Set in 1957 and based on the 1998 comic book of the same name, Whiteout is a tense thriller focused on a US Marshal's search for a killer. Which might be very standard fare, until you consider that it is based on a research station in Antarctica. Buzzine's Izumi Hasegawa pulled on a warm jacket and sat down with the film's producers Joe Silver and Susan Downey, stars Kate Beckinsale and Gabriel Macht alongside the co-writer of both the film and the 1998 comic book on which it is based, Greg Rucka to talk snow, essential supplies and accepting the need for lingering shower scenes in certain kinds of movies...
Izumi Hasegawa: This is a woman-in-distress thriller, but you’re in the Antarctica. How does that change things for you? How is it different from fighting with vampires?
Kate Beckinsale: It was a lot colder and a lot more intense, actually. We were all worried we were going to die of hypothermia, every other second. It’s a woman in an extreme situation with extreme weather, being the only girl. I’ve done that a couple times now, but it was much more intense because of the weather.
IH: Will you ever do another Underworld?
KB: I don’t know anything about a fourth Underworld at this point. It was always conceived as a trilogy, and I was never going to be in the third one. If they came up with an amazing script, then sure. I definitely wouldn’t be adverse to it. But it’s not necessarily planned.
IH: There were reports that you had already signed to a new Underworld trilogy. Is that just rumor?
KB: Oh God. Three whole more? I don’t think my daughter needs to see my bottom in rubber for another ten years. I don’t know. I heard they wanted to do a fourth one, but I don’t know if that’s official or if that’s just a rumor. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a rumor.
IH: So that information is wrong?
KB: Yeah. I haven’t signed anything.
IH: What was it like to work in the cold climate of Manitoba, Canada while you were shooting?
Joel Silver: It was harsh conditions. We were fortunate that we really only had to be in Manitoba for a few weeks, and then we went into the not-quite-so-cold environs of a Montreal soundstage. But we did augment a lot of the climate and weather with visual effects, which makes it harsher than it really was. It was cold and we were shooting on a frozen lake bed. It wasn’t treacherous. The ice was many feet deep, but it really felt like where we were and the stuff we did outside was rough. The movie shows it, and I think it was important to shoot that up there to give it the quality. Greg [Ruck] wrote a great graphic novel that really explained and showed what that life was like, and I think we captured it.
KB: When we arrived, they put a thick telephone directory under our hotel room doors the night before we started shooting that said, “These are all the different ways it’s possible to die here — of being too cold or being too hot if you keep your clothes on too long when you go inside, or if you’ve ever had an alcoholic drink, or if you breathe in a westerly direction…” And we all panicked. Especially Gabriel really panicked. The most I remember was putting on and taking off 15 layers of clothes about 70 times a day. When we first went out, all the men had beards full of ice that I thought was make-up department tests, but it wasn’t. It was real. And my hair froze into a point just from breathing on it. I thought, “Well, I’m from England. I’ll know how to handle the cold,” and it wasn’t anything like that.
Gabriel Macht: My experience in Manitoba was that it was definitely freezing, and the environment was as close to the environment as I would think as Antarctica. But we were in extreme weather and I wasn’t that cold. The stuff they got us to wear was very warm. I was fine, and I expected it to be a lot worse.
The challenges that we came up against were when we shot in the studio. We were in 80 degree weather in late spring/early summer, and we were having to wear extreme weather gear. It was probably the hottest set I’ve ever been on, so I was sweating bullets and probably lost 35 pounds by the end of the movie.
IH: Kate and Gabriel, if you were stationed in Antarctica for months, what are two things you could not go without?
KB: Could we share a curling iron? I would take my daughter and I would take a bunch of books. I would also want a sat phone.
GM: I would take my wife and daughter. My wife is my other half, and my daughter is my other half, so that’s one thing. I would also probably bring my laptop so I could get online and do some research.
IH: Kate, you looked terrific in your underwear, and you have a shower scene in this film. Was that just there for the 14-year-old boys? Is there a certain level of gratuity that you have to accept when doing this genre?
JS: Yeah, I’ll go with that.
KB: Sometimes you do what you’re told in life.
Greg Rucka: There was actually a story reason: it leads to a flashback. There was an issue for the character of Carrie, between the cold and the heat, and you get to see her in the shower.
GM: We all take showers.
IH: Kate, this seems like it was an incredibly physical movie for you. Was it harder than anything else you’ve done?
