Building the Alita: Battle Angel Universe

Alita stars Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and more discuss the movie’s story and intricate world.

Alita: Battle Angel Cast
20th Century Fox

Den of Geek recently spoke with the cast of Alita: Battle Angel at the site of a movie-themed “experience” set up in a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. We were joined there by Christoph Waltz (Dr. Dyson Ido), Jennifer Connelly (Chiren), Ed Skrein (Zapan), Keean Johnson (Hugo), Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Tanji) and Lana Condor (Koyomi) as they discussed participating in the adaptation of the 1990 manga that has taken producers James Cameron and Jon Landau more than 16 years to get to the screen.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita stars Rosa Salazar in the title role as an abandoned, ruined cyborg who is discovered by Ido on a trash heap in the post-cataclysmic future dystopia of Iron City. Ido rebuilds her body, reactivates her human brain and christens her Alita — after his deceased daughter — but Alita can only access enough of her original programming to channel incredible strength and fighting skills.

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That sets her a course with the sinister Vector (Mahershala Ali) and his accomplice Chiren, who have their own intentions for the cyborg population. Alita throws herself into battle against Vector and his minions, aided by her newfound friends Hugo, Tanji and Koyomi, who find their own methods to survive on the dangerous streets of Iron City.

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The Oscar-winning Waltz is known for playing more malevolent characters himself, but Dr. Ido has a core of decency and humanity that makes his relationship with Alita the heart of the movie. Waltz himself had to come to terms with working in a mostly digital shooting environment, something he has not done often but embraced: “It’s fantastic,” the actor tells us below. “(Rodriguez) knows so much about that, and I have no clue, and I’m curious. Not that he satisfied my curiosity, because I couldn’t follow most of the time, but it certainly kindled more curiosity.”

“I thought it was an interesting metaphor for society and where we are,” says Connelly about her first impressions of the script. “It was sort of an interesting way to look at a reflection of ourselves. I thought the character of Alita was bad-ass. I thought it was great that she was this young girl who is going to change things that she doesn’t like in the system and fight for a more just system. And I liked my character! I liked that you kind of think, ‘Ooh, she’s sort of a villain’…but I had compassion for her, I was moved by her.”

While Connelly, Waltz, and Mahershala Ali required minimal digital trickery to bring their characters to life, Salazar, Ed Skrein and others went through the full motion capture experience (courtesy of top-notch VFX shop Weta Digital) to play their cyborg characters. Skrein (Deadpool) tells us he treasured the experience: “Working with the Weta guys and the design team on this is just the most amazing collaboration,” he recalls. “We’re bringing a multi-cultural, worldwide cast and crew together to make something beautiful, and that’s a wonderful thing.”

Alita: Battle Angel is in theaters now.

Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye