Saturday, January 31, 2009

Eliza Bennett interview

Interview with Eliza Bennett, (Independent Talent Group) star of Inkheart, from Moviesonline. She also discusses how she got started in acting, Nanny Mcphee (and it's new sequel), and her new up-and-coming film From Time to Time.

MoviesOnline: Eliza, you look just like you did in the movie, but wasn’t this two years ago?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah, it was.

MoviesOnline: I thought you would have turned into an adult in the meantime. How old were you then? 14?

ELIZA BENNETT: I’m 16 now. I’ll be 17 in a couple months.

MoviesOnline: So what was it like being in this strange world?

ELIZA BENNETT: It was good, it was amazing. We shot about six weeks of it in Italy which was really good because I thought it being a fantasy film that it would be a lot of CGI and stuff and that’s obviously less fun to shoot I think. Iain Softley, the director, was quite keen on going to also the places and making sure that we filmed everywhere which was great for us because it’s less to imagine and it makes obviously the acting a little bit easier.

MoviesOnline: Where did you go?

ELIZA BENNETT: We were on the coast in a place called Liguria which actually inspired Cornelia Funke. She lived there when she wrote the book. So Iain went down to the places and actually saw them and found places that looked like they did in the book. We shot there and we shot up in the mountains in a place called Intraquay (???) where we had loads of fake snow and everything. It was really good fun.

MoviesOnline: Did you have any of those animals on set?

ELIZA BENNETT: Oh yeah, we had live [animals] because obviously Paul Bettany's character, Dustfinger, has a ferret with him. The actual animal is a made up fantasy animal but it was played by a weasel.

MoviesOnline: Was it a nice ferret?

ELIZA BENNETT: It was peculiar. There’s actually 12 of them but they all have a certain trick that they do. So, one of them just sits and doesn’t do anything, one of them crawls up your arm, and the other one fetches things, and then we also had a little dog who played Toto from The Wizard of Oz with us.

MoviesOnline: How many of those?

ELIZA BENNETT: Three.

MoviesOnline: Were you familiar with the book before you did the film?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah, I knew about it. I’d heard of it but I hadn’t read it because it was in my school library. So when I got my first audition, I read the first two in the trilogy.

MoviesOnline: What attracted you to this project and made you want to do the movie?

ELIZA BENNETT: I think sometimes you can have a lot of auditions but then you get one and it stands out to you hugely. I read the script and just thought the way it had been adapted to the book was…because I think that’s a really hard thing to do. I just thought they had done it so well. I also really liked the fact – I’m not usually a fantasy reader so I was kind of surprised that when I read it, I really, really liked it. I think it’s because it sort of has one foot in reality and one foot in fantasy. The whole thing is actually based in the real world and fantasy is dragged into it. I loved Meggie’s character and I read it and thought this is something I can really play. It’s always disappointing if you don’t get those parts that you like, but luckily for me I was lucky enough to get it.

MoviesOnline: How was it working with such a great cast?

ELIZA BENNETT: It was amazing! Brendan Fraser had been signed onto it for like 5 years or something like that because Cornelia Funke had based the character on Brendan and the second book was actually dedicated to him. He was always in line for playing the part and then when Iain took the film, Brendan came over and said, “Only use me in the part if you want. You’re the director now.” But luckily Iain wanted Brendan as well. So when I got the part, I knew Brendan was going to be doing it. For me, that was like “Oh my goodness!”

And then slowly the cast got pieced together and I found out that Paul Bettany and Helen Mirren were doing it and all these incredible actors and I was like, “Oh my goodness, I’m kind of like a fish out of water.”

MoviesOnline: You did The Prince & Me?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah.

MoviesOnline: Were you the little sister, Princess Arabella?

ELIZA BENNETT: That was my first ever job.

MoviesOnline: You have grown then?

ELIZA BENNETT: That was my first film.

MoviesOnline: The little sister. Wow!

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah, that was years ago.

