There should be some kind of legislation passed stipulating that every room in every domicile in the United States must be equipped to fire up Little Richard’s "The Girl Can’t Help It" on the off-chance that Ali Larter might one day walk into it. Yeah, there may be more classically beautiful women alive today (not that this dame lacks for looks), but very few emit the kind of erotic heat that melts ice and boils milk. If only life worked like a Frank Tashlin movie.
By tempting James Van Der Beek with a whipped cream bikini in Varsity Blues, Larter guaranteed herself a solid seven year run as a middlebrow men’s magazine cover girl. Then, a little thing called Heroes happened, and now she’s gracing Cosmopolitan. Heroes is the key to career longevity for Larter; it’s what will keep her working through her thirties rather than scrambling for supporting roles in direct-to-DVD dreck like contemporaries… oh, it would be mean to name names. But let’s do it anyway! Rachael Leigh Cook, Marla Sokoloff, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Amanda Detmer… basically, just go issue-to-issue with Maxim or Stuff between 1998 and 2001. Larter has outlasted most of them.
And now she has the opportunity to insinuate herself a lucrative film franchise with her turn as Claire Redfield in Resident Evil: Extinction. As far as gaming goes, I never made it past Resident Evil 2, but apparently Redfield is a recurring character in the subsequent games; if Extinction opens to big business (as it seems poised to), this should give Larter something to do during those Heroes hiatuses.
Redfield is a tough chick in the Linda Hamilton tradition, which means you shouldn’t be expecting the knockout Larter described in the first paragraph. Still, she pulls off the tough bitch act capably enough, and seems to have fun interacting with stars Milla Jovovich and Oded Fehr. The film is a vast improvement on the second movie, so if this is your kind of thing, know that… it’s better than the second movie!
By the way, if you’re looking for hints about what to expect on Heroes this season, scan down to the midpoint of the interview, where Larter produces a notebook and walks us through the interwoven narratives episode-by-episode.
Q: I have to ask this question: if your character in Resident Evil: Apocalypse fought the dark side of your character from Heroes, who would win?
Ali Larter: The thing is, Jessica has superhuman strength. As soon as you start pitting a true kind of power against a mortal, it’s going to be a problem. (Laughter)
Q: The women kind of dominate this film. Did they also dominate the set?
Larter: I actually think that in a movie where the women are so strong, [you need] truly confident men. And Oded is so chivalrous, so amazing; he really lays a platform for that. I think he’s a great actor. I loved hanging out with him and I loved working with him. The other side of that is there aren’t many movies that allow women to excel, or allow [there to be] multiple strong women, where one’s not the sidekick or the girlfriend. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about this movie.
Q: How familiar were you with the games? I understand Claire plays a major part in several of them.
Larter: Not very familiar at all. I’ve never played the games, and I’ve never seen the movies. I mean, I’ve flipped through them when they were on television. But when I read the script, it was my first introduction to [the franchise].
Q: Did it strike you as a horror movie or an action movie?
Larter: The first thing that came across was how cool it was that it was set in the desert. Because it is a post-apocalyptic world, and I knew they were going to be shooting in the desert. I think that it’s really important in these kinds of movies to really have as much realism as possible. One of the things that I *didn’t* realize was that it was going to be 118 degrees. We were sweating. The lethargy, the irritability, the truthfulness that comes out is on screen, and that’s stuff you can’t pay for or make up. When we did some of the scenes on a stage, they put glycerine on our head, and the fan’s on, and they have the air conditioner on high, and the fresh-baked cookies are walking through… (laughter) there’s just that element missing!
I also thought it was cool that Paul Anderson referenced Mad Max. I thought it was cool that there was a Birds reference. And it was the kind of character that I hadn’t played before.
Q: What about the character attracted you to her?
Larter: I had just shot the pilot for Heroes, where I get to indulge the emotional side of myself. I really love doing that. I hadn’t actually had a chance to do that much in my career. I loved the relationship with my son and the different scenes I get to work on on the show. In contrast to that, what I love about playing Claire is that there’s no room for… emotions to get in the way. It’s a do-or-die world. You sit and allow yourself to indulge in emotional tendencies, and someone’s going to die. So, for me, it was having to shut off some things within myself, and finding different ways to communicate things to people. I thought it was interesting how she dealt with other people: took on a mother role with some of the kids, took on a leadership role for people who needed hope, inspired people who were feeling despair.
Q: Wasn’t there also a bit of channeling your inner-Ripley?
Q: Were you given any kind of backstory, or did you build one on your own?
Larter: Paul Anderson filled me in about the T-Virus and Raccoon City and everything with her brother. That’s what she’s doing. That’s what keeps her holding on, is the hope to get to her brother and that he’s still alive.
Q: You said you got this role before Heroes. Do you know what it was that prompted the filmmakers to cast you?
Larter: You’ll have to ask them that. I don’t know. I went in and I read for it. I know they had just picked a handful of girls that they were looking at, and it’s just one of those things that worked: I was right for the role; I was available from the show for that minute of time; shooting started on schedule. And it was on.
Q: On set, was there anything that frightened you?
Larter: You know, when you’re shooting a scary movie, and I guess you could say that there are moments of horror in this movie, you don’t feel that on the set. That comes through the way they pick the camera angles and through the way the filmmaker chooses to tell the story. It’s the suspense before. What does Hitchcock always say? It’s the moment before the explosion, not the actual bang. As an actor, you’re living it and feeling some of the fear, but it’s not quite the same as when the music’s laid on top, and you see the lighting… that’s where the excitement and the thrill and the rush that people feel when they watch these movies [comes from].
Q: What’s your biggest fear in life?
