JESSICA ALBA on 'THE EYE' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
January 23, 2008
In the supernatural thriller The Eye, Jessica plays Sydney Wells, a concert violinist who has been blind since childhood. But after undergoing a life-altering corneal transplant, she finds herself haunted by ominous visions and shadowy figures that all seem to be harbingers of doom. With the help of her medical specialist (Alessandro Nivola), she sets out to uncover the story behind her new eyes in the hopes that she can rid herself of the ghostly images.
The Eye is an American remake of a 2002 Hong Kong film written and directed by The Pang Brothers. This newer version is co-directed by French filmmakers David Moreau and Xavier Palud, and also features Parker Posey as Jessica's guilt-ridden sister.
In this interview, Jessica talks about working on The Eye, including the particulars of playing a blind character and learning the violin. (For all the naysayers who are inexplicably offended at the idea of an actress taking a crash course on an instrument that can take a lifetime of practice, note that Jessica readily acknowledges the difficulty and is the first to admit her shortcomings, joking that her violin playing repels her dogs. Sort of like an anti-Pied Piper.) She also talks about some interesting behind-the-scenes stories, her favorite horror movies, fan reactions to her work on Fantastic Four, and her current pregnancy. Granted, we rarely report on baby stuff, but her description of pregnancy was amusingly reminiscent of Alien.
MEDIA: What kind of research did you do in your preparation to play a blind character?
JESSICA: I studied with this girl. Her name's Jessica, oddly enough. She's a vocalist, and she's been blind since she was two. And she's in a master's program at Boston University in classical music. She's lived in Italy, in England, travels in planes, subways, taxis, goes around different cities by herself, and she's completely blind, totally self-sufficient, independent, speaks three different languages. So just from her, I wanted Sydney to embody that strength. And then I went to a blind orientation center here in LA and one in New Mexico, and I learned how to read braille and walk with a cane and do all that kind of stuff.
What was more difficult: pretending you were blind, or pretending you could play the violin?
The violin was definitely, I think, more challenging, because it's a beautiful instrument, and to be a soloist, you have to be pretty phenomenal--from your posture to the way you hold the bow and the violin, and the way you play the notes, and everything is quite specific. And people who play the violin, even in orchestras and are accomplished musicians, practice 8 to 12 hours a day. So the people at Disney Hall are practicing 8 to 12 hours a day still. And they've been doing it since they were three. And so this actress trying to come in and do a crash course...It was nerve-wracking. [laughs] And the directors made it very clear that they didn't want to use doubles and they wanted to keep me in the frame and show me really playing.
Do you have any musical aptitude at all?
Ummm...There's a lot of talented musicians in my family, so I feel like I kind of channeled that. But I've never had any training or anything. I really just worked my butt off and winged it the best I could. [laughs]
How often did you get to practice?
Basically during Fantastic Four and during this, it was about six months every day: lunch, every break I had, when I got home. I had three different violin teachers. I haven't seen the movie completed with the music and stuff, but I hope it looks like I'm playing. [laughs] The vibrato was hard!
Did you keep the violin?
Yeah, right! My dogs, when I play, they run away from me! They like try to cover their ears and stuff. [laughs] It's so horrible. I'm like, "I'm sorry!" But I do have one still at home. I can play "Happy Birthday." That's the least offensive thing I can play.
Sydney plucks the violin strings to play "Happy Birthday" in the movie. So you actually played that?
Yeah, I did. I mean, I played everything, it just sounded terrible when I played it. It was like a screechy, high-pitched, terrible sound.
Did you see the original Hong Kong version of The Eye?
I did. I saw it sort of the same time when I read the script, and then wanted to see the tone and the difference between the two. And I enjoyed it. I thought the main character was quite stoic and I really enjoyed her performance. You know, the difference between their version and our version is it's much more of an Eastern way. And part of the culture, I think, of approaching ghosts [is that] it's not so far fetched for ghosts to be a part of people's consciousness, [whereas] in Western culture, people think ghosts and anything of the paranormal is crazy and "you're nuts" and "there's no way." And so I think that's the big difference between the two--it wasn't so outlandish in the original, and in ours, it's nuts.
What did you think of the artistic style of your directors, David Moreau and Xavier Palud?
This was their second movie, and they did a movie in France called Ils, and it virtually had no dialogue and was quite simple. And it was captivating and terrifying. You're like gripping the seat from beginning to end and you're just watching these two people in a house being chased. And the fact that they can do that much and still hold your attention with no words, I thought, was great. And I wanted them to infuse that into this. I mean, yes, it's a very sort of sophisticated horror movie in that she's blind, she's an accomplished classical musician, she becomes sighted, she's psychologically going crazy...But it needed to be scary at the end of the day. And every day I was like, "Is this scary? Is this going to work?" And what I think they brought to it was making sure that it was scary.
