We're in Mexico, standing on a dusty lot near a enormous moving van. A man with an accent has laid out a number of exotic electronics and weapons. He runs through the array demonstrating each for us as we go.
No, this isn't some shady black market transaction about to go dangerously wrong. We're on the backlot outside of the Jeans Factory that serves as the studio lot for 20th Century Fox's anime-adaptation 'Dragonball: Evolution'.
The man in question is property master Colin Thurston and among his wares are the fabled Dragon Balls themselves. These are the seven objects of power that the heroes and villains are vying for in the story of the film. Each glows orange with power, and contains 1 to 7 stars to differentiate them.
"When we first started this movie everybody wanted the Dragon Balls to basically do what they were supposed to do," Thurston said. "As we got closer to filming we realized that, if we can make the Dragon Balls do what they're supposed to do for real I'd be working for NASA. It was really difficult."
As a result, several different Dragon Balls are used at different points in the film.
The initial design Thurston shows us has an acrylic shell bright orange paint underneath. It's transparent but the appearance is otherwise static. Another contains lights within so that the person holding it will be lit by a warm glow. A third set has a more sophisticated external light source. The last one is the most impressive.
"The visual effects team wanted a really shiny surface. So we then went to a solid brass ball," Thurston says, and gives the sphere a shake. Orange and red colors swirl over the surface of the ball, as if flames are inside of it. We reporters all "ooooh" in unison.
"We use that for a close up. It also gives visual effect some movement inside the ball which they're going to enhance," Thurston explained. "Then they're going to put the stars on and any other features."
He goes on to show us the other gadgets that will be seen in the movie. Not surprisingly, many of them belong to Bulma, the brainy, boy-crazy protagonist played Emmy Rossum in the film.
One of the gadgets she's invented is the Dragon Ball locator, which Thurston demonstrates for us. "We went through lots of designs. In this one we incorporated an iTouch," he says, activating the device which shows a moving map of terrain, with a blip indicating that there's a Dragon Ball in the nearby lava lake.
Bulma's guns are also the most high-tech of the weapons, with a lighted translucent acrylic clip and large capsules inside. Capsules are what Bulma is famous for. It's then that Thruston produces her most famous capsule. Slightly larger than an egg the metal-gray shaped object looks like a compressed version of Bluma's size-speeder. Fans of the manga and anime know that Bulma can throw one of these capsules down and it expands to a full-sized vehicle, a living structure or some other helpful contraption.
The actual speeder is parked inside the factory. The thing is a sleek gunmetal three-wheeler, a modified Can-Am Spyder tricked out for an even more futuristic look, but beat up in a way that suggests Bulma's trials and travails on the quest for the seven spheres.
Costume designer Mayes Rubeo, who dazzled us with her encyclopedic knowledge of 'Dragon Ball' described Bulma for us.
"She's a motorcycle girl, but she's also a scientist. She's the owner of Capsule Corporation, which makes her the Bill Gates of this movie, so to speak. She's full of contradictions. She's very smart, without being smart in your face, but also sexy like a motorcycle girl," Rubeo said.
Rossum herself had a different word for Bulma and the world of 'Dragonball: Evolution'
"It's Rad!" Rossum exclaimed when she sat down to talk with us on the set.
In full costume, she sports a short leather jacket and vest, with a pink T-shirt underneath, black boots over white jeans. She's also got a somewhat goofy hair-do with a pony tail springing from the top of her head, and lock of blue hair standing out from her brown hair.
Full of energy and enthusiasm, the conversation takes off quickly.
Rossum: I don't really say that word, but it still is "rad".
I got to learn how to shoot guns, lots of different kinds of guns. I trained with the Marines. I learned how to shoot handguns, rifles, shot guns, until I got nice and black and blue. Learned how to ride a motorcycle.
Everything I haven't done before because I've normally been corseted or singing.
It's really fun. It's nice to play a kick ass character who's really strong and really smart. She's a little vain, but it's fun.
Q: Was that the motivation...?
Rossum: My vanity? No, I'm just kidding.
Q: No, to do something you hadn't done before.
Rossum: Yeah! Definitely. I was excited to play this kind of character. She's described as the smartest girl in the world and that's a pretty cool thing to be able to play.
I like to do things that are challenging and different and this has been extremely physically challenging. I'm a mess. You can tell.
It's just been really fun.
Q: Did you have to read up or watch the show?
Rossum: Yeah. Sure. That was important to me. Before I went in to read for [director James Wong], I wanted to completely understand who she was as more than a two-dimensional character, which these characters aren't. They're pretty heroic in their own ways.
So yeah, I did my necessary share of research, but at the same time I have this thing where I don't like to be too close to the original material. Like I never saw the original 'Phantom of the Opera', didn't watch the original 'Poseidon Adventure'. Still haven't done either.