Larter: Not living life to its fullest. I’m a savorer. And tonight I shall *savor*!
Q: Are you off from Heroes for a little bit?
Larter: Dude. "Off?" Kind of. Tomorrow I have "off", but not. Everything’s "kind of". I mean, we’re doing radio, and we’re just on. The last three-and-a-half weeks, I’ve had so much – with the world tour, with the show, with Resident Evil, with Cosmo. I did some stuff with Dove and their "Real Women" campaign. (Jeremy note: me, too!) I’ve just been like "go"! Cosmo came out, and it’s just like… whew! The storm of it all! I’m just kind of in it right now, so I’m looking forward to my family being here, drinking a little champagne, having a dance with my dad. You know? Having a great dinner tomorrow night, and then back in it.
Q: How is Heroes going?
Larter: Great! Why do you say that with such…
Q: Well, it’s just one of those things where we know you can only say so much.
Larter: You can’t say anything, and I know nothing. I don’t know the next episode. People want to know where it’s going, and I don’t even know. Last year, we had a lot better idea of the scope and the arc of things; this year, it’s really top secret, and I think they’re doing that to make sure that there’s still a surprise for the audience.
Q: Is your character going to take a little break in between? I thought I heard something about that.
Larter: It gets so blown out of proportion. What I was trying to express was that there are different characters coming in. There’s a weaving [of storylines], but there was a weaving last year. There’s nothing new happening. You see in all the posters: my character is in the forefront of the storyline. There’s just a weaving in and out, and I think my honesty and truthfulness gets taken out of proportion. There was nothing negative about it. It was just truthful.
Q: Do your castmates envy you sometimes because you get to play dual personalities?
Larter: No. I think everyone on the show loves the character that they play. I did a scene last week where I got to work with three other actors, two that I hadn’t worked with before, and we just had a little giggle in the room. When the original cast is together, there’s like a fairy dust that’s sprinkled; there’s a little bit of magic in the air. We all really love each other and respect each other, and that shows in the work. There’s still so far for all of us to go.
Q: Career-wise, now that Heroes is really going at a good clip, have you been plotting out how you’re going to use that to get the kinds of roles that you’ve been wanting to do, but were denied you in the past?
Larter: I wish that it was possible to have a master plan, because I love the control thing. I would love some definites. The truth about this industry is that there’s absolutely no definites. I work ten months a year, and I definitely have more opportunities now, but you guys know this business: they push, they pull; actors come in, actors fall out. So even if I had things I wanted to do, I don’t know if I’ll get to do them over the next couple of years while I’m working on the show. I love being on it, though, so, for me, there are pluses and minuses to everything in life. I love getting a chance to read scripts. The people I’ve gotten to meet because of this show has been incredible. Getting to go to Asia, getting to go one-on-one with the fans over there… that was incredible. There are definitely other characters I want to play, but I hope I get to do this for the next forty years. I hope that there’s no expiration time for me.
Q: At Comic Con, you seemed to have a really strong affection for the audience.
Larter: I love them.
Q: You felt like they really made the show.
Larter: I really believe that. I think that the appeal of our show, and the appeal of this movie, it’s the guys and girls who get on there and blog at night about the characters, and have points-of-views on it. You know, I think life is tough. I think life just keeps on getting tougher. And I think that there’s something really great about the entertainment value that comes from video games, Heroes, Resident Evil… that comes from allowing people to indulge their fantasies, that allows people to take on different roles. People in the other [roundtable] room were asking, "Do you think awards shows will ever honor sci-fi movies? Will they ever stop boxing them in?" And I said, "You’re boxing them. Why?" Entertainment is entertainment. There’s room for Into the Wild, and there’s room for Resident Evil; both serve amazing purposes for the entertainment industry.
Q: But working too much within this genre has a way of boxing you in.
Larter: You say that, but I don’t believe it. I don’t think so. I don’t even allow myself to go there. I think that the less you talk about the box, the less the box happens. I will things to happen, and I kind of think the more you say it, the more it’ll make it real. I hope to always live a creative life. I hope that I get to make movies that people love to watch. I hope to give people entertainment. I hope to inspire.
Q: You come from a horror background. Do you have a favorite scary or gory scene?
Larter: A favorite gory scene?
Q: One that freaks you out the most.
Larter: Jack Nicholson in The Shining. That’s pretty freaky. I get into the psychological stuff, and that freaks me out. That’s where my taste lies.
Q: Do you have a favorite horror movie in general?
Larter: I have to say that I really don’t like being scared. My sisters used to chase me around as a little girl and hop out of rooms. I get freaked out really easily, and I don’t like doing it.
Q: Getting back to Resident Evil, could you see yourself revisiting the franchise and taking it in a new direction?
Larter: You know what, that’s in the hands of the producers. I loved playing Claire Redfield, and if they feel like there’s a story to tell with the character I play, I would love to see it. I’m open to anything in life. Let’s see the options. Let’s see what kind of script they came up with, let’s see what kind of director would be interested in it. If so, I’d love to get out that bottle of dye and throw on my camos.
Q: Do you have anything in the pipeline for your break from Heroes next year?
Larter: I have about three things I’m looking at for my hiatus. We’ll see what happens. It’s a little bit early to be locking it, but there are things that I’ve read that I want to be a part of. We’ll see if it works out with the show. If we run over, I can’t do one. For me… look, I’ve been in this business for a while, guys. I love the character I play. I love the show. If I get to do other movies while I’m on it, fantastic. If I don’t, I love being part of the world they’ve created [on Heroes]. Life is just good.
And now I’ve got to throw on my foxy little mini-dress. Get ready guys!
It was a very flattering dress. Resident Evil: Extinction opens wide September 21, 2007.