Rhona Mitra talks exclusively about being the new vampire in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Jumping into a franchise after two films is no mean feat, but Rhona Mitra joined the cast of the popular Underworld series for its third installment, Rise of the Lycans, and hit the ground running.

According to Mitra, whose previous film was the post-apocalyptic adventure Doomsday, the biggest obstacle she had to overcome was not the sword fights or action scenes, but the possibility of becoming a warrior princess.

SCI FI Wire spoke to Mitra exclusively before her appearance at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention on Sunday. In addition to talking about joining the cast of the series' latest film, she discussed working with Bill Nighy to provide a foundation for the previous films' relationships and talked about the challenge of surpassing Kate Beckinsale's skin-tight catsuit. Following is an edited version of our interview. Rise of the Lycans opens Jan. 23.

Rhona, is fantasy like this harder or easier to believe and invest in as an actor than if you were, say, playing a lawyer or doctor?

Mitra: It's all one and the same, because it's not who you are or part of your life. You still have to remove yourself and go to a different place. It's just a different route to the same result.

What route do you take for this?

Mitra: The interesting thing is that whether you are a warrior that's [from] the 12th century or somebody who's a warrior in the courtroom, as a female I generally get cast because of my own personal character traits and their likeness to those characters. Whether they're in chain mail on a horse wielding a sword, or if the weapons, if you like, are verbal in a courtroom, you're pretty much coming from the same place. The difference for me, more than anything else, would be physicality.

Because this is a prequel, do you have to skew your behavior to fit that of the previous two films, or do you intentionally do something different?

Mitra: I hadn't seen either film before, and being that it's a prequel, it's completely set apart from them; you don't have to have seen the other two, which is a blessing. The film itself, I think, needed to maintain a certain hue, a similarity, a throughline just to link up. But the very fact that it's period—it's 12th century—already takes it miles and miles away, so we had a lot more creative license. But given that it's 12th century, it's kind of more theatrical. I think everybody innately does this: Everything in the future seems to be stripped down, simple, borderline monotonous. It's strange that when the environments become super high-tech and very slick, people become almost kind of monosyllabic. I had to adhere to what Bill Nighy had done, because he's my dad, and I'm the son that he never had, pretty much. So I watched him, and I learned from him, and there are mannerisms and there's a certain slickness that vampires have—there's a gravitas that is innate with all vampires, and it doesn't matter which era they're in. That's the only thing that I wanted to make sure that I stuck to, but other than that, I got free rein to do pretty much whatever I wanted with her.

After watching the other two films, did you take anything from Kate Beckinsale's relationship with Bill when developing yours with him?

Mitra: It was completely different, so the thing that I found comforting was that the reason why Bill, or Viktor, had such a fondness for Selene was because she reminded him of Sonja. I think that without trying, there's a resonance in our voices, even, and that was enough. ...

Patrick Tatopoulos took over as director from Len Wiseman, but with so many folks returning from previous installments, what sort of mandates or discussions were there about the sort of tonal continuity between those films and this one?

Mitra: Well, those are conversations having to do with the look, because Patrick was production designer on the first two. I think he was aware that there had to be a throughline, but those are conversations he would have had with the studio. As far as I was concerned, we had very lengthy discussions, but where I got involved the most was in the look of Sonja. I thought it was imperative to maintain something—there had to be some connection. It would have been very easy for that [time] period to turn her into Xena, Warrior Princess, and quite frankly I was like "Bugger that! We either create something that's really unique and that you haven't seen before, or forget it." Because that's one thing that became very iconic about the first two, the look of [Kate's] outfit. So we got Wendy Partridge, who designed the first one; they had a different costume designer for the rest of the cast, but Sonja had her own costumes, and it was Wendy who did the other one. It's completely different: There's only a couple of things here and there, like a corset. Mine is leather, but the rest of it's chain mail and lambskin. That was the only thing: I wanted a little salute and a little [reference] to that, and everyone agreed.