Jessica Alba talks about being a blind clairvoyant in this exciting new thriller.
David Moreau and Xavier Palud's latest collaborative effort The Eye is based on a 2002 Hong Kong thriller of the same name directed by the Pang Brothers. It finds a young blind violinist getting more than she bargained for when she agrees to a corneal transplant.
Jessica Alba plays Sydney Wells, a woman that starts to see ghosts after she receives the corneas of a young Mexican woman. After a series of harrowing accidents, this new set of eyes opens Wells' sixth sense. She soon finds herself in a race against the clock to stop a major accident that will kill a group of innocent bystanders.
We recently met with Alba to talk about her film, and what it was like going blind for the role. She shared some insight into the filming making process and offered us a chance to get to know her character a little better.
Can you describe your character?
Jessica Alba: I play Sydney Wells. She is a blind classical violinist. She is a soloist. She has a corneal transplant, and she regains her sight. When she regains her sight, she also takes on the memories and abilities of the woman that she got her eyes from. She ends up seeing people who are dead. And also, she is psychic and can see the future. They're more tragic things. She doesn't really see positive, great things. She is sort of plagued with this ability. This horrible thing. She feels like she is losing her mind. Because she can't touch base with what is real and what is not. Also, she can see for the first time. So it is hard for her to get a grip on it.
What attracted you to the project?
Jessica Alba: The fact that I got to play someone that was blind. And a violin player. I thought this was a pretty complex character for a horror movie. And it is not necessarily a gore fest. It is not about someone getting tortured. It is more about someone losing their sanity. And trying to get it back. I thought the story was pretty interesting and layered. Especially the relationship she had with her sister. And the doctor. I felt that was pretty unconventional and cool.
Did you study with actual blind people?
Jessica Alba: Yes. I spent time at two blind orientation centers. One in Los Angeles and one in New Mexico. At the one in New Mexico I was with twelve other students. They were fairly young. Some of them were parents. Some of them were just kids. They had immediately become blind from an accident, or they had slowly become blind over time. And they were slowly learning how to come to terms with their blindness. As an actress coming in, they had no idea who I was. They just thought I was another blind person. The thing is, I could just take my mask off and walk away. They couldn't. That was kind of difficult to deal with. And quite humbling. I learned how to read brail, walk with a cane. I learned how to label my clothes. I figured out how to label and work my way around the kitchen. From the sink, to the stove, to the refrigerator. You label absolutely everything in the house.
So you can read a whole book in brail right now?
Jessica Alba: No. You just learn the basics. If I studied it more, and was blind, I would obviously learn more. I just needed to understand how to read it. And I was able to make out some notes and sentences.
Did you work with anyone that regained their site?
Jessica Alba: I did meet a few people that had corneal transplants. One guy had regained his eyesight, and then he lost it again. Then I met someone else who had a degenerative disease, and then she got a corneal transplant and regain her sight completely. Yeah. It is pretty true how disorienting it is to take in everything at once. And that everything is brand new. It really plays tricks on your mind and your perception.
Had you seen the original Pang Brothers movie before you made this?
Jessica Alba: Yeah, of course. I enjoyed the original. I really loved that the main character was kind of stoic. I loved that performance. It was subtle and quite elegant. In the Eastern culture, ghosts and mysticism are part of that society. It is more widely accepted. In Western culture, it is just not. People think you are insane if you believe in ghosts. It is completely unacceptable to say that you are seeing stuff. So, we took a more Western approach. We are obviously doing a Western version of it. But I loved the first one. It is a beautiful movie.
What is the biggest challenge in playing a blind person?
Jessica Alba: Becoming sighted and playing the violin blind. That was tough. I had to do so much training on that violin. Not being able to look at the notes, just having to play from feeling was nearly impossible.
So, you were really playing the violin in the movie?
Jessica Alba: Yeah, I did. I had to. They said in post that they had someone come in and play all the notes I was playing just to make it sound nicer. When I was playing them, it sounded really bad. It was screechy and high pitched. Very bizarre. The notes were there. I played the notes, and I kept the rhythm. It just sounded really bad.
How long did you have to prepare for this role?
Jessica Alba: About four and a half months. But I was shooting another movie. I had "The Fantastic Four", and then I had Christmas break. Over Christmas break, I got really into it.
Had you seen the directors' other film Them before you signed onto this?
Jessica Alba: Yeah. That is why we hired them for this. The fact that they did a movie with virtually no dialogue? That was very scary. It was thrilling. You are going on this journey with this two people through this house. They made that really entertaining. We wanted them to bring that element to this movie. We had the complicated character. We had the plot twists. We really needed them to infuse the scary into the film.
Is there anything in this film that you want young woman to take away from it?
Jessica Alba: I think there is something quite empowering about watching a fairly young person star in a movie. Something that isn't exploitive. It is very entertaining. And my character is very strong. She is independent. She is seeking a truth. Everyone things she is nuts, and that she is losing her mind. She is staying pretty true to finding the truth. She wants to find her sanity. I think you can look at it in the most broad of terms. I think seeing a young person in a film that isn't exploitive is kind of cool.
Did you want to avoid the gore?
Jessica Alba: Yeah. I didn't really feel like playing someone that was tortured or mutilated. Or anything. I think there is enough of that. For me, I think it is much more interesting to watch what is going on in someone's head. Is it real? Is it not? The psychological aspect is much more intriguing to me.
Are you a believer in the super natural?
Jessica Alba: I am not closed off to it. There have been certain things that have happened to people in my life. There are unexplained things. I can't be totally shut off from it.
How would they approach a sequel to this?
Jessica Alba: I have no idea.
You guys never discussed it on set? Maybe she gets someone else's eyes?
Jessica Alba: I have no idea. Maybe though her corneas are now damaged, she still keeps that clairvoyant ability.
Do you see this as a Pro-stem cell research film? Or is that just a throw away line in the movie?
Jessica Alba: I don't know if it is a pro-stem cell research movie. Though, I just read that they can now take stem cells from an embryo without killing it. They just learned how to do it, and they are trying to get the Government to okay it.
The Pang Brothers had a definite social commentary running through their original film. Was that abandoned here?
Jessica Alba: That wasn't discussed. But I am into the stem cell research. I think it is amazing if we can do it without having to damage the embryos. It would be a dream come true. And science is now able to do that. I have always been into this stuff. It was my favorite subject in school. Nano technology is really interesting to me. Just stuff that makes our world a cleaner, better place through science. Also, it kind of explains things that are happening. Yeah. I like science.
The Eye opens this Friday, February 1st, 2008.