Last weekend I attended a screening of Universal's new film "Big Miracle", due out this Friday, February 3, 2012. The movie is based on the true events of a small town news reporter and an animal-loving volunteer who are joined by rival world superpowers and the local villagers of Barrow to save a family of gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle.
A small group of us had the opportunity to chat with a few of the cast members and first up was the talented (and oh-so-down-to-earth and funny) Kristen Bell. In the flick Kristen plays the role of a young and ambitious female journalist who is trying to make her mark in an extremely competitive market at a time when women as lead anchors were not commonplace.
Kristen on the fashion of the '80's and what touches she brought to her character's look: "I did grow up in the '80s, but I was young. I was old enough in the late '80s, when this story unfolded, to idolize the way my sisters dressed. And they made sure that the rips in my jeans were in the right places and that my hot pink socks were pulled up over the French cuff, but one of the most important things to me about this role was that I kind of emulated how I felt the women in my life dressed at that time. So, our costume designer was extraordinary and pulled from all these amazing shoulder pad suits. I mean, they were just exceptional in an array of pastel colors that no one dare wear today. It was beautiful."
"But, hands down, no pun intended, the only thing that was important to me were the nails, because I remember the nails of my mom, and it was always a pastel sort of iridescent pink. And I wanted the Lee Press-On nails. And so, we got the longest ones that we could find, appropriately and ovaled them out, and I wore them every day. And sometimes they would freeze off, because the glue would freeze, and they would just pop off. I asked permission from Ken Kwapis, obviously, when you want to make a character choice, you ask the director, and he's like, 'I don't care. I'm working with three gigantic million dollar animatronic whales. Whatever. Paint your nails.' And I said, 'Okay because I really think it's pivotal.' And then, when he was in editing, he did give me a compliment. He said, 'The editors do want more shots of your nails, because they love it.' Just saying."
Kristen was thrilled to land the role since she was familiar with broadcast journalism, as her dad was a news director: "In my first meeting with Ken Kwapis, that I said wanted to do this, because I grew up playing with a teleprompter and knowing the local celebrities who were the news anchors. And my father was always very vocal about it being hard being a journalist, as far as the rejection, especially if you're on camera, as it is being an actor. So, he was slightly hesitant about me going into acting because of that. But, it felt very at home playing a journalist, I guess, because I have gone to work with him so many times. And I started a minor in college in journalism, and then I dropped it. But, that's neither her nor there. "
Instead of going the CG route, director Ken Kwapis had multi-million dollar animatronic whales built. Kristen said they were so lifelike that she would forget they weren't real. "They were more real than some actors I know. Not in this movie, but they were so well made from their scarring to their barnacles. From action to cut, you genuinely felt connected, as if they were animals. So, it was comedic when they'd raise them up, and you'd realize there was some New Zealander with a joystick, but it was a really unique situation, because you were able to sort of disregard the fact that they weren't real. Ken Kwapis, our director, who is such a lovely man, and it's really important to him that everyone really experiences things. He's very genuine. It was so important to him to have it be really animatronic and so lifelike that we got confused. Because in the age of CG where you could CG anything, oftentimes, as an actor, you're opposite a tennis ball or a green dot or a green screen, and it's much harder to manifest the sincerity of communicating with something, whether it's an animal or a cartoon or what have you. So, it was really important to him to bring that life to the scene and have all the actors looking at one thing and connect with it. So, I'm happy that he did that, because it made our job a lot easier."
The former 'Veronica Mars' actress said that hanging out in the frigid Alaskan temperatures made her feel right at home. "Having grown up in Detroit, I love the cold weather. I’m the only person in my life that likes cold weather and hates sushi. And I don't know why. I can't deny who I am, and you shouldn't either. So, I was prepared. I have bundly sweaters, and I just like bundling up. So, it was exciting for me, because I feel very at home in the cold weather."
However, that doesn't mean Kristen doesn't enjoy tropical shoots, as well. "Sometimes you wear snow suits, sometimes you've got to wear a bikini. They're both uncomfortable, you know? No matter how you slice it or dice it. I actually had such good luck with locations, because it's not like I have any influence. I mean, I audition for parts, and the ones that I book that I believe in, I do. And I had shot in Rome and shot in Bora Bora, which I couldn't even find on the map before I went. And shot in Hawaii. And then, when I got this, I thought (jokingly), "Well, this is a change of pace. Couldn't it be a beached starfish or something? How into the whales are we? Are we really that attached to the concept of whales?”
Kristen shared with us how the cast spent their free time in Alaska: "We ate dinner together almost every night. We explored the city to a certain degree, and there a lot of wonderful sort of cozy pizza joints and movie night places that we went to together. We played a lot of poker in John Krasinski's room, which was very fun. We ordered a lot of room service. On our days off, a lot of us traveled to different areas of Alaska, like driving down to Seward, Alaska, which is closer to the border but has a huge aquarium. We also went on a lot of hikes. There's a huge mountain called Mount Alyeska, which we hiked to the top of, which was wonderful. And I know a lot of the cast went to Fairbanks and tried to see the Northern Lights and saw an ice castle, an ice hotel. So, there's a lot of fun stuff. Mostly wildlife and nature kind of things to do in Alaska."
As much as Kristen enjoys starring in movies, she says that nowadays television is a big draw because it gives her the opportunity to hang out at home (with fiance Dax Shepard of 'Parenthood') more.
"In the last five years of my life, I think that I've planted roots a little bit and felt more like an adult. It devastates me to have to leave home. I'm such a home body. And the only thing I actually like to do is just close the doors and just cook and watch TV. I'd be fine without any interaction socially, other than my career. " (It was then suggested to her that she should become a blogger instead! We would all read that, right?)
Stayed tuned for the rest of the cast interviews over the next few days!
If you watch and share the Big Miracle trailer on Facebook, Universal will donate $1 to Oceana!