Sunday, August 10, 2008

Joining the SisterHood of The Traveling Pants

Feature Story by Brad Balfour

Though individual interviews are always better to do rather than a press conference, doing a Press Conference with the our key cast members of "The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants 2" actually makes sense. Talking with this team of Amber Tamblyn (Tibby), America Ferrara (Carmen), Blake Lively (Bridget) and Alexis Bledel (Lena) all at once after they've been in these two films—the first "Sisterhood..." and this about-to-be-released sequel—gave us a chance to see them interact with each other as questions were fired away. The dynamic of all of them together helped frame their experience in making these two films.

Based on author Ann Brashares's series of four young adult novels, the films explore a deeply felt friendship between this quartet of teenage girls and how the complex dynamic between them changes and evolves as they go from a summer when they were 16 to three years later after they've graduated high school and separated to go to different colleges.

Just as each character had different and distinct adventures based on their unique personalities, so has this quartet of actresses gone through various shifts and changes in their career from making the first film to this one. When the first film was created, "Gilmore Girls" star Alexis Bledel and "Joan of Arcadia" star Amber Tamblyn were in the ascendent position with critically acclaimed TV series on their resume.

Now it's America Ferrara (starring in "Ugly Betty") and Blake Lively (from "Gossip Girls") who are the two in the spotlight. Yet, what we saw during our 45 minutes together was just how well they worked together and how they enjoyed their time hanging out with each other. So just as they jumped into reconnecting with each other, the press conference got us a chance to leap into the fray with them.

Q: What was a scarier moment for you—riding the donkey up the winding path through the Greek village or taking that plunge into the ocean?

All together with laughter and and some incomprehensible gibberish among themselves they start to answer…

Amber Tamblyn (AT): Or riding the mopeds...

Blake Lively (BL): And taking a plunge into the wall [laughs].

AT: Well, on the first day of shooting we got into a little tiny moped accident.

BL: It was Amber's fault.

AT: Right—it was my fault.

BL: I already tried to say it was my fault yesterday.

Alexis Bledel (AB): It was a domino effect.

AT: Thank you for the voice of reason...

BL: But Amber totally started it all [laughs]...

AT: Blake hit the back of everyone.

America Ferrara (AF): But she wouldn't have f you hadn't stopped.

BL: Where else was I suppose to go when I turned the corner [laughs].

AT: Anyway... did that answer your question? We got into a tiny little moped accident the very first day of shooting; actually Blake really hurt her knee pretty bad; and America fell off the bike and it spun around, and it was very dramatic and great for a first day of shooting.

BL: I was on crutches for a while...

AF: It really set the tone...

AB: That was definitely the story...

AT: I got to make fun of them on crutches.

BL: She would take our crutches and go in our room.

AB: The donkeys were fun... You just sit on them right? We don’t have to talk about them [all laughs].

Q: And there was no fear for that plunge?

AB: That was fun.

AT: Not really, I think that Blake, America, and I were just walking around the Island and found a cliff that some other people were jumping off of and then we sort of talked ourselves into doing it and then later came and told the producers and director that we should put this in the movie. And they said, "Okay." 

Then we got there, there was a whole crew and a bunch of people and we kind of got a little frightened.

AF: And I just froze. I kind of didn’t jump when I was supposed to, and then I did eventually.

Q: What was it like working in Greece?

AT: Greece was amazing.

BL: The food there was just amazing and there were so many neat stores, and the stairs were wonderful with the crutches because the rocks were wobbling and we’re trying to get up them, it was incredible.

Q: It seems like you all really did develop a true friendship from working on the first movie. Since a lot of this movie is about communication, how do you keep your friendship going and do communicate with your friends when you’re so busy?

AF: {Through] pair of pants [laughs].

BL: We e-mail our friends.

AT: And, our spider senses.

AF: And we try to see each other whenever we’re in the same town, which isn’t often.

Q: What about collaborating with director Sanaa Hamri; when you added in your input, did you draw on or insert personal experiences you had i bonding with other friends, female or otherwise?

AT: Everyone was really open to us giving our advice. Certainly for me, I know my character is getting to be quirky, funny, avid, wise and stuff like that. My character is a very neurotic sort of self-loathing asset to her on this film and she often funnels these feelings through teamwork and by trying to make other people laugh and ignoring what’s going on with her and I had pulled that from several friends of mine. They sort of do that, they just make jokes when they’re trying to be curious so I was just thinking about that with Tibby, sorry friends where ever you are... Meredith.

Q: Is there a style about you that’s similar to your character?

BL: Well Bridget is like Indiana Jones and I don’t dress like that [laughs] and I don’t wear soccer outfits, so [my style] is very different. That was an easy answer for me. No, she’s honestly like Indiana Jones in this movie and she has swooping hats, it’s awesome, but I dress a little different. We had a wonderful costume designer though for this film and I think she did such a good job at carving out each characters personal style and she was able to tell a bit of a story with our clothes as well, it was great.

AF: Clothes are a big part of self-expression when you are that age, and I think this would be, for my character Carmen, we wanted to show her having kind of climbed into a shell or a cocoon, and so early on she’s layered, she’s wearing sweaters, she’s trying to put more distance between her and the world and she’s trying to hide in it. And then, in the end when she emerges from this amazing period costume we like to come and sit and watch TV [laughs]. I don’t do that.

It really was an arc in terms of self-expression with what you’re wearing. Of course that’s not the only one. I personally feel like I don’t truly feel like my character until I can get in their wardrobe, get in their skin, get in the clothing they would be wearing and know what they’re feeling like in their own environment.

AB: Lena’s costumes are very feminine and ‘50s style and I think it makes all the sense for her character. I like something like that but not all the time.

AT: I think sometimes, you’re a little more of a tomboy in your personal life.

AB: Yeah, I'd like her to be a little more sleek, although today I’m wearing something she would wear.

AT: Tibby looks like she’s sponsored by “Hot Topic” [the punk clothing site].

[Laughter breaks out…]

Q: All of you know these characters really well now in terms of your friendship, so do you have any hopes in the future for these characters, like say, in five years from now or so?

AT: Tibby will probably be… I don’t know…

AF: I think, for instance, we would be on our separate journeys [by then]. I think that this movie is about friendship and it’s about this special bond, so it would be about how friendships change throughout your lifetime and I always thought that this movie was not so much about what each of the girls were going through so much as how what they’re going through affects their bonds. I don’t know, but I have a feeling that if Ann [Brasheares, the author of the books] were to go on and write another book—and I think her books are beautiful—it would be based on the progression of this friendship and how this friendship might transform into something else.

BL: They’d probably still be trying to keep in touch and still growing in further different directions because they’re different people.

You all were so great in your roles, and perfectly cast for the roles, but if you had to switch up, what characters would each of you play?

AB: Is there an option to stay in your own role? Also if I switch with Bridget do I get her legs?

[A burst of laughter from the entire panel…]

Q: Each of you have had substantial television experience, and now you’ve had a chance to do a movie where there’s a sequel; that means you can see some character development here. But how different or alike for each of you was it in developing your characters here as opposed to developing characters in a television production setting—where you have episodes and have characters that grow over time?

AB: This film was a little tricky because it was the second, third and fourth book all in one movie and there’s a lot of material in it. We didn’t really know what they were going to be able to put, once it was condensed, into the film so, they let us have a little bit of input as far as when they were trimming down, what the things were that were important to us to keep they listened and so, hopefully.

BL: With a television show you find out what’s happening with your character every single week with each episode. With a film you get to see your character, you get to see their arc, with this, we had a series of four novels so we really got to see where they grow but it’s easier to plan. When you’re doing a TV show, the writers don’t even know where your character is going, you don’t know how many years you’re going to be on it. My character has many dark secrets, so she’s always changing. But I think it’s just easier to plan where you start and you end in your journey. Where as with the show, they’re just kind of making it up as it comes along.

AT: I would just echo what they say. I think that the easiest way to [put it is that] a movie is a sprint and a television show is a marathon, and you just have to pace yourself and be open to whatever changes the writers of your show choose to take your character.

America said something yesterday that with a film, there’s a specific beginning, middle and an end; you can go and see where that character is going to change and you can do certain scenes based on that. With television, you really don’t have any idea, you just go from show to show and make the best decision you can to back as an actor to fill in everything that needs to be filled sort of what that character requires. That's what America said and I just reiterate.

