You’re heading to Comic-Con with Marvel for The Defenders. [Note: This interview was conducted before the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con.] You’ve attended before for Paul in 2010 and for the Aliens 30th anniversary reunion in 2016. What do you remember from your previous Cons?
Paul was a great movie to go to my first Comic-Con with, because even though I’d done Galaxy Quest, and we had that wonderful scene where it’s like you’re at Comic-Con and everyone’s dressed up — it was one of my favorite scenes in the movie — I’d never gone to an event like that.
I actually went with a friend. I grabbed a mask, I think it was a Batman mask, and we walked through, because I just wanted to see what everyone was talking about. It was so wonderful to see all these different people in these incredibly elaborate costumes they obviously worked hard on, looking so fabulous. You know, [you’d see] three of the same character all chatting with each other as we walked by! [Laughs] I thought, “What a great thing.” I actually feel sort of sorry for the other genres because there’s no Con for drama or comedy [laughs]. There should be, because it’s so much fun for movie lovers to get together.
I’m glad you brought up Galaxy Quest, by the way. It’s a personal favorite.
I loved doing Galaxy Quest. I’m much closer to Gwen than I am to Ripley [laughs]. I’m not very heroic. I’m much more, you know, if there’s a spider in the shower, [I go] “Darling, come and get it!” [Laughs] That movie was a great love letter to actors in this genre, and to the fans.
Oh, for what it’s worth, I think Gwen is heroic.
Well, thank you. It took guts to do what she did.
Going back to your Comic-Con experiences, do you remember when you were introduced at New York Comic Con? The Defenders cast have all said that was a highlight, your surprise appearance and casting announcement.
Well, I have to give Marvel the credit for that. It was a lot of fun. Jeph [Loeb], our producer, is such a master at building up anticipation and I was the last person to come out, so my fellow actors had already gotten the audience up to such a high level of excitement.
Do you remember what you were thinking when that happened?
I guess what ran through my mind was, “They’re very excited. I hope we can live up to this.” [Laughs]
As far as the plot goes, so far all we have are glimpses of you as Alexandra, the villain —
I’m not a villain. I’m an adversary. [Laughs] Alan Rickman [her costar in Galaxy Quest and Snow Cake] always said, “I don’t play villains, I play very interesting people.” And I think that’s very descriptive of my character.
Then what would you say makes her different from her typical adversary?
Well, in many ways, she’s an admirable person. There are things she cares about deeply. She probably doesn’t care about the same things the Defenders care about, and that puts them on a collision course.
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What drew you to the role? Had you seen all of the standalone series?
No, I didn’t really know much about them. When they approached me about this they sent me some of Daredevil and Jessica Jones — and I’d worked with Krysten [Ritter, who plays Jessica] before on Vamps — and I was so impressed by the writing and by the whole thing about Marvel on the small end. These characters are regular people, and they have a couple of very important gifts, but they’re not superheroes and they don’t jump around in boots and capes. It’s not the apocalyptic moment; it’s all about the city, and I guess as a New Yorker, I really cared about that instantly. Making that block that much better for the people who live on it, that really spoke to me.
But I had to completely educate myself. I knew nothing. I kind of heard about [the Defenders] because they’re certainly in the zeitgeist, but I needed to watch them to really appreciate them. And then the idea that I was going to be [lowers voice] an adversary [raises it back] I thought was really fun. She’s a really worthy adversary. I thought it was a very beautifully written part, very ambitiously conceived, and challenging.
Can you explain your choice to call her an adversary and not a villain? Isn’t she the Big Bad? Aren’t those words all synonyms?
You know, we had a lot of talks early on about who this woman was, and with my work in general, I try to avoid things like the “ice queen” and terms like that that are often thrown at women who aren’t completely sympathetic. I hate all those terms so much. So I encouraged our little group, Jeph and Marco [Ramirez, the showrunner] and the writers, to not think in those terms, because I find them completely meaningless, and to help me understand who I was from a really un-cliché-ed point of view, and I think we succeeded in that. I really enjoyed playing Alexandra. I’ve certainly never played anyone like her. I felt like I was in heaven, I just felt very lucky to be a part of it.
After Comic-Con, you’ll be starting work on Avatar 2. The first film came out in 2009; why follow up nearly a decade later with four whole sequels? Just a few years back you were saying there might only be two.
There’s a very good reason why it turned out to be four sequels. Having read all four of them, I think they’re absolutely extraordinary and worth the wait. I love the way we’re doing them, we’re kind of doing 2 and 3 simultaneously and it’s going to work very well. A lot of the heavy lifting has already been done in 1, opening up the world and the characters and everything, and I think that Jim has had a wonderful time writing these four, and it’s going to be very exciting bringing them to life. It’s the most ambitious project by far I’ve ever been involved in, and the most moving, the most astonishing, beautiful. I think all of us who get to be a part of it are just in awe when we see the artwork. It’s just incredible to be living now when we can bring this kind of film experience to the public. Because I think as much as Avatar changed what people want in a film experience, this goes a hundred times farther.
What can you tell us about the stories in the sequels?
These films are very much about the peril of this beautiful planet, and [director James Cameron] is continuing the same themes of greed and callousness of the corporations and plight of the indigenous people. At this point after a long and very satisfying career — I can’t believe it’s been 40 years, but anyway — I’m very excited to be able to work on these four stories. I can really, really appreciate it. [Laughs]
And once you’re done with all of them, will you continue venturing into space?
[Laughs] I think after Avatar, I’m going to take a break. Maybe I’ll do a comedy.