Paul Walker - The Eight Below Interview
Paul Walker plays Jerry Shepard in the Disney adventure, Eight Below. He leads a geologist (Bruce Greenwood) on a dangerous quest to find a fallen meteorite in an icy wilderness. A icestorm of a century sets in and Shepard reluctantly has to evacuate with his team, who are airlifted to safety. Against his will, he is forced to leave behind his eight beloved sled dogs, chained outside the research station. He desperately wants to rescue the animals, but conditions are far too treacherous. Winter has set in and all flights are cancelled for months ahead.
The 32 year-old actor grew up in Southern California and has always had dogs as pets. As a father he was delighted to make a family film. In the past he has been known for his action roles in 'The Fast And The Furious'. Walker lives in Santa Barbara and has a seven year-old daughter, Meadow. The following interview was conducted in Los Angeles, where the tall, handsome actor, dressed in jeans and a tee shirt discussed his passion for the film and his career so far.
Q: I believe you are a dog lover?
Paul Walker: “I love dogs. I grew up with dogs in my family from the time that I was a little boy; we always had German Shepherds and Labradors. When I was approached about the film, Frank Marshall asked me whether I had a good rapport with dogs. I explained that I had actually worked with my own dog in the film, 'Into The Blue'. Frank Marshall had seen the film and told me that convinced him that I was right for the role. I get on very well with dogs, so that made working on this film much easier. They trust me.”
Q: How challenging was it to work with so many dogs?
Paul Walker: “I was told that working with dogs was going to be tough, but I actually liked it, it was a lot of fun. I always find film-making a pleasurable experience and the dogs were a reminder for me to have fun. I knew that there would be a lot of trainers around all the time. The trainers are only concerned with getting the dogs to do what they are supposed to do. They do not want to get in an actor’s way or ‘step on their dialogue’. Frank Marshall explained to me that I just had to stay focused and tune out what the trainers were saying and doing and concentrate on my work, so that is what I did. It is complicated working with animals, but there are always a lot of people around on set anyway, so as an actor you are used to that. People are often talking when they are not supposed to be.”
Q: What kind of man is Jerry, your character and how much do you identify with him?
Paul Walker in The Eight Below
Paul Walker: “I think we do have a lot in common. In many ways he is running away and wants to be alone. He is not very sociable. I am similar. I make films and do the publicity and interviews, but then I want to get away from it all and be on my own. I do know what he is going through. He has problems with intimacy. His heart has been broken and he will not allow himself to be close to a woman (Moon Bloodgood’s character Katie). He loves dogs because he does not have to worry about them letting him down, or hurting their feelings. They give unconditional love, all he has to do is feed them and give them some love and attention and they will be there for him. Like Jerry, I definitely had commitment issues at one point in my life. So I do identify with him a lot. Now I think I have grown up a lot.”
Q: How much training did you do? This is a very physical role of course.
Paul Walker: “I was already quite fit and it helped that I play a lot of sports and do so much physical activity. I had to get used to the altitude up in the mountains. I knew that it would take a couple of weeks to acclimatize and adjust. I will tell you one thing though, when I got home I realized how much stronger and fitter I was. My legs were probably two to three inches bigger than they had ever been and I could have run a marathon.”
Q: What was it like working with Frank Marshall?
Paul Walker: “Frank is very level headed and wonderful to work with. He is amazing; he has a resume that is probably twelve miles long. As a human being he is so unassuming and a really cool guy. He is also consistent and so nice to everyone, he treats everyone on the set with great respect, it doesn’t matter who they are and that says a lot about him.”
Q: As a father yourself, how exciting was it for you making a family film since before that you have appeared in a lot of action films?
Paul Walker: “It was great, but the whole time I was making it I kept hoping that it would not be too sentimental. So I am happy that it has not turned out that way. Having a little girl myself, of course I was thrilled. When I read the script, it reminded me of those old Disney classics like 'Old Yeller'. They are happy; they are sad, but ultimately happy. I really had fun making the film. I felt very emotional and it was not easy to be emotional as an actor. There are some tearful moments in the film between the dogs and me. I found that challenging, even though I am a sensitive guy. I was afraid of being a cry-baby but I knew that if I wasn’t emotional on screen I would come across as insensitive, hopefully it worked in the end.”
Q; Your daughter must have been thrilled that you were making this film?