Q: If you could each respond to this book, what do you think is a major strength and shortcoming to each of your characters?

AT: I guess Tibby’s strength is her sense of humor and her ability to get people to laugh, but then at the same time I guess that she's also ignoring her own intuition and intimacy issues and completely ignoring Haley’s death and how that sort of trickled into her life and how she feels about things.

AF: I think Carmen's strength is that she’s very generous with her emotions and she’s open to loving people but she also leaves herself open for [being hurt], and leaves herself vulnerable because she depends on people around her too much to define who she is. But I think that she deals with some of those issues in this movie.

BL: Bridget is very determined, she’s very strong-willed, but she really avoids her problems, runs away from her problems. She’s living too fast paced for her life and she’s doing all of that to avoid dealing with the real issues.

AB: I think Lena is a good friend, she seems to be sweet and considerate. But she’s too timid to sort of deal with her life, she needs her friends to push her into confrontations that most people can probably just deal with on their own. She really needs help.

Q: What’s the craziest gossip you’ve ever read about yourselves?

AT: Well, I think it’s funny how people like is literally selling stuff to make stuff up. There she is wearing that four leaf clover hidden under her dress for good luck that her boyfriend gave her for Valentines Day. I’m like "Really?" It’s just a lie.

BL: No, they make things up. I’ve had people call me and like you didn’t tell me you were in town when I’m across the country because I was making out with somebody or shopping in some store or something. Also, another one recently that our hair and make up girls thought was funny so they put it up in our make up trailer. It was like “Blake Tells a Tall-tale” and it said that I am really 5’4” and I lie and say that I’m really tall and that I would have to be wearing stilts to be really tall. They’re like the only way she’s any where near 5’10” is if she’s on stilts. And it was like this big piece, half a page.

[They all begin to laugh, giggle and talk at the same time…talking about whether Blake really is 5'4" or not.]

Q: America and Alexis, folks really loved your characters and their ethnicity in the first movie, do you think they will relate to again in this film?

BL We're not loved? [Laughs}

AF: One of the things that I really appreciate about this second film is how diverse it is in the casting and that we have Asian co-stars and Latino co-stars and Black co-stars and it’s not really an issue, we don’t talk about it, and it’s just this is the world we live in and this is what the world looks like and it doesn’t have to be spoken about. And I think one of the healthiest things for this new generation of Americans to get used to it so that it isn’t a shock to see Latinos in this type of role. So we can just do it and catch it and it doesn’t have to be a big splash all the time.

AB: And in this film the girls are all going off to college and kind of finding their own way and I think anybody will be able to relate to this stage of life, just finding your own path.

Q: America, were you psyched by your part where you got the part in the play and the gorgeous guy?

AF: One of the things that I thought would be interesting for this character “Carmen” is that she’s a very different character from what we saw in the first film. In the first movie she was a lot more extraverted and kind of the glue that held the sisterhood together and was trying very hard to make all of those things mean something.

In this film you catch up with her at a point where she is sick of being this glue and if no one else tries why should I? I liked that she was struggling through something and was forced to do it on her own and that her friends couldn’t help her through what she was going through. The issues that she was dealing with in the first movie are sharing and abortion, are issues of abandonment.

In the first movie her father is moving on and starting a new family, and in this movie her mother is moving on and starting a new family and her friends are moving on. So, she has to deal with being alone again and she has to do it on her own, which I think is her portraying growing up.

Q: For each of you, how does this film contrast or mirror your personal friendships?

AT: Well as far as the four of us, a lot of it is us just giggling and laughing and then filming it because we can’t actually say our lines sometimes. So, it’s a direct reflection.

AB: Yeah, we just have fun working together, so I know that in the first movie they kind of got out of our way and just let us [be]… Whatever, we were lucky enough to have a chemistry between ourselves; they really let it come through and with this movie we picked up where we left off. So there was more of that…and uh…what was the question? [laughs]

Q: What experiences and relationships in your personal life growing up affected your role?

AB: I think that just trying to stay in touch as you get older is difficult that’s something we probably have all had to deal with.

