EXCLUSIVE: Michael Vartan Talks Columbiana Blu-ray
Zoe Saldana stars as an assassin seeking to avenge the death of her parents in this thriller from writer/producer Luc Besson, on Blu-ray and DVD December 20th
Zoe Saldana plays Cataleya, a young woman who has grown up to be an assassin after witnessing the murder of her parents as a child. Turning herself into a professional killer, she remains focused on her ultimate goal: To hunt down and get revenge on the mobster responsible for her parents' deaths.
Michael Vartan co-stars in the movie, and to celebrate the home video release, he sat down with us for a chat about his role as a sensitive painter who falls in love with Cataleya. Here is our conversation.
We just saw you on the Hero Dog Awards. How did you get involved in that? Are you a big dog person?
Michael Vartan: Yes. I am a huge dog person. They asked me to be a part of that, and I said, "Absolutely!" I know it sounds like a joke, but I was so honored. I joke around with my friends that I love dogs more than people. So, it was a no brainer for me. I think this was the inaugural show. I'd never heard about it before this. It was pretty cool, and some of the stories about these dogs and the people that own them were very emotional.
There are no dogs in Columbiana! Obviously there was something else about the project that attracted you to it...
Michael Vartan: You know, I heard about the script through the traditional route. An agent called me for the movie, and they said they were interested in me. So I read it. My part is great, but it's not all that big. My process? I find out what the character's name is, that I am up for, and I rifle through the script to see were he is, and to see how big a part of it this character has. With this script, I got to page fifty, and there was still no Danny. I thought, "Am I even in this movie?" Then I read the script from cover to cover. I have a soft spot for cartel movies. I love the underworld, and the mafia. I love Scarface. You can't go wrong with that. I love that kind of stuff. It's fascinating. Being a fan of Zoe Saldana, and knowing that this was going to be a challenge for her, to be this tough-ass chick, because she is rather slight of frame...And then you have the Luc Besson connection. He is French. I was born in France. He has such an amazing track record with these movies, and I'd never had a chance to work with a French director before...There were a lot of other things, apart from my role, that attracted me to this.
There isn't a whole lot of dialogue in the film for long stretches of action. Does that come from having a language barrier between the American actors and the French director and producer?
Michael Vartan: I never thought about it that way, but I am sure it does. It has too. The way he sees this world, just through his upbringing, has to be different than the way an American sees it. I would say yes. I never thought about that. It's a very interesting point that I would like to discuss further. Its funny. We did a junket for this when the movie came out theatrically. One of the questions we got quite a bit, over and over, was that a few South American journalists didn't think this was a fair portrait of Columbia to paint. They wondered if we were worried about our depiction of Columbia, because of all the violence and the drugs. My answer to that was, A: Give me a break! This is what Columbia has been known for since I was a child. It is what it is. The opening sequence of this movie is such a beautiful homage to Columbia and Bogota. Do you remember how long that opening shot is? It's an homage to Columbia, more so than a negative depiction of it in any way. I thought so...
Sometimes, people are just too sensitive to stuff. I was doing some research on Columbiana this morning. And a bigger complaint about the movie seems to be the fact that you're not in it the movie a whole lot. Is there any more of you or your character in the supplemental portion of this DVD/Blu-ray release?
Michael Vartan: Unfortunatly, no. What you see is what you get. I was joking with our director Olivier Megaton that this movie sets itself up nicely for a sequel. I'm not sure that would ever happen. But at the end, there are a lot of loose ends that have not been tied. It would be interesting to...Look, I was pushing the whole time to reveal my character as a villain at the end. I don't know why he didn't kill her if that was his assignment. He had many opportunities to do so. Who knows? That's what writers are for. It felt like they did set this up for a sequel. I have never been part of a movie that allowed me to reprise a character. That in itself would be awesome. But it definitely felt like, if they wanted to, there was a lot of creative freedom there. It wouldn't feel forced. A lot of times, a movie is written as this one time thing. I makes $300 million at the box office, and suddenly, everyone is going, "Sequel, sequel!" Then, when they make that sequel, you can tell that everyone is just forcing stories that clearly weren't developed, or wouldn't naturally happened. I think this one has a chance at a good sequel. So, let's start a campaign!
I think the DVD and subsequent cable release will be your campaign. That's where audiences find these types of movies, and really push them to the next level. Action fans don't seem to go to the movies as much as they should...
Michael Vartan: That's an interesting point. Though, if you were an action fan, I would think the perfect forum would be to see an action movie on the big screen. With the surround sound, and the rumbling seats, and the giant screen...I think action fans will watch their favorite action movies over an over again, so it is easier to do that at home. I don't know why action fans don't go to the movies as much as they should.
Personally, I think its because the true action fan, who is looking for this type of movie, doesn't find it until its on cable. Look at Expendables. That did okay in theaters, but it blew up on the home video and cable markets. Now there is a second one being shot as we speak.
Michael Vartan: That is very true.
Now, for those fans that were a little bit disappointed that you're not in it so much, do you know which chapter stop we need to skip to, to get to your part?
Michael Vartan: (Laughs) I do not, actually. I do not have the DVD. It's definitely at the halfway point. Maybe he is introduced on page 40? Then, by page 80, I am in it for a couple of scenes.
Your fans don't seem to care about a girl in a tight catsuit running around an air duct. They want to see Michael Vartan, gosh darn it!
