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"Alien: Ore" (2019) Q & A, Mikela Jay

As part of my ongoing Q & A series on "Alien: Ore," this interview is with Mikela Jay, the starring actress of the movie. New interview segments post every Friday at 2 p.m., EST.


"Alien: Ore" Interview, Mikela Jay

Nick: My name is Nicholas van der Waard. I have my MA in English Studies: the Gothic, and run a movie blog centered on Gothic horror, Nick’s Movie Insights. Joining me for this interview is Mikela Jay, who played tough-as-nails grandmother, Lorraine, in "Alien: Ore." Apart from being an actress, she also does voice-acting, ranging from her role as narrator in Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar's The Corporation (2003) to her extensive collaborations with Scott Noble; she's also a musician in the band, MAGT, and a contributing writer for Never Apart, in Montreal.

(to Mikela): How long have you been acting? Can you tell me about some of your past experiences?

Mikela: I began being cast in television and film roles in 1998. I had previously had a vagabond life of international modeling all over the world, then being a singer in hardcore electronic music projects in Europe. When I landed in Vancouver, casting directors Heike Brandstatter and Coreen Mayrs immediately became my biggest cheerleaders, booking me in many diverse parts. I also was directed by Helen Shaver in The Outer Limits (2000) with Joel Grey, and [alongside] Lynne Stopkewitch for the series Bliss (2003); Tony Goldwyn directed me on The L Word (2005) playing the girlfriend of Kelly Lynch. Our scene required meeting up with her other love interest, the iconic Pam Grier. There are so many on set moments that I can’t even begin to recount them all!

Mikela Jay, herself (courtesy of Justine Warrington Photography).

Nick: Do you have a favorite actor/actress that made you want to act? 

Mikela: My favorite actress is Tilda Swinton. When Orlando (1992) came out it was the first and only time I ever walked right back in to watch [a movie] again. Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn were my go-tos while growing up. Their physicality, strength and style felt very akin to my own. I'd love to play either Hepburn or Joni Mitchell in a biopic!


Nick: Team Scott or Team Cameron?

Mikela: Either or both!


Nick: What was your first Alien experience? Can you describe the first time you saw an Alien movie, and which one it was?

Mikela: I remember Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) being the first alien movie as well as E.T. (1982). But when Alien came out it was a game-changer, because of Ripley. I never imagined ever getting to play a character like Lorraine.

On Lorraine

Nick: I love the Alien franchise and how it gives women the chance to be strong and overcome tremendous adversity. From Ripley to Vasquez to Lorraine, the series is full of tough, no-nonsense women.

Mikela: Wow. That’s a lot to live up to! Framing it with Lorraine in that context really is an honor!


Nick: Do you ever find yourself acting for women everywhere? No doubt, women young and old can watch you kick ass as Lorraine and be inspired—to find their inner heroine.

Mikela: Hmm... not intentionally. I just showed up to do the best job I could for the twins. I knew Lorraine would be a challenge, but I never thought about it outside of trying to inhabit her world as deeply as I could. Whatever audiences or viewers project is out of my hands once the director(s) yell cut!

Lorraine's character shot (courtesy of Shimon Photo).

Nick: Lorraine is somewhat unique in the Alien universe: she’s a grandmother.

Mikela: Going into the film, I knew what her pivotal role was from the get go. I really tried not to be ‘the leader’ too much as it is intrinsically an ensemble cast. Yet, yes, her being a grandmother (twice) sets a very specific tone for her trajectory.

Nick: In Aliens (1986), there's a deleted scene where Ripley learns that her daughter, Amanda, is dead. Sigourney Weaver used a real photo of her mother to affect her performance. Were the photos of the children in your locker related to you; or, did you find yourself thinking of you own grandmother when playing Lorraine?

Mikela: No! That magic was due to the props people. The Spear sisters really gathered an impeccable crew who understood the many layers of the Alien world, so all the many Easter eggs and references are there with intention.

[editor's note: According to Kailey Spear, the baby photos in Lorraine's locker (which are supposed to be Lorraine's granddaughter) actually belong to Cheryl Marion, the production designer. The pictures are of her sons; both are now grown, Kailey explains, and helped in the building of the elevator set(!). In similar fashion, Ridley Scott used his two children and a cameraman's son as stand-ins for the adult actors by equipping them with smaller spacesuits, in Alien.] 