BL: These girls are lucky to have four friends that are so strong, I’ve always had one or two close to me since I was little. Two of my best friends, one of them I’ve known since I was four and one from the seventh grade…which wasn’t that long ago, but you know, I still keep in touch with them…

AB: When are you graduating from high school again? [laugh]

AT: My very best friend Meredith I’ve known since kindergarten… who I mentioned earlier—with the emotional problems.

AB: She’s not your friend anymore [laughs].

AT: No, she’s still with me, and she came out with me from L.A. to come to the premiere tomorrow. And she’s always made herself available to be really supportive of my films so I talk publicly about her

AF: I think one of my best friends is one of my sisters. She’s a year older than me and we grew up together—too close sometimes—and everything I’ve experienced in terms of how different people mean different things to you in different times of your life has really been through my relationship with my sister. [There were] times that we’ve gone off to college and wanted to be nothing but as far away from each other as possible; and there were other times when you need them by your side and they’re the only person that could help you through certain situations.

I was never lucky enough to have friends that stayed throughout my entire life in terms of outside of my family but what I will say about this, what I love about this film, is that it gives young women an example of strong female relationships because I don’t think that I learned to appreciate strong female relationships until I was older, until I could get beyond the conditioning that women’s relationships have to be competitive or jealousy ridden or backstabbing. So, I hope that there will be better examples for the next generation so that women can learn to grow up supporting each other instead of tearing each other down.

Q: Blake, with "Gossip Girl" shooting in NYC, what are your favorite things in New York are and what life is like in New York?

BL: Just shooting in the city is such a wonderful [thing]. Getting up so early in the morning sometimes I think, why am I doing a job that wakes you up at 3:30 in the morning. But just getting to shoot on these beautiful cobblestone streets with the trees and it’s just…. It's a magical place and it’s a character in and of itself. It’s so important, I don’t think our show would work if it wasn’t in New York. You know some of my favorite movies are based here in New York. I just can’t describe what I love about this city… It makes me warm and fuzzy. And Silver Cup Studios and Long Island Studio are both really great.

AF: I think that you can’t help being energized by this city and be inspired artistically. I love riding the subway; I love walking the streets; I love sitting at a coffee shop for hours and just watching people go by. What I think is so amazing about being in New York is that it’s so hard to forget that you are part of the bigger picture in New York City. Where I grew up in L.A. my entire life—and while I love L.A. and it has some really wonderful things about it—you can really become isolated, being in your car and only seeing what you intend to see.

I feel like in New York, things happen that you wouldn’t believe, like you were in a movie. Like bumping into a friend you hadn’t seen in years on the corner of wherever and wherever; sometimes that a good thing and sometimes that’s not a good thing. But, I just love everything about New York, and when we’re filming it’s great to have people screaming about of their windows, “We love you, Betty” and that kind of a welcoming energy. We also get the other side of it too, which is “Get out of our way!” [laughs] but it's New York so you take the good with the bad and it feels like a battle.

Q: Tibby’s panic about having a baby was funny, but how come there was no mention of a Plan B?

AT: You know Planned Parenthood was actually involved with the film. We shot a scene with them, and to be honest, it did not work with the film. It added too much; it was too much of a separate conversation. You know watching it, it definitely became too much about that and less about what Tibby was going through and her emotions.

I myself am a Planned Parenthood advocate and I help them with a lot of things. So for them, I have been doing some things and doing some interviews and stuff online. But the story just didn’t fit because it wasn’t about where she was going to go to figure that out because you don’t even talk about whether she is pregnant, it’s not really about that. The storyline is about her back story, about her not being able to get over Bailey’s death, and about her intimacy issues. So that didn’t necessarily fit with what we were trying to accomplish with her emotional growth.

Q: Blake, how is it performing with your dad Ernie who played your father in the film?

BL: I get really shy around people… Even when I’m watching a movie that I’m in with family member or friends, I just want to hide. So, in the first movie, since it was my first job ever, it was more normal, but with this one I think that my worst scenes are with my father because it just felt so strange to be working alongside him. And I’m yelling at him, and I’ve never yelled at him, because you can’t yell at him, he’ll just give you a big teddy bear hug. So, I watch that scene and I’m like, uh that is so bad for me.

