New interview: Out in the Cold with Rihanna

TOKYO — A busy sked up ahead, from April 1 to 3.
Day One: Journalists from all over Asia (and a few from Brazil and Mexico) watch Battleship at the Toho Cinema a stone’s throw from the Ritz Carlton (where several scenes of Sofia Coppola’s acclaimed movie Lost in Translation were shot) in Roponggi where the entourage is billeted.

Day Two: In the morning, TV interviews with the stars led by Rihanna and Taylor Kitsch (yes, “the one” involved in that unfortunate “immigration thing” that happened in Indonesia and not, repeat NOT in the Philippines; more on him soon), also including Alexander Skarsgard (of True Blood). After lunch, general press conference at the flight deck of the USS George Washington at the US Naval Base in Yokosuka, more than an hour drive away from Tokyo. (Story on “jump” page)

Day Three: Back at Ritz Carlton function room for interviews with Battleship director Peter Berg, and other cast members model Brooklyn Decker whose big break came in 2006 when she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated; Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, touted as “a cross between Toshiro Mifune and Johnny Depp;” and Col. Greg Gardson, a decorated officer who lost both legs in Iraq in 2007.

Produced by Universal Pictures and distributed locally by Solar Films (opening nationwide on Thursday, April 12), Battleship (based on the popular Hasbro classic naval-combat videogame) marks the movie debut of Rihanna who plays Petty Officer Second Class Cora Raikes, an elite member of the US Navy described as a “tough-as-nails gunner.”

After the presscon, I sit with Rihanna for a one-on-one. It’s spring, very cold all over Tokyo and much more so on the flight deck. And yet Rihanna exudes genuine warmth and a familiarity that is so disarmingly endearing. She wears a black trenchcoat over her black dress and she talks animatedly.

After the interview, I ask if it’s okay to have my picture taken with her to accompany this story (proof positive that I was with her in the flesh, hehehe!) and she smiles, “Yes, of course!” She takes my cell phone and clicks. Bad shot! So Rihanna calls her assistant to take another shot, her face close to mine. Good shot!

As in other interviews, there should be “no personal questions,” especially not about recent reports that Rihanna is “friendly again” with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown with whom she recorded last February a remix of her song Birthday Cake. Okay, fine. Anyway, Rihanna has a lot more to say about a lot of other topics.

Why this kind of movie as your acting debut?

“Hmmmmm…I think I was really looking for something that would make people look at me in a different light, not as Rihanna, the singer, but as the character that I am playing. So when Battleship came around, I thought it was the perfect vehicle to kick off my movie career. It’s something that’s so far from my real life. I’m running around in military uniform and I’m not glamorous in any way. I’m just one of the guys — no singing, no love life. And it was really cool.”

You don’t sing, all right, but you do hum in one scene.

“You know, I sing in real life. That’s who I am…I sing. But in the film, I’m somebody else. I want to keep the two worlds separate — the world where I sing and the world where I act.”

Did you fall in love with the role at first reading?

“I tell you how it happened…Peter Berg, the director (Note: Featured in accompanying story.), reached out to my manager about the role and he wanted to meet with me. Walking to that meeting, I didn’t have any idea what it was about and who I was going to meet. My manager said she would come early to brief me but she came late. So I got there, and Peter and his producers started going through the movie, and I was clueless, I didn’t understand what was going on and I kept laughing. They were saying, ‘There are monsters and aliens and you and your group will be battling them.’ At the end of the meeting I figured out that, from the way he sounded, he must be the director of the movie.”

What an interesting meeting!

“By the end of the meeting, Peter had me in some kind of an audition, making me yell and do all kinds of crazy stuff…really, really loud…and then he said, ‘You’re perfect!’ He was so enthusiastic about it that I trusted him that he could really pull this off. I thought the role was something that I identified with and that was it. After I read the script, I thought that Battleship was the kind of film that I should be a part of.” (Berg on Rihanna: From day one, I had strong feelings about Rihanna. You can tell she’s musical because she takes direction well, and she looked the part. I was very impressed with her work.”)

Are you familiar with the Battleship videogame? Did you play it before the shoot?

“Actually, no. But I have seen people play it, so I know the basics. It’s really cool how the film was done because they added a really good twist involving aliens. Instead of us (military guys) fighting one another, we’re now fighting together against aliens.”

You’re so fit for the role…

“…thank you!…”

How did you get and how do you maintain that kind of body?

“Before shooting the film, I did a lot of physical training — training with weights, training with sandbags, training in the gym with a lot of push-ups. It was necessary for the film. How do I maintain my kind of body? Regular workout and following a diet…eating healthy food.”

What other preparations did you do before the shoot?

“Yes, I watched some Angelina Jolie films, Lara Croft and Salt, among them. I watched G.I. Jane (starring Demi Moore) and a lot of action films, and ‘men’ films to study their body language.”

What did you find intriguing about the movie?

“The physically-challenging part. I love getting dirty and jumping in the ocean and playing soccer for real. I love my fighting scenes, really using the weapons; it was like playing. I would never have an opportunity to do any of those things in real life, so it was like really liberating.”

Obviously, you enjoyed your movie debut. More movies coming?

“After having this experience which I found so incredible I can’t wait to do more movies. We’re actually planning my second and third films right now. I’m excited. I love it!”

Maybe romantic films?

“I hope so. I want to do a romantic-comedy. One day I’ll be doing a role like that. And maybe I’ll sing in one of my future films.”

If ever a Whitney Houston bioflick is done, you’re perfect for the role. How do you like the idea?

“That’s a lot of pressure; that would be something incredible. It would be an honor. But, you know, I would really, really think about it, and prepare hard for it. Uhm, it would take a lot of training and preparation but I guess I would be up to it.”

When you’re working, aren’t you distracted by issues around you?

“I try not to be. And even if I simply ignore them and it doesn’t work, I try even harder to just focus on my work. What should matter is not the issues but how you attend to your craft and how you grow as an artist.”

You have won several awards as a singer. Now as an actress, do you hope to do the same?

“Absolutely! Music is natural for me. Acting is a whole new world and it’s such a challenge to me because it’s so different, and I have so much respect for actors and actresses. To be awarded in that world would be incredible.”

You were fantastic on your show in the Philippines. When do we expect you back?

“Soon, I hope. It feels like a long time and I can’t wait to be back there.”

Anything you want to say to your fans in the Philippines?

“Hi to all of my Filipino fans, this is Rihanna. I miss you guys!”

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