Michael Vartan is probably best known for his role opposite Jennifer Garner on TV's "Alias," but the affable French-born actor has made an impression on the big screen in movies like "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar," "Never Been Kissed," "One Hour Photo" and "Monster-in-Law." In the exciting French-American action film "Colombiana," on DVD and Blu-ray this week, Vartan has a sexually charged but emotionally distant relationship with an assassin played by Zoe Saldana.
We chatted up Vartan about all sex and no gunplay for his character in "Colombiana," how he feels about the way "Alias" wrapped up, and the skills involved in picking up his future wife in a Whole Foods parking lot.
Your "Colombiana" character, Danny, knows Cataleya (Saldana) as "Jennifer" and is always trying to get to know her better. Although it wasn't discussed in the movie, how do you think you two met and arrived at this relationship where she just stops by for sex and leaves?
That's a good question and a question that Olivier [Megaton, the director] and I pondered several times. The general consensus was they possibly met in a dive bar in Chicago or New Orleans or wherever their lives could have possibly intersected. It was literally a carnal thing because it's clear from her line of work that she doesn't have much time for R&R. She's still a human being and still enjoys the opposite sex and wants to feel alive in that department, so we decided it was one of those flash encounters. There was nothing scripted out. These two hooked up because they have insane chemistry together.
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Saldana kicks everyone's ass in "Colombiana," but she has such a thin frame. When you were around her on set, did she seem tough?
Zoe's definitely petite when you see her in a T-shirt and gym shorts. She's muscular thin, but still quite thin. The first time I met her was at the gym in the hotel in Chicago, and I saw this slight frame from across the room and when she turned around I thought, oh really? She's going to kick all of this ass? Then when I got within three feet of her, there is an essence about her -- I don't know if it's the look in her eye or that she was already getting into character a little bit -- but there was an element of "do not mess with this girl." Zoe has that vibe about her, and you don't want to go there with the character Cataleya.
I was totally surprised and completely impressed when I saw the movie, because her one fight scene toward the end is one of the best I've seen in any action movie. It's so violent and looks so animal, and I couldn't believe it was her! People were taken aback by how physical she could be. She sold it, for sure.
Are all those tattoos that we see in your sex scenes with Saldana real?
They are real and personal tattoos, mostly family stuff like things that symbolize my father and grandmother. I was thrilled that for the first time in many years I had a part where they said, "Keep the tattoos. It looks good." Thank God, because the thing about covering up tattoos is that it is almost impossible -- it takes so long -- and the last thing you want to do as a guy is get up even earlier and spend another hour in the makeup chair. It was nice to not have to hide them this time.
Danny never gets involved in any of the gunplay or fight scenes in "Colombiana." Were you itching to do so, or were you content letting Saldana play shoot 'em up?
No, no. I was itching big-time. The minute we wrapped, I said, "Come on ... sequel. Danny becomes a bad guy and starts shooting everyone." Ultimately, the reason I took this part was, first, because they offered it to me. As an actor, unless you're Brad Pitt, you go where you are wanted. I got to be part of this really cool, kick-ass movie. I loved the backdrop of the cartel, which was always fascinating to me. [Cowriter] Luc Besson is the bomb when it comes to this genre. He's French, I was born in France, so there are a lot of elements that were attractive to me. Obviously, I'm a dude and would like to shoot a gun and be a part of the action, but sometimes you just have to do your job.
The tagline for "Colombiana" is "Revenge is beautiful." Do you agree?
I guess it depends who you are taking revenge on! Well, probably not. Maybe sometimes it's necessary, but beautiful? Probably not.
Do you think Danny ever sees or connects with Cataleya after the end credits?
I really do think that this movie open itself nicely to a sequel. Danny could be a plant or someone who is gaining her trust -- there are so many way they could go about it. If this was the end of it, I would say he probably would never see her again. The only way he would see her again is if she wanted to see him. He would have no way of getting in touch with her if she didn't want him to.
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Are you happy with the way your "Alias" character Michael Vaughn ended his run? We last saw him with Sydney, and he was married with children and semi-retired.
Yeah. As crazy as that show was, it was always going to be a challenge to wrap it up. As far as my character goes, of course he ended up married and retired, because he never had a hair out of place and ate apple pie and ice cream all of those years. He was the quintessential all-American, "I want my daughter to marry that dude" character. It makes perfect sense that he would ride off into the sunset with his wife and 2.2 kids. There was nothing hiding in the closet about that character at all.
How scary were your scenes with an unhinged Robin Williams in "One-Hour Photo" in which he interrupts your sexy time with a knife?
The biggest challenge in that movie was keeping a straight face. It's not what happened on camera that was challenging, it's what happened between takes. The Robin Williams we know and love from all of his comic appearances is how he is in real life -- it's not an act. So we're shooting a scene with a knife at my throat and I'm totally naked with this young actress whom I literally met that day, as if that isn't awkward enough. In between takes, Robin Williams is cracking jokes about my penis size because the air conditioning is on. I said, "Dude, you might have seven brains and can switch in and out of characters with grace and ease, but I cannot go from tears of laughter to intense fear in 8.3 milliseconds. You have to settle down!"
It was a fun atmosphere considering the movie itself is kind of dark. Robin was so creepy in that movie, and he literally went from that character to who he is in real life instantly. I have such admiration for that, as well as jealousy and disgust because I wish I could do it.
You recently married your wife after meeting her in a Whole Foods parking lot. How does one strike up a romance over groceries?
I saw her in the store and I tried to jockey myself by her in the express lane, but I had no idea what I was going to say or do. That didn't work, so I said to myself, if you see her in the parking lot you owe it to yourself to go up and say hi because life's too short, seize the day and all that crap. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't that eloquent or seductive because her response was, "No, I don't feel comfortable giving you my number." She did take my e-mail address, and we kind of had a pen-pal relationship for a while. The rest is history, I guess!
Where can fans see you next?
I've got two movies in the can that I'm hoping will eventually come out. One is called "Demoted" and the other is called "High School." I was on "Hawthorne" on TNT, but that just cancelled a few months ago, so I'm very much looking forward to pilot season and maybe working on a new show. That's the great thing about being an actor: You lose a job and it's scary because you don't have that stability of paycheck to paycheck, but that means another window opens. It sounds so corny, but it's really true. I could be a bank robber or an astronaut next. There are so many possibilities, and that is always interesting.