Peta Wilson

Actress Peta Wilson was born in Sydney, Australia and raised in Papua New Guinea. She developed a love of performing from an early age and was a model before her acting career took off. Her credits include Highlander: The Series, the films Loser, The Sadness of Sex, A Woman Undone and One of Our Own. But it was her role in the TV series La Femme Nikita that brought her to the attention of the producers of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Darren Rea chatted with her as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was due to be released on DVD and video...

Darren Rea: Apart from the money, what was it that attracted you to your role in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

Peta Wilson: Let's just rewind right there, because this was my first big Hollywood film, so the money is not as you imagine [laughs].

What attracted me to the part was the comic element. When they first said they were looking for Mina I was in Australia and I'd just had a child and I wasn't really thinking of getting back to working straight away. They said: "Look, we're making this movie and [Sean] Connery has seen you in La Femme Nikita and he is really interested in you. Will you read the script?" They sent the script and the comic, and as soon as I opened the parcel I started to read the comic before I read the script.

I thought it was just fantastic. It was just English humour at its best. Then I read the script and saw how much of an adjustment it was to the comic. Nonetheless, I thought if you're going to a big Hollywood film and be part of a franchise, what an interesting one to be part of. At least there's some history of the characters, they're so iconic. I just thought how great it was doing this sort of genre of film - action/adventure film at the end of the 19th century.

The opportunity to work with Steve Norrington was very attractive to me. I think he is a really talented, modern film director.

DR: In the original graphic novel Mina's the leader of The League. Did you feel cheated when you realised that your character wasn't going to be in charge?

PW: No. Do you know what I did? I made her the leader anyway - inside herself. Do you know what I mean? Behind every strong man is a strong woman. That was the idea I used.

It would have been great if it was just like the comic book, but it would have been an entirely different movie. It would have been less of an action/adventure movie and more of a character driven piece. If the English had produced the film, that is probably what would have happened.

So, I didn't really think: "Ah. I'm not the leader". I thought: "Well, Sean Connery is cast, so he's bound to be the leader." But I just made it Mina's secret that really she's in charge.

DR: Your character is the only woman in The League, and she is the wife of a famous character and not really a leading woman in her own literary right. Do you think that's a sad reflection of the sexist nature of the writing of that time period?

PW: Yes, it is sad that there weren't a lot of iconic characters in Victorian literature.

When these novels were written it was really depressed in Europe and it's really interesting that writers were creating these aggressive characters.

In that period of time, all the women had was their virtue. They weren't allowed to vote, the men did everything.

Mina was pretty famous. Fans of Dracula will know her as the woman that Dracula crossed oceans of time to be with. But it's a shame that there aren't any female characters from this time period that the writers could draw on.

Dracula is dead, so obviously they couldn't use him and so Mina is the closest thing. But she's not your typical vampire. She's half and half. She's really conflicted about it. Alan Moore thought that she was strong enough to include her in his comics though.

The original writers of these characters would be turning in their graves to know that they had been immortalised in this way.

DR: Was it intimidating working with Sean Connery?

PW: No, he was very disarming - he's really great.

The boys were so nervous - they were shaking in their shoes. I was like: "Why?" and they said it was because he was Connery and they were all such young actors. If I'd been working with Katherine Hepburn I'd probably have felt really nervous.

When I first met him he was just really nice. I had a new-born child and I was feeling pretty strong and he was just really pleased to have me as part of the cast. He thanked me for doing the movie and said he was really looking forward to working with me. He made me feel quite equal.

He also really likes Australian women - he was married to one for a long time. He was great to work with, very professional, loved to rehearse. He was really great.

DR: You do an impression of him in the movie, how did he rate your impersonation?

PW: It was really funny on set when I was doing it. Because of course that was the one thing we weren't to do - impersonate Connery. Stars have rules and the poor man has been impersonated for so long that you just don't impersonate him - not in front of him anyway.

When it came to shooting that scene all the actors were like: "Ah! You've got to do him Peta." And I'm thinking: "I'm not doing him. No way! I'll mock the character, but I'm not going to do his voice." But they said I had to.

So I rang him up and said: "Mr Connery, I'm just wondering about this scene..."

And he said: "Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to do me?"

I said: "Well, I wanted to ask you about that. I don't have to do you. I can mock you."

And he said: "Ah, why not then. Do me. People have been doing me for years. I think it will be good. I think it will be funny."

So I did do him and it was really funny on set because I did one take that was a really strong Connery. We did another couple of takes and we finally got the one that appeared in the movie - it was done as a bit of an impersonation, but much more to mock him.

When he saw the dailies I was so nervous. He rang me and said: "Well, one of those was perfect - a really great impersonation. But the one we are going to use... do you know why I love it? Because it's so bad." Which is how it should have been. Mina shouldn't have done him perfectly. He had a great sense of humour about it and it was fun.

