The Women of 'The Matrix'
by Cindy Pearlman
In a cold, drab world where machines have taken over, it takes more than man alone to heat things up.
Three up-and-coming actresses show up in "The Matrix Unloaded," opening May 15, but they don't just nurture Neo's world. European star Monica Bellucci is a mysterious woman with ulterior motives; Jada Pinkett Smith is the Han Solo of the team as warrior Niobe, and Carrie-Anne Moss is Neo's love interest and fellow butt-kicker Trinity.
Each went through grueling training during 270 days of shooting on two continents. How did they negotiate traveling in a parallel universe while looking like they just stepped out of the pages of Vogue? Plug in:
CHARACTER >> Persephone, a mystery woman in a strange place who feels jilted and wants some love from Neo ... or else!
Years ago, when she was trying to make the jump from model to actress, Monica Bellucci nabbed a small role in the movie "Bram Stoker's Dracula." The role required her to kiss Keanu Reeves, which served as an odd prelude to "Matrix Reloaded," in which her lips are locked with his once again.
Did he remember her? "Of course!" says the animated Italian beauty. "Men never forget me! I kiss very well!"
She laughs and says, "Honestly, my attitude was very different back then. I was shy. My English was terrible, and I couldn't even get the words out to ask for a glass of water before kissing him. What I do remember is that Keanu was just as shy as I was, which made me sigh with relief."
These days she's a bit more outgoing as a mystery woman from an old version of the Matrix program. "My character is a woman who is not human, but she wants to feel human emotions," she divulges. "There's something tragic for her, but also dangerous because it's all a big game. I'm a big test for the love shared between Trinity and Neo. I think of my test for them as a metaphor for life. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger."
As for the behind-the-scenes action, Bellucci marvels, "Carrie Anne Moss and I got along wonderfully. It's so beautiful when two actresses actually get along."
Bellucci also shows up for a short time in this fall's "Matrix Revolutions," and she doesn't regret that both roles are small. "Oh, I don't care if I'm in one scene or in a movie for two hours. The only thing that's important is that the audience remembers me," says the 35-year-old native of Perugia, Italy, who starred in "Malena," "Tears of the Sun" and the controversial "Irreversible."
Next up is a role as Mary Magdalene in "The Passion," directed by Mel Gibson, and then a movie with her husband, actor Vincent Cassel. They'll play "James Bond-like secret agents. It's a dark movie, but it's being made in France, and all we do is dark movies. At least the one good thing is that I'll be kissing my own husband."
JADA PINKETT SMITH
CHARACTER >> Niobe, a fierce warrior woman from Zion who decides to fight for her people while stuck in a love triangle of her own.
Most women who have just given birth like to sit back, nurse their child and dream up ways they will shed the weight. Jada Pinkett Smith, 31, was on a program that she will forever dub "The Matrix Shape-Up Plan."
"I started training two weeks after my daughter Willow was born, during a time when I just wanted to cozy up in bed with the baby. You can't even imagine what it was like to go to a warehouse where my kung-fu team would say, 'OK, now we're going to stretch.' I was like, 'Stretch? I can barely walk from here to the mat!' "
Oh, stretching didn't mean just touching her toes. "No, men would come over, sit on my back and lean into me. That's how limber I had to be to do this work," moans Pinkett Smith, who says the training was worth it. "I had the movie role of a lifetime and a body that made my husband, Will Smith, very happy. Very, very, very happy!"
The Baltimore native says she was thrilled that the Chicago-based Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry, wrote the part for her and even waited for her to give birth and get in shape. "I think of her as the Han Solo of the film. She ain't about no bull----. Excuse my language, but she's not for a whole bunch of mess. That's what I loved about her," the actress says.
Yet, her role seems smaller than some fans would expect. "You're only seeing part of her story in 'Reloaded,' and watching the film, I was like, 'Damn! She's just hard!' But in the next movie, 'Revolutions,' you'll see more of my romance with Laurence Fish-burne's Morpheus character, too," she promises.
