Radha Mitchell is no stranger to the sci-fi genre, having made one her first major theatrical breaks in 2000’s Pitch Black alongside Vin Diesel. In Surrogates, she plays Agent Peters, partner to Bruce Willis’ Agent Greer who, together, are charged with the task of solving a truly unique murder.
In the world of the film, physical human interaction has been completely replaced by hi-tech robots known as “Surrogates.” These artificial bodies allow the user to remotely experience all the pleasures of the world with none of the pain while being faster, stronger and better- looking. Now, the unthinkable has happened: a murder has occurred in which the user has been killed remotely, putting the very foundation of Surrogacy into question.
Mitchell’s acting challenge involved not only playing and interacting with a single set of characters, but dealing with dual “real” and “Surrogate” versions. She appears as both the idealized robot version of herself and as well as the less-than-ideal user, who hasn’t left the house in months.
Mitchell took the time to sit down with SuperHeroHype.com to chat about being the woman behind the woman behind the Surrogate.
SHH: Take us back to the earliest stages of the project. Did you audition for the role?
Radha Mitchell: No, I was lucky enough just to meet with the director and sort of talk with him about the script… We just sort of discussed the script and it just sort of came as a lovely chance.
SHH: Were you familiar with the comic book before production started?
Mitchell: I was reading the comic while we were shooting. It sort of enhances the experience of shooting. There’s a lot of added ideas and there are these great little sequences in the comic where they have, like, advertisement for Surrogates. They’re very similar to the images they’re using right now for the movie on billboards and then there’s these sort of faux sociological reports about the effect of Surrogates on culture and how it has erased crime and how its gotten rid of racism. It’s really interesting to see how all this stuff was shoved into the graphic novel. It was really kind of an interesting mix.
SHH: You appear in a lot of genre films. Is that something you purposefully gravitate towards?
Mitchell: Some of them just come my way. What’s interesting about this is that, often, they kind of forward the discussion of where we are now or, alternatively, they explore the unconsciousness of culture; of what everyone is afraid of. It’s kind of nice to just jump into a nightmare and get into the thing that people don’t want to talk about. After this, I shot this movie called “The Crazies” and after playing this very sort of contained robot character, I got to run around and scream and be chased by blood-sucking freaks. It was completely a release. It was great to shop and change that way.
SHH: You mention social commentary; there seems to be a message in “Surrogates” about technology taking over and the inherent risks. Can you talk a little about how you feel the film relates to technology in the world today?
Mitchell: Definitely. I think the strength of this story is that it exaggerates a situation that we’re all experiencing now in that we’re talking about abstract forms of communication. You use this Surrogate body to live your life for you. A lot of us are spending much more time than we ever did before, especially on our working sites, on the internet, Googling, texting, Twittering. It’s taking up a lot of our time and taking time away from actual human exchanges. Or, a lot of us are sort of playing these roles in society and not necessarily being what we are. I think that it is, on a certain level, dehumanizing us. The movie posits the question and then challenges us to take responsibility. It’s actually unexpectedly challenging for a big-budget action movie.
SHH: Director Jonathan Mostow was talking about how, instead of setting it in the future, it’s basically present day with this new robotic technology. How did it feel to play around in that world?
Mitchell: It’s sort of set in the maybe-future but it’s like next year, maybe. It’s something very identifiable and something we can certainly relate to now. As opposed to something, say, 50 years in advance of where we are now.
SHH: You basically play three different versions of the same character. Can you tell me about each of them and how they’re different?
Mitchell: I spend most of my time playing the robot character who is an FBI agent and works with Bruce Willis and we investigate a crime where someone has figured out a way to kill a person by killing their Surrogate. This is an unprecedented incident. It has never happened before and is sort of the catalyst to the mystery/thriller. We have to find out what’s going on behind behind behind all this. What’s the business? Who’s making money off it? How does it all work? That’s sort of the majority of who I play but then I also play the person who operates the character who is a Daniel Johnston-esque nerd who runs the Surrogate. Then, what’s interesting about the Surrogate and having my character be in the robot is that it’s always somewhat mysterious. You’re not always quite sure what she’s really about. That’s certainly — not giving away the plot — part of what goes on with this third character.
SHH: Was there anything specific that you did to separate yourself physically from the robot version and the human version?
Mitchell: Yeah. It’s hard for me to talk about in too much detail because it’s so important to the plot but the new answers of identity is really what it’s about. We’re certainly playing with the human character and giving her a very different kind of aesthetic and a very different demeanor. At the same time, the robot character has other nuances as well that aren’t so obvert, again, to keep away certain aspects of the story I’m not going to tell you.
