Rosa Salazar's Alita is a powerful warrior for 'powerless' times

By Karen Butler
Actress Rosa Salazar's motion-capture performance is at the heart of the new film "Alita: Battle Angel." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
1 of 3 | Actress Rosa Salazar's motion-capture performance is at the heart of the new film "Alita: Battle Angel." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Bird Box and Parenthood alum Rosa Salazar says the cyborg heroine she plays in the post-apocalyptic adventure Alita: Battle Angel could be a role model for those feeling insignificant in a time of political and cultural division.

"It's very relevant to what we are seeing right now," the 33-year-old actress recently told reporters at New York Comic Con. "'I want to change this. These people are monsters, but I'm small. I'm powerless. I can't do anything.' I think that is a very universal theme."


Salazar plays an amnesiac warrior in the big-screen adaptation of Japan's Gunnm graphic novels.

The character manages to overcome her feelings of helplessness and thrive in the corrupt and dangerous Iron City. Her portrayer hopes moviegoers will find inspiration in this.

"She goes on this journey and then she discovers that not only does she have the power to help herself and help the people around her, but potentially help the entire world," Salazar said.


The role of Alita came along at a time when Salazar said she was dealing with her outrage over the 2016 election of U.S. President Donald Trump.

"I was one of those people who was really hoping Trump wouldn't win," she said. "And I voted, but it's not enough and it was incongruous for me because I am playing a character named Alita, who literally defies everything in her path to help (other people.)"

The actress said she has been focusing on her career, so she will, hopefully, have a platform someday by which she can promote causes about which she feels strongly.

Working with two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz helped shape her perspective.

"He loves to talk about politics, so that was an education for me," Salazar said of her Austrian co-star.

Due in theaters Thursday, Alita: Battle Angel is a live-action epic in which the title character is brought to life via photo-real animation and performance-capture technology.

To prepare for the role, Salazar listened to world music and devoured all of the comic books in the series.

"You don't want to seem like Alita. You want to BE Alita. I filled myself up with any kind of material that gives me that something, that essence of her," the actress said, adding that she even printed out pages from the graphic novels and colored them "just to be in her face a lot and be immersed in the world."


Salazar said several months passed between her audition for director Robert Rodriguez and producers James Cameron and Jon Landau and learning she had booked the job.

"I was trying to be Zen about it, and then when I got the role it was like, 'Yes!'" she said.

The avid cyclist and rock climber said she spent 2½ hours a day, six days a week for five months in a gym training in martial arts to ensure she wouldn't become winded when the cameras were rolling.

"It almost killed me," she joked.

Salazar said she was amazed to see the finished film, with her performance accurately rendered in animation by Weta Workshop, the special-effects wizards who worked on the Avatar, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings blockbusters.

Realizing anyone can play anything through this type of movie magic, the actress cried and gave her character a standing ovation during a private screening with the cast and crew.

"The options are limitless," she said.

Robert Rodriguez goes to James Cameron film school

Rodriguez, who previously made movies out of the Sin City comic books, said Cameron had written a screenplay for Alita and planned to direct it, but was sidetracked by his Avatar movies and didn't have the time.


Titanic, Terminator and Aliens filmmaker Cameron was going to abandon Alita until Rodriguez convinced him to hand it off to him.

"My whole deal with him was: 'I love YOUR vision for it. I don't want to turn it into a Robert Rodriguez movie. I can make those movies all the time. I want to make a Jim Cameron movie,'" said Rodriguez, whose credits include Desperado, Dusk Til Dawn and the Spy Kids franchise.

Cameron agreed, and the result is a movie Rodriguez, 50, directed and Cameron, 64, co-wrote and produced.

Rodriguez, who is known for his fast and loose style of shooting, called the experience a "master class in filmmaking."

"My stuff is very whimsical. You could pick up a guitar case and it will fire a missile. You don't even know how it works. Doesn't matter," Rodriguez said with a laugh. "(Cameron) doesn't buy that at all. His science fiction is more science fact. His whole thing is, it has to be very grounded."

The notoriously detail-oriented Cameron also gave Rodriguez about "600 pages of notes" to go with his 200-page script.

"This stuff is so structured because he is an engineer by trade," Rodriguez said of Cameron. "To kind of get into how he is analytical and creative was really neat to learn. I didn't want him to look at it and go, 'Man, I knew I should have directed it myself.'"


Alita: Battle Angel co-stars Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley and Keean Johnson.

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