It's always important to me to try to be true to the character for the fans of these kinds of iconic characters. People really love them and feel really close to them and know them like they're their BFFs.
But I want to make it my own and I want it to be real for me and I don't want to be too fixated on making all the fans happy because I think that'll make me go crazy. So I tried to take the essence of who she's is in the manga and the anime and TV series and just be true to that, but be true to what I want to do too, which is pretty close to that.
She's probably the most fun character that I've ever played. She's really spunky. She has a lot of attitude.
So nothing like me. [everyone laughs]
She's really smart but at the same time, the dichotomy is that she's really boy crazy. IN the original series she wanted to get all the dragon balls to wish for the perfect boyfriend, but in this one she realizes that if she harnesses the power of all the dragon balls she'll be like Albert Einstein! She'll invent a sort of unlimited source of electricity.
Q: After you're done and the film comes out are you going to look and see what the fans said about it?
Rossum: Well, that's a difficult question...
Q: Like in case the sequel comes up?
Rossum: Here's what I think. It's like doing a play.
A film where there's no sequel, it's fine to read whatever they say. But when there's a sequel or where you have to go do the performance again, to read criticism, which I think is beneficial in a lot of ways and makes you stronger. I think it's also harmful because you don't want to change your performance half way through to tailor it to what other people think you should have done. Especially when you're in a play or a movie that's gonna keep going, where you're going to keep being true to the character.
I think what I'm doing in the film is close to who she is. So I hope that they're pleased. I think people have such a distinct idea of what the character looks like that sometimes that's the biggest things.
Q: Did you have any trepidation about the fact that your character has crazy hair, or the way that she looked going in?
Rossum: Oh, this is tame. I wanted it to be much crazier than this, but the powers that be wanted it to be much more realistic
Q: Were you familiar with the style of the character?
Rossum: Yeah. Totally. We tried like a week of ten hours a day of different wigs, colors, styles, different clothes. I must have tried 30 different wigs and this is just extensions and bits.
I wanted the bright blue short bob, that's so signature of who she is, but I think they wanted it to be realistic. It's like really bringing these characters to a more realistic sense than what they were.
Because if they want the anime, the fans can just [watch] the anime and watch the series. That's there. I mean there are 500 episodes of the TV series and gazillions of pages you can read. So if you want those characters exactly, and you're such a purist, we can never fulfill everything that you want. We can just do our best.
Q: Beyond getting at the core of the character, is it more important to learn to do the physical stuff?
Rossum: I think it's incredibly important to be physically strong. I'm stronger than I've ever been in the past.
It was really important to Jim, that we possess, on and off set, a kind of physical and inner strength. I think when you feel physically strong, it gives you a physical presence within your own body, and it makes you feel more powerful.
Q: Do you sing in the movie?
Rossum: Do I sing in this movie? No. Not on purpose.
Q: It seems to me that one of the challenges for an actor in a film like this is finding where you are in such a fantastical universe or world. How do you find something to grab onto?
Rossum: For me the character's journey: she's a scientist. She's an extremely realistic, cut and dry person, even though she still loves the boys.
[muttered] Which is really difficult for me to play.
[some chuckles from the reporters]
We've got a very tough crowd. OK.
But, the movie for me was her journey from somebody who's a scientist and a purely factual person, to somebody who believes in things that are somewhat mystical and also more important than herself.
I think she's extremely selfish in the beginning. She wants what she wants. She wants to be famous for her inventions. She's extremely smart. She's invented this capsule to encompass her motorcycle and this device.
She is extremely aware of her own intelligence, which even in the series, is extremely annoying. All the characters were like, "Yay! They cast Emmy Rossum! She's so annoying!"
So it was interesting for me to go on that journey with her, because I am an extremely factual person, but being around this movie...[whispers something]...it's been incredible to see the kind of things that the characters go through and I think I've gone on that journey with her.
Not that I believe that if I get seven dragon balls I can make a wish.
Q: What was the most physically challenging thing you had to do?
Rossum: Just the sparring with [Chow Yun-Fat] because he plays such a pervert and he's always trying to get into my pants.
He's just a pervert. That's the way it is!
I think it's just the physical wear and tear that your body takes every day, doing stunts that are impromptu, a lot of the times. We all trained and conditioned our bodies that our characters have, because my character's so factual and scientific, she's a gun person. She's a weapons expert. She's not gonna take time to punch you in the face. She'll just shoot you in the head.
So that was the kind of weapons training that I went though and physical conditioning obviously. But I think it's just the wear and tear that your body takes every day just being on set.
Yesterday I was doing a double shoulder roll in a pile of dirt. It's not glamorous.
Q: How quickly did you adapt to the physical demands of CGI and the effects stuff?
