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star struck

Hero worship
Jessica Alba and the gang bring Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four to the screen
By Chris Betros

Three of The Four (from left): Chris Evans (Human Torch), Jessica Alba (Invisible Woman) and Michael Chiklis (The Thing)
Chris Betros

When Jessica Alba was in Japan recently, a Japanese reporter sheepishly informed her that his 10-year-old son had seen the poster for her new superhero movie Fantastic Four and had fallen in love with her. The boy told his dad that he wanted to marry the 24-year-old actress. “Tell him to see me in 10 years,” she cheerfully replied.

Such admiration is a testament to the appeal of Alba, who was No. 1 on Maxim’s Hot 100 Babe List in 2001. Since making her film debut in 1994 with the forgettable Camp Nowhere, she has built up a sizable following in Japan, mainly due to her breakout role as a genetically-engineered woman in James Cameron’s Dark Angel series in 2000.

Japan fans flocked to see her a few months ago when she was a guest at the MTV Awards, and again this month for Fantastic Four, when she attended a gala premiere with director Tim Story and co-stars Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis. The fourth member of the superhero team—Ioan Gruffudd, aka Mr. Fantastic—was unable to join them.

The latest comic book from Marvel Comics to hit the big screen, Fantastic Four follows the exploits of a group of astronauts who gain superpowers after an accident involving cosmic rays. Alba plays Sue Storm (Invisible Woman), Evans is Johnny Storm (Human Torch) and Chiklis is Ben Grimm (a rock creature known as The Thing). They must team up to defeat the nefarious Dr. Doom.

While popular in the US, the Fantastic Four comic is not as well known in Japan as Spider-Man, the X-Men and Daredevil, but Alba and her co-stars are confident this latest effort will be a hit. “This film is lighthearted and fun for everyone. I loved playing a comic book hero. I mean, it’s every kid’s dream. Sue Storm is feisty, intelligent and maternal—not your stereotypical female comic book character,” said Alba, who also has another movie, Sin City, opening in Japan in October.

Meanwhile 24-year-old Evans, who was seen most recently in the movie Cellular, said he enjoyed indulging his inner child, but found the harness work tiring. His character spends a lot of time flying, which meant he was suspended by wires against a green screen for hours. “At first it was fun, but by the end of the day you start to feel really sore.”

As The Thing, 42-year-old Chiklis (whom TV audiences will know from police drama The Shield) spends most of his time inside a 30-kg latex suit that makes him look like a brick wall. “Nothing could have trained me for that,” he said. “I ran long distances, did weights, but it was all incorrect. You don’t understand how hard it is until you actually experience it.”

Fantastic Four relies heavily on special effects and huge sets, among them a 3-story, 150-meter-long mock-up of the Brooklyn Bridge. “Some scenes took weeks to film. You’re doing scenes with nothing but a green screen in the background,” said Chiklis. “It’s almost like a movie within a movie, parts of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.”

While the theme of the film is heroism, Alba said that heroism has nothing to do with superpowers. “To me, a hero is anyone who devotes their life to being selfless or philanthropic, like Mother Teresa or Princess Diana.” But she did add that if she could have one superpower, it would be the ability to fly.

 

Q&A

Matthew Ireton
volunteer reflects on his Expo experience

The Aichi Expo, which ends Sunday, has been hailed a success by organizers after beating its target of attracting 15 million visitors in six months. The baton now goes to Shanghai, which will host the 2010 Expo. Despite some long waits and initial teething problems, such as a ban on bento boxes that was dropped after a public outcry, most visitors have left with good impressions of Aichi. It has also been a chance for volunteers of many nationalities to work at their countries’ pavilions. One volunteer is American university student Matthew Ireton.

How did you get this job?
Back in January, I had an interview in Washington, D.C. with Doug West, Deputy Commissioner of the US Pavilion.

What were your daily duties?
I worked as an intern. I translated documents from English to Japanese and vice versa, interpreted at meetings and hosted VIP guests.

What did you do on Independence Day?
I had the chance to recite the Declaration of Independence in Japanese after Joe Ochman, who acted as Benjamin Franklin, recited it in English.

What did you have to wear?
Suits on important occasions, but usually I wore a collared shirt and shorts.

How did you cope with the heat?
I made sure to bring a bottle of water and a hand towel wherever I went.

What sort of things did Japanese visitors say to you?
Most of them asked me, with some confusion, “Why can you speak Japanese?”

What is the craziest thing you saw at the whole Expo?
The lines to get into some of the popular pavilions. I’m just kidding. Actually, I was really amazed by so many performances from magic shows to ethnic singing.

What are your plans now?
Back to college in D.C.I intend to major in political science and minor in music at George Washington University. CB


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