The debut film from Fox Atomic, Turistas, opening this Friday, is an action/horror melange about a group of clueless tourists from America, Sweden and Australia who travel off the beaten path during a trip to Brazil and end up in the crosshairs of a human organ smuggling operation. Melissa George stars as Pru, a bikini-clad Australian who speaks some rudimentary Portuguese and becomes the unofficial leader of the desperate band. You're probably familiar with George even if you don't yet know her name. She arrived on the scene in 1998, nearly walking away with Alex Proyas' Dark City in a tiny role as May, a gorgeous prostitute being targeted by a killer. Since then, the Aussie actress has bounced between stints on television shows like Alias and roles in low-expectation films like the Amityville Horror remake. In the past year, however, something has clicked for George and she's lined up several intriguing starring roles.
She's currently shooting 30 Days of Night, a big-budget horror film from producer Sam Raimi about a colony of vampires that tries to take over a small Alaskan town where the sun rarely shines. George co-stars alongside expressionless heartthrob Josh Hartnett as two local cops who try to fight back. Also lined up is the psychological thriller Waz, in which she'll co-star with Stellan Skarsgard, and the period drama Music Within about a disabled Vietnam veteran. Cinematical recently called up George in Los Angeles, hours before she was about to hop a plane back to New Zealand to continue filming 30 Days of Night.
I've heard a lot of people talking about this thriller, Waz, which is coming out sometime next year, but no one seems to know exactly what it's about.
MG: Waz is going to come out around May. It's about altruism in nature and about whether you'd kill someone you love in order to survive yourself. It's a very cool film. In nature, there are some animals who will put themselves on the front line to be killed in order to save their kingdom, because they are the same gene pool. They don't care. They just want to survive. One monkey will go out in front of another and get killed in order to save 300 of them behind him. You know what I mean? Whereas, humans, we're a separate gene pool. So we are exploring the idea that if someone said to you 'I will stop doing this to you if you kill your lover'...how much pain would you take, before you kill somebody that you love? It's very awesome. It's got a genius storyline.
You already have Amityville Horror under your belt, and you're shooting 30 Days of Night. Are you personally a big fan of horror?
MG: I hate horror films, to be really honest. Every film I've done, like Amityville Horror -- the core of that film is a character piece. It was two people fighting for survival. It wasn't a cheap slasher film by any means. Derailed had nothing at all to do with horror. I look at the character first, and whatever is going on around that character is none of my business.
I just saw Turistas a couple of days ago. There's at least half an hour of swimming in there. There's even a 'swim-chase' scene. Did you do a lot of your own swimming there?
MG: Yeah, we were all under the water. We had to do diving practice in Rio, at Ipanema Beach, and then we were in the caves for real. The Brazilian government gave us permission to film those caves. It's three miles deep and they're full of water. We took boats into the caves. No one had ever been in there before. We were swimming in really static, tight water. It was incredible and invigorating. I came out of there going, 'I've witnessed the most extraordinary experience of my entire travels.' We were allowed to swim in Gruta Azul and it was unbelievable. The water was warm and there were minerals in the water. You're just pulling yourself along and swimming in these caves. It was quite honestly a dream come true.
Did they let you keep that white bikini?
MG: I kept them all, and they were so small that even the Brazilians were saying to me 'Oooh, they are small!' And when Brazilians said that, I was like 'Oh my God, what have I done?' They were so small that they literally fit in the palm of my hand. And they were crocheted. We had all these Brazilian girls on set crocheting them for me. I had about 30 pair.
I think Turistas made me not want to be an organ donor. Were you on the set during those graphic organ transplant scenes?
MG: How real was that...it was like a documentary. Oh yes, I was on the set. We had different bodies, fake bodies and fake organs and....it was very heavy.
At my screening, the door kept opening and light kept coming in because people were getting up and leaving during that scene.
MG: Yeah, that was almost me during that. I couldn't bear it.
You have to hold a couple of conversations in Portuguese during the early scenes. Do you actually speak Portuguese or was that a put-on?
MG: I learned it. Eu falo Portuguese! John Stockwell made me go to school and learn Portuguese. I can speak Spanish and Portuguese now.
I think the most interesting scene in the film is an early one, when the tourists try to take a picture of a little Brazilian kid and his parents go nuts. Have you ever had a big culture clash moment? You must travel a lot.
