Set several centuries in the future, the abandoned Alita is found in the scrapyard of Iron City by Ido, a compassionate cyber-doctor who takes the unconscious cyborg Alita to his clinic.
When Alita awakens, she has no memory of who she is, nor does she have any recognition of the world she finds herself in. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious past.
We spoke to actress Idara Victor about working with Christoph Waltz/ director Robert Rodriguez, and the difference between acting on the big screen versus the small screen.
The Knockturnal: Talk about working with Robert and what the process was like?
Idara Victor: Oh, Robert was the most relaxed and chill director I think I’ve ever worked with. Which was amazing because I’ve never worked on a project that had that much going on. With all of those moving parts, he just handled it with such grace and always seemed so open. Open to our ideas and open to us trying things. And, just kind of navigated all of the different aspects of what we were doing between us and just kept a balance on set with everyone while remaining really open and allowing us all to sort of explore each other’s departments and learn about what the other side is doing as well. So, it was just that really fun set.
The Knockturnal: What is that process like when you worked on all those VF effects?
Idara Victor: Well, there was a routine we’d go through. So, every day – I’d have to when I first came in, I’d put the sleeve on myself and then we would have to go to a spot where they would sort of calibrate me. The way it works, there were about 100 cameras all over the set and capturing all of our little movements and so, before we start, we’d have to go to a room where they would calibrate us, so that the computer would know this is what this form looks like – that means this is this character. It would be like I would stand there and there was a set of like four different movements I’d have to do every day, and that would allow the computer to sort of walk in. Okay, that’s her form. Anything that this arm captures, anything that this particular form does, this arm will capture it and then we can draw everything based on that for that character, which when I’ve got Rosa on the set with me and especially when we did our first scene in Iron City where there were people, all kinds of you know, different levels of cyborgs where some people were full cyborg. Also, some people had a cyborg arm or a leg or two arms or a torso or whatever, then the camera can capture everybody’s movements very specific to them.
So, it was a longer process and every time we did a take of anything, they’d have to bring Weta in to do their process of capturing the light. Capturing reference of what Alita’s movement would look like in her clothing, so every take would sort of like do three takes in one. But, it was so fascinating to watch it in Weta where they were all so open to sharing the process with us and filling us in on what was happening, so it was really, really fun. I had a great time with that.
The Knockturnal: Is that a challenge for you? Because you’ve done so much really great television. I mean, I love all your TV projects.
Idara Victor: Yeah, it really wasn’t. It didn’t feel challenging. It felt exciting. I have to say it didn’t feel that different and it’s interesting because when you’re creating a world, I think no matter what genre you’re in or what medium you’re in, it’s really just about diving into that particular world. So any of the challenges I experienced were more tied to what is this world that we’re in and what is this world that we’re creating versus another world that I participated in or helped create in any other television show.
So, it’s wasn’t that challenging to make a switch to that genre, and I was surrounded by really, really amazing people who were really comfortable with it. All of my scenes are with Cristoph, and he and I of clicked immediately. So it just made it all very easy and he’s an amazing actor to act opposite. So, it was all just very easy.
The Knockturnal: What about Alita’s story attracted to you to the project? Is it anything that resonated with you?
Idara Victor: Yeah, I think there’s two sides of Alita that I kind of got. Reading the script, what I loved about Alita so much was her strength and how much she was willing to force her own path when she was told not to and I just really, that really resonates with me and especially as a woman, we’ve all experienced being told no and being told that we can’t do something and knowing deep down inside that you can and then feeling like we’re alone in a fight to figure out how to do it ourselves. To create our own path, but knowing how to believe in ourselves to do that and the challenge that comes with that. So, I really related to that with Alita and I felt like that’s something that a lot of people, in general, could relate to.
So, from reading the script, that’s what drew me to her, but after watching it, I have to say that seeing that, that strength was tied to her heart and how open her heart is and how sort of … I would have to say a big part of that is probably due to Rosa’s performance and Rosa’s open heart, but the fact that it was so tied to her heart and how much she loves people and how much she cares that her strength was found in her vulnerability. That made me love her that much more.
