Jada Pinkett-Smith interview
by Burly Brawlin' Smilin' Jack Ruby
It's going to be two, two, two weeks of non-stop Matrix Reloaded coverage "Tales From the Junket Circuit"-style (meaning: poorly written and bizarre, but with some decent quotes from the involved talent). We've got all kinds of mad junket stuff, bits on the Animatrix DVD, and a ton of other stuff leading up to my review of the movie, which I'm debating whether to just go ahead and do a spoiler-filled one that just has a ton of see-it-first-before-you-read-it type stuff in it so I can discuss the ending.
But regardless, we're starting with the junket from last Friday where we talked with Keanu, Carrie-Anne, Laurence, Jada, Monica, Lord Silver, John Gaeta and others...
Wait. Just wait a minute. It's impossible to approach this like any other fucking movie. I was on the set of Matrix Reloaded in Sydney. I've written articles on it that appeared everywhere from The Philadelphia Inquirer to Starburst Magazine. I attended the premiere of The Final Flight of the Osiris where I got drunk while playing Enter the Matrix. I've reported quotes on it from Lord Silver in almost everything I've written about him since the junket for Swordfish ("It's called...The Matrix Reloaded. Got that? The Matrix...Reloaded!!!). I don't think I've ever covered a movie more than this or awaited a film more hotly. I kind of figured I'd know what I was getting into.
Not even close. With X2, I was pretty close to the film coverage-wise and, I hate to say it, I'm starting to think that might've ruined it a bit for me as there were no real surprises and the saturation factor nailed me. With Reloaded, my expectations for what the movie would be turned out to have FUCK-ALL to do with the actual film. I was thinking The Matrix Reloaded would be "the next Matrix" movie in the franchise and really didn't listen when everybody said – for the past two years or so – that it was going to be completely different, completely expanded, and take the series in a completely different direction. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back fit together pretty easily. The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded are more similar to something like Evil Dead and Evil Dead II.
Okay, so maybe that's a bizarre analogy, but oh, well. Once you'll see it, you'll get the idea.
Anyway, so after seeing the pic last Thursday, I had to go do the junket on the Warners lot (yep, a'la Scooby-Doo, sans "talking dog" over speaker phone interview as translated by James Gunn and Richard Suckle). At the breakfast beforehand, I talked to a lot of press people who were extremely mixed on the movie – moreso than I figured would be. Almost negative were some of the comments and though it would be great to write it all up as "expectation backlash," I believe it comes from the film just being not something you can just easily wrap your head around. I'm seeing it for the second time this Thursday night and I'm sure it won't be the last time I catch it on the big screen. This is one of those movies with LOTS of secrets that you really want to get into. It's fascinating and you keep thinking about it – day after day after day. You talk about it with those who have seen it, deconstructing the ending and talking about all its implications.
I can honestly say, it's like reading Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon or something. It's a weighty film with lots going on in it. Because most film critics see upwards of 7 or 8 movies a week, it's oftentimes frustrating when, suddenly, you can't have a "quick opinion" on a movie. When a film stops you in your tracks and DEMANDS that you think about its every implication. I was kind of like, "huh" after the film and tried desperately to come up with a "quick" opinion, something fast and witty to say, but it ain't that kind of movie. The Matrix Reloaded, upon further reflection, is absolutely visionary and one helluva thing to think about. I pretty much stopped thinking about X2 the morning after I saw it. I was thinking about Reloaded as I was driving around today.
So, that's just about the highest recommendation you can give a film. BUT, you have to alter your expectations a bit from the first one.
Anyway, enough of my meandering ramblings.
Jada Pinkett-Smith plays Niobe in The Matrix Reloaded, a plucky hovership captain who used to be "with" Morpheus, but now is with his rival, Commander Lock (Harry J. Lennix), who finds Morpheus to be both insubordinate, but also a bit crazy in his religious devotion to finding "the One." Anyway, I'd talking to Jada a little bit about the movie at the premiere of Final Flight which she attended with husband Will Smith with kids in tow, but this time she really laid it out for us about her part in the film (much expanded in Revolutions – it seems that she did more work for Enter the Matrix than in Reloaded, actually).
The first question came up as to how Jada felt about coming into a pre-established ensemble as "the new kid." "Well, it felt great," Pinkett-Smith enthused. "I had an opportunity to actually meet the Wachowski Brothers several times for the first Matrix. I knew the story very well. I knew exactly what they were trying to do in the first one and was happy to see that they were successful with it. And so when I found out that they actually had an idea for two and three and found out that they created a character for me, of course I was elated, flattered and excited." So, they had you in mind for this one? "I didn't find out until, let me see, I think they were two months away from actually starting training," she admitted. "I didn't know at the time of meeting with them about Matrix, the first one, that they had this concept of two and three. It's actually one big movie."