Getting the Role

Nick: Did you hear about the project beforehand and audition for it, or were you approached for the role?

Mikela: It was an odd situation for me. I had been auditioning for two years after a ten-year hiatus away from the Vancouver scene. When I returned I was in my fifties and being thrown into auditions with women twenty years younger than me. It was demoralizing. At the same time I was farming in a very rural community on [the] Southern Gulf Islands in British Columbia. I hadn’t been called in for an audition in about eight months. Then Heike called me with this impossible-to-turn-down opportunity. She said however that I needed to dress in really dirty clothes and boots, no make up, to look like a miner. I had just come home from work covered in compost and soil, and [in] beat up boots. I said, "I think I can do this!" Then a friend came over to help me record four short scenes which I sent to the twins while they were in final auditions for other roles. They asked my availability after I sent them the first scene!


Nick: How did you feel when you heard about it, and when you got the job?

Mikela: I think I was in shock. I had read about the twins a year before and internally said I would work with them one day. Then after no one wanting me for any of the other roles I auditioned for, the fact that it worked out so well with them renewed my desire to act again.  From start to finish it has been an exceptional experience and dream to inhabit such an iconic character in this epic franchise!

James Cameron with James Remar on the Aliens set (courtesy of Strange Shapes).

Nick: Were you replacing anyone who had already been accepted (similar to Michael Biehn replacing James Remar as Hicks, in Aliens)?

Mikela: I didn’t even know about the production until Heike called me. My understanding is that they were looking for a long time for Lorraine. She had to be strong. A certain age. Non-Union. Be able to carry the film. I believe it had been many weeks and months before my name was even mentioned, while everything else had been booked, there still was no Lorraine.


Nick: Did your role seem "set?" For example, Veronica Cartwright thought she was going to play Ripley, only to be told she was Lambert right before shooting started.

Mikela: It was so incredibly smooth the way it came together. The casting over all was a dream. When we met the first time during rehearsal, we easily fell into character and truly adored one another. Being a short film, we didn’t have the luxury of time to forge connections, but from day one we knew how powerful this was going to be.


Nick: When you read the script, were you worried you might have to play the android? Or were you only allowed to read parts of the script, and not all of it?

Mikela: Not at all. I knew from the beginning I was to play Lorraine. I was ready!


Nick: How hard did you prepare for the role? Did you have to do any physical training?

Mikela: Well... farming and gardening work are somewhat parallel types of work in some ways, so after two hard years of it, it was easy to laterally shift to the mining world created by the twins.  I did twenty minutes of calisthenics every morning, then two hours of yin yoga at night to balance the hardcore physicality of pushing myself at work every day. It definitely gave me the core strength needed to tap into Lorraine’s world.


Nick: To get into character did you read any books (the cast, in Aliens, had to read Starship Troopers [1959]) or watch the original movies?

Mikela: I watched the original for sure. Also, Terminator 2 (1991) with Linda Hamilton, and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) with Mia Farrow. They’re all mother figures in surreal circumstances. The physical resemblances are also key as my entire career I’ve had people say I remind them of Sigourney, Linda and Mia. I’m not sure if it comes across in "Alien: Ore," but they definitely gave me a lot to be inspired by!

Mikela, again (also by Justine Warrington).

Nick: The actors in Aliens were allowed to "design" their own outfits, to some extent. Were you allowed to choose your own costume, too?

Mikela: Our incredible costume designer Barbara Gregusova handpicked everything. It was such an easy fitting!

Being on Set

Nick: How did it feel being on-set, in an Alien movie?

Mikela: The best. I don’t know if anything else will top it!

Behind the scenes: the "Alien: Ore" crew inside the mines (courtesy of Suzanne Friesen).


Nick: Was it a real mine, and if so, did you ever feel claustrophobic?

Mikela: Yes, we shot in Brittania Mines in Squamish, British Columbia. I had been enamoured with the location for twenty years, so I was like a kid: so excited to be able to spend four nights filming, living and breathing in them.

[editor's note: Claustrophobia and containment are important qualities for any haunted house. In Alien, the Nostromo set was fully enclosed, and the actors could lose themselves inside; in "Alien: Ore," the mines are a real location, not a set, but remain equally tenebrous and crypt-like. Eat your heart out, Tolkien.]


