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Interview: Natalia Tena on Technology and Relationships in 10,000 Km

And on her relationship with technology.


British-Spanish actress Natalia Tena has been a familiar face on screen for years, including appearing in both Game of Thrones and the Harry Potter franchise. But she’s also one of the two-person cast that makes up 10,000 Km, the new film from Carlos Marques-Marcet (It Felt Like Love). The movie focuses on the unraveling relationship of teacher Sergi (David Verdaguer) and photographer Alex (Tena) after she gets a job in Los Angeles … 10,000 km away from their Barcelona home.

The movie has been praised for its dialogue (which the actors receive writing credit for), and innovative use of current technology (including Skype) to show a relationship torn apart by the technology that’s supposed to make long distance relationships easier. I spoke with Tena, also the leader of the band Molotov Jukebox, about the appeal of Alex, filming a 23 minute single take scene, and why Skype is her best friend but iPhones are her worst enemy.

Lesley Coffin (TMS): I’m sure you’ve been asked this a number of times, but let’s start at the beginning with the opening shot. What’s it like to shoot a 23 minutes scene in one take?

Natalia Tena: It was fantastic, and one of the first times I really enjoyed the process of filmmaking, because felt like theater. Me and one other guy acting opposite each other, and we didn’t have to worry about the camera because we didn’t have physical marks. Our marks were motivated by what the characters had to do, which was great. We shot the scene in two and half days, and did 17 takes. And it was a great introduction to the crew. And the team was great, just doing this dance to make room for the camera. We were pushed to get to know one another’s rhythms really quickly, and that scene set the tone. So once you do something like that, the elation is just incredible, and moving forward is easy because you realize, “we can do this!”

TMS: It’s interesting that you describe it as theater, because the camera isn’t locked during that scene, so I would imagine you still have to be somewhat aware of the camera.

Tena: Not really. I wasn’t at all. The dolly is there, but it was just a case of our director reading us and anticipating what we would do next, rather than having us move for him. He just let us do our thing and after we rehearsed, we knew where we had to move. But it wasn’t as fixed as you might think, and we had a lot of freedom to move and improvise.

TMS: Do you know what take was ultimately used in the film?

Tena: The very last one we shot. What happened was, David and I got to take 16 and thought “we’ve got it, that was it.” And Carlos shook his head, “no.” And between each take, we had about 20 minutes to regroup and discuss what we needed to do and make adjustments. And one of the things we hadn’t had a chance to do, is talk to a pregnant woman about having sex when you’re trying to make a baby. And during that 20 minute break, a pregnant woman who worked in the production office showed up, and we just asked if we could talk to her. And we asked her pretty much every intimate question about herself and her husband we could think of. And we heard about this massive arc and spectrum of emotion they went through to conceive. And then I touched her belly and we did it. And at the end of that shoot, the entire crew started screaming and clapping. And then someone jumped on the bed and broke it, so we knew then, “that’s it, that was the take.”

TMS: And after those two days you had to start filming apart from David, interacting only online. How was that shoot worked out technically?

Tena: Well, the reason we didn’t shoot my scenes in LA, and just shot both apartments in Barcelona, is I have a band that I was touring with my band and going to festivals on weekends. I shot those two and half days, left, and then we started filming act two. And then as soon as I finished act two, I went away again, and came back to film act three. So it was great to have those breathers in between. And they filmed all of David’s scenes first, at night, and then all of mine during the day, so there seemed to be a time difference. But I was more or less alone when shooting from David’s perspective, and only had a core group of four crew members, with a lot of computers everywhere. Then, the whole crew to film my point of view, and that just felt invasive. I was like “what are you doing in my house!” I enjoyed filming alone so much, because there was a sense of intimacy doing those scenes. We never think about how self-conscious we are, and how often we try to zone out. But I was suddenly extremely aware of how uncomfortable it is to have that many people watching. Because when they weren’t there, I felt I did a better job.

TMS: Is it difficult to stay in character when you aren’t in the same physical space with your acting partner?

Tena: No, because that was exactly right for these circumstances the characters were dealing with. And I must have said F**K video chat every day, because the connection would always go down. But that helped our performances too, because that’s also what it’s like and we felt the same levels of frustration. In fact, the scene about the connection being crap was the one day we didn’t have any interference, and we had to cheat. It was working too smoothly that day, so every day, something went wrong with our internet connection, even though we were filming in the same city

TMS: It seems like those two days were key in establishing the character’s history and a sense of intimacy.

Tena: Yeah, and we did a lot of rehearsing the week before filming. Carlos doesn’t believe in giving a lot of backstories, but we did need a bit with this film. So we improvised about the first time they met. We decided they were good mates who after a night out, there was a paradigm shift, similar to what they are going through at the beginning, now wanting kids. And I also liked David a lot, even though we had only known each other for a week. We’d already done a strip tease for each other. But the first day of filming, we hadn’t kissed, and as in real-life, we hesitated a bit. So we had to work through that while filming the first 23 minutes over and over again.

TMS: Being a performer who travels for work, have you ever had this kind of long distance relationship?

