'Mortal Engines' Actresses Celebrate "Multidimensional" Female Roles

Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic
From left: Jihae, Hera Hilmar and Leila Geroge

The Peter Jackson-produced film will open in theaters nationwide Dec. 14.

Jihae, a musician turned actress, was trained by an eight-time tae kwon do champion to prepare for her fight scenes in Mortal Engines. She plays Anna Fang, a pilot and resistance fighter in Christian Rivers' feature-film directorial debut, based on Philip Reeve's 2001 novel. Her character opposes the predatory "moving cities" that populate the film, which premiered on a drizzly Wednesday night in Westwood's Regency Village Theatre.

"I love the fact that it's a rare opportunity to find a role that embodies the kind of strength and power that Anna Fang beholds. Usually we see male protagonists and male strength in films. And, you know, both men and women behold all of these qualities, and I think it's really important to represent the female side, and that's something that's shifting," Jihae told The Hollywood Reporter. "But also as an Asian woman who did not have role models growing up, I think this is really exciting, and if I can by any way through this role encourage a young girl to feel empowered and feel like she can do anything and feel like she can have courage, then my job is done."

Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar is one of the film's two young leads, starring opposite Misfit actor Robert Sheehan. She described her character, Hester Shaw, as someone who exhibits both physical and emotional scars: "Hester is such an original and such a multidimensional character to read and then to have the opportunity to play and then to see as a multidimensional, fully formed human being that is a female heroine is just something that doesn't happen every day, I think, especially in Hollywood."

Though her character doesn't wield knives or guns, Leila George, who plays Katherine Valentine, the daughter of Hugo Weaving's antagonist, said she believes that everyone can learn from her character, and she tries to channel Katherine in her own life.

"The female characters in this movie are so strong, and we see Katherine go from a kind of naive young girl in a bubble to a really, really strong woman, and that's really cool," she said.

Producer Peter Jackson didn't walk the carpet, but he gave a short speech before the screening in which he introduced Rivers, who first caught his attention when he sent Jackson fan mail with sketches of dragons at the age of 15. ("There were many, many days on this production where I wished I never sent that letter," Rivers joked.)

Rivers, who worked closely with Jackson as a visual effects supervisor on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, spoke with THR about his experience directing and why Mortal Engines isn't just a "steampunk film" or a "decrepit, dystopian film."

"First of all, the books are very steampunk in their descriptions, and also we've had enough dystopian films, especially Y.A. [young adult] films where it's teenagers against oppressive regimes, and that's not what our story's about. Our story is essentially the beginning of a great love story; it's a great life story of Tom and Hester and we wanted it to be fun and exciting and not sort of depressing and bleak," Rivers said.

"And so we had to create a new world, we had to create a new look for our film, and that's just a lot of hard work with an amazing art team, and hopefully we've done it. We tried to pin it down. People wanted like a short paragraph describing the world of the film. Is it dystopia? Is it steampunk? No, it's actually none of that — it's Mortal Engines."