Interview Date: 03/10/2010
Run Date: 01/18/2011
September Jones is not the kind of girl you bring home to Mom. From the 20 or so minutes that we spent with Lauren Cohan on the set of "Death Race 2" in Cape Town, South Africa, we'd guess Mom would be a much bigger fan of Ms. Cohan than her character in this prequel to the 2008 "Death Race." Cohan spoke about what motivates September Jones, the power-hungry TV exec behind the fictional reality TV sensations "Death Match" and "Death Race," and whether or not Cohan thinks she could survive in the Terminal Island penitentiary. We also spoke briefly about her work with a young Heath Ledger in "Casanova," but let's get to know a little bit more about September Jones first, shall we?
Reporter: So are you shooting tonight?
Lauren Cohan: Yep, I’m shooting tonight. We actually have the second night of death match tonight.
Bullz-Eye: That’s what we were just doing.
LC: Yeah, you guys were doing screaming for that one. (Writer's note: Check out my On Location piece for a recap of my time as a Terminal Island extra.)
Reporter: We were screaming for the white power Nazi. I’m going to South Africa to root for the white power guy.
LC: Well hopefully it won’t be like Henie (Bosman, who plays the leader of the skinheads, Xander) because his ankle was fractured with his swastika still tattooed.
Reporter: Oh, so they must have seen the swastika.
LC: Yeah, it was still on the back of his head, he forgot.
Reporter: That’s crazy. That’s awesome. So, September Jones.
LC: September Jones.
BE: She sounds like a very pleasant woman.
Reporter: How did you get involved in this to begin with?
LC: I just auditioned. I mean, the casting director is one that I have done a few other projects with. It was a total whirlwind because they had been looking for September for a while apparently, in England I think and I was in L.A. I went on tape in L.A and auditioned on Wednesday and I flew on Friday or Saturday, Saturday morning I flew to Cape Town. So it was like woo, woo, woo.
Reporter: Have you been here before?
Reporter: So this is your first time.
LC: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Reporter: What have been your thoughts of the city? Have you been able to go out at all or are you mostly on the set?
LC: No, I have had time to go out. I’ve gone and done a bunch of stuff. But my whole feelings about Cape Town are great. The makeup girls will back this up, I’m totally married to this place. I’m going to do something else soon after this, but I so wanted to stay and so do something else in Cape Town. I mean, I usually get somewhere and really like it or really find something that I like about it but something in South Africa….
Reporter: It felt right.
LC: Yeah. I just feel like really centered and really…they say this is where we all came from and apparently Cape Town itself, not just South Africa, but Cape Town is the safest place to be in the world, in terms of earthquakes and tsunamis and everything, there’s no fault lines near it.
Reporter: Safer than Jersey?
Reporter: Oh go figure.
LC: Surprisingly. (Laughs)
BE: So where does Cape Town rank with the other places you’ve filmed?
LC: It’s pretty high.
BE: Have there been any places that have compared really?
LC: Venice, Italy was pretty incredible.
BE: Yeah, I’d imagine.
LC: Yeah, I mean, that was like a mind blowing experience for totally different reasons to this. I mean, what’s making me feel so happy here are the people. And it’s obviously beautiful scenery and the lifestyle is incredible. But I find Cape Townians and South Africans to just be really heartfelt.
Reporter: Any cities you wouldn’t go back to?
LC: I went to Cairo and I don’t think I need to go there again. I think I got it. But most of the places, the only reason I wouldn’t go back is because there are so many places to see, not because it was bad.
BE: Now we’ve heard great things about this cast and crew being pretty tight. That has to have contributed to the overall…
LC: Yeah, definitely. You know what it is, I’m actually so struck by there just not being enough time to speak to everyone. I find everyone on this set so genuine and interesting and wonderful, and I actually just feel like, oh my God, there’s not enough time. I want to get to know everybody.
Reporter: It’s a quick shooting schedule also. It’s only like a month or six weeks, right?
LC: Yeah. And I would love to be here in Cape Town for, like, a nice three- or six-month job. We’ve all become close really quickly on this.
Reporter: You’ll come back one day, who knows.
LC: Yeah, I will.
Reporter: So let’s talk about September.
Reporter: Did you see the first (movie)?
Reporter: She obviously wasn’t in it as a character, but what did you kind of take away from the first one?
LC: I mean, she and Joan Allen kind of uphold the same thing in both films.
LC: And I loved Joan Allen’s character in the first one. She’s one of my favorite actresses anyway and it was really cool to be coming to this movie playing a parallel kind of role, the villain. Yeah, I mean September Jones is just really interesting on a lot of levels. And it appealed to me because she’s outright evil, like she’s not making any excuses or explanations, ever. And she’s not afraid to be a woman in this environment and to flaunt her sexuality with it because it’s going to get her to her goal, which she’s always kind of keeping her eye on.
Reporter: Yeah, right.
LC: She’s reality TV. She’s not reality TV but….
Reporter: Is there an ounce of good in her at all? Are you playing her, like, totally evil?
LC: I’m playing her fun. Like she has fun with what she does. So I think that the good in it is her entertainment value.
Reporter: We’re not going to root for her though in the movie?
LC: No, I don’t think you will. I mean, I just don’t see how you can because all of her joy comes out of everyone else’s misery. And so to root for her, I think, you’d have to not care about anybody else in the movie, which we hope is not how it’s going to be. Like to her, she just knows what she wants and she doesn’t care what she has to do to get that.
BE: Is it fun to play someone that ruthless?
LC: Yeah, it’s definitely fun. Because it’s not like…obviously she is killing people in the process of it but for me, when I’m September, that’s not what I’m doing in my eyes.
BE: You’re getting ratings.
