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Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
May 5, 2010

It's hard enough to make it in the world of Hollywood without the hindrances of not speaking English, not knowing how to drive, and not having any friends in the city--but those are exactly the obstacles Swedish-born actress Helena Mattsson faced when she first came to Los Angeles to break into show business. Fortunately, she was able to tackle the challenges head on, and since her arrival in the City of Angels in 2004, she has succeeded in working in both films (the lead in 2007's Species: The Awakening as a lethal alien vixen) and television (guest starring roles on shows including CSI, Two and a Half Men, Rules of Engagement, Legend of the Seeker, and NCIS: Los Angeles, as well as a recurring part on Desperate Housewives). She can also be seen in the summer blockbuster Iron Man 2, partying with the beautiful people in the Malibu mansion of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as the billionaire industrialist tries to drown his sorrows with alcohol and good times.

In this exclusive interview, Helena talks about being part of the Iron Man phenomenon and shares her own journey of getting to that point in her career--from taking the risk of a big trans-Atlantic move, to putting her shyness aside in order to sparkle for the camera. You're part of the raucous house party scene in Iron Man 2. Between the material, Robert Downey Jr, and director Jon Favreau, it must have been a really fun set...

HELENA: Oh, very much so. You know, the set that they built was just huge, and there were so many people involved. And that scene we shot...I think it was almost two weeks. And it was just like a big party every day.

That set also seems like an incredible dream house...

Yeah, they built all that up, and it's just amazing to see how talented all the people are that make all the sets. And to step on there, it's really surreal.

Your character is tossing watermelons into the air while a drunken Tony Stark shoots them down with the Iron Man armor--basically hi-tech skeet shooting. What kind of work went into that scene?

[laughs] Oh my God, a lot went into that moment--you know, you don't think about it when you watch it, and they cut it a lot. But I threw about ten watermelons up in the air. Some of them were rubber ones, and some of them were real. And they actually made them explode, and they would throw some watermelon stuff on us. And we did the improv thing.

It's funny to hear that they're actually rigging fruit to explode, rather than just doing it all with digital effects in post-production...

Yeah, they actual did. And it got really messy on set. We all had to clear, and they had to clean it up, and then we had to go back in again. So it was a messy, fun set. [laughs]

I have to imagine that a work environment like that is much different than those of your first acting gigs?

Yeah, it's very different. Of course, your job is just to play [a character], no matter if it's a small role in something (like this, for me), or if it's a big role in a smaller production--you know, your job is still the same as an actor. But it's definitely a little more nerve-wracking to step onto a set that's so big, and so many eyes on you.

I understand that when you first came out to Los Angeles, you basically just had the clothes on your back. Was there any back-up plan in case a career in acting didn't work out?

Ummm...No. You know, I didn't allow myself to think of any other back-up plans. I came with a backpack, and I thought I was just going to do one audition and be here for a couple days and go home. But they ended up bringing me back over and over again, and I ended up wearing the same clothes for two weeks. [laughs] And I was really dirt poor, coming from London, having lived [in a situation of] six girls in one room. And it was just really overwhelming. But I'm glad I did.

Given this gutsy move, would you say you're naturally an impulsive person, or was this something out of the ordinary for you?

You know, I'm actually kind of a shy person. I was really, really shy when I first came here, and I didn't really speak English, and I didn't speak to anyone. I ended up moving into a motel in East Hollywood, and I didn't drive. So it was pretty rough, and it was scary, you know? And it was very lonely for a long time, just taking the bus and not knowing anyone. But yeah, it was definitely something out of the ordinary. I never thought I would have done it.

When did you first come to Los Angeles?

2004 was the first time I came. I was 19, and I was in acting school in London, and I got an audition for a TV series out here in LA. And they flew me out, and I auditioned, and I ended up booking the role. So I started working, and then I figured I should stay around!

What was the biggest culture shock that you encountered?

Everything happened so fast when they called me in to audition from London. So I had my winter coat on from London when it was snowing. And I come to LAX, and the sun is shining and everything. So I remember calling my mom saying, "It's summer here, and they have palm trees!" [laughs] And I remember thinking that was so cool. In Sweden, we don't have palm trees, and we certainly don't have a lot of sun.

So are you addicted to our weather now?

Oh, yes! I'm so appreciative every day for the weather here. I just love it.

What are some of your favorite hobbies and activities?

Well, I like to dance. I like to take dance classes. And I love to go shopping and hang out with my friends. I'm pretty easy going.

I'm told that you also enjoy baking. What's your claim to fame or specialty?

My specialty is the Swedish sticky cake. It's sort of like a brownie, but it's gooier, so it's reaaally good. And I always make it, and my friends love it...It's not healthy at all. [laughs]

What's your impression of the fantasy stereotype that most American men have of Swedish women all being beautiful blonde supermodels?

You know, I keep hearing that. And it's really nice [that] people think the stereotypical Swedish woman is pretty and blonde and all that stuff, but you know...You also want to make sure that people know that you're not just pretty and blonde--you want to be more than that. But if you take it lightly, it's fun and flattering, for sure. [laughs]

When you do any type of sexy photoshoot, is it similar to playing a character, or do you feel natural and like yourself in those situations?

Definitely not. Like I said, I'm actually a pretty shy person, and I'm not very outgoing and not very social. [laughs] So for me, it's kind of weird, because in front of a camera, I just feel very confident, and I feel like I could do anything because you can kind of hide behind that--you know, playing a character. Even if it's a photoshoot, you just kind of get into character and just go with it.

In Species: The Awakening, you had to be conscious of looking good for the camera even while wearing prosthetics or being covered in alien slime. How do elements like that make a performance more difficult?

I'm drawn to everything that's a challenge, so I think it's really cool and fun. So I love that kind of stuff. But you definitely have to just leave yourself alone and just go with your character and go with what's happening in the scene, and not worry about everything else that's going on. Because sometimes there's a lot of technical things going on, but you just have to zone that out.

Did you get to do any of your own stuntwork on that film?

I did a little bit, which was a lot of fun--you know, it's always fun when you get to do some more physical stuff.

Do you have any particular comfort zone or preference between action, comedy, and drama roles?

You know, I really love to do a mix of things. I love doing comedy, and I also love doing drama and action and all that stuff. And to play the really strong female roles, that's definitely a dream. But I feel very fortunate to have been able to do a bunch of different things. I think that's what makes it interesting. Not just do one thing...That would be the ideal. So it's more about the project and if you feel for the character. You kind of feel in your stomach when you like something, you know? It's not so important what the genre is.

Besides Iron Man 2, where else should viewers be looking out for you?

Well, I just finished the Desperate Housewives arc. I'm also going to Cannes next week for the premiere of a movie that I just did. It's a 3-D animated film where I did the voiceover for the lead girl. It's called Moomins and the Comet Chase. It's going to be a really fun, cute movie.

Was acting with only your voice something new to you?

Yeah. That was very interesting, because all you have to rely on is your voice, which was very new to me. Doing this was my first voiceover movie. You really realize how much you have to work with your voice, and it's really, really exhausting. And it's a lot of fun. I learned a lot. [laughs]

Overall, would you say your career has been a wild ride so far?

Oh, yeah. You know, this profession is very much a rollercoaster--it's an emotional rollercoaster because you have ups and downs, and it's hard sometimes, but then you also have so much passion and you love what you do, so you can have really, really great moments, too. But it's very much a rollercoaster.

Helena, thank you very much for your time today, and best wishes going forward...

Oh, thank you so much.

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