Battle: Los Angeles
Alien Battle Warranted Warrior Fitness for Actors
“Battle: Los Angeles” is a large-budget, apocalyptic alien invasion movie, packed with action, but the director and actors treated their respective roles with the utmost seriousness. Starring Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez and Ne-Yo, the film centers on Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Eckhart), who just after submitting his retirement papers, finds himself once again in the heat of combat with a team of young Marine recruits. Aliens have orchestrated a calculated global attack with the intent of wiping out humanity to acquire the Earth’s water. Yes, it invokes hints of “War of the Worlds” and “Independence Day,” but not all alien films are created equal.
“I asked Jonathan [Liebesman, the director] what was going to separate this alien movie from every other alien movie and what the reveal of the alien was going to be,” Rodriguez said at press day in New York. “And he showed me the perspective and I thought it was so like ‘Black Hawk Down,’ because you feel like a character as an audience member. He also wanted the alien reveal to be elusive, but then we are able to dissect it and see their home – after that I was on board.”
Eckhart and Rodriguez discussed their intense training, challenges and surprises working on the film, and why Rodriguez didn’t indulge in all the cuisine Louisiana had to offer.
Q: Did you train a lot with the marines to put yourself in a mental state for this role?
Aaron: Jonathan and I started talking about this movie a year before we started, so I started right away training with marines going through the tactical, strategy, psychology and shooting a lot. And we did a three-week boot camp beforehand. We put up the tent, slept and every bunk had to be meticulous. Obviously we trained, and we showered and did everything in rank, so the PFC’s did shit work and I yelled at them a lot ant the Lieutenant yelled at me.
Q: Michelle, how does this rate in terms of physical demands compared to other roles you’ve had?
Michelle: “Girl Fight” remains the most physically demanding film I’ve ever worked on just because of the extent of six months of just working out and building 25 pounds of muscle – it was pretty gnarly. But this movie was the most intense actual shoot – not the training, but the four months of soot and ash and hot weather in Louisiana and 30 pounds of gear explosions everywhere. Every night it was a salt bath and blowing snot rockets of black soot.
Q: What was the hardest part of the film for you?
Aaron: The hardest part was trying to get 12 actors to line up on a straight line on a daily basis. It’s really getting people to do things on a timely basis in the right manor. Marines have to look a certain way, have the right equipment, say the right words and have to be ready with no backtalk. To watch 12 actors transform into marines was an interesting exercise to see who took it on and who resisted. Some were crying – it was tough.
Michelle: The most challenging thing for me is the physical training and I hate it. It’s boring and monotonous running without anyone behind you with a gun or an obstacle course with a purpose. But that was hard, waking up at 5 in the morning, running for two miles, all the sit-ups – everyday for three weeks – and running around with the 30 pounds of gear and doing infiltration sequences and learning how to communicate with the marines.
Q: What’s your workout routine like these days?
Michelle: I only train for movies. But now that I hit 30, things start dropping on a girl, you know? I don’t’ work out with consistency or any kind of regime because I like not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow. But I have started yoga and I’m trying to do it twice a week.
Q: Has your perception of the military changed after doing this film?
Aaron: I was always in their corner. I have total respect for those guys – I did a USO tour in Afghanistan. I’m too old to be a marine, they told me. I can’t join.
Q: Would you become a marine if you had the chance?
Aaron: No, I have too much fun acting. Right now my next movie is playing a CIA, so I’m hanging out with CIAs. It’s “The Expatriate” about a father and daughter on the run. But what I did like hanging out with marines was not only the stories but learning how to take care of yourself and how to clear a room, which is all tactical. But I will say this: In defense of actors being wussies, I remember on several occasions, marines coming up to us saying, “Damn you guys work hard,” because we were working 12 hours a day and so it was a compliment.
Q: Did this movie turn out any differently than you expected and did anything surprise you?
Aaron: I was ambivalent about doing an alien movie. They have a certain stigma about the quality and how real they are. I spoke to Jonathan about that and said if we’re going to do this, it has to be about 100% USDA. It’s as if Denzel were to do a movie. He’s the guy I look to in this sort of movie because you never question whether or not he takes it seriously or not. We were up against aliens, which in itself is difficult, so I wanted to be very real. And as an actor I wanted to be like “Black Hawk Down” and I felt like we did it. From the second I put on that uniform I was very into it.
Q: Did you think about what would really happen if we were invaded like this?
Michelle: I’ve thought about this profusely, but I can’t imagine a being that can travel at light speed or blink in and out of dimensions, and humans are primal in their ways, so I think it’s something we make up. Unless it’s in the aliens’ DNA and if that’s the case why haven’t they attacked before? But if there were aliens that did invade, I would keep it low key until I figured out how to kill those suckers.
Q: Did you find since there was a minimum of green screen use that it felt like it was more like a war movie?
Aaron: I didn’t feel like we were fighting an alien force – it could have been anybody coming into Los Angeles. WE were shooting 20,000 rounds a day sometimes. So when you’re doing that, you can’t help but feel you’re in a war situation, especially when you’re looking at the other marines and how tired, hot and hurt they were, plus the experience of boot camp,
Q: What was the atmosphere like where you were filming?
Aaron: I said if anyone was to come to Shreveport, Louisiana, at the time we were filming on a whim, they were probably under their cars or they were calling people. We were shooting the place up! We had an overpass that looked like every day the world was ending. We had helicopters and 12 marines shooting all day – it must have been weird for anyone to see.
Q: Did you eat a lot of southern food while filming?
Michelle: No! I’m vegetarian now. I joined the Sea Shepherd and boy, they’ll convince you to become a vegetarian! I did it for many reasons – change and cleansing, and also if animals are being endangered because of my appetite, could I alter that? And the treatment of animals – I hate it and my heart goes out to this. And in the process of killing, why do you have to be so mean? They are alive. Even though I’m crazy and a little bit wild, I have lots of love in my heart and one of the ways of showing my love is controlling my appetite and how I consume. The Sea Shepherd made me aware of it and how we consume, so for me, I needed to do something.
Q: Aaron, you broke your arm during filming and just toughed it out without treatment, right?
Aaron: Yes, when the mothership was rising, I tried to get fancy. There was a beautiful orange fireball and I thought I would just run up this concrete slab and jump off but I landed on my head and arm and heard it snap, and that was it. You can’t give the other guys an excuse to stop, but the shot is in the movie.
Q: Do you anticipate a sequel?
Aaron: It took me a long time to get over the movie. I took a long break after it, but I’m ready now for the sequel. I wear khakis, keep my hair short and stay by the phone.