MoviesOnline: In Inkheart, wasn’t it cool to have a girl be the hero in a fantasy? It’s always the boys.

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah. I think that sometimes things can become male dominated in films like that, but no, it was good. With me and Helen, we were sort of the girls in quite a male cast anyway because we had Paul and Brendan and Jim (Broadbent) and Andy Serkis. It was really good and luckily for me all the cast was so lovely. And they’re so funny as well which means that we were literally laughing from start to finish.

MoviesOnline: What did Helen talk to you about? She started acting when she was just a little bit older than you were.

ELIZA BENNETT: She’s had an amazing career, so especially working with her, because when we were filming, we went through her whole Queen stage where she was obviously picking up awards and it was amazing to share that with her. She’d be filming one day and then she flew and got her Oscar and came back the next day.

MoviesOnline: Did she bring it to the set?

ELIZA BENNETT: She did. We didn’t think she would because you can obviously get so jetlagged from coming back. She came back and Iain said to her, “Don’t worry about coming in for the morning rehearsals. We’ll catch you up in the afternoon and it’ll be fine.” For Helen, acting is her job, so it’s like job first. She comes in the morning even though she doesn’t have to. She has a little bag and we’re all rehearsing and she comes in and goes, “I know this is really nath but …” and she gets out her Oscar and goes, “Yaaayyyy!”

MoviesOnline: Are you much of a reader?

ELIZA BENNETT: I am. Yes. Normally I don’t usually read that much fantasy, because I tend to read more about the relationships rather than all the stuff like that. I think that’s something that helped as well. I related to my character quite well because obviously for her, before she knew about the ability to read in and out of books, she was such a book worm herself and I think that if you do read, you usually find when you’re reading from a book that sometimes things can seem so lifelike when you’re reading a story that you almost feel like it is a real world anyway. And so, for her, the fact that that was and that came to life, I think it’s easy to relate to. If you do, you are a reader yourself.

MoviesOnline: Is there a literary character that you would like to see come to life that you’d be able to interact with or become friends with?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah. If you’ve seen the film and you see Toto in it, I absolutely fell in love with him full stop. I love him. So, if I had the ability, I would be faithful to Toto and bring him out of The Wizard of Oz. But yeah, there are definitely books that you read that you would like to go into that world for a little bit, and then I think some of the old Jane Austen books and The Great Gatsby as well which I’m reading at the moment due to my A levels studying at school -- like sort of the parties they have that you don’t really get them anymore and little worlds like that. But, I’d always want a ticket back home as well.

MoviesOnline: Is there a cartoon character that you had as a favorite as a kid?

ELIZA BENNETT: Actually yeah. When I was younger, I had a small obsession with Winnie the Pooh who I absolutely loved. I had all the teddy bears lined up on my bed. I used to watch all the TV programs and all the cartoons. I’ll probably have to stick with my childhood favorite.

MoviesOnline: How did you start acting? How old were you when you started?

ELIZA BENNETT: My first job was when I was nine. In the West End in London, I was in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

MoviesOnline: You haven’t done anything small in your career, have you?

ELIZA BENNETT: I did that for a whole year and a half as well. I think obviously when you’re older, you have 6-month contracts and then you move on.

MoviesOnline: Did you come over to the States with it?

ELIZA BENNETT: No, I didn’t. We were there with the original cast when we did it and then I did that for a year and a half. I think instead of training new kids they always ask certain kids to stay on at the end of every run. And then they asked me to stay on another year at the end of a year and a half, but I thought I should leave on a high rather than…because I was still enjoying it and I think at the end of 2 years you might sort of be growing tired of it.