The Knockturnal: What kind of message do you think the movie will send to young girls who watch the film?
Idara Victor: I think that tied to what I just said, I think that the movie will tell young girls that they can look inside their heart and they can look inside themselves to know what it is they can truly achieve in the world and that they should trust that over anything that they’re told. Even from their loved ones because our loved ones are there to protect us, and they’re there to take care of us and we love them for that. Of course, our parents want us to make sure that we’re safe.
That’s their primary concern, but when we know that there’s something that we’re meant to do in the world and we believe in ourselves that we can achieve anything, no matter what anyone else has to say about it and sometimes we have to be the ones to go forward and do it in order to support their belief in us. So, I think Alita can help young girls see that they can do it themselves. They can do anything and that no matter who around them think anything about them or what’s possible for them, that they are able to prove everybody wrong and show up for themselves and for everyone else.
The Knockturnal: You have some amazing scenes with the incredible Christoph. Talk about working with him a little bit and did you pick up any gems with working with him? I mean, the man has two Academy Awards.
Idara Victor: Yes. Christoph is … well the biggest thing about Christoph, is this big celebrated actor and who I think as an actor. I think all of us actors look up to the possibility of the prospect of working with Christoph. So, I mean I’ve revered him so much and then, of course, I get to working with him and he’s really silly and funny and that was the big, I think, surprise that I didn’t know about him quite as much – as I discovered on set that he was really silly. Had a really dry sense of humor and so, I was just constantly laughing with him and we would talk about everything from art to just life. Just philosophize about life and it was a really great time and I think that bonding that we did in between takes, on set, I think that helped and form our relationship on camera and he was very, very interested in what our relationship was and developing that relationship. For movies, two people are together and in the world that they live in what brought them together and what keeps them together and so, we have a lot of fun developing that story for ourselves.
Even if it was never gonna be said on screen or said very explicitly anyway on screen, we knew that it would come through the characters and through the work if we developed an actual relationship of who these people are to one another. I was grateful that he was so keen on making sure that we did that so that we can have our little nuances in the scene when we’re dealing with Alita and we can create that sort of home for her to always come back to.
The Knockturnal: Speaking of that chemistry, you are kind of a, in a way a mother figure towards Alita in the film. What was your inspiration going into the movie with the character?
Idara Victor: I think when I realized that she is not only a mother figure to Alita, but also in a certain way to the people of Iron City. To the nurturing figure anyway because we are the clinic that allows people from Iron City to come and get healed. In a place where they don’t have many resources, that many of the people don’t have much money. So, when something happens and somebody loses a limb – the crazy thing about Iron City is that that’s a pretty normal occurrence in that world, but somebody loses a part of their body that we are in the future and we are able to replace that with machinery.
I think Dr. Ito created a home where people could come and actually feel like even if they didn’t have the resources they were gonna be taken care of, so for me, my preparation was completely rooted in really thinking about nurturing figures and really bringing women that I’ve known that have been nurturing figures and bringing their qualities to it. So, I definitely thought of my mom a lot and I was raised by a lot of really powerful loving, very, very loving women and so, I thought about what that was like. How I grew up in this home where we were constantly loving on each other, hugging each other. I mean, very, very affectionate and even though the script wouldn’t necessarily call for me hugging Alita constantly, I would always feel what would it be like if wanted to hug her?
Or feel like I wanted to hold her, but I understood that she as a girl who needs to stand on her own two feet literally. Like we just built her these two feet. She needs to stand on them and get out there in the world. So, it was just about really always navigating that balance or wanting to hold and protect her and sort of care for her, but also showing her, you gotta stand on your own two feet and get out there in the world and see what it’s like for yourself and sort of make a way for yourself.
That was something that I definitely had women in my life that I could draw from to use as inspiration, so I would say that was the way that sort of prepared for it and the rest of it was really easy because like I said, I just had really great people to work with. I mean Rosa and I immediately formed a kind of nurturing relationship of one another as well, so that allowed that to be really easy.