Dakota Has No Blues About ‘Compass’
by Paul Fischer
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This might be her first film, but the strong performance by Dakota Blue Richards in the epic fantasy The Golden Compass, is already causing quite the sensation. She is the heart, soul and star of this moving holding her own against daemons and megastars alike, as she explained to Paul Fischer in London.
Paul Fischer: everyone’s really raving about you.
Dakota Blue Richards: Thank you.
PF: how surprised are you by that?
DBR: It’s a bit surprising, I mean, you do kind of—well, I find, when I’m watching myself, I always find it really crazy and really embarrassing. And I think it’s partly because I was there when we were shooting it, and so I know what it was like to kind of have to think about everything. But other people say it looks great, but I just find it really weird, watching myself.
PF: You were a fan of the books before you did this?
DBR: Yes, I was. My mom had read the books to me when I was about nine. And then, yeah, I was a big fan of the books, and I really loved Lyra.
PF: As a fan of the books, what did you want the movie to capture?
DBR: The kind of—the way the books are written, it’s so brilliant, and I think it’s very important—because Philip Pullman has a way of having these grand ideas, that of course couldn’t exist, but he has a way of making them feel real, and I think it was very important that the film kind of captured the realistic-ness of it all.
PF: was it more fun for you to do scenes with other actors, or the green screen scenes with pretend polar bears?
DBR: I found the green screen work very, very hard. I think that was the hardest bit. And the less green screen there was, the easier it became. So working with people like Daniel [Craig] and Nicole [Kidman] was so much easier than working with Iorek. Because of course, he wasn’t there. And doing green screen work really makes you have to think about everything twice, you know. You have to first imagine that everything’s there, so you have to think about other people before you can think about yourself. And that’s really hard, and really confusing, and you can get very lost. Especially when, I didn’t know what the animators were going to make it look like.
PF: Nicole Kidman started as a child actress, did she give you any advice on being a child actor and starting your career?
DBR: I don’t think so. I remember she did mention that she kind of started around my age. And I had a book, a hardback copy of the book, that I got everybody to sign, and she wrote in the book, stay true to yourself, which I think is very important.
PF: How do you do that?
DBR: Well, one of the ways, Daniel Radcliffe told me once, that you should always keep the people around you that you know are going to tell you the truth.
PF: When did you run into him?
DBR: We did a kind of work experience type thing, and basically the studios had sent me because of Harry Potter, just to speak to people who’d kind of been through the same kind of thing as I had.
PF: Did you know Emma Watson was a huge fan of The Golden Compass?
DBR: Yes. Yes, I did.
PF: Have people already started making comparisons between you and Emma?
DBR: Yes, some people already have, but I think—I think, well, there is like a big difference between us. I don’t really know her very well, I mean, I’ve met her once. But I wouldn’t say we were that similar.
PF: You still have school and friends?
PF: How important is it to stay a part of that world, continue your studies, and maintain friendships?
DBR: I think that’s very important, to me. If you don’t have your friends and the people that are around you every day, around you, then you start to go mad. And that’s why I don’t like—that’s why in the future, I don’t want to be constantly acting, going from one film to another, because I just think it would be so very lonely, to be away from your friends and your family for so long. And to have no proper kind of routine.
PF: What would you do if you gave up acting?
DBR: I don’t want to give up acting completely, but I want to be a supply [substitute] teacher in primary school.
PF: Really? Why?
DBR: Partly because I want to be a supply teacher. I want to be—generally, as a rule, children don’t like their teachers, and I’m not saying that about everybody, but generally. And I want to be one of the few teachers that kids are actually excited about getting their lesson from. Yeah, I want to be one of the cool teachers. And then [laughs], the reason I want to be a supply teacher rather than a full time teacher is because as a supply teacher you can take time off.
PF: A supply teacher, for those who don’t know, is the same as a casual or substitute teacher?
PF: Is there any subject you want to teach?
DBR: Well, because I want to do it in primary schools, younger kids, you probably have to be a bit of an all around-er. But I like math, I enjoy math, it’s my favorite subject. So yeah, I think math would be a good subject.