MoviesOnline: You’re doing another fantasy, aren’t you? From Time to Time?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah. I just finished that in December. It’s sort of a fantasy. It’s a fantasy in the sense that it does have an element which is not reality. It has time travel in it. My character is set in two times. It’s set in 1809 and it’s also set in 1944 and it switches. So, it’s the war and it switches between the two. It was quite challenging because I had to play a blind girl which was something I’d never done before. It was more challenging as well because usually I thought we’d be using contacts or something, but the director, Julian Fellowes, said “Actually I don’t want it to look like something from Alien 4 with that weird eye thing. I want it to be done really naturally and almost in a sense if you looked at her straightaway, that you wouldn’t be able to see that she was blind.” The thing that I was dealing with was the sense that my character sort of wanted freedom and almost that my blindness wouldn’t affect what I could do, so I was still climbing trees and running around. But no, it was a different thing. I like doing different characters and stuff so I didn’t feel like I was doing two fantasy films in a row.

MoviesOnline: Are you working on something now or do you have something coming up?

ELIZA BENNETT: No. I don’t have any exams this January which I’m very lucky for. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be here right now.

MoviesOnline: Warner Bros. could get you out of that.

ELIZA BENNETT: (laughs) They can do anything. I’m going to go to school. I think I’ve just caught up with everything now.

MoviesOnline: Why did you want to act? What was the compulsion or propulsion at age 9 that got you started?

ELIZA BENNETT: I think ever since a young age I’ve always been one of those children that sort of had known what they wanted to do. I’ve always been quite determined and so even at that young age. I was from a family and a place where no one ever went into that industry. It’s like a far off land. I didn’t even know that you could do anything. And so, I just enjoyed doing school plays and then my teacher said “Why don’t you do it as a hobby on the weekends?” So I did and I was working toward a LAMDA exam (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts) which is a drama exam in London and a teacher that was helping me do that knew of an agency and got me an interview. Then I got in and you sort of don’t get most of the auditions you go for just because either you’re not right for it or … But then if you get one, it makes it slightly easier to get the next one and slightly easier to get the next one. It sort of all happened by chance. I was very lucky.

MoviesOnline: What did you do after Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

ELIZA BENNETT: I did The Prince & Me. The day I left Chitty, the next day I had an audition for The Prince & Me.

MoviesOnline: And then you got it. Were you excited?

ELIZA BENNETT: It’s always the ones…you go out on auditions and you go, “I think that went really, really well,” and you don’t get it. And then I walked into The Prince & Me and I was so upset for leaving Chitty because it was a big family and it was really sad and I was so upset. And I had the audition and I went, “Oh, it went really badly. I’m just so sad.” And then I ended up getting it and I was really surprised because I didn’t get most of the ones that I really, really tried for.

MoviesOnline: You got Nanny McPhee too, didn’t you?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah, I think I did that straight after I did The Prince & Me.

MoviesOnline: Who is nicer, Emma Thompson or Angela Lansbury?

ELIZA BENNETT: You know, I worked mainly with Emma Thompson obviously because she’s in all my scenes, and Angela Lansbury is so lovely and so sweet, but I only had one area of the film where I was doing it with her.

MoviesOnline: Was that when you were throwing pies in her face?

ELIZA BENNETT: Exactly. Throwing pies at her face.

MoviesOnline: Maggie Smith is in the new one, right?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yes, Dame Maggie Smith is in the new one.

MoviesOnline: Are you in the new one?

ELIZA BENNETT: I’m in From Time to Time. I’m not in Nanny McPhee 2.

MoviesOnline: Is there a sequel to Nanny McPhee?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yes. Apparently there is, which of course Emma Thompson is in and she’s written it, but obviously our family is already sorted. We’re all flying now so Nanny McPhee doesn’t need to come back. So, I think it will be a new family. I’ve heard rumors they’re setting it in a different time.

MoviesOnline: What are you going to do when you write your book, you know, the struggling actress phase? You won’t have any mention of that.

ELIZA BENNETT: No, for me, I’ve been really lucky that the times I haven’t got work have been the times where I’ve needed to go back to school. So, for some reason, I’ve been lucky that everything has fitted in quite well. After Inkheart, I had a time where I had to go back to school and do my exams for my GCSE’s. Sometimes you have really quiet patches where everyone’s kind of like “Nothing’s really happening.” It was one of those patches straight before my exams, so I did all my revision and then I did my exams. So I’ve just been lucky that when I haven’t been working it’s fitted in perfectly.