KB: It’s hard to say. It may have been, in terms of practically, but nothing was harder for me than going from never having done it before to doing it. I’d had a background of ballet and reading before I did Underworld, so the whole training and physical thing was a complete shock to me. It was much less like that. I’d never been dragged around on a homemade surfboard through snow, but once you’ve entered the realm of action movies…there’s nothing like the first time. It was definitely manageable. We had a great stunt team. Just having such strong winds and all that wasn’t something I had particularly encountered before, but it wasn’t too hard.
IH: Kate, your hair is much shorter in the movie, and you’ve gone back to your long hair now. What is it about your long hair that you love?
KB: I still had long hair on the movie. I just had a very good wig on this movie. I don’t really think about my hair that much. I’ve got a daughter and if I do anything really radically different, she gets upset. I come in the door and she goes, “Ew, you don’t look like yourself. You look horrible and frightening.” And my husband tends to do that too. No, I’m joking. I don’t know. I’ve had it for a while, so it just feels like myself really.
IH: Are you going to keep the same look then?
KB: Probably. It’s worked for the last ten years, so I’m sure I’ll probably keep it.
IH: What did you guys do in Winnipeg when you weren’t shooting?
KB: I got a root canal in Winnipeg, which was excellent. It went really well. The dentists are fantastic in Winnipeg. In Winnipeg, in cold weather, they have great things to do inside with a kid. So I went to awesome museums and children’s theater places. My daughter was there for the whole thing.
GM: If I remember correctly, there were these long tunnels that I walked in.
KB: There was outside skating that was fantastic.
GM: I just remember walking in long hallways. I felt like I was walking in underground malls all the time.
KB: I did not do that. They had this whole frozen park outside. That was one of the greatest things I’ve done, ever.
GM: I think I went ice skating out there.
IH: Kate, what other types of movies would you like to do?
KB: I did this movie while I was shooting an independent movie. I’ve done three or four independent movies, and now this. I’d actually love to do some comedy. That’s what I’d really like to do. I’d like to maybe do a character that’s English. I’d like to do something more classical. But I really enjoy doing lots of different types of things. I hope that continues.
IH: Is Everybody’s Fine a comedy?
KB: It’s a dramedy.
IH: Greg, how do you like how your graphic novel has translated to the big screen? Are you pleased with the results?
GR: I’m still in awed shock that it made it this far, honestly. Steve Lieber and I created a comic to tell the story we wanted to tell, and then Joel [Silver] came along and said, “We’re going to make a movie,” and we said, “Okay, knock yourself out,” and then they did, and all you can really be is incredibly flattered that this idea that you created in one format — because that was the format you were working in — is something somebody wants to take the time and the effort to translate. I’m incredibly pleased. I think both Steve and I are really incredibly flattered. There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t make that jump. The mere fact that they did it with this is really exciting.
IH: Kate, do you plan to go back and spend any time in England at all?
KB: I’ve just actually come back from being in London for five months. I was actually homesick, so my daughter and I went back for five months. My daughter went to school there for a little bit. I went to see some of my relatives, so I got it out of my system for a little while. Five months was a good long time. I haven’t been able to do that. I’ve been working so much, I haven’t really been able to take a minute to do that since moving here, six or seven years ago. So because I was taking a break, it was nice to go home for a bit.
IH: Would you like to do a play in London?
KB: I’m not sure I’m quite ready to do a play yet. I’m more likely to do a play after the next couple of years. But I’d love to. I’m always open to working in England. It just hasn’t really come up.
IH: Kate, what was the most challenging thing for you about working in the cold?
KB: I try to make out like we shot in the cold for a lot longer than we did, just ’cause it makes us sound a bit more tough. We were so lucky to have such a brilliant crew and fantastic cast. I’ve never been around such nice boys, ever. There’s something about the weather being so extreme. You meet up and you’re absolutely freezing, and then you’re having to tear off your snow pants and everybody looks terrible, and then you’re sweating. There’s something very bonding about that. We all had a really good giggle with each other all the time. And the Canadian crew was excellent.
If anything, the cold turned out to be a mutual point of contact that everybody complained about. Actors love complaining, and we didn’t have to complain about hardly anything else because the cold was a big deal. It was great. In terms of being challenging, coming out of the trailer that very first day, I really was worried I wasn’t going to be able to speak at all or say a line, ever. My whole throat closed on that first breath. Luckily, Gabriel told me to keep my passages open. Aside from that, the cold was really great. It was probably worse in the studio with the heat. Trying to stop Columbus [Short] from sweating was the biggest challenge there.
