Frances O'Connor: From A.I.'s Mom to Medieval Action!

Actress Frances O'Connor was born in England and raised in Australia. She has classic roles to her credit in The Importance of Being Earnest with Reese Witherspoon and Mansfield Park and she was Haley-Joel Osment's beautiful and angel-like mom in the Steven Spielberg film A.I. Now the pretty actress is a smart archeologist forced to turn adventure/action queen in the sci-fi thriller Timeline in which she co-stars with hottie Paul Walker with whom she shares concerns about the Earth's environmental future. We chatted with Frances in L.A.

TeenHollywood: You're sort of an action hero in this film. This is new for you.

Frances: Yeah. I've got my own action doll. It was fun. I haven't really done a lot of that kind of stuff, I've concentrated on doing serious stuff, and I just wanted to have a bit of fun, and I did.

TeenHollywood: Did you fight doing the damsel in distress thing? Your character could easily slip into that.

Frances: Richard [Donner the director] puts really assertive women in all his films and they are very active, and I kind of knew signing on that that would never be an issue. He doesn't like those kinds of women [damsels in distress], I don't think.

TeenHollywood: If you could time travel, which period would you go to?

Frances: I think I would like to go into the future rather than go back. With the past we know what it was about generally, but it would be interesting to imagine what it would be like in the future now. Especially as there are so many permutations of what could actually happen.

TeenHollywood: Are you afraid for the future?

Frances: A little bit, especially the environment – I don't want to get too heavy.

TeenHollywood: Does making a movie like this make you think more about history?

Frances: I actually don't think that the past was that dangerous in real life, but I think it serves the purpose of the story very well to create danger. This film is like a roller coaster film, so I don't think it was about contemplating the realities of it. There were some brilliant fight sequences in it.

TeenHollywood: What do you think of the changes between the Michael Crichton book and the movie?

Frances: I'll be interested to see what people think, because I know that there are a lot of Michael Crichton fans, and there are quite a few differences from the book to the film. Some people might be upset about that, but I think it serves the purpose of the film very well, the changes that they made, like Kate's [her character's] dilemma is a little different now. They took some of the technical aspects of it out, like the earpieces and the translation thing. I don't think it's as detailed as the book, but you can't really put all those details in a film when you've only got ninety minutes to do it.

TeenHollywood: Did you have to train to do this film?

Frances: I did rock climbing. I worked with this French-Canadian guy who is a really brilliant climber. We went to climbing studios and worked every day, and it's really addictive and lots of fun.

TeenHollywood: Do you work out?

Frances: I like yoga, yoga's my thing and I like jogging.

TeenHollywood: What are the differences between working with Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner as directors?

Frances: They are both like kids in some ways; they both like to kind of play. Richard's got higher energy, I think, and he creates a great enthusiasm. Steven does too, but in a different way. Dick's very good, because the film's long, it's like five months shooting, he's very good at maintaining the reality, because you have to pretend that – you kind of adrenalin pump every day to turn up to work, and two months down the track that can get a little tough. He's very good at keeping you on track like that. They're both very, very good people.

TeenHollywood: How does Spielberg compare to Donner as far as the amount of takes he does and the amount of preparation?

Frances: Steven works pretty quickly, he doesn't like to do a lot of takes, unless it's a really complicated set up, but usually by the third of fourth take, it's like let's move on. Richard is pretty fast too, although it's an action film so there were certain kinds of set ups that added a lot more, that were technically more difficult.

TeenHollywood: Was it an tough movie to shoot?

Frances: Yeah. They did like a month of night shoots, so that meant that you go to bed at 5 o'clock in the morning, and you sleep all day and then get up and work. Doing that for five weeks, that was really tough. And that climbing sequence was pretty tough, because I was actually that high up and I just had a tiny little cable attached to me, and they're like, 'it's so strong, it's going to be fine', and I was like looking down, 'oh dear. Somebody catch me down there'.

TeenHollywood: Your character Kate doesn't like Paul's character Chris in the beginning. Why?

Frances: I think she thinks he's a bit of a flibbertigibbet. I think she thinks he wouldn't be a stable kind of option for her, and I think she's very serious about her work. She doesn't want to open herself up to possibilities.

TeenHollywood: What was Paul like to work with?

Frances: He's just like he is on film, which is very genuine and sweet, and a lovely guy.

TeenHollywood: They actually built all these medieval towns so you didn't have to just imagine and the computer put it in later. Did that help?

Frances: It was great like that, that it was all just kind of there and so you didn't really have to imagine what it would be like. They built these amazing sets that were 50 feet castles and monasteries, and every day when you'd turn up to work there would be a new thing. They did such a great job.

TeenHollywood: Which kind of movie do you prefer, a more serious or action film?

Frances: For me as long as the character is good, and the character has some kind of complexity to it, then I'm happy. And if I'm working opposite an actor that's really giving me something, or a director who's really challenging me, I'm in heaven. It doesn't matter what genre it is. In fact, I kind of like to mix it up and keep it different. I think that's the spice of life.

TeenHollywood: A.I. was beautiful but didn't do as well as expected. Why do you think that is?

Frances: In some ways I'm not surprised because I think the subject matter is – it's so much about abandonment and that's something that cuts into the core of a lot of people. So I think that was part of it. I think in ten years it will be seen as a classic, and I was very proud to be a part of it. I think it's a fantastic film, I don't think it's an easy film, I don't think it's a perfect film, but I think it's something really brilliant in it.

TeenHollywood: Were you ever interested in archeology?

Frances: I think I'm quite analytical the way I work with a script, but I think that's about it. I don't really have a scientific bone in my body.

TeenHollywood: What kind of research would you do for a film like this?

Frances: I'd studied medieval history in school, so I had a vague notion of it, and we had a woman archeologist, who came and worked with us and talked about the dynamics of a dig, psychologically, how does it work, how to use the tools. If we had a scene we could ring her up and say, 'In this bit what would I be doing?' So that was great. This, because it's a fun film and it's an action film, you want to make it real and things, but ultimately I think it's about connecting to people and having a good time with it. I think that was the criteria.

TeenHollywood: What do you have coming up?

Frances: I've got Iron-Jawed Angels, which is with Hilary Swank and Angelica Huston about the two women who got the vote for women in America. It's a fantastic story of the friendship between these two people and how they did it. It was so much fun to work on. We shot it in Richmond, Virginia last year. And the other one I just wrapped up is called Lazarus' Child and it's with Andy Garcia and Angela Bassett.


Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainment journalist and produced screenwriter.

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