SHH: Then you have not only to act out multiple roles but also interact with actors doing multiple versions of their respective characters. How does that change the re-acting side of thing?
Mitchell: I think it was kind of weird for all of us on-set when we were all being Surrogates. You’re discussing quite intense issues within the story and you’re supposed to be buddies. You have to play it with a certain kind of naturalism but, at the same time, you have to develop this sort of synthetic reality and figure out the physical rules of how it’s all supposed to work. You don’t swing your arms when you walk and you don’t sneeze or cough or even really breathe. I’ve heard that they’ve even manicured the sound slightly so that it all sounds tepid. That’s kind of the idea of the story.
SHH: Did you have a preference for playing either version of your character?
Mitchell: It was quite confronting at first to play the real version, but it was also confronting to be the robot version because they dissected us, physically. They went through and said “your teeth need to be whitened” and “you need to change this.” It was quite confronting and you’re thinking, “No, I’m not going to change.” Then you submit to the process and bleach your teeth and discover that it’s incredibly painful. I don’t recommend it.
SHH: It hurts?
Mitchell: It really hurts. Have you ever done this?
SHH: I have not.
Mitchell: They shine a light on your teeth. A bright light. And then for three days afterwards you can’t eat cold things. No one mentions this before you begin. For some reason, they just neglect to kind of mention that. We all got to sort of bond on that issue, which was kind of fun. Then to play the real person, Jonathan said that we were going to go in the opposite direction. There was a drastic shift in the look. Initially I was saying, “No, I think the human version should be just me without all the makeup and all the crap on.” He’s like, “No, I want it to be more than that.” When I got into it it actually became fun because I had a had a padded butt and weird teeth and a slightly different nose. I put a lot of effort into this kind of shifted look. In doing so I realized that if you can change your costume so kind of
randomly, maybe none is preferential to the other. It’s just like a shift, which I think is, ultimately, the experience of the Surrogate reality. You can be anybody you want, so who really cares what you look like?
SHH: When you’re off in these different sci-fi worlds, how does the experience compare on-set? Does it make a big difference to not have as many special effects involved?
Mitchell: This one does have a lot of special effects. A lot of this movie is constructed in post. We haven’t gotten to see all of it because it’s just a big green screen, but you learn to trust the director and imagine that his vision is going to be as described. Other sequences, they really did spend a lot of money in creating big sets. There’s a scene at the end of the movie that is this big showdown with the FBI. It’s this huge set with elaborate kind of stuff. That was all actually right there and we were able to just be in it.
SHH: What’s a dream project for you?
Mitchell: I used to want to play a vampire but everyone’s playing vampires. So now I would like to play somebody like “La Femme Nikita.” Somebody who is human with human frailties and the neurosis of a human being. A typical person, but someone with a fabulous nature who gets to do all kinds of wacky stuff. Some kind of balance between the two would be really interesting. I really want to shoot something. I want to fire a gun.
SHH: You probably get to shoot people in “The Crazies.”
Mitchell: Once. I get to do it just once. But I want a character who is gun-toting. I never get to do it and whenever it’s there I just have this desire to have guns.
SHH: So you’re a vegetarian, but you love guns.
Mitchell: Yeah. (laughs) I just like the precision. I just like the style of it, really. It’s so kind of iconic. I guess that’s why it’s interesting.
SHH: Do you ever have a desire to get on the other side of the camera and write or direct?
Mitchell: I’d love to produce. At the moment, I have a little movie [went] to Toronto that I executive produced. It’s an Australian film that we shot. I’d love the chance to do something like that again.
SHH: How easy is it for you to slip out of your Australian accent?
Mitchell: It’s just something that you have to be conscious of and keep in mind. In some ways it sort of facilitates your performance because it’s like putting on a costume. You turn into somebody else.
SHH: Tell me a little more about your Toronto film.
Mitchell: It’s about a couple that adopts a baby from India. In the process of waiting for the baby to come, their relationship starts to disintegrate. They kind of have to rediscover themselves as a couple. In a way, it’s kind of a story of spiritual awakening.
SHH: Back to “Surrogates”, are you yourself in favor of or against some of the new technologies like Twitter and Facebook?
Mitchell: Well, it’s a great sort of avenue for marketing stuff. Personally, I don’t really need to be doing it and I don’t, but I can see how, if you want to help promote a concept or get information out there, it’s just another way to do it and that’s good.
Surrogates opens this Friday, September 25th. You can watch trailers, TV spots, featurettes and clips here!
Source: Silas Lesnick