MoviesOnline: Do you have tutors on the set?

ELIZA BENNETT: I do. I’ve had the same tutor for everything I’ve done.

MoviesOnline: Do you live in London?

ELIZA BENNETT: I live about an hour outside of London which I quite like. Although, however much I love London, I’ll probably live there later.

MoviesOnline: What city?

ELIZA BENNETT: I don’t live in a city. It’s in Berkshire. I actually live in a village which is very weird but it’s right…you can go straight into shops and stuff. It’s a 25-minute train to London.

MoviesOnline: What does your family say? Unlike this character, is your mother around?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah, I have my mum, a dad, a brother and a sister. We’re quite a close family. My brother is at university studying medicine and my sister is studying film and video production and my mom and dad have nothing to do with the acting industry either.

MoviesOnline: Do you have fans at home that write you letters?

ELIZA BENNETT: It’s quite peculiar. It’s quite strange. It’s really nice to have that. No, I do. It’s nice and you sort of write back and give them something.

MoviesOnline: Is acting something you want to pursue for the rest of your career?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah, definitely. I’ve seen as I’ve done stuff how much I’ve enjoyed it and how much fun it’s been. I am quite shocked that it can be a job and you can actually get paid for doing something that you love so much.

MoviesOnline: Working with all these great actors and actresses, did any of them give you any advice on how to continue on in this career or what to be careful about?

ELIZA BENNETT: Yes. It’s not in the sense that Helen would sit you down and go, “Here’s all the tips of the trade right here. Here’s a piece of paper.” It’s more that when you work with people like that, you can learn off what they’re doing and obviously every actor has their own techniques and you can sort of watch and pull what you think for yourself. I also find as I’m going through things now and going into different stages it’s nice to ask someone who’s on your side of the camera, which is people like Brendan and Paul, rather than say if you’re doing something by agents, obviously they’re all going to say the same thing, and so it’s nice to have somebody who’s had experience. It’s like a family for me and the fact that Brendan will always be like, “If you need help on this, just give me a ring or something.” And to have that is just amazing because you sort of feel like you have a support network which is really nice.

MoviesOnline: How did you deal with the dress at the end? That was worse than a wedding dress.

ELIZA BENNETT: Oh my goodness, it’s so long as well and we used to have this bag – we called it the sausage – you literally stuffed the dress into it. When we first had the dress, it was beautiful and white and silky soft on the table, then they ripped it to make it look all Gothic. I’m surprised you don’t notice it in the film – the change of dirt. It was like 3 weeks to shoot it, and it would pick up twigs on the way around. I’d say we had like a bird’s nest in there. It was so bad.

MoviesOnline: What was it like watching the final film after only seeing the various parts of it? What surprised or gratified you the most?

ELIZA BENNETT: Especially if you do a fantasy film, the things like The Shadow which is CGI’d you obviously don’t see when you’re filming it. When you’re watching the film for the final time at the end, the nicest thing is to see all the bits that you didn’t see when you were filming it. So, it’s not like watching the same thing over and over again. And to see how they did The Shadow was incredible, because for me I was just looking at a tall man on stilts with a stick and a tennis ball on the end of it. So I was just looking at a tennis ball. And the scenes with Dustfinger and Brendan that I wasn’t in are really interesting to see how they did it and lots of times you watch and go, “Oh, that’s why I said that line.” Like you don’t get it, like it’s a joke between scenes. So yeah, I really loved watching it. They always say that editing can make or break a film and you can turn a film into something completely different just by two edits and so it is like watching another film.

MoviesOnline: What country did you shoot most of Inkheart in?

ELIZA BENNETT: Six weeks in Italy and then the rest in England in the studios.

MoviesOnline: How would you compare this to Harry Potter?

