Val Kilmer, Carrie-Ann Moss, Simon Baker for “Red Planet”

It used to be that doing interviews meant clicking on a tape recorder. That’s all changed, writes Paul Fischer from Los Angeles. From the privacy of his own, and with a bit of help from the Internet, a computer monitor and a telephone, he was able to hook up to the stars of the new sci-fi action film, Red Planet.

When I first starting interviews over 20 years ago, all that was required was a tape recorder, pen, paper and eventually a typewriter. When I was asked to participate in one of the first interactive online press junkets, who would have known to what extent technology has transported us mere mortals. The movie was Red Planet, a sci-fi cautionary tale on the possible ecological end of the world, where only Mars may be Man’s saviour. Perhaps it was fitting that a movie said several decades in the future would be promoted in an equally futuristic fashion.

The film’s stars, namely Val Kilmer, Carrie-Ann Moss and Australia’s Simon Baker, were not doing any conventional print interviews, but willingly agreed to be a part of this online experience. Red Planet’s South African director Anthony Hoffman, who did NOT participate, told me separately that this kind of futuristic publicity “seemed the way of the future. How easy it must have been for you guys.” Easy is an interesting way of putting it. To explain the concept was far from easy.

On our computer monitor, lazing about on a small sofa in a hotel room, Val Kilmer grinned sheepishly awaiting the experience of talking to a computer but not seeing what was on the other side. He didn’t care how he looked, and of course those of us participating didn’t care either. With the Internet proving a powerful force in communications and media, this type of press junket may well be the way of the future. Web sites can download the video streams for all too see and hear. Frightening thought when you think about it.

But the object of the exercise was to ask intelligent questions which were heard by both the actors and fellow journalists. Kilmer was the only actor to turn up on time, had no idea about the technology that led him to his first interview through cyberspace. On Red Planet, he was more keen to talk about his love of opals. Red Planet was partly shot on location in the dusty Australian mining town of Cooper Pedie. Apart from the dust and the flies, there were the opals. “As many Australians are aware, most opals are found in Cooperpedie, and we had lots of time off to buy them, look and trade; we become obsessed”, Kilmer adds laughingly.

Of course opals aside, Kilmer loves to work Down Under. “I worked in Australia before and the crews there are fantastic”, Kilmer enthuses in between taking sips of water. “The reason we chose Australia was because of the extraordinary outback that seems to be reminiscent of Mars.” Kilmer has long had a close affinity with Australia, he adds, “so the experience of making the film for me, was a very personal one, not only because I love the desert, but also I have a lot of Aboriginal friends from my first trip there.” Asking him to draw experiences between shooting Red Planet and the less smooth Island of Dr Moreau, Kilmer wouldn’t be drawn on the latter’s more troubled experience. All that the actor would say was that “every film is subjective and this one [Red Planet] was about several men stranded on Mars, and my memories are connected to that experience, which was a really beautiful one. You can’t really compare those two experiences.”

Packed with futuristic high-tech special effects, Red Planet is an action drama that explores the apocalyptic possibility of Earth becoming unliveable for human beings. A diverse team of astronauts travels to Mars to investigate human living conditions on that planet. But, through one pitfall after the next, including a bad landing that damages the spacecraft’s equipment, and increasing tension among the crewmembers, the mission becomes more and more dangerous.

Though very much science fiction, Kilmer also believed that this sci-fi tale was grounded in a degree of reality. Kilmer defines the film as being ‘science fact’. “There is plenty of theory. The reason I said ‘science fact’ is the theories and speculation about what may happen to Earth and what it will take to get to Mars were all thoroughly researched before any of us were hired. The design of the ship and the design of he costumes were all worked with NASA experts and the Mars team. So everything is possible, and a few things that are inventions of our designers of Red Planet actually became good ideas, and they’re going on to research themselves.” Kilmer’s co-star, Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays the flight commander of the perilous mission, also did her fair share of research, she explains. “I read a lot of books about Mars, and talked to a former astronaut.” Asked if she would go to Mars if asked, Moss is adamant that she would not. “No way, because I’m extremely claustrophobic, but I sure admire the men and women who do it.”

Aussie Simon Denny plays another of the crewmembers shuttled off to Mars in Red Planet. Best known for his work on Australian television and a few independent films, for Denny, this was a chance to really play with the big boys in a big studio movie. The publicity shy Denny, donned in black t-shirt and greeting his Hollywood co-star with a hug, the actor remembers just how “big” the movie was. “It was like a travelling circus”, Denny recalls. “But in the best possible way”, he adds with a sly grin. Though often, he says, wearing the heavy space suit “made me feel like a clown in that circus.”

Continuing the clown analogy, it was clearly the camaraderie and humour “that got us through it. ‘It’ of course refers to the difficult shoot. “I think the first days of filming were the most difficult because everyone was suddenly put inside those suits in this incredible heat. And the suits,” he grimaces, “[People] were working on those suits through the night before, so they weren’t even completely ready. And there was a lot of conversation about how hot the suits were going to be and how practical the suits were going to be able to work in. And the day that we had to get in them was incredibly hot; the first day. And they were still trying to design a cool-suit-system at that point. It was quite a struggle the first, probably the first day for me physically. But you get used to it. I got used to it. I got to love that suit.”

Red Planet is a film that not only chronicles the often claustrophobic relationship between this group of characters, but a romantic scenario between the characters played by Kilmer and Moss. The pair had to learn to be comfortable with each other, especially given the demands of this shoot. “When you’re making a movie you’re getting to know everybody over the course of time. And the time that you’re actually there between action and cut is short”, Moss explains. “But you have the morning in the make-up chair, and you have the coffees hanging out. And you get to know people and I think when you are, when you choose to be an actor you’re someone who gets strong opinions about people very quickly. I tend to. And when I’m working I try to just be really open to who the person is that I’m working with. And it was just really easy. We had a few dinners and we hung out and we talked. Val is such a great actor and I was just so darn excited to work with him.” Kilmer adds that “we were lucky because of the size of the movie and that the characters are separated for so long, Actually, things we want to say to say to each other and do, we can’t do. So it’s really kind of pure imagination. She’s my captain and my boss so I can’t say the things that I want to say.” He then mentions that although most of their communication is via com-sets, “She was with all of us all the time. For me, particularly my character, it was special.”

Carrie Ann Moss is no stranger to the action/sci fi genre. Also familiar with Australia through her work on Matrix, Moss, dressed to the neighs in black, was recently described as one of American cinema’s ‘few action divas in a typically male domain’. “I love it”, she says laughingly in response to that label. “I had no idea that I would enjoy action films the way that I do. I’ve always wanted to be an actress and I certainly didn’t think growing up that I would be doing action movies. However, it’s really quite fun and I have to say I enjoy being physical.” Kilmer smiles cheekily in agreement.

As for the supposed friction between Kilmer and co-star Tom Sizemore, the former made no comment, but Sizemore’s absence from the press junket spoke volumes. Director Hoffman was prepared to concede “that on a film like this you’re bound to have problems. It was a tough shoot, and Jordan in particular was a nightmare.” Yet, whatever problems occurred, they are from evident when seeing the final film.