Michelle Rodriguez, Aaron Eckhart, Battle Los Angeles

Posted by: Michael

When unknown forces put the City of Angels under attack, it’s up to a Marine staff sergeant and his new platoon to come to the rescue. As the alien insurgency hits the streets of L.A., the Marines become our last line of defense against an enemy unlike any they’ve ever encountered before. Aaron Eckhart leads the cast in “Battle: Los Angeles” as Staff Sergeant Nantz, a career Marine whom he describes as being “pretty burnt out.” Michelle Rodriguez plays Elena Santos who supplies intel and becomes a key ally for Nantz and his platoon.

Movies Online sat down with Aaron and Michelle, director Jonathan Liebesman and producer Neal Moritz at Comic Con to talk about their upcoming film. They told us about their characters, how they researched their roles, what it was like making an urban combat movie about alien invasion, and how much fun they had watching Los Angeles be destroyed. Here’s what they had to say:

Q: Can you talk about how much ass your character kicks in the film, Michelle?

Michelle Rodriguez: I'm an Air Force tech sergeant. I actually felt relieved that I wasn't as physical and this strong, brute force. That is saved for the Marines in the film. I was more of a delicate intel persona in the film. I thought that was really cool, where I'm more being forced to use these physical capabilities that just come out of an instinct for wanting to survive in such a hostile situation. It was definitely a breath of fresh air to play something that isn't always so hardcore and tough.

Neal Moritz: But let’s be clear, she kicks ass. She gets to kick some ass in the film.

Michelle Rodriguez: I do get to kick some ass but in a cool and geeky way.

Q: How geeky?

Michelle Rodriguez: As geeky as I can get. It doesn't geekier than that for me, unless you're home with me playing Dungeons and Dragons. Then I can get real geeky.

Q: Aaron and Michelle, you both started in independent films and now have gotten into the blockbuster movie genre. What are the positives and negatives of both?

Aaron Eckhart: Well, with independent film, basically the only difference I see is the content of the material. Independent film deals with more peripheral subject matter. Doing a film like this is just insane because you're a kid in a candy store. You have every toy. You have every take. You have so much film. We shot this movie with helicopters. We had all of the Marines. We had freeways that were shut down for us. We had cars littered on them and bombs everywhere. We shot so many rounds it was insane. We had great people, great artists working on the movie. So money does afford you certain things. Better craft services. (Laughs) Well, we ate MREs. I love both of them. I really don't see a big difference. I think this film has just as much love and passion for what we're doing as any independent film. I’m happy to be in the film world.

Q: Do you think alien invasion films are coming back?

Neal Moritz: I'm not sure that they ever actually left. I think it's a staple of the movie business for many years. It's always just trying to come up with what can be a fresh twist on the genre. I think what we were able to do here is that the movie is really about one Marine battalion's point of view of a worldwide invasion. This battle happens to be going on in Los Angeles even though the fight is happening in many cities across the country. What I responded to is just the reality of the script which is what would really happen if aliens did invade. I think what Jonathan was able to do was to take that and when you watch this movie you really do feel like you're in the middle of a real war against aliens. That's what I like so much about it.

Q: Aaron and Michelle, you’ve starred in two of the most popular movies of all time. But at Comic Con, you’re gods. Can you talking about coming to Comic Con and getting that kind of enthusiastic response from fans?

Aaron Eckhart: (to Michelle) Go ahead. You're more of a god than I am.

Michelle Rodriguez: Oh, I don't know about that, man. For me, I don't see anything other than a deep appreciation and love for the manifestation of the imagination because that's really what Comic Con is about. It's about really awesome creative minds coming together and detailing verbatim every aspect of the existence in the world that they imagined. When you see that come to life on the big screen, it's just like, “Wow, manifest destiny.” It's a really epic occasion for these people who respect the imagination so much. So, for me then, it's just like being a part of that same level of respect. I really don't see any celebrity or iconic-ism to it. It's just manifestation power. It's kind of cool and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Aaron Eckhart: (referring to a journalists’ daughter who’s dressed in costume) It's like that little girl right that who's got a little costume on it. The thing about these movies that hopefully 'Battle: Los Angeles' will be a part of is there's so much history here and it's part of the family's history. They base vacations on it and they have their reading material, they have their films. It really becomes a part of their lessons in life. That’s what I think is great about Comic Con is that they have had a teaching participation in people’s lives. I know in life, I watched the superheroes on Saturday morning, I learned lessons from them – The Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, and all of those. So they’ve been a part of my life and it’s fun to see the families from small to big come out and they all appreciate it. We work really hard making these movies so it's rewarding that people love them.

