Canadian Actress Ekaterina Baker Talks About Her Latest Film “The Asset” A Lionsgate Release
Rising star Ekaterina talks about her latest film “The Asset” a Lionsgate release starring Samuel L. Jackson, Maggie Q, and Michael Keaton.
Ekaterina Baker Q & A:
1. What kind of preparation & research do you do to find your characters?
EB: The first thing I do when I get a script is I read it over and over and over again. I read it thinking: “Why is this scene here? What does the audience need from my character in this particular scene? How does this scene push the story forward?” It’s like a puzzle. What is the writer trying to communicate through this scene? How can I honor the writer, the story and the audience?
Then I break it down. What is this piece about? What is the essence? What is the conversations/themes of the movie/scene? What are the two opposing sides… love over fear; personal over professional; shame over happiness… once I know what the themes of the scene are, the fun stuff begins. I break it down into threes. Three acts, three sub-acts, each sub-act into its three, and so on until it’s broken down to every single word. I know, very exciting stuff!
Once I know the architecture of the scene I can look into the character. What does she do, why does she do it, how does she do it, very importantly how does she not do it. What is she saying? What is she actually saying? What my character does not say is as important as what she says. Character is what character does as director Michael Nankin says. Once I know every moment of my scene, once I know what every beat and every pause means to my character and how it gets misinterpreted (or not) by the other character, I can move to work on the relationship to the fellow character. I work on what it is that I am doing to the fellow character and what I need them to stop doing to me. I work on consequence of failing at my objective and the counterpoint (underlying truth). Emotion is energy in motion. Every moment in the scene is something happening to my character even if nothing is happening. Every moment a character does something to the other character.
In terms of my dialogue I never ever memorize it with intention. I memorize it plain, no emotion, no meaning. It is similar to learning notes of a song when playing the piano or steps for a dance. Just as practicing steps and notes, it needs to be done slow, over and over again. Until I have it in my body. When I know it so well that I don’t ever have to think about my steps, notes, lines, I can fuel my character with emotion (I’ll talk about it later) and jump off the diving board into the scene. Fully surrender and let it take me on the journey that was written. I don’t have an idea of what the scene is outside of what’s written. I follow the architecture of the scene just as if I went on a roller coaster and let it take me on the ride.
Now, about emotion. It is called emotional truth of the character. Emotional preparation for an actor is like a muscle for an athlete. It has to be trained consistently, ongoingly, going deeper and more precise each time. No scene could be true if it is “acted.”
I never ever make choices or assumptions. I never invent anything. Everything I do is always lifted off the page. It is always discovered in the writing. I am an instrument, which the story is spoken through. I am an intermediate between the writer and the audience and it is my job to honor both. It is my job to remove myself, let the character speak through me honoring the story. It is never ever about me, it is about the character, the story, and it is about the audience.
So this is what I do when I get a script no matter if it’s 120 pages or a one-liner. I spend hours and hours sitting at my desk, on the floor, lying in bed or on the couch working it till the last beat. That is what I do to make sure I do not have to act in my scenes. No one wants to see an actor acting. The audience wants to see a human being living authentically through the moment – feeling, hurting; laughing… that is when the audience can relate. We as humans can’t relate to an actor doing her job, we can relate to a human being living on stage/screen. Just like ballet dancers we admire, the only way they go out on a stage, let it go and let the movement of the dance, the story of the dance take them on a journey and let that journey speak through them to the audience, is to be so prepared, not only that they don’t have to think of their steps or the story, but that they have no other choice but to surrender and let the story through them.
2. What kind of characters do you enjoy to play most?
EB: This is a great question. When most actors start out much of the time actors gain career traction in roles that others think are best suited for us. Some of the time the suitability is based not only on performance but also on more overt items like age, sex, body composition etc. I have been referred to as a Bond-type girl; which I believe I can play well and it has served me well. I have also had the opportunity to have a couple of roles more specifically aligned with my most favorite comedic type roles. I love comedy so much. I believe humor is one the best gifts of humanity. A great laugh is one of the best experiences in life for me. The ability to provide this type of experience to millions of people is what I value the most.
3. Do you have an acting mentor?
EB: I have been very lucky to come across an incredible acting coach early on in my acting training. He became my mentor. I have been working with Matthew Harrison for over two years now. His approach to acting training is just amazing. He can truly teach a monkey how to act! On a serious note, he has a very detailed step by step system that allows an actor to build their craft. He removes the notion of talent and art from acting and narrows it down to the craft, the process, and hard work. And I believe in that. I continuously train, I truly believe acting is one of those professions where one could always learn and grow.
4. Who are your 5 favorite female actresses and why?
EB: I’ll be repeating myself here a little.
- – Nicole Kidman is one of the female actors I respect most. I really love what she brings to her characters. The intensity that’s all within, rather than on the outside, the mystery, the light and the darkness. Her characters pose the most exciting contradiction.
- – Susan Sarandon. I love the authenticity of her work. She makes every character shine like a laser beam through the lens and right into the soul of the audience. I watched “Blackbird” at TIFF 2019 and during the entire course of the movie the audience was crying and laughing at the same time. Wow, to be able to do that to the audience. That is beyond, the way she impacts the audience is unlike any other.
- – Laura Dern. I just love her characters. She is so amazing at making them be likeable and unlikeable at the same time. It is just so much joy to watch her play.
- Diane Keaton. She’s a great actor and have you seen her style? Do I even have to say anything more…?
- Julianne Moore. I just love the feminine, flowy, gorgeous side of her characters combined with emotional charge and so much sparkle inside.
