CARLA GUGINO on 'RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
July 24, 2008 [introduction updated March 9, 2009]
In the action-packed sci-fi family adventure Race to Witch Mountain, down-on-his-luck Las Vegas cab driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) finds himself caught up in a wild ride when two youths from another planet (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) involve him in their mission to save their dying homeworld and prevent an invasion of earth. Pursued by both the US government and a Predator-esque bounty hunter, they must break into the secret facility of Witch Mountain and retrieve their crashed spaceship, with the fate of two worlds precariously resting in their hands. They are also assisted in their endeavors by an enthusiastic but discredited astrophysicist (Carla Gugino) speaking at a local UFO convention.
A re-imagining of the 1975 Disney classic Escape to Witch Mountain, Race to Witch Mountain reunites Dwayne Johnson with director Andy Fickman in the wake of their box office success with 2007's The Game Plan.
In this interview excerpt from a press conference held at San Diego's Comic-Con, Carla Gugino talks about her character in Race to Witch Mountain, and compares it to her lead role from a past sci-fi project, Threshold. She also briefly previews Watchmen, another Comic-Con-friendly entry on her resume.
MEDIA: What appealed to you about a new Witch Mountain movie?
CARLA: I loved the [original film] as a kid. And I lived in a van, and basically I had a motor home for years as a kid. So for me, going back to that, I always just related to those kids so much. Not the alien part... [laughs] And then when I got this script, I just thought it was really good, and I was a fan of Andy's, and we sat down and talked about it, and within about three minutes, I was like, "We have to work together! We have to do this!" And I'm a huge fan of Dwayne's, and it was just a really natural fit, and I fell in love with the character and all the elements. You know, it's great when something isn't a lot of work to make it happen. Obviously, making a good movie is a lot of work in a great way and it's really fulfilling, but what you want is the connections creatively to be easeful, and that was definitely very immediately apparent.
Could you describe your character?
Yes. I play an astrophysicist named Dr. Alex Friedman, and she's been discredited from several different universities because she has decided that there is enough hard data to prove that there probably is alien life. And that wasn't a popular notion for a respectable university, so she's relegated to lecturing at the UFO con in Las Vegas. But she's hoping, of course, that she'll get some support. And all they want to talk about is crop circles and like kooky theories. And she's pretty much having one of the worst days of her life when Dwayne's character Jack, the cab driver who drove her from the airport, walks in and says, "Hey, these two kids are aliens." And she's like, "Great. And now I'm being made fun of!" And then comes to realize that in fact they are aliens, and it's basically like the most exciting thing--the thing she's been waiting for her entire life--and then is swept away to sort of help on the journey to save the world. Or two in this case.
You also had extraterrestrial encounters as Dr. Molly Caffrey on the TV series Threshold. How did playing that character compare to playing Dr. Alex Friedman? I'm assuming there's a different vibe...
Yeah, it's definitely a different vibe. You know, what was very cool was when I sat down with Andy, he was a big fan of Threshold. So when I first thought about this...You know, [Molly] was a contingency analyst, and there were certainly differences, and tonally the movie is very different than that. Molly was much more super-serious. I think with that show, which I loved so much, inevitably it's very difficult in TV if you are the hero of the show. Often times things just sort of come up, like "hero protection"--terms like that, where you have to behave in a very particular kind of way. And what was really great with this is that this was almost like Molly gone berserk. [laughs] It was like the flip side of that, where I just got to have so much fun in this movie. And she takes her job very seriously, but then she ends up in an unknown terrain. I think they definitely could be sisters. But they were extremely different to play, much more so than I thought they would be.
Having been a part of films like Spy Kids, Sin City, Watchmen, and this one, is there a certain attraction to the whole sci-fi/action/comic book genre for you?
You know, it's funny, because I never was particularly a graphic novel or comic book person, per se. For me, it's just about a good story and good characters, and these have happened to be that. Sin City, I had worked with Robert Rodriguez in Spy Kids, and I was really up for the challenge of doing a completely different character. I think for me, it always comes down to how I relate to the character, who I'm working with, and the vision of the director. Because that is ultimately what you're serving. And so in that way, it's a director I trust implicitly, and I did love Frank Miller's graphic novel. And with Watchmen, I get to play somebody who starts at 25 years old and ages to 67 with full prosthetics and becomes an alcoholic mother. So I was like, [excitedly] "Are you kidding?!" And [director] Zack Snyder is amazing, and Watchmen is clearly an unbelievable graphic novel. So it is funny that that has happened, and it hasn't been intentional. But I've just fallen in love with each project individually.
How similar is the film version of your Watchmen character Sally Jupiter to the graphic novel version?
Basically extremely similar. Sally Jupiter has the sort of famous poodle do, which we altered slightly, because it was really...I think it was...
Yeah, it was pretty scary. No, but other than that, it is exactly what's in the graphic novel. It was altered very, very little. The Minutemen in the 1940s stuff [and the] passage of time [are] revealed through a title sequence that is really in keeping with the tone of the graphic novel, but something that's not actually in the graphic novel.
Race to Witch Mountain's UFO convention sounds like it might not be too dissimilar to this experience of Comic-Con. Have you had any memorable encounters with diehard fans here?
Well, one person did say to me next year, for sure, they are going to reveal on television that we have found an actual alien. And I was like, "Wow, did you find him yet?" He was like, [seriously] "I can't speak about that right now. But I will tell you by next year." I was like, "Okay! Great!" [laughs]
What do you think of this film's approach of using more practical special effects in favor of computer-generated special effects, especially in the fight scenes?
I think with this movie in particular, there's something great about the authenticity, and the fact that it's a little bit messier...It's not slick in that way. It's done really, really well. I watched some of the stuff. It looks like they are actually fighting, and there's something fantastic about that, as opposed to flying through the air, which is great for a different kind of movie.