In San Diego, 'Whiteout' Director Dominic Sena ('Kalifornia', 'Gone in 60 Seconds') and Greg Rucka, writer of among many other things, the original 'Whiteout' graphic novel, upon which the movie is based, sat down to talk about the film, its star Kate Beckinsale and Antarctica.
Q: How would you categorize the movie?
Sena: I think it's a murder mystery with some pretty strong characterizations. What I love about it is the environment. It's so amazing and so rarely do you see it. I love the idea, from the day I read it, that you take this murder mystery and place it in this inhospitable alien unforgiving place and every time you walk out the door you're putting your life on the line. Just getting to where the body was spotted could kill you.
Rucka: The mere act of discovering that there was a crime is life threatening. It's not simply, someone found a dead body and you call 911. It's somebody says, I think I saw something out in the middle of nowhere and someone else says that's a five hour flight from here and we don't know what the weather's like. You want me to fly out and check? Well, yeah, you're kinda obligated to. Then you get out there and lo and behold this is now a crime scene. It's a negative one hundred ten below zero with wind chill crime scene and you've got to keep the plane running because if it stops you're never going to get it started again. And you've got only X amount of fuel. And the body's frozen to the ice. Let's just say it was an accidental death and call it a day. But look, he has eighty stab wounds. Oh, he accidentally stabbed himself eighty times, let's go, I'm cold.
Sena: As soon as you put it in that arena everything's different and the risks are tenfold. Everything is heightened. Walking from this building to that building could kill you.
Q: Is the movie pretty much a one character film with Kate [Beckinsale]?
Sena: She is the driving force. She's in almost every scene.
Rucka: It's Carrie's story
Sena: More so than even the graphic novel.
Rucka: Frankly it's two people's stories, if you get generous. It's Carrie's story and to a great extent it's Doc's story. And I think it works because each of them embodies very different emotional relationships to the ice.
Q: What kind of research did you do?
Rucka: I lived in Antarctica for three years.
Rucka: No, not really. (laughs) I watched a lot of public television and I read an awful lot. I read a lot. This was back before everything was on the web. I spent weeks in the library. I read everybody's accounts. I immersed myself in all the data I could find. I like doing research. The goal of good research is an iceberg. The reader only has to know what's above the water, they don't have to know everything below it. So you can drop in all those key details.
I love the fact that we use one of these in the movie. I don't know if it'll make it all the way to the screen. Antarctica is the coldest, driest and highest continent. You are ten thousand feet above sea level from the moment you arrive. And as you get up to the Pole you suffer altitude sickness as well as freezing to death. It's ice, not snow. What you see flying through the air is not snow, it's crystals of ice that have laid on that continent for three thousand, four thousand, twenty thousand years. It's too dry to snow, there's almost no annual precipitation. That means that in addition to freezing to death, you're also drying out. There's a bit we did in the film where Carrie looks back to see that Price has a nosebleed. Her comment is, you haven't been down here long, because he hasn't acclimated yet. And that detail, is one of those things you get out of research. You don't need to explain it. All you need to do is look at a guy and you get a great visual which is his nose has just started bleeding and he's like, what the hell? And from that I can go, you're lying to me. You said you'd been here a while, you're lying. Your body just gave you up. Just like this continent and the continent is a character. The continent doesn't like you, the continent doesn't want you there and the continent doesn't care if you live or die. It really doesn't. It means nothing to the ice one way or the other if you leave or you never do.
Q: On the panel you mentioned there was a scene you wished you had created, can you comment?
Rucka: No, I can't. Because I think honestly it's possibly one of the most powerful scenes in the whole film and I don't want to give it away. I will say it was a scene that we could never have done in the comic and when I saw what Dominic had done and how he had done it I was both moved and really stunned.
Q: What were some of the challenges of adapting the book?
Sena: They'd taken a bunch of passes at screenplays, so when I came onboard it had been through X number of writers. By the time I came onboard Lily had been changed to Price and some of those things were set. It would have been interesting to have gotten involved from the graphic novel, from that stage. But when I came onboard it was a 120 page script that had gone through various permutations so it had already been fleshed out into a story.
Rucka: There were some bad passes, too.
Sena: Yeah, there were some bad passes. But eventually you have to whittle away at those and get rid of the stuff that doesn't work. I knew the novel very well so it was weird for me to read the screenplay because there are variations. But as Greg would say, you begin to realize why certain changes had to be made in the telling of the story. I think in spirit it's very faithful. She's this marshal, she's about to leave, this murder happens, she has this ticking clock, she's got to solve this murder, the same sort of characters. Doc plays a pivotal role in this story. The spirit of it and the basic story is still very much intact.
Q: You said you've read a lot of the drafts?
Rucka: I read previous ones. I read two drafts early on and then I hadn't read anything until I was going up to visit the set the first time. I remember one of the early drafts had Carrie being stalked through McMurdo at night by somebody mysterious and she ran to safety. I was like: You're the marshal, who are you going to get to help you? And where are you going to go? And if I had been writing that and there had been a mysterious noise, everybody who knows the character knows that her response would have been to turn around and kick whoever it was in the knee, if not the nuts, and say "what?" That was early. That was not there in the last draft. At all. That had been left so far behind.
Sena: We threw that out the afternoon before Greg arrived. (laughs)
Q: Is this a different kind of role for Kate Beckinsale?
Sena: Well for one thing she plays a human being in this movie. She's not an 800 year old vampire hunter who's invincible and fires thousands of rounds. Actually I don't think there's a round fired by the end of the story, although lots of other things happen. For her, what was great, and I know she was on the fence for a while about whether to do it or not, is she was looking for something that frankly had more meat on the bones of the character. Where she knew she could be a human being, where she did have flaws. Some of the demons she's chasing in this are her own demons. It's a very different role for her. She has flaws, she has weaknesses, she doesn't kick everybody's ass who comes in contact with her. She has to get her shit together.
Q: There was a lot of talk previously about Reesse Witherspoon starring?
Rucka: The draft that was done when she brought it in--they paid, as I understand, a fair amount of money for somebody to do a draft--he did half of it and there were space aliens.
Sena: (laughs) Are you serious?
Q: Who was it who did this?
Rucka: I don't know the name.
Q: Was that Reese?
Rucka: It wasn't Reese. She had bought the property because she wanted to play the part. They had hired a writer to do it and a year and a half later they came back and the writer had added space aliens and hadn't finished it.
Sena: (laughs) I think I know who the writer was.
Rucka: And Universal said, um, we're not going to extend the option on this on the basis of this material. We're not going to put any more money after it. That's how the option lapsed and that was when Joel [Silver - 'Whiteout''s Producer] said "I'll make that." And he did. And I believe there were discussions with Reese at the start but I wasn't privy to those and I don't know what they entailed.
Sena: That was long before I got involved.