Elena ANAYA – Interwiev
by Beatrice Sartori
Q: Where and when were you born? Do you belong to a family with artistic background?
A: I was born in Palencia, the 11th July 1975, 28 years ago. As far as I know, I’m the first actress in the family. Nevertheless, one of my grandfathers was a sculptor for a while, my sister Marina is a plastic artist and my mother Salud builds puppets. So, I guess I must have inherited some kind of family artistic gene… (Giggles)
Q: Was there any special event that ignited your desire of becoming an actress?
A: Not at all. It comes from deep within and as far back as my memory can go. Nevertheless, it took some time to understand this inner urge myself and then, let it bloom.
During my teen years and at high school, I often went to the so called Department for University Orientation, a counselling place for students. They suggested to me a myriad of study possibilities according to my skills but I never felt attracted to any of them. I only felt deep inside a need to tell stories, shooting movies, playing theatre…
Time passed quickly, I was already finishing high school and time had come for me to make a choice. Almost instinctively, I decided to leave Palencia for Madrid and try to enter the RESAD (Real Escuela de Arte Dramático) in order to learn dramatic art. I did this, but was only able to because I received the unconditional support of my family, something that doesn’t happen very often. That’s how I started.
Q: What kind of education did you receive in Palencia?
A: In the first place, I attended a few schools. The first one, the so called “Blas Sierra”, was a fantastic public institution. Then, my parents transferred me to a private one, “Santo Angel de la Guarda (Holy Guardian Angel)”, which was a total horror. I was expelled, so I had to go to an unknown marginal school that was located inside a Weapons Factory. It was an unexpected place in which I found my best friends and terrific teachers that taught me more than I had ever learned in previous six years in the other schools. I remained there until I finished high school and then, left for Madrid.
Q: For what reason were you expelled from school?
A: Well, in the first place, I didn’t want to stay in that Holy Guardian Angel School. I was an accurate well-behaved student and got some decent and even good grades. But I was surrounded by a bunch of rebellious and playful girlfriends, who were always being mischievous and behaving like hooligans. And whether I joined them or not…I always got the blame for everything. “Elena, it must have been Elena”, everyone said. So one day, I decided to join them, was caught in the act of emptying fire extinguishers, and was expelled.
Q: So, you forged your acting muscle at the RESAD in Madrid.
A: Yes and no. Because I was expelled, again! (Giggles) Well, that’s not really accurate – they actually invited me to leave. Let me tell you…While I was trying the exams in order to be accepted at the RESAD, the filmmaker Alfonso Ungría invited me to an audition for his movie Africa, that later would become my first one. My agent Katrina Bayonas told me about Ungría’s project, I got the part and at the same time, was accepted at the dramatic art school. I started to study in October and shooting started in November. In January, I returned to the RESAD where the dramatic arts’ teacher warned me not to attend her class anymore. My fellow students supported me marvellously calling for meetings and even arranging demonstrations. But the teachers didn’t let me go back. And already in march, Basque filmmaker Fernando León de Aranoa offered me a part in Familia (Family), so I decided not to try to return to study. And well, I completely understand the teachers’ position, because RESAD is not the average school. It’s not like going to class where you take notes, study, do the exams and become the perfect lawyer. Not at all. So, whilst already working in movies, I decided to attend the seminar of Professor Juan Carlos Corazzo for a few years. And later on, I studied with an Argentinean actor with a bunch of young fellow students.
Q: In just a few years you have worked for the top Spanish young filmmakers such as Pedro Almodóvar, Julio Medem, Fernando de León, Felipe Vega, Agustín Díaz Yanes, and Miguel Albaladejo… How do you define these spectacular early experiences and the impact of growing as an actress under their command?
A: Truth is I have been enormously lucky. It started with Alfonso Ungría and Africa, a very difficult movie with a hugely complicated character. Without the care and attentions of Ungría, it would have been too heavy for me. And my co-partner, Zoe Berriatúa was a gift straight from heaven. During the Africa shooting I felt that I was somehow blessed with a kind of “magic touch” that has helped me ever since and still teaches me how to be good at any of my endeavours. I have worked with the biggest and most gifted filmmakers and also wonderful people: I listen to them, I usually eat their words. And then, I simply try to tell their stories, not mine.
Q: Van Helsing is your second American movie.
A: Indeed. I shot a very tiny one before, Stage Kiss, which I doubt will get a theatrical release. It was directed by Eduardo Carrillo and the crew consisted of only four technicians and three actors, including me. It’s not an independent movie, not even a low budget film. There was not even a budget whatsoever! So, that was some start in America, hey? (Giggles)
Q: Back to Van Helsing, how did you attract Stephen Sommers attention?