5. Who are your 5 favorite male actors and why?
- Bradley Cooper. After I watched “A Star is Born,” I read quite a bit about the creative process that went into that movie and all the work that was put in behind the scenes. I really admire how much work he puts into his characters, how hard he worked and what an amazing result he achieved.
- Billy Crudup. I love his characters. I especially enjoyed watching Cory Ellison in “The Morning Show.” What an amazing work. So exciting to watch the character with so much going on in the inside. It’s like he always has a hint of sarcasm in his eyes. In “After the Wedding” I really loved the boyish, carelessness of his character combined with gentleness and a pitch of irony.
- Sterling K Brown. I love watching him do nothing on screen. He does so much not doing anything. That is mastery.
- Rami Malek. His characters are always so different and so unique. It’s amazing to see an actor discover such different angles of the characters he is playing.
- Matthew McConaughey. Interstellar is one of my favorite movies of all time. His work in this movie is incredible, the story he tells and how he tells it is all so good. I also really admire what he did with his career. The choices he made (and the ones he didn’t). I think it takes a very intelligent, thoughtful, business-oriented person to navigate one’s career in such a smart way.
6. What do you do in your spare time?
EB: Who has spare time? Actually as much as I am very focused on my craft I am a big believer in making sure my priorities are right and I’m living the life that I want in all respects. I love to be active. Snowboarding is an anchor in winter, biking and wake surfing in summer. I enjoy equestrian sports (mostly because I get to pat the horses of course). We have Bruno our incredible four–year-old yellow lab, he makes sure I am walked several times a day, preferably in the woods, covered in mud. I’m also a bit of a foodie and I’m yet to turn away a great glass of wine. I enjoy reading psychology articles and I love to cook (my husband appreciates that interest very much).
7. What is your typical day like?
EB: I’m a morning person. Bruno and I have 30 min Pilates first thing in the morning. Usually includes me trying to move and Bruno trying to prevent any movement whatsoever by lying on top of me the entire time. But, hey, extra weight when exercising is always good. Then we have our salmon and coffee respectively and we start our day with a nice walk. From there I usually have a ton of all that filming prep-work I was talking about and a nice chunk of physical exercise. I have a really great Barre/Pilates instructor that has amazing core workout classes. They will keep me a Bond girl forever (hopefully). Finishing up days with the odd movie is a great wind down for me. I’m a big believer in regularly exercising our brain and bodies’ as well as resting them. It makes life great.
8. What kind of roles are you looking to play in the future?
EB: I love to play meaningful roles that push the story forward and are impactful to the audience. As an actor I am here in service of my audience. If I know it works for them then it works great for me. As I mentioned before I am a bit of a closet comedian. I love comedy so much. Intellectual comedy is the best. Being funny through brain usage is what it is all about for me. That being said, I would love to play a villain and an assassin one day. Those characters are so much fun to work on. I would love to play a character in a WWII movie that tells a story about female character. There are quite a few WWII movies that have male characters at their core; there isn’t a female-driven movie that would tell a story about that difficult time. I feel there are a lot of stories about women during that time (take Night Witches for example) and I’d love to tell one of those one day.
My true dream part, however, is to play Eliza Doolittle in the remake of My Fair Lady. What a good movie! What an amazing character arc. Time to make a remake. What I really want is to tell a story and to impact the audience, to tell stories that carry important lessons and enlist change. Some people say they want to make $10 million a year, I want to make 10 million people cry one day. And then I want to make them laugh of course.
9. What is your fashion style?
EB: I was a tomboy growing up. I wore my older brother’s clothes and hated the frilly stuff. Wearing a skirt or a dress was a punishment when I was a kid. That being said my gorgeous Russian mom showed me the light and brought me up as a proper lady (or at least she tried). And as you know I love being active. So I have a deep closet relationship with both Tom Ford and Mavic as bookends.
10. Do you have a health regime?
EB: I am a big believer that you are what you eat. I do things quite differently from many in North America. I have been shocked and frustrated at how many packaged goods companies have not done enough to promote healthy eating. Obesity in developed countries is one of the major issues of our time.
All of the products we consume that are low fat and low this and low that are killing us. I eat largely non-processed foods that are filled with natural good fats. What the modern world has yet to realize but hopefully will someday is that consuming natural food fats is not only great for your health and digestive system but it will keep us all in a Bond girl body much longer than we ever hoped for.
So while I am eating away on natural fats, my husband makes fun of me daily asking if I’d like any oatmeal with my butter. I also love to exercise my body and mind every day. Biking, snowboarding, wake surfing, riding horses, Pilates, core workout, hiking, playing games, reading books, and articles. Good healthy variety really is the spice of life.
11. Being so blessed – How do you give back?
EB: My family and I are very fortunate. It’s incredible that in such a developed world that there can still be so much hardship. My husband and I support a number of causes but my biggest focus is on dog rescues. There is an amazing organization based in Toronto called Redemption Paws that rescues dogs from all across North America and finds them wonderful homes. We financially support Redemption Paws and have fostered dogs while they waited for a new home. Bruno shares his salmon with them.
12. Where do you see your career in 5 years from now?
EB: The last couple of years have been amazing for me. I have done lots of very cool work with amazing industry veterans. I would hope and expect to continue progressing. I have my sights on a few really fantastic roles for 2020 that will assist in greatly increasing my audience reach. I’m very excited about the next five years for me. I have big aspirations and am looking forward to bringing tremendous and memorable joy, sorrow, fright, and every other emotion to millions of audience members in the years ahead.