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Interview: ‘Beautiful Creatures’

Young Stars Talk About Acting In A Supernatural Love Story

Above: Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert star in the supernatural love story, "Beautiful Creatures."

“Beautiful Creatures” (opening February 14 throughout San Diego) serves up a supernatural love story based on the first novel in the best-selling series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Seventeen-year-old Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) keeps having the same dream involving an enigmatic young girl on a Civil War battlefield. But each time he tries to reach her, he’s killed. Ethan finds his dream world much more attractive than the dull, conservative South Carolina town he lives in. Then Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the beautiful niece of Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), the reclusive owner of gothic Ravenwood Manor, arrives in town to shake things up. Lena appears to have powers that are growing out of her control. The town’s librarian, Amma (Viola Davis), worries that history is about to repeat itself and that a curse awaits Lena on her 16th birthday.

Actors Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert came to San Diego to discuss the film.

What attracted you to doing this film?

ALDEN EHRENREICH: It was really the script. When I first heard about it I wasn't interested because it was kind of pitched to me as just a genre film. It didn't sound unique or special. Then when I read the script I loved my character within the first 3 pages. You could tell from the writing that there was something really unique and really idiosyncratic and unusual about this and about the way that director Richard LaGravenese was telling the story even though it is happening within a genre. And I just really identified with my character and I admired him. It’s like when you meet somebody and you have chemistry with them, that's what it felt like with this part.

How is it making a film that requires dealing with extensive visual effects?

ALDEN EHRENREICH: Richard wanted to use as little CGI as possible. So most of the effects that you see in the movie were done in person. And for the ones that weren’t, it’s like knowing how to pretend. Like just looking at something and pretending that it’s something crazy. And luckily there wasn't too much of that with this film. Most everything was done physically, which really provided the actors a lot more of a reality. I think CGI dates very badly. I mean if you look at movies from even 5 years ago, CGI has advanced so quickly that our visual palette becomes more and more sophisticated all the time. So we look back at something that maybe was amazing when it came out, but it really doesn't age well. So I think the only way to avoid that is to do something real, because if it’s real it’s always going to look real.

Practical effects really engage the audience and the actor more completely.

ALDEN EHRENREICH: Yes. I think it just brings the movie to another level. I mean, Darren Aronofsky made a movie called “The Fountain” and created these incredibly intricate, beautiful effects but beautiful effects from practical things. Like having a tiny camera film chemical reactions in a petri dish and then blowing that up so that's what space looks like in the film. It’s really incredible what they can do. But you know it takes a little more imagination and a little more ingenuity. But I think it’s worth it and I think the films age so much better.

ALICE ENGLERT: Steven Spielberg talks about believability. The idea that if you as an actor find reality and you keep that good, then the audience will go with you. And I think that's the most important thing when working with effects and fantasy films. I don't think too much about the supernatural side of it. I think more about where is her humanity? And once you have that, the rest of it, you can go with it. The other thing that I really liked about this film was we didn't want to make the special effects a spectacle. What we wanted was to leave things to the imagination still, and I think that that’s always more effective. Because what our imagination can do is always going to be much more than what we can do with effects and CGI.

Credit: Warner Brothers

Actors Viola Davis and Alden Enrenreich on the set of "Beautiful Creatures" with director Richard LaGravenese.

Alden how is it being an actor who’s also a filmmaker?

ALDEN EHRENREICH: Well I’m very amateurish. I mean I've never made a feature, I've just made short films and stuff. But it’s interesting to learn, both seeing how different directors work with actors, and also kind of identifying for yourself what directions work best for you. When I directed a short film after we made “Beautiful Creatures,” I was really trying to call upon what was the most effective direction for me. What was the thing that really lit the fire the most? And so that kind of informs all of the other things. The best thing for me as an actor is having edited a short film and seeing what the editing process is. That really teaches you about film acting. When you’re editing something, you start to really understand what are we looking for? What little moment are we looking for? You need a rhythm to your film, you like to edit on action. Usually it’s like a blink of an eye, or a little gesture or mannerism. You really learn what the editor is looking for and what works best.

This fantasy-supernatural genre has amazingly long lasting appeal. Why do you think it has such an immediate draw for people?

ALICE ENGLERT: I think that being able to escape your own life and be able to look at issues which can be too confronting when it’s too close to reality is very appealing in a fantasy genre. For example, you can play with things like what is a hero, what is a villain, what is good and evil, what is fate? Stuff that you might feel almost embarrassed to talk about in normal life, and yet things we still wonder about. When I was a child I loved fantasy. I would always plan and play elaborate games where you’d have different wolf tribes and eagle tribes and they’d always be betraying each other. That kind of thing. And so you know, I love it.

ALDEN EHRENREICH: I think fantasy stories and larger than life stories I always feel like those appeal to people because the things we feel emotionally are always bigger than our circumstances are, you know? So when we see those feelings blown out in this expressionistic way in these fantastical stories, it’s like these supernatural stories are occurring on the same scale as our emotional life is. And so it feels natural to us in some way.

Is there anything in the film that you’re particularly proud of?

ALDEN EHRENREICH: I felt honored, there's a speech I have in the film and to me what’s special about it is that it starts as being this story about witches and it transitions – because she wants to be like a normal human – to be an investigation of what it means to be a normal human. And I have this speech where I say you know what being a normal human is, it’s feeling confused, it’s feeling scared. It’s a weird speech because it’s optimistic but it doesn't necessarily say anything optimistic. And it’s to me one of the best speeches that I've ever read. I felt so honored to have that in my hands. Film is so visual you don't get a lot of dialogue like that and Richard is such a great dialogue writer.

And that really reflect what being a teenager is all about?

ALDEN EHRENREICH: Totally. I mean that's very much what this story is about. It’s almost like, they say that in musical theater the best musicals are the ones where people sing because talking isn’t enough. And in this story people make thunderbolts happen, and lightning, and cause storms, and blow windows out of their panes because talking isn’t enough. They can’t express themselves and I think that's a big thing for teenagers. All these new feelings without really the tools to manage them. And especially for Lena’s story, that's what her story is very much about.

Companion viewing: "Romeo and Juliet," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Underworld"

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