EXCLUSIVE: Heather Doerksen Talks Russian Jaeger Cherno Alpha and Pacific Rim
Heather Doerksen talks jaeger robots and working with director Guillermo del Toro in Pacific Rim, debuting in theaters July 12
Director Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim is set to hit theaters this weekend, bringing the creature feature genre back to the big screen with stars such as Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, and Ron Perlman. While she doesn't quite have the name recognition of those previously-mentioned actors, Heather Doerksen (the "O" is silent) is looking to break out in a big way. No stranger to genre fare (Stargate: Atlantis, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe), Heather Doerksen plays Russian jaeger pilot Sasha Kaidanovsky, who teams up with the towering Robert Maillet to run Cherno Alpha. I recently had the chance to speak with this talented actress about her unique experience working with Guillermo del Toro and much more. Here's what she had to say.
I've talked to other actors who go out for roles in really big movies like this. Sometimes, it seems they don't exactly know what they're going in for. For Pacific Rim, how much did you know about this project and this world before that first audition? Was it super-secretive like a lot of these projects are, just going in for the audition?
Heather Doerksen: Starting from the audition process, we had to sign confidentiality agreements, even then. We'd hand over passports in order to get lines for the audition, so it was quite secretive. In order to read the script itself, once I had got the part, I had to go to the office to read it there, in person. I could not take the script from the office. Leading into production, it was quite secretive, and even during shooting, I never had the whole script. It was just my bits. It's been quite the anticipated experience, and there's quite a magnitude around it.
We ran a featurette that showed the dynamic between both of the jaeger pilots, and how they each controlled one hemisphere of this robot. It seems like there is a synchronization that occurs, for the characters, but when you're shooting that, was there a lot of rehearsal to get everything looking just right?
Heather Doerksen: Yeah, that featurette was really cool, how it explained the two pilots being linked together and what it required. Not any two people can do it. You have to be open to receiving whatever is in the other person's brain. We definitely had to go through fight choreography with the fight coordinator and the stunt coordinator. We actually had a dance choreographer there too with us, to make sure our moves were synchronized. I am alongside Robert Maillet, who is almost 7 feet tall, about a foot taller than me. He moves totally different than my body does, so it took a lot of time to figure out how to synchronize our bodies. It takes less time to pull out a punch, for example, so I need to slow down and he needs to speed up to match me. Once we got into the set itself, it was hard to see each other because we were right beside each other, so we just had to be able to feel what the other person was doing, and be able to do that choreography fluidly. It was very difficult.
I'm not sure about this, but these creatures are huge, so if you throw a punch in real time, does that correspond with how fast the jaeger throws it, or is there a dialing in process?
Heather Doerksen: That's an interesting question. I think they way that they solved that on set was the actual things were were strapped into, were really heavy to move. If we wanted to take a step, there was a lot of weight attached to it, so we couldn't just lift up our foot really quickly. If we wanted to throw a punch or move our hand, it was weighted down, so it was a strenuous activity that made the process quite grueling to get through, physically, but it made it look more realistic, in terms of the movement of the jaeger.
That makes perfect sense. Now, Sasha is just one of a few female jaeger pilots. Since this is set up 15 years after the kaiju first emerged, how long into that period did Sasha join the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, and how long has she been entrenched in this world?
Heather Doerksen: Oh, that's cool. We didn't really address that, but we talked about how we were the mainstays, we were there from right near the very beginning. To be honest, I knew a few key details about the character, and the rest, me and Robert came up with on our own.
The posters have some of the coolest artwork because it shows how truly huge these things are. There is one where you can see a jaeger face, and you can see two humans who look like ants in comparison. It's incredible how the scope is portrayed.
Heather Doerksen: Yeah. They'd show us how many Eiffel Tower's high some of them were (Laughs). We knew that they would be monstrous, both the robots and the kaiju. But, seeing that comparison really helped us.
I know most of your scenes are with Robert Maillet, but are there any other cast members you have scenes with?
The monsters and the robots are huge, but it almost pales in comparison to Guillermo del Toro's actual vision for this. Can you talk about how thought out and detailed his vision was for this?
Heather Doerksen: On the very first day when we went through our cast table read, he had mock-ups of the kaijus and the jaegers, actual 3D models of what they would look like, but it wasn't until we actually got to the pod itself that I realized how big it was. It was built like it was real. None of that was green screen. It was just enormous, and we were tiny inside of it. I think that's when I understood how huge the movie would be.
You have another film called Hidden coming out, I believe this year, correct?
Heather Doerksen: That's later on this year. I haven't heard too much about a release date, but I do believe they're planning on doing that this year. That was a really cool script to read, because it's about this family going through a zombie apocalypse. The zombies kind of have this other trait to them that I haven't seen in other zombie movies, so that should be really interesting for viewers. I play a friend of the family, the next door neighbor of Alexander Skarsgård and Andrea Riseborough, when the zombie apocalypse begins.
That's all I have. Thanks so much. It was a real pleasure talking to you.
Heather Doerksen: Yeah, you too, Brian. It was great talking with you too.