Q: Can you talk about researching these roles?

Aaron Eckhart: The great thing about this movie is when I met Jonathan for the first time, we sat in a room in Los Angeles. He had this beautiful display laid out on his computer and he pulled something up on YouTube. It was Marines fighting house to house in Fallujah and he said, “That's what I want the film to look like,” and I said, “I'm in.” That's what we did in this movie. We actually made an urban combat alien movie which has never been seen before. The way we did it was Neal and Sony and Jonathan gave us the platform to do it. They put us in boot camp for three weeks where we ate together, slept together, showered together, called each other names, learned our weapons. To this day if I saw one of the guys I'd probably call him by his character's name and really those guys bonded and really got to know each other and love each other and find out about each other and all of that is in the movie. So this movie works on a lot of levels. Again, Neal and Ori [Marmur] and Jonathan really gave us the tools to make it real. With the script, I think that there's something special here.

Q: Jonathan, can you tell us what we can expect to see with the aliens?

Jonathan Liebesman: Sure. What was important to myself, Neal and Ori was that the aliens felt like a real army. Obviously, Ridley's [Scott] “Alien” was so influential and “Aliens” felt very creature-esque, and then you have in “District 9” which is on a different level where the aliens are a little more insect, but we wanted to go back to what was important to me which was making aliens feel really alien. In other words, seeing something that you couldn't identify and was kind of scary and making that a real army, an army of those things where there were medics, lieutenants and generals. Just like Aaron was saying, we wanted to make an urban combat movie, and to have that, your enemy needs to feel like a real army. We just wanted to have aliens which harkened back to something that you would've seen at Roswell but had a real, believably militaristic vibe.

Q: Why do you think people enjoy watching Los Angeles be destroyed?

Michelle Rodriguez: (laughing) Oh wow! That's a good question. Because it’s cool?

Jonathan Liebesman: Neal?

Neal Moritz: I think because life is so good in Los Angeles so people who don't live in Los Angeles hate us and want to see it destroyed.

Michelle Rodriguez: I personally feel that it's the realism of it. I think part of the idea is there are a lot of people who love the sci-fi world that kind of deep down inside wish that there was some sort of cataclysmic, apocalyptic occasion to pull out the bow and arrows and the guns in the house for. All those NRA cats, like, “Come on! I'm waiting for you, baby.” I think there's a genuine…you can tell because of all the creative ideas that are out there, from the destructive movie “2012” to “The Day After Tomorrow.” People kind of yearn for it. There's a website for it actually. This isn't new. This is something that's been going on for centuries. In fact, the Bible even talks about it. They just want it all to end.

Q: People are always asking why does Michelle Rodriguez always get killed. Why do you think you always get cast as the tough girl?

Michelle Rodriguez: It's because I don't rip my clothes off and I'm nobody's girlfriend. I think a lot of the writers are new to the whole tough girl thing. They don't know what to do with a chick. If she's got character and she's strong it's kind of like, “Well, we have the dude that's strong and does it. So what do we do with the chick who does that? Well, kill her. Duh!” Eventually they'll get used to it and hopefully “Salt” will change a thing or two.

Q: After working on a movie like this, do you look at people who claim to have seen or been abducted by aliens in a different way?

Michelle Rodriguez: Aaron? (Laughs)

Aaron Eckhart: I’ll take the tough chick question again. I have not thought about that. I always have empathy for those people. They're nuts.

Q: Where do you think the future of entertainment and movies is going with the resurgence of 3-D and the new digital technology? Do you think that cinema will get to a point where it doesn’t need actors?

Jonathan Liebesman: I think it's so difficult to recreate actors. You always hear that actors are going to be replaced. I don't know if that's what you mean but I think that's impossible. There's no way to replace an actor's performance. Some of the best movies that people love are films with no special FX. So I think it's pretty obvious that you're going to have actors forever because we relate to what we understand. Look, “Avatar” took four years for Cameron to do. I don't think that everyone has that luxury and all that money to do that. Actors are going to be around forever.

Michelle Rodriguez: I'd also like to make a note; people really don't understand because they weren't there. I was there. I saw what Jim did with “Avatar” and what the future of films was in his eyes. What he really wanted to transition to was the respect towards the actor more so because you are literally looking at an enhancement of the actor's performance. You're not looking at some guy who's an animator creating the emotions or creating the actual performance. Literally, the dots are on all the parts of your face and you have a camera staring directly at the face. It is in real time combined with your vocal chords. So this is the actor's performance. I think that's something that people don't understand because it was a lot of work that was placed behind it. Eventually, throughout the years, it'll become a lot easier to do this and a lot cheaper and it'll take a lot less time, but I think directors that know what it's all about like Jonathan and Jim know that it's really all about the human soul shining through into whatever story it is that you're trying to tell. Whether you have the technology to make that genuine or not is another case but actors aren't going anywhere.

