At first glance, New Line’s new live action adaptation of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth might seem like something just for young boys, but what might help make it fun for girls as well as the fathers who bring their kids to see the movie is the introduction of Icelandic beauty Anita Briem in her first major Hollywood movie. She plays Hannah, an Icelandic guide who helps Brendan Fraser’s geologist Trevor Anderson and his nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) navigate the fjords and cliffs of Iceland to try to find the cave entry that will take them to the center of the earth.
ComingSoon.net sat in on a roundtable interview with the delightful young actress who had such a remarkable breakout role in this action-adventure, and she told us a few stories of how she got the part and from the filming of the movie.
ComingSoon.net: How did they find you for this movie? Did they do a big casting call? Iceland is not exactly the first place you might go to look for an actress, I’d guess. Anita Briem: It’s really not. I came in to this process, and I think I set a record and beat Cameron Diaz’s record on how many times she auditioned for “The Mask” of how many times I auditioned for “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” It was around 25 times, it was incredible. It was like a running gag in my life, like “So those guys want to see you again.” “Ah, I see. Hi, boys, how are you? Nice to see you again.” That was a very interesting process but obviously being in the first live action movie in 3D, we did all kinds of tests and I met everybody and their uncle. Ever since, every actress that I talked to or that I meet are like, “I read for that!” and a lot of harsh “hi’s” of my fellow actresses upon me. One might say that I earned my way in there the hard way.
CS: What was your reaction when you finally got the phone call and knew you got the part? Briem: Oh, it was wonderful. I was familiar with the script. This process took about four months, so I was familiar with the development of the script a little bit through that period and then we got to filming with these brand-new cameras that were developed by James Cameron. They have two lenses instead of one, recording for both eyes, it’s a brand-new thing, but it wasn’t until I first went and saw some of the dailies that I realized what a spectacular event this was. I sat there and watched it in 3D and then went “holy sh*t, this is a completely different visual medium then people have ever seen before.” So this is really an honor to be part of something that I think is the most significant thing to happen to cinema since Technicolor. In fact, you have sound and then you have color and now you have 3D, so it’s an incredible honor to be a part of that.
CS: You’re a classically trained actress, so what was it like working in an environment where you have green screen and have to use your imagination for landscapes that aren’t there? Briem: That’s where I think your training comes in wonderfully handy. Imagination is a beautiful thing. People often associate negative things with blue screen or green screen work, but I actually think it’s quite the opposite. I think it’s really an opportunity to expand on your imagination, but in this movie, we did some blue screen work, but a lot of the sets were built from scratch. They actually went and took casts of real caves and tunnels and then they would build the identical thing, so it would be a real cave or a real tunnel, and then you’d have all these people with these tiny little toothpicks doing such detailed work that went into these incredible sets. They built an extraordinary world. Obviously, they don’t have any limits on the imagination of set construction since nobody can actually prove what the center of the earth looks like.
CS: Did you read the book when you were a child? Briem: Sure! I did as a child. Jules Verne is a wonderful writer. He’s actually the first science fiction writer in history, so his stories are wonderful, and obviously, we enter the center of the earth through Iceland, which is my home country. It’s not the first supernatural association that Iceland has. We get taught as children to be very respectful of the elves and careful of the trolls, and so that’s probably why Jules Verne chose a location like Iceland. It’s quite a magical place.
CS: What was it like working with Brendan and Josh? Briem: Oh, great. We had a lot of fun together, because obviously, there’s only three characters in the movie, which I think is really wonderful that as an audience, you can just watch three people go on this journey through this incredible world and adventure. That’s something that I enjoyed as much as an actor as I hope the audience enjoys having the advantage of only having three people to follow. I think that’s a really beautiful thing in storytelling. They’re both gentlemen and sweethearts, so you look after each other in all these dangerous situations we were in.
CS: I heard they got really creative with the freefall scene, so can you talk about how many days it took to shoot that where you hanging around trying to get that scene right? Briem: We did a few different angles on that scene. I think it was actually four or five days spread out that we shot that scene, probably the most dramatic one was that they pulled us up in these enormous wires and we were hanging on wires for the most of the day which is great. Flying is awesome! And then they had these enormous fans on the bottom of the stage where they were firing up at us to recreate that sense of you falling. They built these special chairs that we were sitting on and we had to perfect our arm movements as if we were falling somehow, which is where my flamenco dance training came in handy. I was trying to teach the boys how to conduct themselves in a flamenco style. We had a lot of fun through that. Then it comes to the point where we start to encounter the water, so there was a little bit of water splashing going on until we actually recreated a water slide for the midpoint until we immerse ourselves in the water.
We were literally thrown and pulled on those wires and we were pulled along this enormous water slide with water splashing everywhere. All the while, wind is aggressively blowing into our faces and up our um beings, and then it came to the underwater stuff, which is incredible because it photographs so incredibly beautifully in 3D. That was actually a really funny day because we did the underwater stuff so it was my turn to dive underneath this monster of a rock and I’m supposed to come up like the boys but my backpack drags me down. I had this very long scene where I’m swimming across and underneath this rock, then I have a moment where I’m drowning. I have a lot of experience with diving fortunately, so I was telling the producers, “It’s fine. I’m actually trained and good at this,” and they were terrified and nervous about it. Then I swam through and said, “Okay, I’m going to show you how this is done and everybody relax. Watch this.” So I went in and I dove through and I’m doing my drowning bit and my backpack is dragging me down, and all of a sudden, I can see from six different directions, these black dots shooting in towards me and pulling me and it was the security divers, they thought I was drowning. I nearly injured some of them and they said, “We thought you were drowning.” Well, that was the point, so we did it again and they left me to drown in peace. They nearly drowned me by trying to save me! Thanks a lot, guys.
CS: What other projects do you have coming up? Briem: I’m about to go into filming a movie called “The Storyteller” and I’m going to be filming with Wes Bentley. It is a lovely story of my character and his character, I play an agoraphobic. I’m the illustrator to his writer and we have a beautiful relationship, but I never leave the house, so everybody surrounding him, his friends and his family, believe I’m a figment of his imagination.