ALISON LOHMAN on 'BEOWULF' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
November 3, 2007
Based on the classic Old English epic, the 2007 film adaptation of Beowulf takes CG animation to another level by blending a new brand of motion capture technology with photo-realistic animation. Building upon techniques from 2004's The Polar Express, Beowulf translates not only its actors movements to their rendered onscreen counterparts, but also captures minute details like the movement of their eyes in order to imbue the characters with more life. The result is a visual intriguing endeavor, with certain scenes coming alive with unnerving realism.
Storywise, Beowulf looks to expand upon past interpretations of the poem by filling in gaps in the traditional narrative. In this version of the tale, viewers see Beowulf (Ray Winstone) progress from a young warrior hired by King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) to slay the monstrous Grendel (Crispin Glover) to an elderly ruler haunted by sins of the past. Other key characters include Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn), Beowulf's Queen; Unferth (John Malkovich), one of Hrothgar's thanes; Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson), Beowulf's close friend and confidant; Ursula (Alison Lohman), one of Beowulf's mistresses; and Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie), who serves as the story's root antagonist, even as it spans decades.
As Ursula, Alison Lohman plays a young woman who isn't quite prepared to handle the many emotional dynamics involved in being a king's mistress. In this interview, she talks about working on Beowulf, and delves a bit into the relationship between Ursula and Beowulf's Queen.
MEDIA: What did you think of the animated version of yourself the first time you saw it?
ALISON: I thought I looked a lot younger, and more freckles. But that's part of the deal, you know?
As Beowulf's Queen, Robin Wright Penn has, arguably, the most emotionally developed role, and a lot goes unspoken between your character and hers. How did the two of you work out that dynamic?
Well, sometimes I think not talking about it can almost work for you more...My character is just reacting. She is completely and utterly devoted to Beowulf and wants to please him and make him happy, and so that's her focus. And with Robin, there is obviously that tension because she is taking the place of who she once was. So obviously, there's going to be more for Robin to emotionally deal with. My character Ursula is just doing her job--she's kind of playing that role, you know?
We get the impression that Beowulf has had a succession of women over the years. Did you create a certain backstory for Ursula?
Yeah. I imagined that she was picked out of a group of girls and they had this connection. And at a very young age.
There's an unspoken moment when the Queen is in danger of plummeting to her death and Ursula is holding on to her. Are viewers supposed to think Ursula wants the Queen to fall, so that she's out of the picture?
Wow. No, I hadn't thought about it that way! [laughs] No, I think my character is just not able to hold on at that point. That's how I saw it.
Would you say they have a sisterhood of sorts?
Yes, definitely. I mean, they're kind of in the same hierarchy, I guess, in terms of they're kind of like the chosen women that Beowulf wants to surround himself with.
So you feel that Ursula and the Queen have more of a bond than a rivalry?
Yes. I think there's a bit of both. I mean, there's that scene where [Ursula] goes outside to [the Queen] and she says, "He has these nightmares and he speaks your name in the dreams," and I think she's concerned for him--it's out of concern for Beowulf. I think she's a very selfless character. I think it's anything to make him happy, and for him to do what he needs to do, you know?
How did you like shooting against a greenscreen?
It was very different for me because I had never done the greenscreen. So it was a change. But I enjoyed it, because it reminded me of doing black box theatre, and having a lot more freedom.
Did you do any sort of stuntwork for the battle scene with the dragon? Jumping over things, swinging over things?
Ummm... [laughs] No.
How did you adjust to the whole spandex-suit-and-make-up aspect of this shoot? We hear it's quite a long, involved process to stick all the dots on you for the motion capture process...
It was. It was different. It took almost up until the last scene--and then you're done--to get used to it. In the mornings, they're calibrating the system, you have to do these exercises. And after that, it helps you kind of get into it more.
What kind of exercises did you do?
The exercises are just raising your arms, so then the system can coordinate...I guess there's so many different elements that need to be aligned.
Do they show you visual presentations to set up a scene in your mind before shooting?
They do. And they give [you] like a diorama, so you can see where the dragon's coming, and where you're supposed to be moving, and how it looks...Like a little dragon. "Here's the dragon...Here's you..."
At one point, it seemed like you were going to be a theatre actress. Did you decisively change your mind and move to Los Angeles specifically to start a film career?
I never really intended to do acting...I had wanted to be a singer, and I moved to LA to sing. And then to make money, I started doing film. And then I really starting enjoying it, and taking some acting classes, and getting involved in that.
What kind of singer were you?
More musical theatre, and folk.
When we spoke to you about Delirious, you said you weren't planning on cutting an album any time soon. But do you have any desire to perform as a singer in another way?
I would, definitely. I would love to do another musical. It would really be great. [laughs]
A stage musical or movie musical?
Oh, both. It would be interesting to do both. But I'd like to do theatre. I love theatre.