A: He had seen Julio Medem’s Lucía y el sexo (Lucia and the sex) and also Pedro Almodóvar’s Hable con Ella (Talk to Her). Well, in the latter I appear only in two sequences…but he must have seen something which he liked because I got a call for an audition in Los Angeles. I was shooting Dos Tipos Duros in Madrid by then and they wouldn’t release me so I shot a video tape and my agent sent it to him. Three weeks later I was told that Stephen Sommers would be in London and eager to meet me.
Luckily enough, one of the main actors of Dos tipos duros got sick, so out of the blue I got a few days off. I flew to London and met this charming director, felt immediately fascinated by the script, did the test, got the role of Dracula’s vampire bride Aleera and said to myself, “do the best you can, girl!”.
Q: What did you deliver in that audition?
A: I performed in front of the European casting director and with Stephen himself. It was great fun. We rehearsed a few sequences of the movie. Then he invited me to mix them in improvisations. I felt an immediate connection to him and a complete understanding of what he exactly wanted from me.
I prepared myself for the part during one month, a period of time in which I offered him a few suggestions he liked. And as is my usual custom, I worked with an animal.
Q: What’s that?
A: For every movie, I always train with animals, observing them and stealing some of their gestures and attitudes. This time it was obvious for me it should be a bat. I wanted to imitate the posture of the hands, the use of nails and mouth, the piercing glance, the quietness that anticipates a sudden attack. And the bat’s fly.
Stephen also asked me to deliver something feline – to feel like an empowered cat that has a little mouse against the ropes. The kind of cat that knows that the mouse has no escape neither the slightest chance to run away. But instead of killing it immediately, the cat tortures it slowly with quick clawing in a very sadistic way. But finally, the one that helped me building the character was the bat.
I was offering all this material to Stephen and he was delighted as was I, because it’s a great joy to be listened to.
Q: Van Helsing is a big scale production, your first one of this huge size. Was it intimidating? How did it make a difference in contrast to the previous movies you have done before?
A: Well, at the beginning it was somehow sort of overwhelming. I arrived in Prague at night and the next day very early in the morning we held a massive press conference followed by a complete reading of the script. It took place in what seemed to me like a football stadium, because of the size. It ran for three hours and nobody moved not even to visit the restrooms. Everything was highly professional and serious. I said to myself, “get ready Elena, this is really starting!”.
Q: Did the make up sessions take long?
A: The average make-up for Aleera took almost nothing: 50 minutes, and 20 for the wig and 10 more for the dress. One hour and a half, which is not long. But for the Aleera of the action scenes, the make up crew needed six hours. The dress was 10 minutes, a very tight blue dress with little lights. It was even harder because after make up, I had to work for 11 hours, with wires and harnesses. And after that, it was again 90 minutes for getting rid of the make up.
Q: Does this all interfere with the acting?
A: Sometimes it does. To have to wear contact lenses, the wind cannons blowing straight in my face, the losing of the voice sometimes, the irritation of the eyes and skin… And the harnesses hurt a lot and very often, after removing them, I found that my flesh was raw! But everything was worth it, and anyhow it has to be done because it’s part of the job. Nobody asks a coal miner if the risks he takes are worth while. As an actress, I feel very blessed, happy and privileged.
Q: In Van Helsing you are Aleera, a bride of Dracula.
A: She is the most passionate and brave. She’s the one that battles for him as a matter of life or death and defends her husband and his two female companions. The four of them live happily together without jealousy, competition or fights because of sharing him. And the three brides realise that the only thing they posses – their own little family – is in jeopardy when Van Helsing shows up with one goal: to erase, destroy and annihilate them. During the movie Van Helsing kills the other two brides, Marishka and Verona, the oldest. So, I’m left alone and we divide our forces: Dracula focuses on battling Van Helsing and I do the same confronting Anna, Kate Beckinsale’s character. And besides facing these ordeals, Aleera watches over a few more things. Because she notices that for centuries, Anna’s female ancestors had a bewitching spell on Count Dracula. And now, Dracula is left alone with only one bride and longing for this other woman, who becomes Aleera’s worst enemy because of this. When the movie begins, Dracula and Aleera have been trying already to have babies for centuries. But they are born dead. Aleera feels a monstrous fear and jealousy of loosing the only thing she’s got: Dracula. Therefore, she does her job without second thoughts. She’s a kind of mixture of a contemporary housewife and home keeper, working girl with familial burdens and responsibilities, a loving wife…(Giggles)
Q: As an actress, what’s the most difficult task when asked to give flesh, bones, blood, heart and life to a non living creature such as a woman vampire?
A: It’s a beautiful job to do. I had never inhabited a non living character (Giggles). This kind of character knows who she is and what she has: very little left. And that’s what mostly justifies her struggle. All this loss justifies Aleera’s killings, attacks and revenge. She does it in order to defend her empire. And she does it in the certainty of knowing that if Dracula disappears, she’s done. Since I started my career, every character I have portrayed in movies, either living or dead ones (smile) brings a lot of stuff to me. I really believe in all of them. And I always have built them from scratch, starting from something personal, something that is really mine, inside and intimate. Little things, but very much me.