Tena: No, because my boyfriend and I are in our band together. We set it up together. Last year, I filmed a series called Refugees, in Spain, and that was hard because every weekend I had to fly back to be with the band and see him. So if we didn’t have that, I imagine it would be very hard. And as a matter of fact, while I was filming this, he was building a massive pirate ship for Burning Man. So while I was in Barcelona, he was in America, and even that felt very weird. And it was only a month. I think a month is okay, but you need to have a shared base or project you do together. Because otherwise, I think it would start to unravel. Personally, I would change the situation and say, “I need to come there or you need to come here.” Because a big part of being in a sexual relationship is the physical connection you share. And not having that, the relationship can dissolve.

TMS: One of the most interesting comments David’s character makes is that he doesn’t want to spend his time talking to you about your relationship. Because when couple are together every day, you discuss all sorts of topics, and very rarely discuss the status of your relationship.

Tena: Completely. I kind of took this job because my guitarist was in this kind of long term relationship with a girl. And I saw first-hand how hard it was, because there’s suddenly an added pressure on the relationship. You have to plan a time to sit down and chat, but sometimes, you don’t need to say anything about your relationship. So the pressure builds, but you don’t have the physical release, and it can end very badly.

TMS: What’s your relationship with technology?

Tena: I’m f**king awful. As an example, just yesterday, my phone went into my pedicure bucket and is no more. It was already cracked. I am literally the reason insurance was invented. I probably go through three phones a year, because they get lost or stolen or broken, or all three. I started doing Twitter a year ago, but before that my manager for the band made me send things I wanted to post over email. But I realized, I have to get into this, and now I really like doing it. But still don’t know what a hashtag is or how to use it. But Twitter and email are pretty much it. And I have headphones.

TMS: 3 phones a year is a big problem.

Tena: Yeah, I don’t know how it keeps happening. My phone seems to constantly be against me. Recently I was asked to set up two types of security, and I was just freaking out. I had to call my friends and one of them said, “Come over and I’ll help you.” Scanning stuff? Forget it. I’ve never even sent a fax. I had to learn Skype for this and thank god, because I’ve had to use that to do some interviews for this movie.

TMS: Skype is tough, and having done a few Skype interviews myself, it’s hard to look good on a Skype call.

Tena: I disagree. Weirdly, I look much better on Skype than I do on camera. I’m not photogenic at all, but there’s something about that computer screen that I think makes me look great. I’ve had directors tell me, “you look fatter and older on screen,” and I understand it because even growing up, my mom would be like “you just look better in real-life than you do in photos.” Cameras don’t like me, but for some reason, the Skype camera loves me. I didn’t know that until I did this film, but now I’m happy to Skype with a director to audition for a role.

TMS: One of the important aspects of your character is the fact that she’s a photographer, so she has a very special relationship with the lens which kind of filters the world around her. Did you learn anything about photography in order to understand her personality?

Tena: A bit. In real life, I’m nothing like her. She’s more an observer, and David’s character has to drag things out of her. So I kind of based her on my cousin, who studies art history, and we deal with personal, emotional stuff completely differently. So I based Alex on that. That scene where I’m taking the pictures, a mate of the director’s came over and showed me how to use that old camera. And it was one of the scariest scenes because I knew I didn’t know what I was doing. I practiced for two hours, just to look believable, and kept saying “don’t drop the camera!”

TMS: What was it about Alex that appealed to you?

Tena: I liked the fact that as a woman, she’s the one going away to pursue a career, and the man is the one staying home. Because we don’t see that enough in films. I know so many nurturing, homey men, and wild, hardworking, career-driven women. And too often, our choice of roles is mother, prostitute, or secretary. And this an incredibly interesting woman and reflects what’s happening in society now.

TMS: And even more now, because technology’s making it possible to stay connected during these types of long term relationship.

Tena: I actually spoke with a sexologist, and she hadn’t seen the film yet, but she basically guessed the entire plot. She said, if a couple has a very strong foundation and there’s a time limit of a year, they will be able to make it through. Because they have that prize of being together at the end of it all. But if one of them changes the plans, that’s when things break down, and they will not survive. So these relationships can work, but you have to be careful. If someone suddenly gets a promotion during that time apart, who are you going to choose?

TMS: It’s interesting that you spoke with a sexologist, because Alex seems to be someone keenly aware and in control of her sexuality. Was that part of her appeal as well?

Tena: Yes, because that’s rarely portrayed well on film. Usually, female sexuality is intended to appeal to men. I found it really interesting that Alex never gets to come, and Carlo was like “she should come in the first scene” and I said no. There’s something really sexy about making your partner come, especially because she wants his sperm. And this is them having sex in the morning, on a lazy Sunday, so she knows they’ll probably have sex again that day, so they aren’t feeling pressure. And I like the fact that as it deteriorates in the middle, she’s the one who wants to do something via technology, and it just doesn’t work. And then their last time together is just horrendous. We’ve all had break-up sex like that before.

10,000 KM is available on VOD now.

Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.

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