Sphere Cast Interviews

Ealasaid/ February 13, 1998/ Movie Reviews and Features

Originally written for The Occidental.

Sphere, now in theaters, is an intelligent sci-fi thriller. Based on the book by Michael Crichton and directed by Barry Levinson, it stars Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel L. Jackson, with Liev Schreiber, Peter Coyote, and Queen Latifah. Below, read what some of the actors involved have to say about both Sphere itself, and themselves.

Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson plays Harry Adams in Sphere, and has starred in films like Pulp Fiction, Eve’s Bayou, and Jackie Brown.

Although Sphere definitely has thriller aspects, Jackson said “It’s more about the enemy within than the enemy without.” It addresses the darker side of human nature: “…we tend to think of people as paranoid, afraid of change, definitely averse to new ideas,” he said.

He was intrigued by the film, having read the book, and looked forward not only to the chance to work with actors like Hoffman and Stone, but “…to learn to scuba-dive — for free!” he said with a laugh. While he plays a mathematician, Jackson said that he did very little research, except, “…reading that novel, poring through it to find little bits and pieces of information about how Harry came to be Harry.”

When asked if he could talk about his role in the upcoming Star Wars films, he declined to comment: “Instead of me having to kill people that I tell about it, they implanted something in my wisdom tooth, and if I talk about it, my whole head will blow up.”

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah, best known as a rapper, has been in a number of films, including House Party 2, Set it Off, and Jungle Fever. In Sphere, she plays Fletcher, one of the technical support crew for the team of experts.

She enjoyed the filming: “it was fun. I like to do physical stuff anyway.” The rest of the crew was wonderful as well: “these guys are big stars… the chance of somebody just being really arrogant and conceited is there, but nobody was like that on this movie.”

Latifah plans to do more films in the future: “this is really the first clear-cut goal that I’ve (had) since I went into the music business.” She also looks forward to doing a variety of roles. Her next film is The Kiss, with Holly Hunter and Danny DeVito, in which she plays a jazz singer.

Originally Latifah wanted to use her real name, Dana Owens, in films, but doesn’t think she’s ready to “…take that step yet.”

Although she doesn’t have a song on the
soundtrack, Latifah’s next album “Order in the Court” is coming out in April.

Liev Schreiber

Liev (pronounced “LEE-ev”) Schreiber has appeared in many films, including Scream 2, Phantoms, and The Daytrippers. In Sphere, he plays Ted Fielding, an insecure astrophysicist.

Filming underwater, he says, “…was great. I’m a big underwater guy. I dive, I love diving… when I’m not working it’s what I try to do. It was a treat for me to be able do a movie where I was diving most of the time.” Simply filming underwater with greats like Hoffman was enjoyable: “It was fun to watch Dustin walking around with 110 lbs. of equipment on his back under water trying to do somersaults,” Schreiber said.

Although his role in Sphere is not a very large one, Schreiber enjoys larger roles: “I like to have big parts, big parts are fun. Everybody’s paying attention to you; it’s better.” On the other hand, small roles have the advantage of freeing an actor up a little (“I’m not carrying the film,”), but he still “…hated not being the lead, and I think I died too soon.”

A great deal of the film is improvised, including one scene which Schreiber himself developed when Levinson decided he wanted another scene with Fielding. “We invented that scene in literally twenty minutes,” Schreiber said.

The challenging part of his role: “there was something very submissive, very childlike about Ted, and I”m not submissive, I”m want to lead, I want to be in charge…. I had to play the kid that gets picked on in class, and that was hard sometimes, to keep (my) mouth shut.”

Peter Coyote

A veteran actor, Coyote has had roles in films ranging from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to Moonlight and Valentino. In Sphere he plays Barnes, the man in charge of the team investigating the Sphere.

Although Barnes comes off, in many scenes, as something of a jerk, Coyote doesn’t see him that way: “I didn’t think he was a jerk, I just thought he was a little parental… He was like a military guy, and these civilians were like … a bunch of kittens in a sack; they didn’t adhere to discipline, they were independent.” Coyote did say that he enjoyed the opportunity to tweak the audience: “…I knew that people would think this guy was going to be the heavy, and it was interesting for me to throw the audience a curve. To say, look, this guy’s just cranky, he’s just not a charmer, but that doesn’t make him a bad person.”

Improvisation was very common in the film, Coyote said, especially from Liev Schreiber: “Liev was a relentless improviser. Whenever there was a silent spot in a scene, Liev would fill it with a line… we would all … see Liev’s take, in which his ad lib would kind of aggrandize his character, so when we would do our shots, we would look for something, like a riposte or a reply which would crush his character, and that became kind of a set game for me.”

Coyote actually got his start in writing, and he has a new book coming out in April, Sleeping Where I Fall, a memoir about life in the 60s. “It’s about what the pursuit of absolute freedom felt like and teaches you and costs,” he said. There are some chapters of the book on the web — go to www.petercoyote.com, and follow the link to the Digger homepage.

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