PAULA PATTON on 'MIRRORS' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
August 12, 2008
In the horror flick Mirrors, troubled cop Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) tries to get his life back on track after a shooting gone wrong derails his career and sends him spiraling into a bout of anger and alcoholism. Forced to crash with his sister (Amy Smart) and estranged from his wife (Paula Patton) and two kids, he takes a job as a night watchman in the hopes of bringing a semblance of normalcy to his chaotic world. But almost immediately, he discovers a sinister force inhabiting the mirrors of the decrepit, burned out building he is patrolling. And when that force becomes intent upon using him as its key to this world, he must race to solve the mystery of the mirrors before his family is harmed.
Mirrors is written and directed by Alexandre Aja, who previously helmed the French-language thriller High Tension and the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes.
In this interview, the always spunky, always entertaining Paula Patton talks about working on Mirrors, and in a sincerely humble style that has endeared her to the media, she starts off the Q&A by greeting each reporter individually, then introducing herself. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where we pick up...!
PAULA: I'm Paula. How you guys doing tonight? [pauses, realizes it's still afternoon] "Tonight." [laughs] You see where this is going! It started at nighttime for me. That's how long it takes to get my make-up on, so... [laughs]
MEDIA: Do you personally enjoy horror movies?
I do. I like scary movies, but I cannot watch them at night by myself. I remember doing a lot of research for Mirrors. I wanted to watch a lot of horror films, just to see if there was something I was missing, make sure I got the whole thing. And it was a daytime kind of research thing, because I can't do it at night. My imagination just goes crazy, and I can't take it! [laughs]
Do you really get caught up in the moment for a role like this?
You know what? I do. Definitely, I try to keep myself in a certain headspace, especially with this film, because it was so intense, and it was like every day either I'm fighting with my husband, or trying to save my children's lives or my own life, and fighting with these spirits, essentially. So it's intense. And so we couldn't spend a lot of time around the water cooler chatting it up. I would put my iPod in and listen to some haunting music and sit in a corner, and just try to envelop myself in this world. I mean, for some actors maybe it is easy to go from zero to fifty, but for me, it's really difficult to just be [happy one moment] and scared [the next].
Which horror movies were you watching for your research? Classics?
Yeah. To me, my two favorites that vary in their range would be The Shining--we all know, Class A, awesome movie--and then the first Halloween--just a great film, set up that genre. It's just brilliant. And it [holds up] today. It wows me. And then there's Rosemary's Baby...I mean, I could go on. But there are the classics that you do love, and then there were some more recent ones that I watched, too. I loved Haute tension. High Tension, Alexandre Aja's movie. It was just brilliant.
What did you think of the ending of that one?
I loved it. I didn't see it coming. I didn't see it coming at all. I thought it was brilliant.
What was the scariest scene for you in Mirrors?
Not my scenes, because I'm horrible, I hate myself. [laughs] But I loved Amy Smart's scene when she like rips her head open. That is so amazing! First of all, I don't know how they did it. And second of all, I thought, "How cool is that, where something comes inside of you that makes you do harm to yourself?" I mean, it's another thing to be afraid of like a monster or be scared, like, "Don't kill me!" So I thought that was wild and crazy, and it was scary. And I'm still trying to figure out how they did it.
Most of your scenes are in a brightly lit house, while Kiefer gets the big, creepy set. Did you feel a little shortchanged?
I didn't even think about it then. It wasn't like, "This isn't fair! Where's my scary stuff?" [laughs] You just deal with it, you know?
You looked really good in this film...
[says comically] "Well, you know, that's what it's all about!"
Were you looking to glam up to contrast all the horrible things happening to your character?
I wasn't. I mean, it's really nice to hear people say that, but I guess you don't think about it when you're doing it. I'm not the kind of person who can watch playback or be really aware of myself or how I look like that. When I get out on set, for me, it's just about trying to tell the truth, I guess. Boring! I know. But that's really what it is. So you just hope that everybody else likes you well and treats you well, and you don't look crazy--unless you're supposed to be!
Did you do any research into your character's job as a coroner?
I really feel like when I get to a set, I want to be as knowledgeable about my character as possible, even if it doesn't end up on screen. So I knew that my character was a coroner, I felt that will influence the kind of person she is. You know, you just try to develop somebody. And when you try to develop them from thin air, it's very difficult. But to be able to focus in on one person or a kind of person, it helps. So anyways, I went to the L.A. County Coroner's office and I got to shadow this guy, and see crazy stuff! I mean, I'm telling you, these dead bodies, they look more fake in reality than they do on the movies. It's just like rubber--no one's home! And I was talking to this man, and I thought what was really fascinating about it was...he's just seen so much senseless death...that it made him just more safe. And I thought that was an interesting thing to take with me--not something that maybe you guys will ever see, but I took it with me into my character.
Were the coroners so comfortable with their environment that they could each lunch with the cadavers?