Paul Walker in The Eight Below
Paul Walker: “She was so excited, she was six at the time and came on the set and loved it. You can imagine what fun it was for her, she was super-happy. She was screaming with excitement a lot of the time and our dog was there too. Making this film is all about my daughter, for me, as well as my nieces and nephews. It is so nice to make a family film that they can enjoy. My mom was so happy too because she really wanted me to act in a movie for kids. So thank goodness I am popular with the whole family for a while at least!”
Q: In the film there is an important quote about being willing to take chances for things you care most about. Have you had to take chances?
Paul Walker: “I have done that a lot. But I think taking chances for the people you care most about is easy. I find it hard to take chances that might mean making bad decisions. Sometimes I live in fear. But when I have to take chances about people I love, relationships, my daughter and immediate family, those decisions are easy. I make them without even thinking about it, it is usually something that just has to be done. You don’t question anything, you just go for it. What I find really difficult is making career decisions.”
Q: So how do you make those career decisions?
Paul Walker: “Normally it will take me two weeks, until the very last minute and I have to say yes or no. For a couple of weeks, I will tune everyone out who is giving me advice, so that I can make a clear decision on my own and it takes time. But I have to say; I knew immediately with Eight Below that I wanted to do the film. I read the script and the very next day called and said ‘I want to make this film’. My agent was stunned that I had been so decisive. (he laughs). In general though, I like to make big decisions when I am at home living a routine life, getting up, walking my dog, having breakfast, when I have no pressure. I do not like doing it when I making a film. It is too stressful.”
Q: How have your good looks influenced your life and career do you think?
Paul Walker in The Eight Below
Paul Walker: “It’s great you know, I get girlfriends and I get to make movies. It is not bad. Seriously I don’t know what to say really. It is flattering when people say that, but I try not to think about my appearance too much and I have to tell you, I like getting dirty in films like 'Running Scared'. I play a dark character in that film. And I loved making Eight Below too, which was not dependent on looks. It is about the character.”
Q: You will soon be appearing in Clint Eastwood’s new drama 'Flags of our Fathers'. What was that experience like?
Paul Walker: “It was awesome. Clint is like Frank Marshall; he is so fair and consistent. It does not matter who he is talking to, he is always nice. It doesn’t matter whether he is with a production assistant or Steven Spielberg, he is friendly and never seems superior. I think it is hard for people to realize that he is accessible because they are caught up in the image and can’t talk to him because he is ‘Clint Eastwood’, so they get tongue-tied. They get terrified. It is funny watching people with him. I decided I would not get embarrassed or scared so I would go up to him and say ‘hey what’s up?’ I think he appreciated it, I don’t know, I hope so.”
Q: What do you enjoy outside acting, when you are not working?
Paul Walker: “I have been surfing for my whole life. I love it and I don’t know that I can get much better now, I have peaked, which bothers me but I have to accept it. Martial arts are a big part of my life. I have been focusing on my practice in between film projects, I love it. I also skateboard a lot. And I enjoy playing volleyball, basketball and football.”
Q: Did you imagine as a child that you would be acting in films?
Paul Walker in The Eight Below
Paul Walker: “Never, I loved building sets like Lego. I thought that I would become an engineer; I would get my new Lego set and make a castle, then blast it apart and make something new. I was exposed to nature by my mother who loved camping, so I always enjoyed the outdoors and that has been a lasting passion. We went on nature walks and I became fascinated with the environment as I got older, I have always loved marine biology and that is what I studied in school. I am hoping to build a marine sanctuary that will also be educational, an eco preserve and a school, perhaps in Costa Rica, that is one of my dreams and goals.”
Q: How do you see your future career?
Paul Walker: “I think that I just need to work with great directors and actors, people who are better than me, so that I am challenged. It is like playing sports – surfing, basketball, it doesn’t matter what it is, if you play with people who are better than you, then you get better too. I think it is the same thing with acting. I like being surrounded by great people. I am going to continue to work hard, but I do not take it too seriously, I just do what feels right and I really want to have a good time. I believe in fate, that films happen when they are supposed to. You have to make smart decisions, but you never know what will happen in the future. I feel I have lived my whole life, day to day, without planning anything and I like it that way. Things change so fast, one minute you are here, the next minute you are on a plane, it’s great fun.”