How did you handle reacting to the special effects elements that weren't really present while you were filming, like the scene in which Sydney is interacting with a reflection in the mirror that's not her?
Well, the mirror reflection, they actually did it with [actress Fernanda Romero] there. So that was pretty crazy! [laughs] Because I didn't know the first couple of times we did it that they told [her] to basically mimic every move I was making. And it was trippy, having some woman who looks kind of similar move and do everything. I mean, I would touch my nose, she touched her nose. And actually, there was one take where I cried out of one of my eyes, and she cried out of the same eye. And it was so creepy and bizarre.
Were actors physically present to play the shadowy figures that Sydney sees?
Yeah, they were there. The final make-up wasn't completely done, but we had a guy who was virtually nude, and bald, and he's really, really thin, [with] make-up, and he was like shaking. And he looked pretty creepy.
Any surprisingly comical moments off-camera? What was the vibe like on this set?
It was kind of intense. And we had to shoot a lot in a short period of time, so there wasn't a lot of messing around. Although Alessandro and I, because we did a few days of us driving in the car forever, in between takes and whenever the sound wasn't on, we would blast the Beatles and sing really loud. [laughs] We had a lot of fun together, actually. And Parker, too, is really cool. So we just goofed off in between things, just to give you a break from how intense it was. It was nice to go there.
Just curious: What's the symbol tattooed on your right wrist?
It's "lotus" in Sanskrit. I just like what lotus represents, and Sanskrit is one of the oldest written languages.
What does that represent?
It means many different things, but for me, it's the manifestation of spiritual beauty.
After being so busy with work in recent years, is it nice to be on a bit of a break?
It is...We have friends over for dinner once a week and play board games. It's really exciting. [laughs] And I'm decorating the house we just got. It's like nesting and being normal, and not running around and living in a hotel or a different place for once...You just kind of have to re-acquaint yourself with all of your friends, because you haven't been around. I haven't been around for almost two years, you know? I'll come in and be like, "Hey, I'm here for three days! Let's go grab lunch!" So now I can be here and go see a movie and hang out, get my nails done, go for dog walks--you know, stuff like that.
How is pregnancy treating you? Getting a good rush of hormones?
[laughs] I don't know if "good" comes to mind. More like something's taken over my body and you kind of have to just surrender. I might lose it at any moment! [laughs] Yeah, it's crazy. I mean, it's amazing because you can't believe that you can have something inside you that's growing, and it's life, and it's the most incredible thing in the world. But at the same time, it's very emotional and bizarre. And yeah, something else is taking over, and you have to really just surrender to it and allow your body to do what it needs to do.
Any strange food cravings?
No. [gestures to her drink] I mean, I like lemonade Arnold Palmers. That's something I never really cared about before. I drank a lot of coffee, so I kind of replaced it with lemonade.
Having played a superhero in the Fantastic Four franchise, how do kids react when they meet you?
A few of them ask me to go invisible, and I just say I can't do it without my suit on. That's like the good answer. [laughs] Because there's no way I'm putting that suit on unless I'm on set! [laughs] But yeah, it's very sweet. Especially like the little boys and little girls, they're like, "Oh my God, it's Sue Storm!"
Is it less sweet when it's 35-year-old men asking you to put the suit on?
[laughs] Yeah. Usually, first they have me take pictures with their kids, and [then] they're like, "Oh, and one for me!" And they get like really close. [laughs]
Do you have any all-time favorite horror movies?
A few. The first Nightmare on Elm Street is definitely one of my favorites. Psycho. The Birds. I like old school...Cat People is good. It...Poltergeist.
Do you like Freddy Krueger more when he's cracking jokes or when he's just doing the cold-blooded killing?
The jokes freak me out because I guess you see that other side to him, like he's almost human or something. I don't know, I just like being scared and thinking what I would do in that situation. [laughs] Really, the first one was my absolute favorite. You know, the oblivious teenager in the bed getting sucked in. [laughs] I have had many, many dreams that that was me. I actually didn't sleep in the middle of my bed for a really long time because of that.
Would you consider yourself squeamish when it comes to horror movies? It seems like you've seen a lot...
I have to say...I watch a lot of Dateline, and like real things on serial killers, and horrible things that I probably shouldn't be watching. But I watch all these things on crazy people. So in real life, I like to watch that stuff, and so when I see the gore in the horror movies and I see really what that means, it totally freaks me out...If it's in my head, that's enough.