As the role is pretty physical for Niobe – allegedly in the third movie in particular – we asked about her training regimen, which she had commented on at the Sydney junket as being particularly grueling. "When I took on the role, I was nine months pregnant," Pinkett-Smith laughed. "I said, 'Well, don't worry about it.' Willow was due on November 11th but I told them that Willow was coming in October. And she came October 31st. She came at the end of October. She did me that little solid there. And then two months later, I started training. I had fight training in the morning and then the afternoon was all weight training. I put on 15 pounds of muscle. I was bench-pressing about 170. You don't really get to see it in this movie, but the next movie you'll see all the work that I did - it was hardcore training. My fight training wasn't as stressful as Keanu and Carrie-Ann and Laurence. Actually the Kung Fu training for me was actually pretty easy, you know, just because of my height and because I'm such a petite person. So, the wires were not difficult. They would actually say I was a Kung Fu natural."
As for her tight leather costume, we asked if she ever got tired of wearing it. "No, I always loved being in that outfit because I really felt very Niobe-ish in the outfit, so the more I could put the outfit on, the more I got to," she replied. But wasn't it constricting for the fight scenes? "You know what? It's funny because you have a stretchy material for the fight scenes. It's not the leather for the fight scenes. It's a stretchy material that they make like the leather. So, it stretches, it moves with your body."
As for what Jada thought of the philosophy behind the movie, that was something she really got into. "It's funny because they're actually philosophies that we deal with every day of our life," Pinkett-Smith suggested. "First one, dealing with what do you believe, you know. This one is about choices. Every day we have to make choices of some sort. Am I going to run this yellow light? Am I going to stop until it's red? You have to make choices throughout your whole day. You have your small choices, you have your big choices. And, um, so I mean, that's what I love about it. It's just such a universal concept."
The Wachowski Brothers – who I have never met, no matter how much coverage I claim to have done for the movie (no, we didn't even see them on set in Australia. Hilariously, I was reading a Creative Screenwriting article the other day with quotes from them – got excited that they had done an interview and discovered that the quotes were just taken from some documentary on the Matrix DVD) – were a constant source of conversation with the talent, so of course, we asked Jada about her opinion of the mysterious, unseen brothers. "The Wachowski Brothers are very unique," Pinkett-Smith laughed. "They are probably- - Larry and Andy are probably two of the smartest people I know. Larry reads everything. He reads everything. I mean, everything, you know what I mean. One thing I learned through Larry, through Andy also, is that life is about research. Larry, he's constantly researching. And he's constantly reading and that's one thing that I've taken away from this project, that life is about research."
As for how much explanation the brothers give to their actors about the movie, Pinkett-Smith said that it doesn't interfere with the actors' own interpretations. "You know what-they've done a lot of talking with Keanu and they also give story, a list of books to read," Pinkett-Smith said. "But they really try not to infringe upon, they give you a general concept. It's kinda like how the film has been made. It doesn't infringe upon what your personal opinion might be. It leaves room for you to kind of add in your own philosophy, and that's really how they work."
You'll probably see this in the gossip columns farmed out by a personal publicist soon to show what a nice guy Keanu is (he really is, by the way – just oddly centered), but you saw it here FIRST as Jada told us a nice tale about him. "I just remember we finished training one day and this big truck pulled up to the set, this huge truck," Pinkett-Smith recalled. "And in this truck was 12 Harleys. A Harley for each of the stunt guys that had worked on the Burly Brawl with [Keanu]. He gave each of them a motorcycle with a helmet and a whole deal and I was like, 'God damn.' He just had a truckload of Harleys come in. It was like 'Unload 'em, here you guys go' and he was just so gracious and it wasn't like, 'Yeah, makin' a big deal, I got these Harleys.' He's like 'That's for you guys' and he went on his way."
Finally, as a mom of young kids, the question came up of whether or not she felt it appropriate for her kids to see the movie. "No, not my youngest ones," Pinkett-Smith replied. "My 10 year old is going to see it. I would allow him to see it." But not your youngest son? "He's four," she added. "I think it's just a lot for him to understand and I think he would get bored. I don't really look at the violence as being- - I look at the martial arts as being more of a dance and not violence. And I actually love the sensuality that was in it. I thought it was- - you know, we'll easily let our kids play video games to shoot people up but then the minute there's a kiss or some passion involved, we're like (gasps) 'Can't watch that!' My 10 year old, I think he can handle it. I think it'll actually be good for him."
And that's the roundtable with Jada Pinkett-Smith from the junket of The Matrix Reloaded. Look for much, much more from the junket in coming days (I think I'll send Nick Carrie-Anne Moss for tomorrow). The Matrix Reloaded blasts into theaters everywhere on May 15th.