But it was really an honor that he got to be there and there was no way that we would ever get to do that again and it was a really wonderful experience and I’m just excited because this was my first job and I grew up watching him, he’s the first one in my family that got into this business and I never wanted this, and I never wanted to be in it, but it’s just nice to be on the screen together.

Q: Did you guys discuss your roles?

BL: No, we don't talk [laughs]. It’s just too weird and shy. He’s a great actor so he went in and did what he did and then I went in and messed that up. But I thought he was great and was so touching.

Q: Alexis, the important question for you was what was Jesse wearing when he did the scene as Leo, the nude artistic model?

AB: Not much [laughs]. That was a full day as well, that he was in front of everybody. I don’t know, everyone is just trying to make him comfortable for the most part because, you know, he was in front of everyone.

Q: Well, what was he wearing?

AB: I don’t remember to be honest. We could ask wardrobe [laughs] But I think it was some sort of underwear I’m sure.

Q: The tabloids often like to use the phrase “young Hollywood gone wild.” But you guys are all wonderful role models, what is it that keeps you grounded in each of your lives and keeps you out of the craziness?

AT: The ground [laughs].

Q: Well did you have people around you like your friends and family?

AT: Yeah sure, but on the opposite side, I think that I had a general disinterest in it, it’s not what keeps me grounded, it’s what is not interesting to me. That’s all.

AF: I just want to work [laughs]. I just want to do my job and I love what I do and I have way too much respect for the work to ever jeopardize my ability to do my job. You know, and I just don’t know who has the time to get in trouble.

BL: I just think for so many people it becomes a way of life instead of a job. For me, my whole family was in this business so they didn’t stay in it, but at the end of the day that was just their job like any other peoples jobs, so I grew up with that mindset so I think that that’s the thing for me. At the end of a day of work I want to go to dinner, I want to watch a movie, I don’t want to go to the club and not wear panties [laughs].

AB: Yeah, I’ve always thought of this as a job. I’ve never had time either to get into trouble. When I was on the show, it was always a lot to do. So, I’m a pretty low key person anyway…

AT: Yeah, I was gonna say she’s a social recluse…

Q: Do you see yourselves as role models? Obviously you are, but do you see yourselves that way?

AF: It’s more about how people see us than how we see ourselves. I would say "Yes," I would answer for all four of us and say that I know for a fact, I’ve met young women who look to every single one of these ladies and follow them and are always looking out for what we’re doing and I just think that, they did a really great job in finding sort of normal girls to do the first film. And now that we’re in each other’s lives I think that if any one of us dared to be ridiculous then we would get a lot of phones calls [laughs].

Q: America, since you've moved to New York, what do you do with your free time, like riding the subway or other hobbies?

AF: Like I said before I don’t really have a lot of free time. And what I love to do is work, I know that sounds crazy. But I did, as Amber just reminded me, direct a short film earlier this year, which was a really wonderful experience and I loved it, I love directing and I have been writing a little bit and just exploring things through the creative path I have already started to take other than that I walk my dog and watch movies and listen to my iPod [laughs] I don’t know what else to say I am really not a very interesting person.

Q: Are there any other characters you guys would like to play? Any favorite novels?

AF: I would like to play Harry Potter [laughs]. But that’s already taken.

AT: I'd like to play any lead character from a Janet Fitch novel. All two of them, and one of them has already been made [into a film, White Oleander"].

AF: What?

AT: By Janet Fitch…anyone? no? [laughs] You know, "White Oleander?"

Q: Why her? What do you think is interesting about her?

AT: She’s a phenomenal woman who writes really, really interesting female characters. If anyone has read "Paint it Black," it’s probably one of the most interesting character pieces, about a girl that is born and raised in Los Angeles too, so being from Venice I really identified with that and thought she wrote it perfectly.

Q: And the two of you?

BL: I feel like I only play characters from books [laughs] or a long book series. So it might be nice to play one that’s not in a book. I would like a part in Harry Potter though. But I read books and there are a lot of times when I don’t want to play the character because I want to watch it come to life by itself. I just read this book called "The Glass Castle" [by Jeanette Walls] that I know they are making into a movie but I don’t know how that’s going to work out. I would love to be a part of it but just not on the acting side because I just want to watch it so, maybe I’ll do [craft services] or something [laughs].