IH: Kate and Gabriel, how much of these physical stunts did you do yourself, since your so covered up?
KB: We went to Tahiti.
GM: I feel like I did a lot of my own stunts. I think I did all of them, actually. There may have been some Second Unit stuff that I wasn’t aware of, but I think I was pretty much around for all of it. I’d worked with Steve Lucescu, our stunt coordinator, on another film, and we got along great both times. We had a good time.
IH: Was it hard to move in those bulky suits?
GM: It has its challenges, but there’s also a lot of padding, which helps when you’re thrown down.
KB: I think the bigger challenge is actually how to make it look cool and exciting, rather than just two people hitting into each other. That was the challenge.
GM: Also, you can’t see anything behind you. It’s tough with the goggles.
IH: Kate, when you work on a film that has special effects and stunts, how do you keep your focus while doing all of that?
KB: I don’t know. This is what I do and this is what I really love doing. I love acting and being on a set. I don’t find it very difficult to focus. What we were doing didn’t feel CG-heavy. I love when you get to do a movie where so much of it is practical, even though we all complain about the fake snow and the sand and the stuff that gets hurled at you.
In this, we weren’t doing an awful lot of reacting to stuff that wasn’t there. I haven’t had a huge amount of experience with that. I would imagine that that is quite difficult, but when we were being dragged through snow, we were having stuff thrown at us.
IH: Joel, can you talk about the mystery aspect of Sherlock Holmes?
JS: Sherlock is spectacular. It’s a re-telling of the original stories. It’s a re-invention of what Sherlock was in 1891. It’s much closer to what the original character was like from the books, as opposed to what it became in the movies. Robert Downey and Jude Law are a fantastic team as Holmes and Watson, and the story is a great mystery. It’s a legendary tale, and how he figures things out is really part of the essence of the story. What Guy Ritchie has done, very effectively, is show how he does that, and I think the movie works really well.
IH: It’s designed to keep people guessing and not just be a spectacle?
JS: Oh absolutely, yeah. It’s got it all.
IH: Joel, what do you gain by moving the release of Ninja Assassins to the end of the year?
JS: November 25th is a great date for that movie. It really felt like the right time. It’s a Fall picture. It’s a full-on martial arts movie, and we really felt like that was the best place for it, so that’s where it went.
IH: How do you balance producing fresh, new projects, like Whiteout, with remakes and re-imaginings of old movies and television shows?
JS: This was based on a graphic novel, but it’s not a remake of another movie. It’s based on a literary property and it was crafted into something that was special. Except for the fact that it was storyboarded already, to me, it was an original idea for a movie. It’s Greg’s original idea, at least, and I think it really came out fresh. It’s something you haven’t seen before. We really worked hard to make it feel like you were there. Some of the way that we did the whiteouts couldn’t have been done, except for the CGI today. You couldn’t shoot in that situation. You couldn’t possibly shoot in an environment like that. By the way we were able to make it look, where you can actually see the people but you sense that you really can’t see anything else, is just the magic of the technology today.
I made a movie in the snow 20 years ago, called Die Hard 2, and you had to have snow. It was difficult to do. We were chasing snow around the world. It was a complicated way to make the picture. With this, we did have some harsh environments, but a lot of that was created in a way that you could believe what you were seeing. There was verisimilitude. You believe that you are watching these characters go through this. That’s what makes it unique, and I do think it’s original. Whatever comes up, people are excited about seeing it.
Whatever the studios get invested in and whatever stars want to do is how movies come together. Some, like The Matrix, come out of nowhere. Two guys sat down and wrote that from scratch. And some are based on other mediums and can be just as original, different and new. This summer, there was a movie based on a bunch of robot toys that did pretty well. It just depends on what people want to see and how it works. I think it’s a great time for movies, and there are great movies being made.
IH: Is there really a U.S. Marshall down in Antarctica?
IH: Joel, since you’ve worked with him before, can you talk about the appeal of Columbus Short?
JS: Columbus is working on a picture right now that we’re shooting in Puerto Rico, called The Losers. He’s a great guy who’s funny, smart and talented. He’s got it all. He’s got a great part in The Losers, and I want to work with him for as long as I can.
KB: Me too.
IH: Kate and Gabriel, are you guys, or have you ever been, comic book fans?
