In San Andreas, Alexandra Daddario plays Blake, the daughter of rescue worker Ray Gaines (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino), who finds herself separated from her parents and leading her own little trio of survivors after a massive earthquake shreds the California coastline. It’s the latest in a series of increasingly high-profile roles for the striking 29-year-old actress, who made her debut on All My Children 13 years ago and has migrated between TV and film for years.
Her other credits include The Squid and the Whale, the two Percy Jackson & The Olympians movies (where she played female lead Annabeth), shows like Law and Order and White Collar, and a memorable turn as Woody Harrelson’s extramarital lover in the first season of True Detective. She gets to display some action and stunt chops in San Andreas, and spoke recently with Den Of Geek about her own experiences with earthquakes, playing The Rock’s daughter and whether she has any inside intel on season two of True Detective.
Den Of Geek: Have you been in an earthquake?
Alexandra Daddario: I’ve been in little earthquakes since I moved to Los Angeles. Very small. Nothing happened. Nothing fell off the walls. There was no repairs needed. The worst thing that happened was my dog jumped into my arms. But nothing big.
Did people warn you about them when you moved to Los Angeles?
People said, “Oh, yeah. There’s earthquakes out in California.” But California hasn’t had a big earthquake in a long time. I think the last one was in ’94. So I don’t think people think about it as much. I think now people are thinking about it more just because it’s been so long since one. They’re like, “Well, it’s going to happen inevitably.” But you do see a lot more in L.A. I’ve seen more people with sort of these very extensive preparedness kits, almost too extensive. Sort of preparing for the apocalypse kind of thing. But I think people are more aware to keep extra water and food around and that kind of thing.
Can you talk about the scope of this movie, how big it is, and how you deal with that as an actor? You’ve worked with special effects before in the Percy Jackson movies, but when you are on the set and there’s all this stuff that you maybe are not seeing, how does that affect your work?
It’s interesting. As an actor, when you are studying theatre in New York, you don’t learn how to act off of a tennis ball blinking or a green screen or act like nothing’s there. So it was an interesting thing to do, Percy Jackson, which was my first big movie, was sort of a crash course in how to do that, I think. You use your imagination and it’s interesting.
So for this it was less sort of talking to a tennis ball since there aren’t creatures. But there’s a tsunami wave that comes and you have to imagine it as huge and terrifying and possible. And it’s an interesting test, I think, because you have to get to that level of fear and sort of surprise and dismay and whatever would happen being in that kind of situation. It’s a lot of fun. But it’s interesting.
Did you do a lot of your own stunts?
Yes. You know, there are certain things that they won’t let you do. But I love doing stunts. The teams that I’ve worked with are so amazing and they make sure you’re safe. And they make sure you know what to do, and how to fall properly, and that you’re safe no matter what’s happening. I love doing that kind of stuff. So I did do a lot of the stunts.
And I think it’s important, too, when you are developing the character, to actually do the things and go through the things that the character would have gone through to the extent that you can, because I think it helps you develop the character. And this is a very tough, strong female character and I think that it brings out a different side of myself for that role.
How is it working with The Rock? Tell us something that we don’t know about him.
I don’t know if there’s something that we don’t know about him. I mean his reputation precedes him. He really is as wonderful as everyone says he is, and he’s incredibly hardworking, and what he’s done is so remarkable. I think that he’s an open book. He’s very genuine and has a great sense of humor about himself. It was wonderful to see that and work with him in person. It’s inspirational. He really is an extraordinary person.
Does he ever come to other actors for advice? Because he came out of such a different world, does he ever turn to you guys?
I mean not to me. The thing with this, it’s actually two interesting stories. So we’re actually separated and then trying to find each other throughout the movie. So I didn’t work with him every day. But he’s an incredibly generous actor. And he’s incredibly there for you and that kind of thing. But I don’t remember a specific situation where he asked me for any advice. If anything, I don’t think that I could offer him much. He has a lot much better advice, I think, for me if I would ask him advice.
Did you do any research for this in terms of going back and watching disaster movies from the ‘70s or anything?
I watched The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. I did some research on earthquakes and what would happen and that kind of thing. But when I go research a role, I really focus on who the character is, and what her story is, and who she is, and her journey. She becomes sort of a leader. I like playing characters like that, very strong women. It’s a lot of fun to be the leader and to be someone who can solve these things and be strong and survive.
Are you disappointed that the Percy Jackson movies stopped after two?
I love the Percy Jackson movies. That was my big break. I love the people I worked with. It was a really magical experience for me. So I think it’s a little bittersweet. It’s a little bit like camp ending, in a way. But I think as time goes by, it was disappointing, especially at first, and then there was so much time between the first and the second movie. But there’s so many other things to do. So I think as an actor, too, you have to sort of take each day as it comes. You never know what’s going to happen. You can’t be too attached to one thing because it’s never going to last.
True Detective probably opened a lot of doors for you.
It did, yeah. It was huge; unexpectedly huge for me. So I feel incredibly lucky to have had that opportunity. And it was a total shock. I didn’t have any work coming up. And it was January that it came out. And all of a sudden it was my entire career changed. So it was…it’s incredible. This business is so strange. You never know what’s going to happen.
Did people start to see you as capable of more adult roles?
I think more so than that, I had more opportunities behind the scenes. It wasn’t like all of a sudden I was famous or something. It was just that behind the scenes in Hollywood I had more opportunities to audition for roles that I maybe would not have been able to get in for. I’ve been taken more seriously for roles that I maybe wouldn’t have been considered for before. So that’s a huge thing. And that was really astounding to me. I was very surprised and very grateful.
Did you have a mole on the set telling you what’s going on in the new season? Are you going to watch?
I don’t. I actually have a friend who is in it from Percy Jackson, Leven Rambin, who is in this season. But I haven’t spoken to her in a while. I’m incredibly excited to see what they do. I think that Nic (Pizzolatto) is such an incredible writer. I can’t wait to see the story that unfolds.
I overheard you telling someone you’re a big fan of crime shows.
Huge. It’s sort of weird. I’ll go binge watching The First 48, which is about a homicide detective solving murders after they happen, and it’s incredibly dark. But when I was a kid I was a huge murder mystery fan — I read a lot of murder mystery books. Huge fan of mystery. For whatever reason, I am just very attracted to mystery stories, solving mysteries. I was a huge fan of The Jinx. That’s such a satisfying show because it’s all…I don’t want to give it away to anybody, but it’s really amazing. So yeah, for whatever reason I love stories like that.
Do you think you would have wanted to pursue being a detective?
I don’t know! I’m not a great student, so I don’t know that I would have been a great detective. Part of my brain sort of works that way, like wanting to figure out puzzles and figure out what happened and why people do the things they do, and who they are, and how it happened.
What’s next for you?
Auditioning and figuring out what’s next. But I’m excited to be promoting this film. It will keep me busy until I fall into out of work actor’s depression (laughs).
Hopefully you won’t be in that very long.
I hope not.
San Andreas is in theaters now.