Rosa Salazar on Alita: Battle Angel sequel idea, playing Alita forever, and favorite scene

Credit: Rico Torres/Twentieth Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel surpassed box office expectations and opened to be the #1 movie last weekend nationwide. The movie has earned a CinemaScore of A- and a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes’ audience score. It’s opening in China this weekend and is expected to make $63.5 million. We chat with Rosa Salazar, who plays the titular character in Alita: Battle Angel, about the emotional scenes, on playing Alita forever, her big anime eyes, sharing the manga with the cast, possible sequel ideas, and her favorite scene.

Nerd Reactor: Audience reaction has been great with the movie being the #1 movie last weekend. How do you feel about that?

Rosa Salazar: I feel very sweet and I’m over the moon. This project is so close to my heart and I’ve been living with it for the last 3 years. I’m just so happy and grateful that people are responding to it the way that I have.

Nerd Reactor: For me, I got emotional watching it. So what was it like seeing yourself on the screen with yourself just baring it all.

Rosa Salazar: You know, I get emotional too. It’s got all these kick-ass moments and it’s got the amazing action pieces in it, but they’re all there to service the heart of the story, the characters and her journey. That’s what makes me emotional… that she is extremely soulful. You don’t see that a lot. You often see these very stoic creatures and the story about them just being the side piece to the explosions that happen. This is the opposite. That’s what you get when you work with visionaries like Jim and Robert. When I see myself up there I get emotional. It’s mind-blowing. It’s such an out-of-body experience. I get lost in it too. I get lost in the story itself and that’s what people want to go and see. They want to go and feel something. They don’t want to just see the action pieces, although we have that. I think Alita gives that to them.

Nerd Reactor: I know that there are some people out there who are put off by Alita’s eyes, but for me, I loved them because they’re able to convey a lot of emotions.

Rosa Salazar: Exactly, that’s the whole point. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and Alita is an intensely soulful creature. She is an emotional girl, and we need to have those big windows into her soul, and that’s one part of it. The other part is that we were paying homage to Yukito Kishiro’s work. A lot of times someone from Hollywood would go and option a very beloved piece of manga and then they’ll take it and they’ll make the Hollywoodized version of it, stripping it of all of its beautiful qualities that make it a manga. And what we did here was try to stay true to his work as possible and make the cinematic version, not the Hollywoodized version. So part of that was making Alita exactly the way that she looks in the manga with the big eyes… with the big anime eyes.

Nerd Reactor: When I was talking to Keean Johnson (Hugo) about his time on the set, he was telling me about your excitement when you were showing him things from the source material and how accurate it was for the scenes you were doing.

Rosa Salazar: Yeah, well you know, sometimes it was accidental. I mean just because the story is so solid, we would be shooting a scene and I’ll be like, “Oh my god!” I have an encyclopedic knowledge of the manga. I know basically every single frame of that first book in the series. I was like, “You guys, this is what we’re doing right now. This sequence is exactly from the manga!” And I know we didn’t storyboard it, so that’s why I would run into my trailer and get the manga and bring it out. And then some were intentional. The big sweeping scene of these two small figures on the supply tube going to Zalem. That was a centerfold spread in the manga, and it’s this heartbreaking drawing of the supply tube with Alita on one side and Hugo on the other page. We really, really invested in the manga, making it true to the manga as possible. Sometimes it lines up almost exactly.

Nerd Reactor: What are your thoughts on whether or not a sequel is happening?

Rosa Salazar: I think there’s nothing more patronizing to an audience than to say, “Hey, here are three movies.” Because audiences will clap back and be like, “Well, what if we don’t even want the first one? What if we don’t even like the first one? Or are you just going to tell me what I like?” And that’s what we’ve been conditioned to receive… a franchise and trilogies. And as someone who’s been a part of them, there is a benefit and definitely a detraction when you knowingly make a film that’s going to be so.

Jon Landau, who I think is incredibly intelligent in this way, says, “We made this movie for audiences to stand on its own, and if the audience likes this movie, they will tell us to make another movie. So that’s why it’s so important if you like Alita to get out to the theaters and tell your friends. The sequel literally depends on you. We haven’t started making a sequel, there’s no start date, and I haven’t signed any paperwork for the second film. It really truly is one of its kind, if that’s what people want. It will be more if that’s what they want too. I can tell you that I will play this character for the rest of my life because I love her and thanks to the performance capture technology, I probably could play this character for the rest of my life.

Nerd Reactor: If the next movie does come out, do you have any ideas on what you would like for the story for Alita to be?

Rosa Salazar: 1000%! I didn’t have enough leverage or input. They know I can handle it, but they didn’t know if I was going to deliver. But thanks to all the hard work I put in and the movie being number one, now I’ve already started flexing. I email back and forth with Jim, and I was like, “Jim, I have so many ideas. Let’s meet up! Let’s talk about the ideas.”

I have one very vivid shot that I would love to see as the opening shot. Any fans of the manga would know what I’m talking about. It’s Alita and she’s on the ground and she’s got this cape on and her wild hair is blowing in the wind and she’s playing the harmonica. It’s like an ode to cowboys. She is a cowboy, she is a ronin, she is a lone wolf, and I would really love to see her wrestle with that in the second film or third one.

Nerd Reactor: For this movie do you have any particular favorite scene?

Rosa Salazar: I mean I love the movie in its entirety. There are scenes that I get super excited about, and they’re different every time when I’m watching it. Like, “Oh, this scene is coming up.” One scene in particular that I find very intriguing… because the movie asks what it means to be human. Are you human if you have a flesh-and-blood body, or are you human if you have a real heart? Are you human if you have a brain? And this is obviously the answer. You’re human if you have a human brain and if you have a soul. And I’m thinking, where does Alita display these human qualities, and there is a moment on the bridge where Hugo and Alita kiss, and she asks him, “Does it bother you that I’m not completely human?” It honestly has nothing to do with his answer and everything to do with her question. Yes, of course, he says, “You’re the most human person I’ve ever met.” But the real human quality here is that she asked. She’s saying, “Do you validate me? Do you love me? Do you see me? Are you connecting with me?” We all want to see ourselves through the eyes of our lovers reflected back at us. That’s how we know we’re alive. So that question and all of its vulnerability is the most human thing I think she says in the whole movie.

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