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At 15, 65 star Ariana Greenblatt is already an old pro.
She’s had a varied and prolific career as a child performer, and she’s especially well-versed in the art of acting opposite CG characters, whether that’s Josh Brolin’s Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, Sam Rockwell’s gorilla in The One and Only Ivan or the titular monsters in Love and Monsters. In her latest film, 65, from A Quiet Place writers Beck and Woods, Greenblatt plays Koa, the only other survivor of Commander Mills’ (Adam Driver) interstellar expedition that somehow crash lands on Earth during the prehistoric era of dinosaurs.
So Greenblatt’s ability to nail looks of awe and wonderment, as well as sheer terror, came in quite handy when asked to look at a stick and imagine it’s a T-Rex.
“I don’t really know what it is about my face or what I do, but people like to see me with creatures that aren’t real or whatever it might be. I guess that kind of work is just drawn towards me … but luckily, that practice definitely made a difference for this film,” Greenblatt tells The Hollywood Reporter.
65 is a two-hander between Greenblatt and Driver, and given her co-star’s penchant for being highly focused on set, she prided herself on getting him to break on occasion.
“[Driver] is very committed and he is intense, but my main goal while working with him was to try to get him to break as much as possible. I was like, ‘Come on, man. You can’t be serious for this long,’” Greenblatt says. “So I got him cookies and blankets, and I tried to be overly nice just to get him to crack a little bit. And he did!”
Greenblatt is also known for playing Young Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War, and even though she played the adopted daughter of Thanos, the most nefarious villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she’ll never forget how much fun she had opposite Brolin on set.
“We had a really nice bond together, and I just remember prank calling all of these people with him. I think we prank called Tobey Maguire or someone like that,” Greenblatt recalls. “I didn’t even know who these people were at the time, but I just took Josh’s phone and we did this prank-calling thing. So he made me really comfortable on set, which was nice.”
Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Greenblatt also looks ahead to her other exciting projects including Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Eli Roth’s Borderlands, which includes current Oscar nominees, Cate Blanchett and Jamie Lee Curtis.
So did they tell you about the dinosaurs before you auditioned? Or were you able to be surprised when you eventually read the script?
It was definitely a surprise and a shock to unveil the level of creature-ness that I would be encountering. I definitely didn’t know at first, because the sides never give you the truth of what’s going on. So I connected the dots along the way, and then I finally understood. But at first, it was just me running from a tiger. That’s what was written, and I was like, “Okay, Interesting.”
Adam seems like an intense actor, but that’s probably because he plays a lot of serious characters. What was your experience together like?
Yeah, he is very committed and he is intense, but my main goal while working with him was to try to get him to break as much as possible. I was like, “Come on, man. You can’t be serious for this long.” So I got him cookies and blankets, and I tried to be overly nice just to get him to crack a little bit. And he did! So we had our really sweet moments together, and we also share the same dry, sarcastic sense of humor. So that worked out really nicely.
65 really put the two of you through the wringer. Was this the most physically demanding job of your young career?
100 percent. I learned more than I have ever on this film. I learned how to deal with extreme weather and climate conditions. I learned how to deal with a lot of emotionally draining and physically draining scenes. So this film really has taught me a lot about the entire process, and I’m so grateful for that. But it was incredibly challenging at times. I was like, “I cannot do this anymore. I’m freezing. I’m blah, blah, blah.” But I persevered, and I did it. So I’m really happy about it.
And on top of those physical challenges, your character also speaks in a different language than Adam’s character. Did the script translate what she was actually saying to Mills (Driver)?
So, eventually, I was like, “Alright, Scott [Beck] and Bryan [Woods], what am I saying?” Because words mean nothing without the correct intention behind them. So I was like, “What does she mean by this? What is she trying to say?” And at the beginning of the audition process, I had no idea I would be speaking a different language. I only realized it in the middle and towards the end of the entire process. So I was like, “Wow, this is strange. I’ve never done this before, but I’ve just gotta roll with it.”
From Love and Monsters to The Only and Only Ivan to Avengers: Infinity War, you’ve often had to imagine CG characters who aren’t rendered until later, and you had to do the same thing here with dinosaurs. So were you glad that you’ve had a lot of practice at this already?
Yeah, for sure. I don’t really know what it is about my face or what I do, but people like to see me with creatures that aren’t real or whatever it might be. I guess that kind of work is just drawn towards me. So I’ve definitely had previous practice for CGI and using my imagination and completely coming up with stuff in my head to react to, but luckily, that practice definitely made a difference for this film.