As for her real-life romance with Smith, she says life in a two-star household is good.
"Ain't no stars in our house. It's just Will and Jada and them kids," she says, laughing. Do they ever fight over who changes diapers? "I'm just a control freak, so instead of yelling at Will for not doing something the way I want it done, I'd rather do it."
She adds that for their three kids--Trey, Willow and Jaden--"We both act as disciplinarians. There is no good guy or bad guy in our house. We both put it down."
They also plan to work together in the near future. "Will and I are teaming up in many ways," she says. "We want to do an action-comedy together as a husband-and-wife team."
They're also prepping to produce a TV show called "All About Us" that reportedly is about their real life.
"It's very loosely based on us because it's about a blended family," Pinkett Smith confirms. "But we've taken the element of Hollywood out of it. We didn't want the mom to be talking about working with a grip because everyone would say, 'What the hell is that?' "
Pinkett Smith, whose earlier films include "Set It Off," "The Nutty Professor," "Bamboozled" and "Kingdom Come," says humorous real-life situations might make it into the show, but they'll just change a few details.
You can't get much better than a recent surprise birthday party Smith threw for his wife. "Will tells me we have to pick up Trey [his son from his first marriage]. He tells me that Trey is on the Universal lot with his mom Sheree. I'm cussing Will out going, 'Why do we have to meet her all the way in the city? Why can't she meet us? Will is like, 'I don't know.' I said, 'This is just ridiculous!' I was giving him all this heat and when we drove onto the lot, it was a surprise party for me."
What did Will do? "He just smiled because he's so used to me giving him heat about something!"
CHARACTER >> Trinity, Neo's love interest and fellow freedom fighter when it comes to man (and woman) against machine
Carrie-Anne Moss is the first one to say that women can get a break in "The Matrix." In fact, a week into training for two of the biggest movie sequels in film history, she broke one of her legs.
"A wire stunt went bad, and my leg was the victim," she moans. Not one to sit it out, Moss was back in the gym a few days later to observe. Eight weeks after being fitted for her cast, she was back on the wires.
"I looked at my broken leg as a challenge to overcome. I'm the kind of woman who is all for obstacles being put in my path because then I can really get to work," says the 36-year-old from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Moss likes playing both the lover and the fighter in Trinity. She's especially proud of a naked love scene in "Reloaded" with Reeves.
"I was pretty nervous about it, but Keanu is a good friend of mine. I trust him and respect him," she says. "It was important to me to give that scene truth because love is such an important part in this film. In the end, I thought the love scene turned out beautiful and tasteful. I think women are going to really like it."
Women have turned Trinity into a bit of a role model. "It's a great role because she really has an impact on women," Moss says. "I've had women come up to me and say, 'Thank you for Trinity because she gives me the strength to know that I can really go out there and do it.' "
The quiet actress, who also starred in "Red Planet," "Memento" and "Chocolat," says the fame associated with playing this sort of pop-culture icon is a bit scary.
"What helps is that Keanu is super-duper famous but he lives a really normal life," she says. "I'm a private person, too, and live a very simple life with my husband [actor Steven Roy] and. ..." She pats her stomach because Moss is due to give birth to her first child this summer.
Is there more action in her future? "I wouldn't play another character like Trinity out of respect to her and respect to the film," Moss says. "I don't want to be the leather-clad, kicking-butt girl with another name. It would be like cheating on Trinity."
Which leads to one of Moss' biggest problems. In fact, it's a decorating challenge that even the "Trading Spaces" gang couldn't figure out?
"When we wrapped the last 'Matrix' movie, the Wachowski brothers gave me a gift, which was my Trinity jacket and glasses encased in glass. It plugs in with a light," she says, adding, "I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it. Right now, it's in storage. But someday, I'll put it in a surprising part of my house--like where I stack toilet paper or something."
Wait--doesn't it belong in the living room where people can come in and gasp? She laughs and cries, "No way! I'm embarrassed just thinking about it."