Q: Aaron, can you talk about whether or not in the next “Batman” film they might try to replace Heath Ledger with another actor in the role of The Joker?

Aaron Eckhart: Oh, I don't know. First of all, you guys know as much as I do concerning the next “Batman.”

Jonathan Liebesman: No. Tell them what you told me.

Aaron Eckhart: I don't know. I mean, to recreate what Heath has done, I just don't think it's going to happen. That's my instinct. Obviously Heath [Ledger] was supposed to reprise the role in the next movie. It was written that way. I don't know if they're going to go on. I haven't heard anything but I'm sure that Two Face obviously died in the last one. I'm in the dark as much as anyone else about that. I suspect that they're not going to have The Joker in the next one.

Jonathan Liebesman: So you didn't learn anything on that secret trip to Chicago?

Aaron Eckhart: No. I’ve read the new script though.

Michelle Rodriguez: Dude, you're an ass. That's so bad.

Q: With respect to the alien genre film, do you think there’s a defining moment that people can relate to? Why do you think these movies often times do so well and is there a need in the world today for a film like this, does it serve a purpose?

Jonathan Liebesman: There's a definite feeling that at least I have personally of a loss of security in many ways, just from what's happening in the world, like you said, economically or even physically. I think that aliens easily represent something that you cannot overcome. It's always easy to identify with characters that have to beat that sort of antagonistic force. So, yeah, I think the time is ripe now for these types of very black and white protagonists, good versus evil movies and I think that's why you see comic book movies are big now. I just think there's a lot of insecurity over the last decade for obvious reasons and I do think that's why people are predisposed to enjoying good battling evil in such a clear cut way.

Aaron Eckhart: Another thing that's interesting about that is that the “Aliens” movies, because we can't identify with aliens instinctually, innately, it unifies our side, our force. I think that's important. As we come into “Battle: Los Angeles,” I play an old staff sergeant about to retire and they're a platoon of young Marines and everything is not simpatico. I think when you're fighting aliens everyone can unify on one side. I think it's very important for the audience to see, and especially right now, because we all have differing opinions about what's going on in the world and we have deep feelings about things and we're conflicted and there are a lot of grey areas. I think aliens allow us to, like Jonathan said about it, be black and white on the subject.

Michelle Rodriguez: I also think that if there was a real alien invasion, people would get along a lot better. 

Q: Aaron, your character in “Dark Knight” was killed off, would you consider reprising him in some other format? Can you just comment on getting to be a part of the Batman franchise and if you'd go back if they asked you to?

Aaron Eckhart: Yeah. That's something that you can't say no to. I never thought I'd be in a Batman, first of all. I never even thought about it. But then, when you're christened with a script like that with those kinds of actors, it transcends any sort of genre. You’re just working on something really special and I will always work with Chris Nolan if he asks me to, as well as Jonathan Liebesman. Maybe… (Laughs) once, I guess.

Q: What was the most fun landmark to destroy in the film and what was the biggest challenge in the shooting process?

Jonathan Liebesman: Actually, what I think is a little different about this movie is that we didn't go after the huge landmarks. We went after Los Angeles as a city. To me, Los Angeles, and maybe it's because I'm from South Africa and so I wouldn't really know what the landmarks are, but it's all about the freeways and the urban sprawl and the urban combat. I don't think that aliens would have the Wikipedia travel thing where they'd go, “Let’s go after the Hollywood sign.” What I like about the film is that they destroy Los Angeles as a city and that's how I think it would really go down if it happened.

Michelle Rodriguez: I did see an exploded Norms. I have to just put that in there.

Aaron Eckhart: And a Santa Monica bus.

Jonathan Liebesman: Yeah, there was that and I think what was hard, like Aaron and Michelle keep saying, was we were going for this realism. So what we'd do is we’d have these military advisors on set and what was difficult was having fifteen or sixteen military personnel per scene making sure everything was done according to how Marines would move and that took time but I think it's worth it because it made things look real. To me, that was the most difficult thing in the movie.

Neal Moritz: Of all the movies that I've worked on this was by far the hardest movie to make. To have the level of detail and realism that we did and the tremendous amount of visual FX work in a movie that is supposed to feel like you're in the middle of it, in a real battle. Jonathan is the hardest working director that I've ever worked with, by far. He was probably working on shots last night until he left for here. It's been one of the best experiences as a producer that I could've ever imagined with an incredible cast and with a director who literally put his heart and soul into the movie. He didn't go off to just make a genre movie. He went off to make a great movie with a lot of emotion in it as well as a huge alien invasion movie.