On the day, did they hold up a T-Rex bust on a stick as a reference?
No, it was mostly just a tennis ball or neon tape, and then someone would say, “Alright, look here.” But they always had drawings or illustrations of what the dinosaurs might look like.
What’s the best advice you’d give other actors who have yet to work opposite a CG character?
I would definitely tell them to create the clearest image of what you’re supposed to be looking at in your head. You don’t have to see something in front of you to believe what’s happening. You just have to know why you’re scared or why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling, and that’ll portray what you want.
So, some people reading this interview may not realize that you played Young Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War. What do you remember about those days on set?
Yeah, [Avengers: Infinity War] was one of the first movies I ever did, and it was so crazy. I still to this day don’t know how I did it. I was around nine years old, and I had no idea the scale of what I was doing. I just didn’t get it. My main memory from filming that movie was getting really close with Josh Brolin, who played Thanos. We had a really nice bond together, and I just remember prank calling all of these people with him. I think we prank called Tobey Maguire or someone like that. I didn’t even know who these people were at the time, but I just took Josh’s phone and we did this prank-calling thing. We also had nicknames for each other, and so he made me really comfortable on set, which was nice.
Josh loves the sunglasses emoji.
(Laughs.) He sure does, yeah.
Overall, they probably didn’t tell you too much about the story at the time, so did everything sound like gibberish?
Yeah, for sure.
Zoe Saldana has always been open about the fact that she doesn’t love the green body paint, so do you now realize why she felt that way?
100 percent. That’s actually one of the first conversations Zoe and I had together. I told the Russo brothers: “I love it. I love the process, I love the prosthetics and the wig.” I just loved the whole thing when I filmed those scenes, but Zoe was like, “Trust me, when you’re older, you’re going to hate it. So, tell me when you do.” And I was like, “Okay!” But I get what she means by that now. I fully understand it, and I definitely don’t love it as much as I used to. Now, I’m definitely like, “Alright, just leave me with nothing. Just let me go on and do my thing.”
You’ve also got something exciting coming up in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. How was your experience on that one?
It was one of the best times. Everyone on that set loved being there so much, and it shows in the movie. There’s so much chemistry, and there’s so much love and happiness on that set. It was definitely super different from 65. Everything was clean and pink and cute on that set. 65 was in the swamps of Louisiana, and there was blood, sweat and tears. But filming Barbie, I got so close with Greta and Margot [Robbie] and Ryan [Gosling] and America [Ferrera] and everyone on that set, and it just became a huge family. We had the most fun, and I’m so excited for that to be out as well.
So what role or genre are you still dreaming about? What would you green light for yourself right now?
I’m really interested in playing just a normal teenage girl, going through really normal problems. I would love to be a part of the directing and writing process of a film like that as well. The life of a girl growing up is so complex in itself, and there’s so much to it. So that’s something I’m really interested in doing, especially because I’ve been with dinosaurs and on different planets and green and all of that. So I would love to just play something really real and authentic, and something I could relate to as well.
Decades from now, what day on 65 will you likely recall first?
I think I’ll always remember the day that they cut my hair off. I always love changing my appearance whenever I can, especially when it comes to roles, and I’ve never been able to really do that before. And for 65, before I started filming, I had really long brown hair, and I was like, “Just chop it off. Do whatever you want. Dye it. Whatever.” And they were like, “Alright, calm down.” And I was like, “Okay, I’m doing this. This is go-time.” Also, the last day of filming was so special because everyone on that set worked so hard, and we got really close with each other due to the difficulties of what we were going through [during the pandemic]. So it was a big congratulatory celebration on the last day.
I’ve always wondered about this. When you cut your hair in such a manner, do you first have to clear it with your team or the director of your next project?
Oh, for sure. Luckily, when I made that decision to let them cut my hair, I had nothing lined up right after. But Borderlands was eventually lined up, and luckily, my character wears an interesting wig, so it didn’t really matter what was going on underneath the wig cap. The Borderlands people were like, “Do whatever you want.” And I was like, “I love you, guys.” So it all worked out.
Did you go back and finish Borderlands recently?
I did, yeah. It was so nice to see everyone again. When we were filming. Cate [Blanchett] and Jamie [Lee Curtis] got their Oscar nominations on set that morning, and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s crazy.” So it was definitely a sweet moment on set.
65 opens in movie theaters on March 10th. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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