MG: I lived in Bali for five years, and you're not allowed to touch kids on the head. One day just to say 'hello', just being kind, I just sort of stroked a girl's head and that was a big no-no.
There's not a lot of dialogue in Turistas, but I noticed that you seem to have a pretty natural acting style. I didn't spot a lot of gears turning. Do you lean on one acting technique in particular?
MG: I use my external surroundings a lot. I look around and say 'What is this environment making me feel?' And I get into the mood. If I know that, in 30 Days of Night, I have to shoot an emotional scene, I will wake up in that mind frame. Everything I do in the morning before I go to work is geared toward when they call 'action' -- that one moment. It's not method, but I definitely stick in that part for a long time and get into it. I substitute a lot. If my character is going through something that I've never been through before, which applies to a lot of the films I do, then I'll substitute it to something that's similar to something I've gone through. It will trigger some kind of reaction in me that will produce the feeling for the scene. Reacting is so big. I've been working with Gabriel Byrne for the last three days on this HBO series In Treatment and he gave me so much that all I was doing was reacting.
Tell me some news about 30 Days. Is the shooting over with?
MG: I've been shooting for four months and I go back tonight and shoot another month and a half. We're shooting it in New Zealand. I can't tell too much, but you've never seen a vampire look like this before, ever. Very real, no CGI. No CGI in the entire film for the vampires.
Are you enjoying working with Sam Raimi?
With the horror films you've done back to back, do you feel that you're mixing it up enough in your career? Keeping the variety?
MG: I don't think they're all horror films, we're trying to keep consistent work so that I build fans that I like and that like what I do and change it up. 30 Days of Night is a graphic novel. It's not a remake horror film. It's an original script. It's Josh Hartnett and myself and Danny Huston. But I'm mixing it up. I'm doing In Treatment and that is something totally different. Music Within is a romantic movie, 30 Days of Night is a romantic love story with Josh and myself, and vampires. I think that they are all very, very different. I look different in all of them, but they have a similar thread. That's how you can build recognition with your fans.
I haven't read the graphic novel that 30 Days is based on, so I don't know much about the tone, but Josh Hartnett described it in an interview as a 'western with vampires'. Is that your take?
MG: I see it as Doctor Zhivago, but instead of communism there are vampires. Vampires have replaced the communism, but I also feel like I'm in a love story. I love this movie. It's one of those things where you get offered a big lead in a big Sony picture, and it's got the horror trend, but every single film is different. I think that's definitely 'mixing it up'. You can't say 'Oh, I can't do 30 Days of Night' because there's blood.' That's where it's going right now.
It sounds like you've thought a lot about keeping a delicate balance, career-wise.
MG: It's a fine line for a career, for a girl in L.A. You can always do indies, but no one will ever know who you are. Then you get offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be in a film like Turistas or 30 Days of Night, a sort of commercial hit that you can balance out with your indies. That's exactly what you've got to do. You've got to balance it out. You can't just do one thing or the other. You have to do a bit of TV, so 25 million people will watch you every week. You've got to be smart about it.
Tell me two directors who you haven't worked with, but would like to.
MG: Number one is Wong Kar-wai, who did In The Mood For Love. If I can work with him and Pedro Almodovar, then I will retire.
Are you setting big, specific career goals for yourself? Do you want to bag an Oscar and so forth?
MG: I'm on a path where I get to work with great actors and I think that produces good performances. And if that wins me an Oscar, that would be fantastic. I love acting. I'm not interested in anything else. Acting is what I love -- being on set with great directors and exploring human behavior and telling wonderful stories for the big screen. But anyone wants recognition for their work.
Speaking of your HBO work, it's kind of fashionable these days to say that television is producing stuff that's equal or superior to the movies. Do you buy that?
MG: Well, HBO is but I don't know about the networks because I haven't watched network television in about six years. But definitely HBO.
I'm a big Dark City fan. I remember thinking that your character was really interesting. Everyone's identity changes every night, and today she just happens to be a hooker. They could base a whole sequel around your character, as far as I'm concerned.
MG: Thank you. I was so young! I think so too, man. That girl was great, just walking the streets like that. It would be perfect.
By the way, I expected you to have a much more pronounced Aussie accent. You sound American. Are you getting better at slipping back and forth between American and Australian?
MG: [laughs] Yeah, I woke up this morning and I was American. It was weird. I literally get out of bed and my accent is different every day, and I feel normal. I'm not putting it on. I'm not doing anything different. It's just me.