Rossum: I've done that kind of blue screen stuff before, in 'Day After Tomorrow' and 'Poseidon' and some in 'Phantom of the Opera' so, it's fun. You get to use your imagination, even more so than in regular coffee table scenes, where you might have to envision --
Imagination always comes into play. I might have to play a scene with a guy that I don't find the most dreamy and I have to imagine that it's Clive Owen – or whoever – [laughs]
There's a little bit more CG on this. What we're going through is a little bit more fantastical. A little bit less scientific than say 'Day After Tomorrow' where we kind of know what a hurricane looks like, and what a big storm looks like. Here you're envisioning dragons and things that don't exist to the naked eye.
So whatever that dragon is to you, you have to imagine, and it might not be a dragon.
Q: What was it like working with Chow Yun-Fat and Justin?
Rossum: It was awesome.
Justin and I are like – I'm an only child and he has a sister who is exactly my age, a little sister. I've always wanted an older brother, so we have that kind of banter and that kind of brother-sister thing the Goku and Bulma have. So it's been really fun we kind of had that from day one.
And this is finally the project that we ended up working on. Like he's been on so many movies where I almost did it. And I've done so many movies where he's almost been the guy. So it's just been great to finally work together. He's so loose and so free-spirited. It's just really interesting to see him – he is a real boy and Goku at the beginning of the story is a real boy too, so it's just been interesting to see him make that physical transition into this warrior. He's fierce right now. He's fierce.
And Chow is one of the biggest reasons I wanted to be part of the movie.
Q: Were you a fan of his work, previously?
Rossum: Yes, from a physical standpoint and from an emotional standpoint I really look up to him. I just think he's really, really cool and I admire his strength, and his inner strength. He's an extremely kind, gentle person. He's also badass. He could kick the crap out of you.
Q: Are you signed on for sequels to Dragonball?
Rossum: I'm not allowed to say.
Q: What was it about James Wong's vision that attracted you to it?
Rossum: I think it was concept for this whole world and the large scale that he envisioned and the attention to detail that he had. I think it was the fact that I respected him because he didn't care if the actors had names or not. It's not like, you know, a lot of time you'll read a script and you're like, "you're not gonna get this because they want a huge, huge name." It wasn't about that. He didn't care if you were Jamie Chung, and have been in a reality TV show, or if you were Chow Yun-Fat, or if you were Justin or me. He just wanted people to walk into the room and own the character and I really respect that in a director.
I enjoy auditioning for people because I enjoy working with them in a room and seeing what that's going to be like. He does little tweaks and I like how he works on set. He's really fun to work with.
Q: With him being the writer and director was he able to maybe change some stuff up or has he changed stuff?
Rossum: There was a writer's strike, up until recently, so no.
If there wasn't I'm sure he would have.
He's really creative and the fun thing about him is he lets us improvise and he doesn't stay too true to the script. As long as it stays true to the character he'll let us try different versions and I really respect him.
Q: Does the tone of the movie come straight from him, or do you provide him with different interpretations of different scenes? I mean it's an intense, action-oriented thing, but that the same time it's --
Rossum: -- It's extremely funny --
Q: -- it's supposed to be funny, but it's also rated PG, then that sort of has to be muted. How difficult is it to know --
Rossum: -- It's a line you cross. You do different versions and they find a version that's emotional and funny and PG, all at once.
I also think that there are different points in the movie and climaxes and valleys that you find within the character to feel different things at different times. Like any film.
Q: Are you going to take a break after this? Or do you have something else lined up?
Rossum: I do. I do, but I can't say what it is. I don't think I'm necessarily – I can't say that.
I'd like a physical break, just for my body, but not an acting break. I could never take one of those.
Q: Now that you've done a comic book adaption film like this, is that something that you'd be doing with another franchise? Another kind of comic book thing?
Rossum: Yeah! As long as the character was rad.
I really feel like this character is so powerful and doesn't take anything from anyone and is at the same time like a human person on a real journey.
Q: Do you enjoy the fantasy of it?
Rossum: Oh yeah!
I mean that's what acting is about. It can also be about a legal drama, but it can also be about imagining dragons.
We're working nights, so half the time at three o'clock in the morning, I'm like imagining something fantastical and I'm like, "this is my job! That is so cool. I get to come to work and do this." I feel so lucky.
Q: Have you seen any of the footage yet?
Rossum: I secretly sneak in and watch playback, although Jim hates that.
Q: What have you seen that has just been, "oh my God!"
Rossum: I think the color of the movie is really special. I mean its so vibrant. A little heightened in reality. At the same time it really looks like this whole other Eastern world that I don't think we've really seen in a comic book adaptation.
Watch for Rossum in 'Dragonball: Evolution' appearing in theaters in the U.S. next Friday!