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Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
July 23, 2010

In the unapologetically gory horror flick Piranha 3D, an underwater seismic tremor unleashes swarms of pissed off prehistoric piranha upon another pack of insatiable animals: college kids on spring break. The result is a rapid-fire orgy of mutilated body parts and mayhem--limbs, genitals, and faces are ripped, shredded, and unceremoniously detached as the waters quickly run red with copious amounts of movie blood. In the midst of this fine feeding frenzy, the local town sheriff (played by Elisabeth Shue) must save her kids, haul mangled co-ed carcasses out of ground zero, and even taser some fish as the world around her falls prey to the piscine predators.

Director Alexandre Aja and some of the film's cast were on hand at Comic-Con to present select cuts of Piranha 3D to fans. Embracing its fun, campy brand of carnage, the footage played up its "too brutal for general audiences" image and was screened off-site rather than in the halls of the San Diego Convention Center.

During Piranha 3D's promotional stint at the annual pop culture throng, we had the opportunity to catch up with the beloved Elisabeth Shue. When we last spoke to her in 2007 for her quasi-autobiographical sports drama Gracie, she was in the process of taking a hiatus from acting to pursue a personal passion of competitive tennis. In this exclusive interview, we find out what become of that endeavor, talk about her Comic-Con experience, and delve into her relationship with fish of both the man-eating and man-eaten varieties.

RadioFree.com: How has your Comic-Con experience been so far?

ELISABETH: Well, we've sort of been on the outskirts of Comic-Con, so I just get to watch it through the window. It's kind of amazing, just to see the flood of people.

...And what have you observed about human nature?

I've observed that people love movies. And they're a little fanatic about it. Here and there. [laughs] And I'm kind of glad, in a way, that our film was outside of [the main convention]--that it was "too gory" and "too intense" for people to watch. I think that's going to be good for [the movie].

This is your first time at the convention, yes?

This is my first time here. I was supposed to come down for Hamlet 2. And then I couldn't...I was working on Piranha! [laughs] So I decided to come down. Yeah, I've never been here.

I remember a lot of pedicabs sporting Hamlet 2 signs a couple years ago...

Oh, really? Isn't that sad that movie didn't do better? It was such a great movie. Did you get to see it?

I did. I've also been rediscovering some of your earlier films. Nickelodeon was airing Adventures in Babysitting, and I re-watched The Karate Kid because of the recent remake...

Oh my God... [laughs] You had an Elisabeth Shue film fest.

But yeah, I can see how you would be disappointed that Hamlet 2 didn't get a stronger reception...

Yeah, when something good doesn't get out there. I mean, you're so used to the disappointments of films that don't turn out to be what you had hoped...But it is sad when something so worthy [doesn't find an audience].

Of course, in that movie, you are credited with playing "Elisabeth Shue" and not "yourself." Was that Elisabeth Shue character a chance for you to vent a little about the Hollywood machine?

Yeah. It was funny, we got to kind of write what we wanted to say a little bit. It was wonderful that they let us collaborate that way. And we were still with comedy in mind, so it wasn't full reality. But I remember enjoying trashing a few of my films. [laughs] And talking about how much I liked kissing my co-stars, which was kind of the truth. But in a funny way. So yeah...

You and Steve Coogan had Best Movie Kiss material at the end of that film...

Yeah. [laughs, re-enacts her character's tongue motion] That was funny.

Was it your idea to make fictional Elisabeth Shue a nurse?

She was a nurse already. I got to pick the outfit though. I was in a sexy, white, very tight nurse's outfit. That was my contribution. [laughs] Because I didn't want to be in one of those, like, ugly nurse's outfits.

When we spoke to you about your film Gracie a few years ago, you were taking some time off from acting to pursue tennis. How has that endeavor gone for you? And how competitive do you get when playing against friends and family? Do you hold grudges or seek revenge on the court?

[laughs] Well, I try to hide my competitiveness a lot, and I try to pretend to be having a good time at all times. And then deep down, if the person I'm playing reminds me of a brother, it gets a little intense. And there are moments...

There might be trouble...

Yes, there's a little rage that comes out that I have to, like, stuff. And sometimes it helps my play, and sometimes it distracts me. So recently, I've been playing a lot more for fun, and I had to make a transition...I trained so hard and I hit every day, and I was training to be a great tennis player, but I was never playing the game of tennis, because I was almost so competitive and egotistical about the game that I didn't want to lose. And I knew the game itself is a whole different transition that takes a lot of time and a lot of experience. Once I started to make that transition...You know, it was very difficult at first on my ego to realize how bad I actually was. Recently, I've been playing for fun. And I'm finally realizing how fun the game is when you give yourself over to it and enjoy that part of it, instead of it being so emotionally intense. You know, it doesn't have to be. It's all in our head. Which fascinates me about tennis, because your head becomes the force that you have to fight with--not even your strokes. It's all your head.