DR: There were lots of media reports at the time that Connery and director Stephen Norrington had a bit of a falling out. Did you witness any of that or was it something that the media blew out of all proportion?

PW: To be honest, I think it was all media stuff. I think that this is something that there is always a bit of on every film.

Because the upper echelons are dealing with so much money, time constraints, special effects and, in our case, floods, there was so much happening on this film that there were times when it became tense just because people were tired.

The media really blew it up into something it really wasn't. Which is a shame, because it's not exactly the best press to have for a film coming out.

There was a difference between Steve Norrington and Sean Connery and that was that one's a vegan and one's a meat eater. And which one's the meat eater? Connery. They were such opposites. You'd never usually see them in the same room together. They are both extremely good at what they do and I think the marrying of both of them gave the film this missing element you couldn't see.

I'm sure Connery told England that he's not crazy about Steve Norrington and I don't think that Steve Norrington would have made any comment, because he's not that sort of guy. There were some pretty funny things that happened on set - not dramatic, just funny.

DR: The DVD is released later this month. Is this a medium that you embrace, or is it hard to do your job while people are shooting 'behind the scenes' features or asking you to comment on your role?

PW: You know what? You don't actually notice it. You're so busy focussing on what you've got to do that they're just another part of the movie.

I'm not one of those actors that gets all prissy about things like that. It's just part of my job and sometimes when you've been on set for 16 hours it's actually quite nice to see new people.

It's also part of what is happening today. A film can make a lot of money at the box-office but it can make millions more on DVD now.

It's a really big thing. This is the first time I've done a press tour for a DVD release.

DR: While you were filming, you were caught up in the horrendous flooding in Prague. How did that affect you personally? Were you concerned for your new-born son?

PW: I was concerned because we lived on the river. I was more concerned, not for the floods themselves, but the aftermath and all the diseases. There was typhoid and other disease around after the floods and I was concerned for my son because of that. I was breast feeding my child, so I just kept him very close to me at all times.

The floods themselves were so shocking. It was so sad, but with a natural disaster you can never tell. Here's this beautiful country and at any given point this beautiful city, that was built centuries ago, could have crumbled. The foundations are built on sand and there was a huge concern that they might wash away.

We did the European premiere in Prague to raise money for the flood victims, because it was just so sad that insurance companies wouldn't pay out and there were all these people who were losing everything they owned.

It was a little strange doing an £80 million film in this country that could have benefited from the money that had been spent on a movie.

DR: The movie got quite a lot of bad reviews in America when it was released. Why do you think that was?

PW: Of course it got bad press in America - because they don't understand irony. The truth is that visually it is wonderful - I think that the star of this show was the production designer.

The film, as it was shot, was really great, but once the Americans got hold of it they took a lot of the irony out. The stuff that us Australians, English and Europeans get is that humour of taking the piss out of each other and Americans don't really understand that. So they took a lot of that out and put a few more bullets in.

It was a shame that it got bad press, because I though it was good. I got good press in America, so I'm happy [laughs].

DR: The large sets look fantastic, was it difficult adjusting from going from these lavish sets, to then spending time in a studio doing blue screen work?

PW: I was in a theatre company for nearly seven years before I started working in film and television. So, that's were you learn to do all that. It was like: "Ah! This is kind of interesting. It's great!"

DR: What were your views of the Hollywood movie industry? Would you do it again if there was a sequel?

PW: Absolutely. I mean, first of all because I really loved the comic, and also because I really loved working with the actors.

I think it would be a great franchise to keep doing. I just loved doing that movie. I hope we get to do it again. I can't wait to play with Tony Curran again - he was just great.

DR: Talking of Tony, we interviewed him a while ago and he said that you would have made a fantastic Catwoman. Would you have been up for that role?

PW: That's a great idea. It's just a shame that they are making it right now with Halle Berry - I would have been a much better Catwoman. But that's okay I'm a good Mina. Something else will come up - maybe I can be Panther Girl.

DR: What are you up to at the moment?

I'm actually producing a film called Noble Souls with Peter Medak, the director of The Ruling Class and Romeo Is Bleeding. It's a small independent movie about a husband, wife and a lover. It's a bit reminiscent of the love triangle film style of movies from France in the sixties.

There are also a couple of other projects that are looming, but I haven't made a decision yet about those. The next few weeks will be quite telling - another series maybe. But my focus at the moment is this independent movie.

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to David Cox and Liz Silverstone at DSA

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is released on DVD and video from 20th Century Fox on the 16 February 2004

Order the single disc DVD for £10.99 (RRP: £15.99) by clicking here
Order the double disc DVD for £15.99 (RRP: £22.99) by clicking here
Order the video for £10.39 (RRP: £12.99) by clicking here

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