ELIZA BENNETT: I think because Potter is so massive, every fantasy film will now be compared to what Harry Potter is like. It’s kind of like the stone that everything gets linked to. I guess it’s similar to Potter in the way that it’s got sort of a Harry Potter and Meggie relation to two characters from reality that have been dragged into another fantasy world. I think Harry Potter obviously has a lot more special effects and it’s amazing what they can do nowadays. Whereas with ours, it’s very much based on…it’s quite real and we went to the real places and it’s got kind of a European feel to it if you see all the scenes that we set in. I think there’s something great about Harry Potter and about Inkheart as well, and most things that are related from books that have been written, is that they encourage so many people to read now because you look at a film and go, “Oh wow! And it’s a book. Maybe I’ll read the book.”

MoviesOnline: I’m interested to see if kids are going to respond to it. It seems like Bridge to Terabithia more than Harry Potter.

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah, Harry Potter has definitely got a taste of its own.

MoviesOnline: It seems awfully scary for young kids though. There are some horrible things that are going on.

ELIZA BENNETT: At the end, it’s quite scary as well with The Shadow and I think it was something that Iain talked about.

MoviesOnline: It looked like a Nazi rally.

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah, it was. They sort of purposefully put in a bit of Italian fascism, like propaganda and stuff, and I think that’s obviously stuff that younger kids won’t pick up but something that adults can.

MoviesOnline: They’ll just be scared to bits.

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah.

MoviesOnline: How old do you think kids should be?

ELIZA BENNETT: I don’t know. I think that Iain’s daughter, who’s about 7 or 8 years old, loved it. Sometimes people forget that kids don’t mind being scared and I think that they almost enjoy the thrill of fear, and sometimes films can be so dumbed down. Of course, this is going to be a scary time and I think sometimes people underestimate how children are quite aware of the fact that you would be scared in a situation like this, although obviously you don’t want to take a four-year-old to it because the scene at the end is quite scary. I’m glad it hasn’t been dumbed down because it almost has sort of a Gothic feel to it at the end and I think that it is something that kids will appreciate. I think kids kind of like to go, “Oh! That’s quite scary!” and they feel a little bit grown up that they’ve seen sort of a bit of a scary film. So I’m glad The Shadow isn’t a big marshmallow man that smiles.

MoviesOnline: He’s like the cousin of the shadow of the monster from Lost.

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah.

MoviesOnline: Was it challenging for you to act with CGI?

ELIZA BENNETT: For me, I was lucky that we didn’t use as much as I thought we would. It wasn’t like loads and loads of green screen, but The Shadow was challenging and we had a lot of flying monkeys in it, that kind of fly in, and we had unicorns and stuff.

MoviesOnline: Weren’t the monkeys real for some parts like in the cages?

ELIZA BENNETT: No.

MoviesOnline: What about the unicorn?

ELIZA BENNETT: That was a horse with a thing stuck on it.

MoviesOnline: I used to love those Flying Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz.

ELIZA BENNETT: Yeah, when I saw the film again after that, that was one thing I went, “Wow! That’s so cool.”

MoviesOnline: As an actress, how do you watch things that aren’t real and are CGI’d?

ELIZA BENNETT: Well Angus Bickerton, who was the CGI guy, already had plans of what The Shadow would look like. When you’re doing the rehearsals for the film, they show you storyboards of what they want things to look like. We were shown on our laptop what The Shadow should vaguely look like. For me, I didn’t realize how much he towers over the whole thing. And he got lots of influences from lots of artists of towering giants. I think you just do the best you can. I mean, the scene is so manic and Meggie’s got loads of things going on anyway and I’m trying to write and read and talk while flying monkeys are going over her head and her mum’s nearly getting killed. For me, lots of that stuff was being shouted all the time like “Flying monkey over there!” The hecticness of the scenes sort of helped me because I was so hectic anyway that it helps probably acting wise.

MoviesOnline: Did the ferrets ever bite?

ELIZA BENNETT: No. I think Paul had the worst of it. But I think they were quite well behaved actually for the majority of the film.

MoviesOnline: Thank you so much.

ELIZA BENNETT: Thank you!

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