PF: What attributes of your character in this did you like the most, or feel were most like yourself?
DBR: Well, like most, was probably her bravery, and her courage, and how she would go so far for her friends, and what she thinks is right. And I think what I see in myself, is probably more the way that she kind of talks a bit more than she should.
DBR: Yeah. And is too inquisitive, and stuff like that.
PF: You have a lot of scenes with Nicole Kidman, how was your interaction off set? Did you bond at all? Did you have tension?
DBR: No! No, no. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to be the same with the actor as with the character, because I mean, you work with people who really are lovely people, who play people that you hate, and I mean, you don’t want to go around—what’s the point in kind of estranging yourself from people who are nice people, just for the sake of the character?
PF: How was it for you, to work with things like a stuffed bear head in place of Iorek? How did you get to the emotion, was it hard?
DBR: Well it was very hard. As you can imagine, doing green screen is the hardest part of shooting. But I think what made it a lot easier was having people like (can’t understand here) who read the voices of the animated characters on set. And I really don’t think I could’ve done it without them.
PF: Was it strange to hear the voice of Ian McKellen on screen, then?
DBR: Yeah, it was a bit strange. To hear his voice. Because of course I’d been doing all the acting against Nonno. And yeah, it was also strange to be doing like of course the big emotional scenes with Iorek. And I’ve never met him. And it’s just a strange thought.
PF: Will you meet him at the premiere, will he be there?
DBR: Probably. I wouldn’t know.
PF: Next up is The Secret Of Moonacre, right?
DBR: We’re finished making it already.
PF: Oh! So how was it? What excited you about that project?
DBR: I don’t know. I loved the story of that as well. And I mean, to be honest, in some ways, I prefer working on that more than on this, and in some ways, I prefer this more than that. I mean, because we were out of the country shooting that, and there was one other child on set at any one time, and she was Hungarian, and she didn’t speak any English, and my Hungarian is terrible. It’s very hard to be away from your friends for so long.
PF: How different a character is she?
DBR: Maria? Maria is—one of the main differences, Maria is very much a lady. Whereas Lyra is, you know, not. And not wanting to be one.
PF: And yourself?
DBR: Depends who’s judging.
PF: In the next film, there’s a romantic subplot. How nervous are you about doing that kind of stuff?
DBR: Um. Well I mean, of course I’m nervous. But I’m trying not to think about it so much, because then that way, it won’t be as scary. Just the thought of it. And I know my friends are going to take the mickey out of me. My friends will try to embarrass me as much as they possibly can.
PF: Will you have casting approval, or at least some say in who You get to kiss on screen?
DBR: [laughs] I don’t know. I mean, it’s not going to be my choice.
PF: I’m sure they’ll look at your chemistry, though.
DBR: Yeah. But I mean, in The Secret of Moonacre, the other kind of main character, after I’d booked the part, and they were auditioning, for him, I had to audition with them.
PF: how would you explain the plot to Moonacre?
DBR: It’s basically, there are the two families who are against each other, the Merryweathers and the DeMarks, and this is very, very basic and simple, one of the Merryweathers has to team up with one of the DeMarks to kind of set something right.
PF: how excited are you at the prospect of working with these people for perhaps several films? Compass, of course.
DBR: It’s exciting. I mean, I love the role. I really do. And I love the people as well, so I’d be happy to do it.
PF: how disappointed were you that the end was cut?
DBR: I don’t think it was so much of a disappointment as a bit of a shock. And I mean, they did explain it to me, and I did understand it. I thought the new ending, although I haven’t seen it, I’m sure it works, because I understand their reasons for doing it, and I think it’s probably for the best.
PF: if you had a daemon what would it be?
DBR: It would be one of three, it would either be a ring-tailed lemur, or a white hare, or a hedgehog.
PF: how many times have you been asked that question?
DBR: I’ve lost count.
PF: And people hear the same answer every time.
DBR: Yeah. You can’t change your daemons. [laughs]
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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