Stephen was an extra brought in to have his facial expressions digitally captured by the Visual Effects Department. He was asked to sit in an APU chair – without the physical APU – and go through a battle, but only using his face. His facial expressions would later be used to place on one of the CG Zion soldiers operating an APU in the siege battle scene. We spoke to him before he did this, then after.
MATRIX: What have you been told about what you’re going to have to do?
STEPHEN: I believe I’m one of the Earth soldiers fighting the Sentinels. We haven’t been told much really, apart from there being some kind of new weapon that we’ll be using to fight the Sentinels that we sit in and just a bit of the technical aspect of what we’ll be doing. They’ve told us that they have an APU and we’ll sit in this chair and there will be five cameras on us, and they’ll shoot our face and different facial expressions.
They told us that our expressions are key, they couldn’t stress that enough. It’s pretty nerve wracking trying to pull facial expressions when someone asks you to – especially for me anyway, I’ve never done that kind of thing before. You’re not actually holding any weapons or anything, we’ll just be sitting in a chair with no props at all, producing facial expressions.
MATRIX: What kind of facial expressions will you be asked for?
STEPHEN: I think they’re looking for, from what I can gather, are really angry and mean facial expressions like you’re fighting in a battle scene. And you also have to get killed, going through the expressions of dying and getting shot a few times.
MATRIX: Before you were chosen as a featured extra did Larry and Andy Wachowski, the Directors, have a look at what you could do?
STEPHEN: Yes, there were ten of us and we all had to make expressions in front of them. That was pretty nerve wracking because we thought they were just having a look at us and we didn’t have to do anything. But when we rocked up we went two by two to meet the Directors and we had to stand in front of them and pretend we were in a battle scene shooting Sentinels and pull the facial expressions for that. I wasn’t prepared for it – I don’t think any of us were, really – but it was good fun though.
MATRIX: Did they give you any kind of feedback while you were doing it?
STEPHEN: They asked if we could look a little meaner, and to pretend it’s the calm before the storm when the Sentinels are just about to come at you, and directions like that.
MATRIX: When did you get the first call to come and do this?
STEPHEN: The very first call came about three weeks ago. A friend of mine who is an agent asked me to come along to an audition, saying that it was for THE MATRIX. I couldn’t find the studio at first, and then I rocked around the corner and there were around one hundred and forty Islanders standing there – a whole lot of brothers – so I knew that had to be it. About two weeks later they called and asked us to come back, and then there were only ten of us. They said two or three of us would be featured and the rest of us would still be extras.
MATRIX: Do you know whether you’re going to be featured yet?
STEPHEN: No, I’m not sure. That would be cool, but anything is fine, this is all a learning experience for me. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this so it’s really interesting to have a look at the way they do things, not that I understand a great deal of it, but hey, it’s good fun.
MATRIX: Is acting something you always wanted to do?
STEPHEN: No not at all. I actually manage a jazz club in the city called the Basement – I meet a lot of people down there and I used to work security down there. My origins are Samoan and one of my friends is an agent, and he asked me to send him some photos. When I got around to doing that I got some work and some money for doing it. This is definitely the biggest project I have done so far.
MATRIX: Where are we right now?
STEPHEN: We are in Building 48 at Fox Studios, which is the Art Department of THE MATRIX, and where they are currently doing Universal Capture.
MATRIX: What have you just finished doing?
STEPHEN: They’ve just finished filming my facial features doing certain things like fighting Sentinels, getting killed by the Sentinels, preparing to fight the Sentinels, and dying – a wide range of things like that.
MATRIX: Was it anything like what you expected?
STEPHEN: Based on when I spoke to the Directors, no it was not; it was totally different. I found it a lot easier because I didn’t get too much direction from those guys; they just kind of said this is what we want right now so just show us, and whereas here there was a gentleman, George [Murphy, Visual Effects Supervisor], who was actually giving directions. George helped us out a lot, saying things like, that’s great, close your mouth a little bit, just a little bit angrier, they’re going to come in they’re going to grab you.
MATRIX: What did George do to help you get into the moment?
STEPHEN: He didn’t start off quite as intense, for me he just started off with a blank expression. He asked me to say my name, just speaking, and then to say it again but get a little bit more involved, say it a little bit louder with a little bit more intensity. And then we had to pretend the Sentinels were around us – he just slowly worked up to the battle and then we were fully psyched.
MATRIX: Did you get the sense of where you were with nothing around you but cameras and lights?
STEPHEN: Yes, I definitely got a sense of being there, especially when he was saying they’re surrounding you now, you’re trying to shoot, they stab you in the back… plus I’ve seen the first MATRIX so I could kind of imagine what that was like.
I’ve heard of green screen but I’ve never heard of this [Universal Capture] and I’ve never seen this. When you watch movies they go behind the scenes and show green screen work, but I’ve never seen anything like this. They’ve got five cameras set up and a bunch of lights, all looking towards one chair that is meant to be the chair in this machine [the APU]. They said they would use our faces on several different characters, like half a dozen or so guys, and they would just yeah they superimpose our faces onto those CG characters, and that two of us are going to be featured in a lot of the battle scenes. I can’t wait to see it. I’m going to have to wait a long time, but it’s going to be pretty amazing.
MATRIX: Was today a one day in and out thing?
STEPHEN: No, I think we’ve got another five or six days. This one was of our face, and I think we’re going to do some body movement and things like that.
MATRIX: Thank you very much Stephen.
Interview by REDPILL