Q: Such as?
A: For Aleera I rewound memories and went back to specific situations I have experienced in the past. I do remember certain moments and how I reacted in front of some trials, ordeals or happy events. I try to remember what kind of energy I developed then, I multiply it a thousand times for the character and afterwards on the set I let everything go. To make a long story short, I go back deep and far into my memories and search for a specific energy I can offer to enrich the character I have to play.
Q: Is it true that during the shooting, Stephen Sommers decided to stretch your character?
A: True. Already during our first meeting in London and after giving me the script, he warned me it would be changed significantly. He said to me: “Listen, study this but keep in mind that I am scheming to give Aleera more screen time and a more important presence”. Because, Aleera is just a collateral presence… That has been part of the joy of working for Stephen in Van Helsing, because I met a fine filmmaker that trusted me completely and supported me. And yes, he used many of my suggestions, shot more of me than what was written in the script and used that material in the final version.
Q: During the six month shoot you were glued to infinitely long nails. Was it your choice for staying in character?
A: No, I was asked to do so. It had to be done that way. I accepted it in spite of it being very tortuous. I never wear long nails myself on a daily basis. The first day they had to put them upon my real nails, it was a very painful process that lasted four hours. And for six months every little daily effort became a nightmare: to brush my teeth, boil some water, and go to the bathroom, type on the PC…everything was sooooo complicated!
Q: Tell me about the biggest trials when working with the blue screen?
A: At the start I said to myself, “heck, damn, how the hell will I be able to do all at the same time: pretending to fly, the wig, the wind, the dress, hanging, crawling up walls, the somersaults…At the beginning, I have to admit I was a little bit scared. But at the end, it was like a puzzle that finally pieced together. At the end of the day, I was able to do it and found out it was not that difficult…after all.
Q: You play Richard Roxburgh’s’ Dracula’s love interest and bride Aleera. How was it?
A: Marvellous from minute one, the first day of the massive script reading in Prague. When I met him for the first time I thought, “Gosh! He is blond, blue eyed and very handsome!” I had seen him as the Duke in Moulin Rouge and in Prague felt astonished because of his capacity for transforming himself so radically. And as a partner, he is the real thing. We rehearsed a lot together and worked the “little animal” thing. I was already shooting for two months when he arrived in Prague. Our first scene together happens when Dracula, Verona and me meet after Marishka’ is killed. It’s very emotional and a lot of kissing is involved. Because I never considered they would kiss like men and women do, I suggested the bat thing. When accepted, we performed it with a lot of little cries of joy and also of pain. So, everything went hunky dory. I adore him as an actor and friend.
Q: What about Van Helsing himself? How was the “Hugh Jackman experience”?
A: Won-der-ful. Our first scene was shot on the Saint Charles bridge in Prague and it was 12 degrees below zero. It was almost impossible to work. But of course, we did. First, the general shots and the Hugh Jackman’s close-ups. It was wintertime and the light went down very early. So, the next day, it was my close-up session. And at 6:00 a.m., back in the bridge and frozen, there I saw Hugh, glued to the camera and delivering the dialogue to me. That’s complete generosity in my book and I said to myself, “Hugh, chapeau!”
Q: You perform a wild fight with Anna, Kate Beckinsale’s character.
A: Very intense, indeed. Aleera wants to kill her! And Stephen wanted something extra: an erotic charge between the two of us. Because there is something very sensual, seductive and erotic in the act of biting. Anyhow, Kate and I trained with the choreographer of the Cirque du Soleil, a fabulous Canadian dancer. It was somehow embarrassing at the beginning when I had to bite Kate and touch her tits. During the fight, I have to show a kind of overwhelming and almost masculine strength and attitude. In front of me, she is more a damsel in distress. And Stephen asked us to deliver a “tits fight” and, by God, we did it!
Q: Was it hard to be in shape for the very physical flying and action scenes?
A: Not at all. I went to the gym every day and tried to be flexible and ready. I felt very much in shape myself, so everything was much easier.
Q: Did you do your own action scenes?
A: I did 90% of them. The rest was left to the stunts.
Q: Did you get hurt?
A: Well, the most dangerous scene was when Kate/Anna had to break a big glass jar on my face. Of course, I wanted to do it myself. They protected my whole body to avoid cuts. We did it, everything was perfect and nobody was hurt. Later on, they used a stunt woman for the same action scene but from a different angle…and she was injured with cuts to her arms and legs. I was lucky and only got two nails (fake and real) broken, very painful, and I also sprained my ankle.
Q: Which one is your favourite horror myth of all times?
A: No doubt about it, Nosferatu. Max Schreck’s and Murnau’s Nosferatu. Forever.