Michelle Rodriguez: To add onto that, I have to say you did your homework and he was there with me the whole time because my tech sergeant character wasn't even in the original script. We had to write that in last minute. Right?

Neal Moritz: I promised Michelle when we killed her in “Fast and Furious” that I'd have another movie for her.

Michelle Rodriguez: Dude, yeah, and he launches me into “Battle: Los Angeles” acknowledging that there was a gap there for intel. So I became a tech sergeant in the project. We did a bunch a research. He was there after a long day of shooting and he would meet with me and we'd go over all the information that I'd gathered.

Jonathan Liebesman: Michelle was intense. She would go to the Air Force –

Michelle Rodriguez: That's the geek in me. “So these modulating frequencies, right?

Jonathan Liebesman: Michelle would send me texts like, “Jonathan, I have to debrief you.” We'd spend hours listening to stuff I did not understand that Michelle would explain to me.

Michelle Rodriguez: They're not supposed to know about that stuff.

Q: Can you talk about what films inspired you, Jonathan, in getting the tone you wanted on this one?

Jonathan Liebesman: Well, I think it's what Neal said and what Aaron said. I've never seen a realistic urban combat movie that involves aliens. I've never seen that happen in an earth movie. Of course Cameron's “Aliens” is in space but I've never seen, say, “Black Hawk Down” with aliens. Something that happens on earth, a real alien invasion, what would that feel like with a foe that's superior to us and we're with our military, embedded with them? I've just never seen that kind of movie. I love war films, science fiction. This is the combination. 

Neal Moritz: What we did very, very early in the process was that we were very cognizant we were taking two genres, a war movie and an alien movie, and combining them together. We had many discussions amongst ourselves and with the studio about whether that would work. The studio gave us a little bit of money and Jonathan went out with Aaron and we actually shot, I guess it was like a two-minute piece showing this. Once we saw that piece and once the studio saw the piece, we were all convinced that we really could marry these two genres together. As soon as the studio saw that piece, Amy Pascal said to us, she just loved it and said, “Give me two hours of that.” That's how we got to make the movie.

Q: We know this movie isn't based on the 1942 events but can you touch on that and what happened to Los Angeles in 1942?

Jonathan Liebesman: Right. I think it was the first UFO government cover up that happened in 1942 when an unidentified flying object flew down the coast of California. Our military fired I think like one and a half thousand rounds at it. They didn't affect it. They didn't bring it down. The government, even the president signed a letter saying, “We should just say it was a weather balloon.” What we're positing is that there's a reason that UFO's don't land and that's because they're scouting. It began in Los Angeles and it went to other cities around the world over the years and scouting for what? Well, “Battle: Los Angeles” is what these UFO's have been preparing for -- that invasion.

Q: Without giving away too much of the plot, what motivates these aliens to invade?

Jonathan Liebesman: Well, what happens is that earth is seventy percent water. The aliens in our movie use water for many different things and so they are here for those natural resources.

Q: Aaron and Michelle, after working with real life military personnel and playing them in a role like this, do you view them any differently?

Aaron Eckhart: It could not have been a more rewarding experience for me. To see those Marines, to go out to Camp Pendleton and to work with them, I have a huge respect for them. You start talking like them, like, “Outstanding!” Everything is “outstanding,” everything is “roger,” and that's fun to learn the lingo. You actually feel like you could perform some of the tasks that a real Marine could and that gets dangerous. What's fun, too, is we just did a little re-shoot, not a re-shoot but an addition for a movie, and I was sitting in a van of Marines going [home] at the end of the day and I'd worked with them all day and I was telling them about the movie and they were really excited about this movie and how they were going to look in the movie and how the Marines were treated in the movie. I was very proud of that. I am very proud of all Marines. We wanted to get it exactly right for them. We wanted to honor them. I felt like we did. I felt like we really went out of our way. It was awesome, at Pendleton we'd have four Ospreys come down and all these helicopters and planes going over, and we’d have troops of Marines screaming out of helicopters and you really swelled up with pride. My hat's off to them.

Michelle Rodriguez: I love working with the boys. I always have. I'm a very physical person and I think maybe that's what they like about me. But I've always felt that. I'm an army brat. I was born in San Antonio, Texas. Colleen was where my dad was stationed and I've always been pretty much one with that world of the military. I respect it a lot and I always try to stay true in all the films that I do that involve military activity. I try to respect them as much as possible.

“Battle: Los Angeles” opens in theaters on March 11, 2011.

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