Interview : Alicia Keys

Stars in Joe Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces”


Top-selling recording artist Alicia Keys recently finished shooting “Smokin’ Aces”, alongside Ben Affleck, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Piven, and Ryan Reynolds. In the film, she plays an assassin named Georgia Sykes, one of several hit men (or in this case, hit-woman) on the trail of Piven’s character. Keys has received much praise from her co-stars in the film; Ryan Reynolds said Keys has “natural” acting ability as he was surprised she had not starred in movies before. She talks to Moviehole about the film.

What a way for you to make your Hollywood movie debut – as a contract killer.
AK: I think there was no better way to do it.

What did you think when the director Joe Carnahan said ‘Alicia, we want you to play Georgia Sykes, an assassin?’
AK: He said ‘Alicia, we don’t want you to play one of those soft, female roles where you are a love interest. Georgia will be amazing, she’s powerful,
she’s a badass.’ I read the script and really understood what the role of Georgia would be and was onboard.

Had you seen Joe’s breakthrough film, Narc, and did that also influence your decision to take the role?
AK: Definitely. I saw Narc and loved it. Visually, I just knew Smokin’ Aces would be insane. Personally, growing up and witnessing the theatre and having great respect for the art of acting, it was important for me not to play a character who is a piano-playing singer. Or any type of singer. I really wanted to be totally different and completely take myself out of my comfort zone and go into a new head-space and new person.

You certainly achieved that with Georgia.
AK: I sure did. [Laughs.]

And how about Georgia’s costume, with the short shorts, boots and fishnet stockings. We’re not used to seeing you dressed like that. Did you get to keep the costume and will we see you wear it to the Grammy’s next year?
AK: [Laughs.] No, I didn’t get to keep it. I left it with production. I think they’ll have a better time with it.

How would you describe your character, Georgia Sykes?
AK: Georgia is a very intelligent woman. She’s actually quite conservative. She doesn’t like a lot of attention and is meticulous. She wants to know everything will be smooth. The only reason why she wore that outfit was she needed to fit in and get close to the guy she’s trying to kill, Buddy Israel, and she did it well.

Did you have much of a say in the costume you wore?
AK: Definitely did. Absolutely. They brought me a lot of skirts and things and we went through it and talked about it and decided shorts would be more comfortable and realistic with all of the action I had to do. We even had to lengthen the vest because I had to wear a holster underneath with an extra gun. I had to fit ammunition in the boots.

I heard the outfit had to conceal something like five guns. Is that right?
AK: Yeah. There was a lot of stuff we needed in there.

And how were you with handling the guns? Have you ever fired a gun before?
AK: I have used a gun before, but not to this level. It was incredible to train like that and to really become familiar with it and understand how to handle and use it. Especially reload it. Our trainer was really focused on us keeping a level head and getting us fast and smooth. That’s what we had to be – fast and smooth – and that’s what I became.

Was your weapons trainer an FBI or military guy?
AK: Joe Carnahan never exactly told me what his background was. He was a good guy. Even now he works closely with the world in which he trained us in. It was all kind of top secret, but he was incredible.

So your trainer has experience in the world of hitmen and mobsters?
AK: Right. He has seen the bad side of the world. I don’t know exactly which side that would be, but he has definitely seen the bad side of life.

It must be interesting meeting people like that.
AK: It was very interesting to meet him. Just his persona and poise said a lot.

What was one story or tip that he told you that was interesting?
AK: He didn’t talk about that kind of stuff. He was so sweet though. But, he would only say how he had to go away so he wouldn’t be around for a week or so, but he didn’t get into detail. But the most important tip was to be alert and aware so we could function.

How did you handle the special effects in the film? Is it right the actors involved in the gun battles had things called “squibs” attached to their bodies with fake blood in them that explode when they are shot?
AK: Yeah, the squibs. For me, I only needed one when I was shot in the side. I didn’t have a lot of them, but to see it and watch it in the movie, it was insane. People would be pulled and blown.

What was it like for you to be in your first movie and act in some emotional, tough scenes with the caliber of actors of Ray Liotta and Andy Garcia?
AK: It was very exciting and thrilling. The whole cast was so rich with people. To have the likes of Ray Liotta and Andy Garcia, was just incredible.

What do you think your fans, who are used to your beautiful music, will say when they see you playing Georgia, the hired assassin?
AK: Hey, I’m sure some will be totally into it, and some might not be so into it. That’s the beauty of having your own opinion.

And how about working with Common? Smokin’ Aces was also his biggest acting job to date.
AK: It was great. We only had that one scene together, but it was a great thing to have a familiar face around.

What did you and Common talk about when you were on set together? I guess, with both of you coming from successful music careers and crossing over into film, you would have had a lot of similar emotions.
AK: We spoke about how we were dealing with it and what we did to prepare to play our characters.

You have achieved so much with music, what is it like to step out of your comfort zone and take on such a demanding acting role?
AK: I love it. I’ve been so close to acting since I was a little girl. It’s always been a part of my life and I always knew it would be. I was just waiting for the right time. It’s exciting for me to enter another world where you are completely not yourself and you can dive 100 per cent into it and be totally liberated by it. My role in Smokin’ Aces is not what people would expect, and I always want to do that.

So you don’t plan on giving up music to concentrate solely on acting?
AK: No way. [Laughs.] Are you kidding me! I need music. I do music out of a necessity. I love music and it’s something that really helps me as a person. I’m working on my new album now actually, and that’s going incredibly well and I’m excited to be bringing some new music out.

Why haven’t we seen you making movies before this? I bet you have been offered a lot of scripts in the past?
AK: Absolutely. The scripts I have been offered ranged from everything from the most average, obvious singer roles to incredible ones with really well-known directors, but it just wasn’t the right time. I was probably in the middle of making an album and when I’m at that stage I concentrate 100 per cent on the album. When I did Smokin’ Aces, I concentrated 100 per cent on Smokin’ Aces.

What was it about Smokin’ Aces that enticed you that other roles did not. You said Joe and his film Narc was an influence, but what else? Did the fact you and your contract killing partner, played by Taraji Henson, were two strong women?
AK: Definitely. You rarely see a portrait or snapshot of two strong women in the one film, especially in such a talented, large cast of men. Smokin’ Aces is a mind movie too. There’s an intellectual side to it. The audience has to think and uncover things. That was intriguing to me.

So what did you think when you first sat down and watched the completed version of Smokin’ Aces in a theatre? Being your first film, you must have been nervous to see it.
AK: Oh yes. I saw it in a private screening room in LA with four friends. It was crazy. We sat down and the curtains came back and the big Universal logo came up. I was like ‘It’s real! It’s a real movie.

What did your friends say?
AK: They loved it. It’s one of those movies you can’t stop talking about. There’s so many great characters in it that afterward you’re saying ‘How about that character. Why do you think he said that?’ You get into it. It will become a cult classic.

You have just finished your second movie, The Nanny Diaries, with Scarlett Johansson. Do you have more films on the horizon?
AK: There’s a couple films on the horizon I’m really excited about, but nothing is concrete. I want to take my time and each role I do I want to be totally different. It’s a long road and I’m not any rush.