[jokes] Absolutely. They could eat a sandwich and cut open a head. Yes. [laughs] No, you can't, because it might interrupt with the autopsy. "How did that lettuce get in the brain?" [laughs] Sorry. I can't help myself. But yes, you get numb to it. And you know what's funny, is that at first when I went down there to the coroner's office, you could smell that stench of dead body, and it was so upsetting. And I was just seeing them do what they're doing, and it's intense stuff. And then, because you look at these people, and the spirit, the soul, whatever, it's gone, it does start to become just "a body." Do you know? And even for me, by the end of the day, it didn't affect me in the same way. But I also worked on a medical show filming a lot of surgeries before my acting career began, so I don't have the same fear of blood and guts that everybody else does. [laughs]
You have to be a little villainous with your onscreen daughter for a moment in this movie. Was that the most difficult scene for you?
[jokes] No. I mean, I have to be honest with you, that's my favorite part because that's really who I am. I have a lot of anger, a lot of rage, and I want to kill a lot of people. So that was fun, I got to get that out. [laughs] That was actually really fun. I mean, it would be really fun to play a villain. I decided that would be really a blast. So that wasn't the most difficult. Because I think we all have a little bit of darkness inside of us. [laughs] But I think the most difficult thing for me was probably just really wanting to be a mother and making that realistic. Because I'm not a mom, and as much as you hear from people, like, "You'll never know until you are," I was really concerned about making that realistic. And I just talked to my mom a lot. I would always ask her questions. And we're really close. So that was probably, for me, the thing I was most worried about, and the greatest challenge for me was making sure that that was somewhat authentic.
What attracted you to the script, and your character in particular?
You know, the truth is that people don't always take this genre very seriously. But if you do take it seriously, which I did, which everybody I know in the film did, you realize that all those things are really intense. And it was a challenge every day to bring out that. You know, your husband's shooting at mirrors, he's seeing things. Like you really have to make that real in your head. And so like I think that for me overall, I really saw the whole work as a challenge. Because it was an interesting female character. She's not just some fringe accessory. She really is integral. And she's not a victim. And she's a survivor on her own. I liked the idea of being a mama bear trying to protect my cubs, and that even though Kiefer helps out in the end, she still can take care of herself. And I liked that. And I also liked the relationship with the husband and wife where, at least in my mind, I saw it as where I do still love my husband, and we probably would be together if it wasn't for the fact that we have children and his behavior's so erratic I can't trust him to [provide] a good environment to raise my children in. So I thought that was an interesting push and pull of like "love, but I can't be with you." You're just trying to find things that are interesting that you can sink your teeth into.
You get a little damp at the end of the film...
[coyly] What are you trying to say?
Does being doused with water all day help your performance in something like this?
The discomfort actually--especially in a movie like this--lends itself to the action. You know, if you're cold and you're trying to have like a love scene with somebody and you're wet, that might not be... [pauses] Well, okay. Anyways, then it might be distracting because you're like, "I'm not feeling good but I'm supposed to be in love." But for this movie, it really helps kind of feed all of that emotion.
You're so upbeat in real life...
So you think! So you think. I'm an actress. It's called schizophrenia. Trust me, my husband's like, "Who's this nice person they're taking about? I've never met her!" [laughs]
...did you do anything to specifically keep yourself in the right frame of mind for this role?
That's like I said, during the downtimes, I was really sullen. I just kind of kept to myself and tried to just keep myself immersed in that world...I just kept imagining that feeling of being in a dream when you're trying to yell and nothing will come out, and you can't fix this horrible thing that's happening to you. So I don't know, I just would go full throttle when I needed to, and then during those breaks, you just kind of just hole up and try to stay in that emotional place. So it was really one of those movies that at the end, I was emotionally spent. I was just exhausted emotionally, physically. And I didn't realize how much it would take out of me. It really turned out to be probably the hardest movie I ever made. And I know it's not that many, but of that group, it really was. It was really a challenge. But it's like a good challenge, because I'll never forget it, just going through it. Making it through something that's difficult always feels good at the end. You always feel like, "Okay, well, I did it!" Hopefully.
Did you and Kiefer ever have the chance to just hang out and have fun, or was the vibe on set constantly intense and serious?
You know what? It really was. It really was intense and serious. And I think what happens a lot of times with actors and with the way movies are made these days, you don't have the time to get rehearsals and get to know each other and chit chat. So when I came on to the movie, they were full speed ahead doing crazy hours. So there was no time for, "Hey, let's get some coffee and talk about the finer things in life." Do you know what I mean? But because we were an estranged husband and wife, I think it worked well for us as actors. It helped, because there was a tension. So I can't tell you what Kiefer's favorite food is or anything like that, but I can tell you that he brought it every day 110%, and that made it so much easier to work with somebody. You know, it's hard if the other person's only giving you 50. You try to dredge up emotion of your own. But when someone's already there for you, then you can just react.
Thanks for your time.
You guys have a wonderful day...Thanks for coming out and doing this!