KB: I married a fan, so now I know what a comic book fan is and I can’t say I was one. I used to get comics, but my husband still buys action figures. It’s a whole different world. My daughter is into comic books, but a slightly different kind than my husband. She’s more into Archie comics, but they go to get comic books together, and I look really confused. I just can’t compete with their level of obsession, but I respect it. I married it and I live with it.
GM: I’ve always been a comic book movie fan. I started reading comics based on some of the opportunities I’ve gotten in film, and I have a huge respect for illustrators and writers in the comic world. If they’re amazing, it’s a great entertainment. I have a strong appreciation for comics.
IH: What do you think the name Kate Beckinsale means to movie-goers? What do you think characterizes the scripts that you chose?
KB: I don’t know. How I feel about it and how it appears are probably quite different because I’m present throughout all my movies, whether they come out or don’t come out, and whether three people see them or lots of people see them. Perception-wise, I would imagine that the larger, more action-based movies probably have the edge, just because they’re the ones that are on buses and have big posters. But my choices have been quite eclectic. I don’t really know what it means. To me, it means that I’ve been allowed to do lots of different things, and I hope I still get to. But I think I’d go mad if I tried to think too hard about how I was perceived.
IH: Do you make a decision immediately when you read a script? Do you know right away if something is for you or not, or do you agonize over it at all?
KB: It really depends. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get a script where you go, “Oh my goodness, whatever the circumstances of this are, however small of a movie it is, I definitely want to do it. I would do it if it was being staged in my backyard.” There are different reasons to do movies. To be able to do the smaller movies, you have to have some sort of presence in the larger movies as well. It’s just an odd thing, when you’re doing your hobby as a career. It’s hard to not be emotional about each thing, but I think you know if you really don’t want to do a project when you read a script and hate it.
IH: How do you handle working with motherhood?
KB: She comes with me. She was with us during this. I try to make it as normal a life as I can. I’m a regular working mom who puts her kid in a bath, which is probably very annoying to Joel when I’m like, “I have to go home now. My daughter needs a bath.” I think she’s lucky to be around lots of very nice, creative, sweet people and have experiences around the world. I don’t leave her behind.
IH: Kate, when you read a script like this, how good are you at figuring out the twists?
KB: I’m usually really quite good at finding that out. I’m a big reader, so I’m always thinking ahead to the end. I usually get it.
IH: Did you get this one?
KB: I don’t know. It changed a couple of times, so I don’t remember what it was when I first read it.
IH: Joel, how do you feel about the increasing use of 3-D in films? Do you have any plans to use it yourself?
JS: I think 3-D is a great application. I think it is really effective. For the right movies, it’s fantastic. I don’t think all movies need to be in 3-D, but for movies that fit into that format, it’s a great thing. There are a couple things we’re developing that we’d like to make in 3-D. I’ve seen the Avatar presentation in 3-D, and it’s very impressive. It’s really cool. I think it’s great, and I think it’s just another tool in the arsenal of the filmmaker to make something great and unique.
Certain movies fit really well into that situation, and others don’t need it. As of right now, there are still less 3-D houses than 2-D houses. When the day comes that there are as many 3-D houses as 2-D houses, I may change my mind about it. I’m developing Swamp Thing now, which is a movie we’ve had for a long time, and we think that might be great to do in 3-D. I have a couple things I’m thinking about doing in 3-D, but not everything.
IH: Kate and Gabriel, what’s it like to see yourself turned into an action figure?
KB: I haven’t been a toy for awhile.
GM: It’s an incredible moment in your life. If you grew up watching movies and looking at action heroes, you think, “Oh man, maybe I’ll be one of those one day.” I think I played with some CHiPs action figures [as a kid]. Anyway, it was pretty amazing. I thought mine looked a bit like William Sadler.
KB: Mine looked a bit like William Sadler.
GM: But I’m totally happy with it.
KB: My daughter has an action figure of myself and her dad (Michael Sheen). It’s just weird when I catch her with one in each hand, and I wonder, “What’s going to happen next? How’s that going to go?”
GM: I’ve been showing my daughter, who’s two, my action figure. I’m like, “Who’s that?” and she looks and says, “Daddy.”
KB: I like my one that is a bit more of a Barbie style better. It has less of an angry face than the action figure. That one looked a bit scary.
'Whiteout' is in theaters now from Warner Bros. Pictures.