Nick: Did you know who was going to die, beforehand? Did you know the ending, or if Hanks was an evil android? Did Kailey and Sam keep information from you to try and make your shock or anger seem more genuine; or, did they keep you separate from Tara Pratt (the synthetic security officer) and Christian Lagasse (the xeno performer) to maintain feelings of isolation, rivalry and danger?

Mikela: Actually, the Twins were exceptional at keeping every detail very clear. There were no secrets that I’m aware of.  In fact, that would’ve been an awkward distraction. This was a ten minute short. If it was a feature or a series then perhaps there would be more room for that kind of play.


Nick: Did the effects crew tell you they were going to spray blood on your face when Clark was killed? How many takes did that need before getting the perfect reaction?

Mikela: Oh. My. God. Make up artist Iya Yujuico had me and the twins over to her place for a make-up and hair test. We decided to not use any make-up other than fake dirt, fake bruises and fake blood. We must’ve tried half-a-dozen different spray bottles over fifty times to see which pressure was correct with the consistency of [the] fake blood mixture. By the end of the test, it looked like the most grisly crime scene on her white-tiled shower. Luckily that stuff washes off, but on set it only took a miraculous three takes to get the shot!

[editor's note: Like slime does, blood effects and spatter have their own school of practical, special effects. For example, to create the alien queen's egg sac in Aliens, James Cameron used garbage bags filled with maple syrup; and any kind of slime or blood would have to have been mixed and "ejected" during filming. Sometimes it's "easier" to create digital blood, in post; it seldom looks as convincing as practical "blood" done well.]


Nick: From your point of view, how difficult was the shoot, itself? Were there any accidents on set, any funny incidents?

Mikela: It. Was. Flawless.

The Ending (spoilers)

Nick: Did you get to choose your final weapon? If so, what made you choose the weapon you did?

Mikela: Props master Neil Colango had a replica of a real miner’s drill. It must’ve weighed at least fifty pounds(?) which made it even more realistic. It was positioned in a [designated location outside] the elevator. Lorraine knew exactly what was where, and decided to act in the heat of the moment.

Lorraine and her drill (also by Suzanne Friesen).

Nick: How did it feel, staring down the tunnel at the end? You looked pretty scared, for a moment; was Christian standing in front of you and the other actors, trying to psych you out?

Mikela: We shot the ending in a few different takes and angles. All of my acting is simply in my head. The way they edited it together is so incredibly seamless that it feels as if it were happening real time...


Nick: In Fellowship of the Ring (2001), Peter Jackson hung a green tennis ball in front of Ian Mckellen and added the CGI Balrog, later. To summon his furious response on-camera, Mckellen imagined Hilter in his mind. I was wondering: What did you think of to look so scared, on-camera?

Mikela: I was looking down a long, foggy tunnel in the mine. When the camera was behind me, my point-of-view was actually a series of cue spots the CGI folks used for reference. At one point, Christian was in his suit coming towards me making creepy sounds, but it was too dark to make him out which added to the moment. I can't give away all my secrets, but I didn't imbue the scene with anything other than how it would feel to be face-to-face with a xenomorph! His suit was pitch-black, by the way.

Nick: Well, a silhouette like that would still be really creepy...

Mikela: Exactly, only I couldn't make him out. So it was more of a feeling of impending terror—feeling trapped to fight to the death.

[editor's note: In Gothic novels, terror is a form of impending or imagined pain, often foreshadowed by "doubles," sounds, or silhouettes that overstimulate the imagination.]


Nick: Who do you think wins, the xeno or the miners?

Mikela: I have this sick fantasy that it lurches at us, but I use my bad-ass drill to screw into its guts or brains. I figure it would take out a couple of comrades in the process. It would be a bloody mess but also a wicked way to continue the story into a series!

Closing Thoughts

Nick: How happy are you with the final product? Did it turn out better than you expected? In hindsight, would you do anything different?

Mikela: Are you kidding? Just to be a part of this has been a dream... I’m so proud of the twins and the work they cultivated from us all!


Nick: Given your experiences with “Alien: Ore,” would you return for a feature-length sequel, if that were an option?

Mikela: Y E S.

***

This concludes the interview. Many thanks to Fox for allowing it, and to Mikela, Kailey and Sam for all being so friendly and helpful

If you liked this interview, check out all my interviews on "Alien: Ore." For even more details on "Alien: Ore," watch my lengthy analysis.

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