW: “I was working on HBO and it was awful.”

On something like Star Trek: First Contact, where you have several heavily made-up actors like Alice and Brent and Michael, do the actors like yourself who can get away with a bit of base feel good about it or do you feel a bit guilty because these other people are suffering for their art?
AW: “Well, I don't feel guilty about it! I mean, they get to do a series for God's sake! I remember when they first started. Jonathan is an old friend, and LeVar. I looked at it in the first week, and I said, 'You know, that was really cool, but if this takes off, LeVar's got to wear that damn visor for the next few years over his eyes.' And sure enough... So when you sign that contract for a series, you know the possibility's there, but I would never have committed to doing something like that! I have my own little battle-scars from the flak, and diving and ripping all the skin off my elbows. Little marks everywhere from diving around. So I got my pay-off. But no, I don't feel 'guilty' about wearing less make-up!”

How familiar were the two of you with Star Trek:TNG and the Borg and so on?
AK: “I didn't know anything really, because I grew up in South Africa and I grew up without television. Television arrived the year after I left. So I was completely innocent of all these cultural icons. Obviously you knew 'Beam me up, Scotty' - it was like a phrase that had entered the vernacular. I had watched the Star Trek whale movie, the one about the whales.”

Star Trek IV.
AK: “Yes, but that was pretty much all that I had seen. When they asked me to come in and read for them, I got the Borg episodes from a friend. I thought I'd better get a sense of the universe. Then when they gave me the role I watched a whole lot of episodes, and I watched the Borg stuff again. Then I just watched Star Trek footage. Because the character was so out there, I was looking for catalysts, I was just trying to find out who she was. So I watched a load of Star Trek thinking that I might get some clues from it!”

What about yourself, Alfre?
AW: “Well, I didn't watch it the first time through, when I was really young, but then in college, sometimes I watched some of the syndication when it was on. I wasn't a TV person growing up, and I still am not now. But because I work in this industry, when one of my friends calls and says, 'I'm on such-and-such - watch this tonight' or I get a tape of it, then I watch it. That's how I saw it when it first came on: I knew a couple of people in it, so I watched a couple of times. So then when it was time to do the picture, I thought about just having a full film festival of Star Trek. Then I realised Lily has no idea where she is, she's not from their century, so I stopped myself. Normally I would have done that, but I stopped myself from doing it.

"To the point that, when it was time to shoot Patrick and I crawling along, and I've got him at phaser point; we'd done something together: 'Okay, a change of clothes and meet us over at the Jefferies Tube.' I go: 'Geoffrey's tube? Geoffrey's tube?' I assumed that there was a guy named Geoffrey, and there was something that we would do. And I get there, and the damn thing is like, only about this big! And he says 'You're going along at a clip on your elbows and your knees.'...! So I kept getting surprised all the way through. They would say what something is but I just had no idea, so I'd get there and: 'Oh no!' So I was constantly having that happen.”

How much contact have you had yet with all the legions of Star Trek fans that are out there? How prepared are you for this sudden vast increase in your fanbase?
AW: “I have no idea what it will be like, because so far it hasn't happened. Once it opened in LA, I was in Colorado for the next two weeks. The nearest Star Trek was 50 miles away! But one thing I have found out: I didn't know how many Trekkers there were amongst us, but my attorney is a hot-shot entertainment attorney, a feared and respected attorney. Maybe I can get him to visit me once on a three-month shoot. Every other day, I was going, 'Yes, you can come and visit the set.' He is wonderful and brilliant, he put himself through undergrad school as a lab researcher, so he had a science base before he studied law. He was just in heaven. He had never been so impressed!

"My dentist - he was a young Jewish guy; my dentist is a middle-aged Chicana, a Mexican-American woman - she was going 'clean, clean' and I said: 'Uhm unn Zter Drik.' She went, 'Oh my God!' Then suddenly my 14-year-old nephew said, 'I know everything there is to know. I'll brief you.' I brought him to LA for the day, and he knew the peccadilloes of every character and everything. So what's happening is that so far in my life, all the Trekkers and Trekkies have come out of the closet on me. I never knew they were there before. It's like pod-people!

"Gates tells a funny story about having emergency surgery, and how the doctor that came in to do it went: 'Doctor Crusher! My colleague!' Hopefully it'll remain funny. As an actor, I've never been recognisable to the general public. People that know me think I've only done one picture, and I've been working twenty years. They usually say things like, 'Good luck. I hope you get some more work.' And I go, 'Um, thanks.' But when you're having an anxiety attack in a grocery store; you're thinking about your father who's old, or trying to get to your babies to pick them up from school. Sometimes when somebody breaks into your thoughts, people don't realise, when they see you out going along, it can be very arresting. It's like being caught with your pants down. I would just hope that Trekkers can be more empathetic than the general population, and gently ask, 'How's your career?' Not going, 'Oh my God! You were so scary!'

What does your dentist feel about it, Alice?
AK: “I haven't told him yet. But my nephew came to tea yesterday, and could not believe that Worf and Data and Troi and Dr Crusher were all in this hotel. My status just went through the roof! I'm quite happy for more of that to happen.”

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