Michael Vartan: (Laughs) Of course. I would hope that more guys would rather see her in a catsuit than me. (Laughs) As an actor, my mom is always asking, "What do you want to do next?" I'm like, "Mom, I want to work with Martin Scorsese. What do you think I want to do?" She thinks that everything is available to every actor. I have to remind her that as an actor, you often go where you are wanted. You don't have the luxury to pick and choose the things you want to do. Or what kind of projects you want to do. In my case, Colombiana was a really cool movie. Do I wish I had a gun and got to kick a little ass? Of course. But, ultimately, I was offered a role in an awesome movie that had an awesome actress, and I got to be in a movie that was successful. Hopefully the DVD launch will intensify that. So it was a no brainer, and a win-win, for me all the way.
What I want to see is a Michael Vartan action movie that has you, a gun, and a dog...
Michael Vartan: Yes. I would love that, too. I want to see a pilot that is me and a dog. I don't care what we do. If we are a rescue team, if we are cops, if were are astronauts and this is the first dog on the moon. I don't care what it is. Just that the show goes on for ten years. That dog would be my favorite co-star of all time. America? We love our pets in the states. If you shop at Skymall, if you are flying anywhere, two/thirds of the magazine is devoted to pet stuff. People joke, but its true. You murder a whole village of innocent people in a Indian and Cowboy movie, no one really cares. But as soon as that dog dies, people are weeping.
Are you referencing Cowboys and Aliens?
Michael Vartan: No, I haven't seen that.
Oh, cause that's what happens. The aliens kill a whole bunch of cowboys and Indians. No one makes a sound. The dog dies, and everyone weeps. Then, not to give anything away, but the dog comes back, and everyone cheers. I thought maybe you were pointing that out, since it, too, just arrived on DVD.
Michael Vartan: No, but that's it exactly. Hooray for the one dog! Too bad for the people.
Where are you going from here? I don't see anything on your upcoming slate...
Michael Vartan: Well, I was on Hawthorne for three years. That is a show that was just cancelled recently. I am looking forward to pilot season. That is right around the corner. That starts in early to mid-January. It's an exciting time for an actor. It's a little scary being out of work, because you don't know what is going to happen from paycheck to paycheck. On a creative level, for the next month or two, the world is my oyster. Who knows what is out there. It's exciting to be back in the fray and be back in the mix. Being available for all of these upcoming projects. And most of the best work is being done on television. Look at HBO, and Showtime, and TNT. These aren't shows anymore. They are like small, beautifully crafted movies. You look at a lot of the movies out there, and they are not that good. The business is changing. Some of the best stuff is on television now. I am fortunate that I have a way in. And can afford to do pilot season this year. The cool thing is, all of these channels now have really good shows. Pilot season used to only be for the big networks. But now, its all year around for the cable networks. You know, as an actor, once you sign a contract for one show, you can't do anything else. For the last three years, I have been out of the loop. Now I am back in the loop.
TNT has such great shows. But they seem to keep getting canceled. What is happening there?
Michael Vartan: I don't know. Like you said, they have some really good shows. If you look at some of the actors they have in their stable, there are some great ones. They have Emmy winners, Oscar winners, it's not a lack of talent or creativity. It's like any network. It's hit or miss. I was on Alias for five years. I was on Hawthorne for three years. If you told me that every TV show I do throughout my career, I was going to get three years out of, I would sign immediately. It is so hard to get a pilot. Then once you get a pilot, it is so hard to get that pilot made into a series. Once you get that series, you shoot six or seven episodes. Then, it is so hard to get an order for season 2. So, even though I tell people that Hawthorne was cancelled after three years, and they go 'Ah, that sucks!', I don't say anything, because there is really no need to. But internally I am thinking, "Are you kidding me? That was awesome! We had a great run. We had three years on television. It is so hard to do that." It is so difficult to get a show on television. I don't know what the deal is with TNT. It's probably the same with all the cable channels. Some of them are hit or miss with the marketing and the publicity. That Nielsen ratings thing? Its 2011, the governemnet can scan my retina from outer space, and we are still using the Nielsen ratings? I don't know if this is true, but I heard that there are only three thousand Nielsen boxes in America. So you are basically making hundred million dollar decisions based on three thousand people, when there are three hundred million watching TV? Come on!
Who owns a Nielsen box? No one my age has one...
Michael Vartan: It makes no sense. Obviously there are all sorts of ways to find out who is watching what. But then you are prying into people's privacy. There are all the issues that come with that. But there has to be a more comprehensive, simplistic, and accurate way to figure this out. When I was on Alias, our ratings were crap. They were so bad. We never had good ratings. Yet, we would show up at some Comic-Con thing, or some event at Disneyland, and there would be 80 thousand people there. It was weird. We didn't understand it. How come we have such a big fan base, but our ratings are so bad every week. I don't know if that is a true discrepancy in the number of people who were watching compared to the ratings. I find it weird that, in this day and age, with Twitter and Facebook, there has to be a better way to keep track of this stuff.
With Alias, that was one of the first shows where people were starting to watch it on their computers as oppose to watching it on TV.
Michael Vartan: Right. That's when TiVo first came out. On Monday mornings, we would get the TiVo breakdowns as well. Not just the overnights, or the national ratings. The network told us these were just as important. Because it meant people were watching your show. They might not watch it live when it airs, because that time frame doesn't suite them or their family. But it's still being watched. We thought that was more along the lines of what was happening with our show. It's weird that there just isn't a better way in this day and age.
I don't know anyone that watches a show while it is airing. Not in my age range. We don't have the patience for the commercials.
Michael Vartan: Exactly. I am a huge fan of Parks and Recreation, for example. My wife and I just plowed through the first couple of seasons on DVD. Now we are watching it every Thursday, and the commercials are unbearable. We've decided that we won't watch it on Thursdays. We will just watch it on Friday or Saturday. Those Commercials are death. They are so bad.