From Sue Storm, Fantastic Four’s Invisible Woman to The Eye’s blind heroine, Jessica Alba has come full circle. So when Lionsgate invited CHUD to visit the set last Saturday to meet the ingénue, I went to see what’s what.
The Eye is a retelling of 2002’s Pang Brothers’ Gin gwai – the same siblings who brought us Screen Gems haunted sunflower farm flick, The Messengers [note from Devin: Written by CHUD’s own Smilin’ Jack Ruby!]. As a big fan of the original, I was very curious to check out the day’s shooting, but was first promised a short Q&A with the film’s directors and stars. So I arrived at downtown L.A.’s Standard Hotel’s rooftop bar and sampled the buffet of pitas with hummus, Caesar salad, and French fries. I guess when you’re covering an American version of a Hong Kong movie directed by two Frenchman, you can expect eclectic foods.
The very gracious Alessandro Nivola, who plays Alba’s neuropsychologist, came in on his day off and gave some insight into the plot – a woman, blind since birth, receives a cornea transplant and starts seeing some scary things. Alessandro’s shrink risks his career when he falls for his patient and helps her track down the cornea donor – a journey that brings to the pair to Mexico, where all hell breaks loose. Though pressed, the leading man did not give any more details than that. (If you want to know what kind of Mexican hell, you’ll have to wait until October to see the film.)
As Alessandro left, Jessica Alba took his seat, flanked by her directors, David Moreau and Xavier Palud. This duo made their mark with the eurothriller Ils. Now here’s where I thought my four years of high school French would come in handy. The title of their film translates to Them, not to be confused with the giant ant sci-fi classic. But David and Xavier did not give me much of a chance to embarrass myself and butcher a second language. Like any great directors, they took a step back and shifted the focus to their star – happy to whisper to each other and occasionally tease their belle du jour as we chatted.
Jessica was much taller than I thought she would be, as she tried to get comfortable in her odd-shaped poolside chair. The beauty comes across as very down to earth, like the girl in high school who doesn’t realize the effect she has on the opposite sex. As she nibbled on a mini cheeseburger and cold fries, she was articulate with a heavy dose of self-effacing charm, while talking about choosing a role that goes beyond skin deep.
Her preparation included spending her days wearing a sleep mask and wandering around her apartment with a cane. The experience opened her eyes to a blind person’s world – she pointed out the irony that she now sees Braille everywhere – from elevator panels to the lids on Cokes at McDonald’s.
This role also presents a secondary challenge – the character is a concert violinist. After three months of hard work, Jessica was very proud to describe her violin playing as approximating the sounds of a cat in heat. (I myself can’t really blame the violin. Who wouldn’t sound like a cat in heat tucked under this girl’s chin?)
With our short time winding down and her publicity people anxious to rush her off, Jessica insisted on one last question – and then deflected it toward her two directors.
Moreau and Palud spoke to what attracted them to this project and shared their vision. For the two Frenchman, horror is more about what is unseen than what is seen. The opportunity to take this heroine from a place a total darkness to a world of light with shades and shadows felt like a perfect fit.
The trio bid me adieu and went off to work.
I followed them to the set where the day’s scene was prepped – a shot of still blind Jessica getting out a cab in a rainstorm. But an uncooperative sun ducked in and out of the clouds, creating lighting challenges and delays. The threat of rain did not come from the overhead haze, but rather from the giant wand in the sky hooked to a fire hydrant. With the flip of a switch, a quarter of a city block would be hit with a deluge.
I stood and watched for an hour as poor Jessica sat in a cab waiting to get out. Finally, the moment arrived. The rains came down, extras with umbrellas ran through puddled streets, and the yellow taxi pulled to the curb. Jessica stepped out into the downpour, burdened with a violin case, handbag, cane, and umbrella. She had confided during our chat that because of her full hands, someone was ducked down next to her in the backseat to help propel her out of the taxi.
After hearing this, I wished that I had had a chance to change my last question to directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud.
How do I get that job?
The Eye opens October 12, 2007.