on making ANACONDA
interview by Douglas Eby
Filming on location in the Amazon was even worth having to
get a lot of immunization shots before she went says Kari Wuhrer
(HIGHER LEARNING; FORD FAIRLAINE) of her work on ANACONDA: "It was an
incredible place. The jungle is disappearing, so it's becoming more
civilized than the books we used to read about it, and in the National
"There's a city in the middle of the Amazon called Manaus, and a hotel that I guess they'd consider four star where we stayed, but with it surrounded by jungle, the humidity was so bad that if you turned your air conditioner off for a minute, the walls started raining.
"It was great. Everybody was complaining and they all wanted to go home, but I loved it. I wish we could have shot the whole film down there. Then we stayed at this jungle hotel, and the only way you could get there was by boat, and we went during the wet season when the rivers are swollen, so it was really beautiful."
She recalls one particular experience: "I was waiting on the bank of the river, waiting for the boat to take me to the set; I'm all alone and it's early morning, and I'm eating a croissant, and this little parrot comes and jumps on knee and hangs out, and within a half hour I had that bird eating off my shoulder, and nibbling on my neck. It was so incredible, sitting in this jungle with the river and these smells and sounds, and this little bird, and then he wouldn't let me leave when the boat came; he kept following me, hanging onto my shoulder. It was so surreal."
Her character in ANACONDA is Denise, the production manager of a documentary film crew, as Wuhrer describes her: "She went to college with Terri [Jennifer Lopez], who is the director of the film, and she brings her boyfriend along, who takes the job of sound man, and she's going to have this incredible, romantic adventure on this boat with the jungle, and thinks it's going to be fun. She's really free-spirited and when she slams into all this danger she's just not emotionally prepared, and sort of has a breakdown.
"She's very trusting and warm, and just doesn't have the strength to deal with the insanity of Sarone [played by Jon Voight]. She's not tough enough. She attempts to find the strength, but you can see the slow deterioration of her sanity. It was fun playing someone who was so positive and trusting. She had a little bit of a religious background, and had a lot of faith."
The emotional changes Denise goes through offered some real acting satisfaction for Wuhrer, she affirms: "At the point of breakdown, I gather up enough strength to make an attempt on his [Sarone's] life, and you see her make this total adjustment from being really comatose to really attempting a murder. And it was interesting to make that change. I think her whole progression, her deterioration, was interesting for me. And it was all shot out of sequence, and then playing with Jon Voight and the psychotic character he was playing, coming up against him was great; that in itself was an incredible experience. He's a really giving actor, right there for you whenever you need him, which is not very common."
Wuhrer worked in the Steven King project THINNER as a gypsy, a character she's described as a woman "with a lot of violent energy and passion." The film's director, Tom Holland, commented in a People magazine interview "I needed someone who is strong, not a shrinking violet, and physical. I also needed someone who is sexy. She is all of those things." She is currently appearing in SLIDERS, and says science fiction and fantasy film appeal to her "a lot" and explains "I'm not a Trekkie, but I love fantasy, because as an actor, that's what we rely on the most, our imagination.
"And you get to stretch it really far when you're playing in a situation that's so unreal. Imagining this gigantic snake attacking you [in ANACONDA] is pretty fun. The animatronic snake was great, but with all the CGI we use in the film, we had to react a lot to grip stands with tape on it. That was challenging; I really had to be the female that shows the most fear, and really gage what that was going to be like at all the different stages. I had to break down the script and think about what were the beats that were going to be the most frightening, what were the beats I was going to use as a buildup to this incredibly frightening fate.
"I think I was really successful at that, and I'm really happy about that work. It was the first time I've worked with anything animatronic, and was one of the first times I've worked with real CGI equipment, and you never really know what's going to happen in post, so it's difficult to gage what your reactions are going to be, how intense you're going to be."
In SLIDERS Wuhrer plays a military captain "who was a fighter pilot, and I end up having to slide through the various dimensions with the Sliders to avenge my husband's death, which was committed by Roger Daltry. And I come up against zombies and a fog world, and there's CGI in that, so you have to imagine this thick fog that will be put in later. That is really fun."
In THE CROSSING GUARD, she recalls, "I play this young care-free party girl stripper, and I had to learn to dance and go through a whole training process, becoming extremely comfortable with your body so you can do that. And it was working with Jack Nicholson, and that had its own built-in fear factor. That project was intense and completely different. But every character you play is obviously different from yourself, and you just have to use your imagination to get there, and it's a lot more fun to use your imagination when you have further to go. And obviously when you have a forty snake chasing you, it's a pretty far stretch."
Wuhrer says she really enjoys her film work: "I'm really excited about it. It's been a slow, intense process for me. I mean, I haven't had a lot of luck. Like some people are handed these great, starring studio roles, but I've been working my way up slowly, and it's been difficult but I've been working really hard, and I know as long as I'm focused, I'll get to do more great work. That path has been great for me, and I'm going to stick with it. After doing ANACONDA, I did a few independent movies, which I really enjoy.
"It's one thing doing something with a huge budget, and you've got incredibly talented people behind the scenes, in post-production, and directors - it's really great. But these little movies, these little guerrilla films that I do, I really really love because it gives me a hand in the entire creative process, deciding how to set up a shot, how to approach the scene, even some of the writing of scenes. That's really incredible, and I love that. I just finished a project with Denis Leary called SAND; it's an intense, personal story about a family in Malibu. It's very humanistic, a very real story, and it challenged me a lot in an emotional way."
Agreeing that it's hard to find good roles for women in films, Wuhrer notes there is less competition in the independent arena: "I'm not at the place where I can compete with the 'A' list people, and that's where they go first for studio films. But it's hard; I don't think there are a lot of great roles for women in studio films; I think independents offer a lot more choice, but there's a lot more films to choose from in the independent circle also, for everybody. Scripts and stories are approached differently when there's not a studio behind them, telling them how to do it."
Much as she loves performing, Wuhrer is finding herself interested in other aspects of filmmaking also: "I've got a couple of projects that I'm very closely involved with in the developmental stage, and I'd really like to take it as far as producing, and doing it that way. It's something that's really important to me, so I'm taking it slowly and trying to make some good decisions. But I'm also in an acting class with a great teacher; it's a continual process, all the time. I'm so much more focused on it the last couple of years than I've ever been. Even when I have a period of time where I'm not working -- which isn't that often, thank God -- I still feel like I'm working toward my goal, because I'm constantly working on myself as an actor, my body, my instrument. So it's great; you don't feel left out."
When asked about what she feels is one of the more important things she does to help continue her growth as an actor, Wuhrer declares "Reading, definitely reading. Because if you can be impacted by a story, like a book, the first time you read it -- which of course we all have been -- you can be that impacted in your work in a scene, in a moment, as a character. So the more that I read, and the more that I exercise my imagination, the better I become as an actor. I also have at my house my own ceramics studio, that my husband built for me, and my own kiln. Working on pottery is an incredibly calming and centering process. It works on your concentration, which is really important as an actor."
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[originally published in Cinefantastique magazine]
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