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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

November 3, 2007

Based on the classic Old English epic, the 2007 film adaptation of Beowulf takes CG animation to another level by blending a new brand of motion capture technology with photo-realistic animation. Building upon techniques from 2004's The Polar Express, Beowulf translates not only its actors movements to their rendered onscreen counterparts, but also captures minute details like the movement of their eyes in order to imbue the characters with more life. The result is a visual intriguing endeavor, with certain scenes coming alive with unnerving realism.

Storywise, Beowulf looks to expand upon past interpretations of the poem by filling in gaps in the traditional narrative. In this version of the tale, viewers see Beowulf (Ray Winstone) progress from a young warrior hired by King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) to slay the monstrous Grendel (Crispin Glover) to an elderly ruler haunted by sins of the past. Other key characters include Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn), Beowulf's Queen; Unferth (John Malkovich), one of Hrothgar's thanes; Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson), Beowulf's close friend and confidant; Ursula (Alison Lohman), one of Beowulf's mistresses; and Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie), who serves as the story's root antagonist, even as it spans decades.

As Grendel's mother, Angelina Jolie portrays a succubus-like entity who appears as a beautiful woman in the minds of the men she seduces, when in fact her true nature is demonic and reptilian. Advertisements have taken full advantage of the siren/vixen aspect of the character, prominently featuring an animated version of the actress strutting through her darkened cave virtually naked, covered only by strategically placed blotches of mud.

In support of the film, Angelina Jolie and the cast and crew of Beowulf got together for a press conference with select media outlets. This interview presents her portions of the Q&A session, in which she talks about working on the project and getting into the skin of an evil seductress.

The Interview

MEDIA: So what was it like playing a demon?

ANGELINA: It was a great experience...I think the nice thing about it is we all do films these days, and so much of it has become a business, and so much of it is these projects where people want to rush through things, or you feel like you just make a movie and you're not really sure, you've kind of lost touch with the artistic process and the fun of it. And [director Robert Zemeckis] is a real artist, and he loves it so much, and he's so enthusiastic and so original. And so you really feel you remember you're a creative person and you have fun with everybody else. And I needed that, as an artist. So it was really great, and I am grateful for the experience.

How did you approach playing this mother of a monster?

I was excited I got a call that I was going to be working with Bob Zemeckis, and I was pretty much saying yes to anything. And then I was told I was going to be a lizard. [laughs] And then I was brought into a room with Bob with a bunch of pictures and things, and examples, and he showed me this kind of picture of a woman half painted gold, and then a lizard...And I thought, "That's great. That's so bizarre. I'm going to be this crazy reptilian person and creature." And I was very excited, and then met with Crispin, and we had a great time and just amazing scenes, and then saw the poster and saw a few other things, and I realized I'm not just a lizard. [laughs] But I'm very excited about it. It was just great. She's interesting. She's one of those fun characters. She's evil and she's temptation, and she's very fun to play. And again, we had a great time. I got to work with great actors.

Would you consider her a femme fatale?

I suppose...I suppose she is.

How did your stint on this film fit in with your own personal schedule?

This was a two and a half day shoot for me, and I was three months pregnant. [laughs]

You wouldn't know from the movie...

We did the mapping of my body before...But no, it was a pleasure. The fact that it was short was that much easier to not have to work too much.

How did you feel about seeing the somewhat revealing full-body animation of yourself?

I got a little shy. [laughs] I really wasn't expecting ourselves to come out as much. I didn't expect it to feel as real. And especially the type of character I play...It was kind of funny at first, and then there were certain moments where I felt actually shy and called home just to explain that the kind of fun movie that I had done, this digital animation, was in fact a little different than they were expecting, you know? [laughs] I was really surprised that I felt that exposed.

Did you like the animated version of your body?

I love my tail. [laughs]

What were some of the physical challenges involved in shooting this movie? We assume you didn't really have to swim or fly for the motion capture...

Well, Bob'll make you do weird things. For swimming, we had to figure out something I could be attached to. My waist was attached to something that had to be rolled back and forth. I had a harness, and I was on something with wheels. It was bizarre. And it was basically day one, and I had to suddenly swim, and we were trying to figure out what that would be in this new way. So I was swimming with my upper body, kind of being rolled around Crispin, and trying to pretend I was swimming. [laughs] And the same with flying--we hooked me up with wires and flew around. So I was hooked up and being moved.

Had you read the story of Beowulf prior to reading the script? And if so, what did you remember from it?

Yes, I had read it years and years ago, and hardly remembered it. And I think I read it half asleep as well. But you know, it's one of those great stories that you know the themes of it, and the themes you take away and you never forget. But when I read the script, it wasn't fresh enough in my mind to compare it, and it wouldn't be at this moment, even.

What are some stories that fired your imagination while you were growing up?

I'm sitting here trying to think of some brilliant answer like everybody else has...I love Treasure Island. And when it comes to film, I love Lawrence of Arabia. I loved The Traveler. I loved reading Winston Churchill's works. [laughs] I love his stories of his early life and his adventures, and the history in that.

How do you feel Beowulf's particular time period was for women socially (even those with reptilian attributes)? And has this film whetted your appetite for more animation?

I feel it is tough to ask me because my character seemed beyond her time. [She] is certainly not restricted. She was quite powerful and was capable, even though she was stuck in a cave. [laughs] But you know, quite a different character--certainly not a woman of the period. But I certainly would love to do more [films like this]. I wouldn't call this animation because we were physically doing all of these things. And every single gesture is ours, and everything is acted out exactly by us. And even where our eyeballs moved are exactly where we look, because they were mapped exactly. So it is our performances, and we had these scenes together. So I do think that's important to state because it's exciting, and it's different.

What language or dialect are you speaking during the scenes between Grendel and his mom?

Old English. We had more of it, and it was actually great, but I think it went over a lot of people's heads. But it was fun to learn. It was beautiful.

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