But I'm also sure you're being modest. Like, you might not be able to hang with that tiny percent of the population who play competitively, but you could probably whup up on everyone else...

I can beat up on my brothers. That's the most important thing to me: I can now beat them all. [laughs]

Does that competitive nature translate into doing stunts or action sequences in films like Piranha 3D?

Yeah, it does. It just makes me more excited to do the physical sequences, because I know what a challenge it is, and the adrenaline level that I probably have been addicted to in terms of sports, the drama of sports themselves, and the adrenaline rush you get when you're in the middle of a close match, whether it's tennis or soccer or whatever it is...For me, I had to do one really hard stunt. I had to climb across a metal rope back and forth, which was really challenging, and very difficult, and very tiring and hard. But I also got to run across a flotilla of objects that were happily placed just far enough away from each other so that I could hop from one boat--I've just witnessed the massacre, I'm then told that my kids are now on a boat that's sinking, and I have to go save them. So I had to jump, and grab a hold and hold on... [laughs, emphasizes the action with stunty gestures] And the stunt double was going to do it, because they said, "It's just really too dangerous, you can't do that." And of course, my ego was like, "Of course I can do that!" So when they went rolling, the pounding of my heart was like I was opening on Broadway. It was so pathetic. Or I was going to walk out and play Wimbledon. [laughs] It was so funny how seriously I took it, and how much I wanted to succeed. I thought, [sighs] "I'm such an athlete at heart, sometimes more than anything else."

Did your competitive streak manifest at the Oscars, when you were up for the Best Actress award for Leaving Las Vegas?

No. I don't get competitive about acting at all. I mean, I get envious, probably. "Oh, I wish I could have gotten that part!" or "Oh God, she's so lucky she got that!" But it's funny, you'd think that I would be more competitive. But I really don't. Acting...It's not a sport. It's a creative expression that I find so necessary, and I feel so grateful that I get to do it that winning an award doesn't quite live up to what just the act of doing it does for me...[But] I felt so grateful to be there at all, to be honest.

Piranha 3D is obviously all about the fish and their reign of terror. What is your relationship with fish and sea critters in general?

We did a lot of fishing growing up, because we had a house in Maine. And there's tons of ponds and lakes that we would fish. And I remember catching over 70 fish one time. And I was in charge of gutting them and cleaning them. So I've gotten to know fish quite well. All their body parts. [laughs] And I definitely had a visceral fear of the water from Jaws. Every time I'm out in the ocean swimming, I have that sense, like [shudders]...Just that fear, you never know what could be there.

Impending doom!

Yeah. I don't feel it in a lake, thank God. And I'm probably not going to be afraid of any prehistoric piranhas swimming in any lakes any time soon. But it's funny, even when you're in a pond, there is this murky darkness to water that allows your imagination to come alive.

One of our signature offbeat questions...What is your favorite black and white animal: panda, penguin, cow, or something else?

I like penguins. I think they're awesome. I just like how human they seem. I like the way they move, I like the way the dads have to take care of the eggs. I saw March of the Penguins. I thought that was just heartbreaking.

And they seem monogamous, they stick together as a family, and they wear tuxedos...

Yeah! And they have such a sense of character in the way they move. And their loyalty...

Do you have any upcoming films that you are particularly excited about?

Well, there's a movie that is a smallish movie with Abigail Breslin and Alessandro Nivola that hopefully will get into some film festivals and make its way out called Janie Jones. I had a great supporting part that I love, which I'm very happy with. And I'm going to work in two weeks to do a movie with Jennifer Lawrence. And that's kind of a Psycho-like thriller, but still an independent, kind of smallish budget film.

Will your character in that film be anything like the one you played in Don McKay, which had a few thriller elements?

No, not as out there...That was more like a dark comedy/thriller...But I plan to make her to be more of an inappropriate mom. It's a mother/daughter story, but it's really obviously most about the daughter. So we're going to try to come up with an interesting mother/daughter relationship together, which will be fun.

Thank you so much for your time, it was a pleasure speaking with you.

It was nice to talk to you.

And I hope the rest of your Comic-Con experience goes well...

[laughs] Thank you.

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