AB: I don’t have a specific one in mind. The last book I read was "My Life in France," the one about [chef] Julia Child, and they are making that into a movie. I am not age appropriate for that one [laughs].

Q: What are your favorite scenes from the movie and what scenes were the most difficult to shoot?

AT: I’ll say that my favorite scene that I shot was not the fight scene, but the one with the confrontation between America and I. But as far as one where all four of us are together, America reminded me the other day of the graduation scene, which was quick but was really fun to shoot because we were all sort of messing around and had these giant gowns on and they’re all like “Just go for it! We’ll shoot it!” and so America crawled into my suit and I zipped her up inside of it and we were trying to do this… [laughs from everyone]

BL: I thought that when we jumped off the cliff that that was really fun because we did it ourselves and we were getting to then do it in the film. Um, I don’t know I’m really moved by the scenes where there are no talking, like there is the scene with, the last shot in the end and it’s just these four girls with different personalities and they’re not saying anything but you just know so much about their journey and you wonder where they’re going to do and you see that they will always have this whether they are together or not. And, I don’t know, I just think that those are the most beautiful moments, or seeing them let everything go and jump off the cliff, I don’t know I love those. And the scene where I am yelling at my dad [laughter].

AB: I like all the scenes with my Greek grandmother. She has this… certain delivery that is really great and it cracks me up. She’s really interesting also because I guess, a lot of times in Greece, the actors are their own agents as well so she’d get on the phone and she’d be like, arguing about her deal and just being really nasty on the phone and pissed off, and then she comes out as this sweet little grandmother. So she had both personalities, it was really interesting [laughs].

AF: I would say that one of the most interesting things for me to shoot was, the um, all the Shakespeare scenes that Carmen had to do. They had a really wonderful man that was on set with me and helping me through the language and I loved wearing that dress and I loved saying the words and kind of being in a different movie altogether within this movie, it was really fun to shoot those parts.

Q: You never did Shakespeare before?

AF: I have. I mean, not Shakespeare in the Park, but I grew up at a public school that had the class [do its own] Shakespeare festival which was really one of the greatest gifts I got out of my education, being exposed to Shakespeare from the time I was in seventh grade, and, not that I always understood what I was saying, but by the time I was a senior in high school I had an ear for it and could get through any Shakespeare play. I think that’s a really wonderful gift.

Q: Blake and America, can you talk about anything on your show's upcoming season, and for all of you, will you keep a part of the pants?

BL: Oh…we didn’t. We should have… Okay, do you want to go first?

AF: About what is coming up on our shows…anything? I really don’t know what I’m allowed to say… but, we moved to New York and there will be a lot of New York [in it]. The first episode back you will be like “Wow! They’re in New York” and you’ll be able to tell. We get Pat Fields [the fashion stylist who developed the distinct look on "Sex And The City"] on the show again. Since we moved back to New York, she is designing our show and Betty has some very interesting costumes that are all very fun to wear and the fashion is taken to a new level of daring, so that will be really fun—the fashion watch.

Q: What about Lindsay Lohan?

AF: What about her?

Q: What was she like as a costar?

AF: It was great, it was fun. They wrote some really fun stuff for her character and we had a good time.

BL: [As for "Gossip Girl"] season two, I don’t really know what I’m allowed to say either… We start back at the Hamptons; it’s a recap of the summer—a lot of the relationships that were set up at the end of the first season… They’re…misleading. But we have new characters coming in, just from the beginning, and then later in the season, we have characters doing like five episode arcs and you know, they mix things up; everyone is dating everyone and sleeping with everyone, and there is lots of scandalous stuff happening on the Upper East Side.

There was just so much happening in the episodes that I read and know in the first five that even I am shocked. I’m expecting my sister, that I don’t have, to be my father or….even I am reading it and I’m like “Oh my goodness I can’t believe it!” So it’s definitely more scandalous and juicy and more of what people love about the show.

Q: Amber, tell us about your show?

AT: It’s a pilot for ABC, it’s called "The Unusuals," with very sarcastic female detective, undercover cop who works with a bunch of guys and get them all in trouble.

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