Interview: Oona Chaplin on ‘Realive’ and the Beauty of Making Movies

The actress talks sci-fi, emoting on screen, and those ‘Avatar’ sequels.
By  · Published on October 2nd, 2017

The actress talks sci-fi, emoting on screen, and those ‘Avatar’ sequels.

For most people, making a name for oneself with a family tree that includes a prestigious playwright, a prolific actress, and the most famous comic actor in the history of cinema would be a tall order to fill. Oona Chaplin makes it look effortless. The Spanish-born actress has been all over Peak TV in recent years, appearing on Sherlock, The Hour, Black Mirror, Taboo, and perhaps most memorably as Robb Stark’s doomed wife Talisa on Game of Thrones.

Chaplin’s latest work is Realive, an ambitious yet personal science fiction film directed by Mateo Gil. The movie, which opened in theaters last week and is available on demand and digital beginning October 3rd, follows the second life of a man (Tom Hughes) who becomes the first person to be successfully resurrected after opting to cryogenically freeze himself after a terminal diagnosis. Chaplin’s character exists across time and largely through fragmented, passionate memories of her tumultuous relationship.

Here Chaplin talks about Realive, the beauty of emotive filmmaking, and what it’s like to be on set for something huge–James Cameron’s Avatar sequels.

How has the promotional tour been so far?

It’s great, man, it’s a really beautiful way to revisit the film and revisit the memories and the stories. I always love reconnecting with projects that I’ve enjoyed doing.

That’s a good way to think about it! You had to do so much emotional work in this film, but it was in lots of short snippets of scenes. I’m interested in how you filmed that and what it was like getting in that emotional spot so many times in so many different ways.

I’m so grateful that you asked that because it was such a beautiful process to create that. It was absolutely amazing because basically we were given the challenge [to] pick the moments that make a relationship a relationship. Like, what shit would you remember about your relationship? It’s never the big moments. I mean, big moments are big moments, whatever, but it’s like the way the person brushes their teeth, or that weird day you couldn’t see the moon. It’s so mundane at the time that you don’t necessarily pay that much attention, but then looking back on it, that’s what makes it so beautiful. That’s one of the things that I loved about making this film, actually getting a whole new appreciation of the ordinary moments that you share with people because that is beautiful. Beauty is all day every day if you just can open your eyes.

Was it tough to tap into those emotions so much?

It was great because we improv-ed a lot. It was all based on this desire to capture a relationship in its most essential form, so there was a great emotional availability there because that was the ambition, that was the point. It was just such a beautiful exploration, it was amazing to fall into that essential form of expression and just really boil things down. I mean, it was really interesting. Very intense, very beautiful, really amazing performances from all the other actors and the director. Mateo Gil is one of the most sensitive people I’ve ever come across, and not sensitive in the way that he reacts badly when you say mean things to him. Sensitive in the way that he has sensitivity, like a depth of feeling, and his curiosity for what it means to be a human being is boundless. It was a real treat, man, it was like, “Okay, now let’s explore all these different forms of expression.” That’s every actor’s dream, it’s amazing.

Are you the type of actor who can shake it off easily at the end of the day, or do you feel like you’re in that space for the whole shoot?

I think it really depends for me on what the requirements are. Sometimes it’s easy to switch off and sometimes not. In this film, particularly in real life, it really did affect my life in a way that I’d never anticipated. I’m very grateful for all that even though some of it was pretty hard to deal with. There were some big lessons learned, so in that one I guess I didn’t shake it off so much.

A lot of your projects–Realive, Black Mirror, and you have the Avatar sequels coming up–are kind of mind-blowing conceptual science fiction. What draws you to projects like that?

I feel like I’ve been genre-hopping for most of my career, and it feels really good. Science fiction is something I love, it’s very dear to me. Fantasy and sci-fi are platforms where I really think the human imagination can go wild and run riot. That’s amazing to me. I love reading science fiction novels, it’s such a passion of mine, so I guess I draw those kinds of projects in, I don’t know. But I feel lucky because I don’t know how it happened. It really wasn’t on purpose and I’m very proud of all the work that I’ve done, all the projects that I’ve been involved in. Thinking back on it, it’s like, wow, that’s crazy, I don’t know how any of that happened.

The Avatar sequels just started shooting two days ago so you probably haven’t been doing much, but you have gotten a chance to work on bigger projects–even big TV, like Game of Thrones. It sounds like the shooting of Realive was a more intimate experience. Do you have a preference for larger or smaller projects?

I think the thing that makes a difference is the more people that believe in the story that you’re telling on set, the better. So it doesn’t matter how many people there are on set, what matters is how many of the people on set believe in the project. If there are more people that believe in the project, then shit gets done in a way that is like magic. People really get something out of it. But it’s just about how much energy is behind the story that you’re telling. So right now in Avatar, it’s crazy. People are just so creative and so happy to be going to work every day. There are challenges and there’s freaking difficult shit that you need to deal with and computer stuff that nobody understands except some genius, but people believe in the project so there’s a lot of energy moving through that set. In Realive, it was very similar. Mateo created such a team, because he is a person that feels and people can feel his heart, and that’s a very beautiful man. When you meet him, you feel his heart, so he creates a team that believes in him and wants to tell his story and is happy to go to work. That’s what I’m interested in. It doesn’t matter the size of it.

Are you ever interested in being on the other side of the camera, writing or directing?

I haven’t explored that. I haven’t really had that call. I thought I had for a couple of times but I haven’t really had that call right now. But who knows. I have faith that the stories that need to come out will find a way.

Definitely, and you’ve got time. What else can you say about Realive?

I think mainly, this is a moment. When a film like Realive comes out, it just feels like an important choice to go and see it, that’s how I honestly feel. It feels like the rare type of film that allows you to sit in the audience and as a human being ask yourself questions that are challenging and beautiful, you know? It’s really one of those films that beg those questions from you in the depths of your being. So go and see it!

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Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, TV-lover, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association's television and documentary branches. Twitter: @aandeandval (She/her)