LC: Yeah, it’s just success and the drama of orchestrating these fights, and what you need to happen in order for it to be a success. It’s totally ridiculous.
Reporter: How does one tap into something so evil? Did you watch other movies with those evil women characters? Did you method act and summon up something evil you did in the past or something?
LC: It’s not about being evil, though, because I think then you just end up being an idea of evil. Like genre acting and I don’t want to do that. September’s needs are real to September.
LC: And they’re not evil. She may think it’s like a little bit bad but the bigger picture is that it’s going to make a great show, and that’s what’s important to her. And her bigger picture is totally messed up but she doesn’t think so. But in terms of stuff to watch, I mean, I was just paying a lot of attention to reality TV presenters and newscasters and stuff like this because September, even within the story, is stepping into all of these different roles.
BE: She was stripped of her Miss Universe crown for sleeping with all five judges?
BE: I read that in the production notes. Is that kind of blind ambition deplorable? Admirable? Or a little bit of both?
LC: For somebody to be that focused is admirable. For somebody to make those sacrifices to get the goal is questionable because it’s like, shouldn’t she have something else to go on to get her to where she needs to go? But again, I think she’s kind of this breed of person that we just sometimes can’t wrap our head around. Like there are people that I know, and they’re not doing things like that, but they are so focused and I still can’t wrap my head around like how…. Do you know what I mean? I like to sort of like cater to all sides of life.
Reporter: What about on the reality TV angle? Do you personally watch a lot of reality TV or anything?
LC: No, not really. I watch a lot of “Jersey Shore.” (Laughs)
Reporter: Did you watch more for this, like you were kind of saying…?
LC: No, I actually didn’t have time to watch more before this because I had, like, two days. But I’ve seen it and I know…I was thinking a lot about the “Big Brother” type presentation. And it’s also the game show. It’s not just reality TV, it’s like game show host and “Gladiator,” I don’t know if they had this in America but we had a TV show called “Gladiator” where people like…you must have had that, right?
BE: Yeah, we had “American Gladiators.”
LC: Okay, cool. So I thought a lot about “Gladiator,” I thought a lot about “Big Brother,” I thought a lot about actual newscasters. In the first half of the film her repertoire is like journalistic and then in the second half she’s like, okay, well if I need to do this then I’m going to do it 100% this way. And if this is what’s going to get me ratings, then I’m going to go 100% that way. Whatever. So she just kind of puts the different hats on.
Reporter: Career minded. Put a nice spin on it.
LC: Yeah, definitely.
Reporter: “Death Race” focuses so much on the cars. Did you get a chance to drive any of them?
LC: No, no I didn’t. I do get to drive a Jaguar E-Type, which is like pretty cool.
Reporter: Nice. You don’t want to do like the Dodge Ram or like one of those tanks or anything?
Reporter: No interest in that?
LC: Actually, I do like driving. It was so funny because somebody asked me earlier, “How do you feel about cars?” And I was like, “Yeah, I love…I don’t give a shit.” (Laughs)
Reporter: To be honest.
LC: To be honest with you, I love like a big old truck, like for myself. I love driving trucks. But I’m not a car enthusiast. I mean, I like the idea that she’s orchestrating this whole thing; that is what she’s doing, she’s orchestrating all of this action, but she’s never, like, jumping in the cars.
BE: It is interesting, though, the two films, female villains. You don’t see too many female villains, and then in a series to have two show up….
LC: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Reporter: It’s like a warped idea of female empowerment kind of, you know?
LC: Yeah, it is. Like, put them in control but then squish them.
Reporter: So if some girl came up to you and was like, “I really love your character, I want to be like her, it was really empowering,” what would you say to them?
LC: I would give them a hug and I would say that there are other ways! (Laughs)
BE: As the “creative power” behind “Death Race,” do you yourself see a show…not like it would ever get made, but if it did, with kind of the general idea that people tend to be bloodthirsty and love reality TV and things like that, could you see that on TV and actually being a hit if it ever got to that point?
LC: I mean, it’s interesting like it being in this prison. It is a great idea. I don’t know. I mean, it obviously wouldn’t ever be able to get this far, but I get it. I do get that, like, societal need to see the violence and the bloodshed.
BE: And they’re only convicts dying, right? (Laughs)
Reporter: Right. They’re all guilty anyway.
LC: Yeah. But, we don’t know.
Reporter: What about if you were thrown on Terminal Island? I don’t know if you’ve ever been to jail or not….
LC: No. (Laughs)
Reporter: If you were kind of thrown into Terminal Island, how would you survive or go about trying to survive if you were in the female kind of part of it?
LC: Yeah, good question. Fuck, man, I hope I wouldn’t be there in the first place.
Reporter: Obviously, it’s going to be a badass prison. The big butch women are going to be gunning for you, like, what would you do?
LC: Oh my God, they really would, wouldn’t they?
BE: Fresh meat!
LC: Fresh meat.
Reporter: Or would you just be scared as hell and pray for your life?
LC: I probably would try and figure out, like, some kind of plea bargain, but it’s too late once you’re in prison for a plea bargain.
Reporter: Is you personality more kind of like the “beg for mercy” type or would you just try and fake being badass, or whatever?
LC: I don’t think I could fake badass. I think I’d be found out within seconds. You know, I’d probably just try and be cool. I’d probably try and be one of those people that’s just, like, not over involved, but you don’t want to beat up on me. I’m not going to give you the reaction you want, just, like, chill.
Reporter: So you take the punishment.
LC: Yeah. Get them some cigarettes and stuff, whatever it is you want in prison.
BE: Would you do the death race if you had an opportunity to earn your freedom?
LC: Yes, definitely. Being faced with stuck in prison or, like, really high risk with huge, potential gain, I would definitely do the death race. It’s really scary. The more and more I think about it, I do think it’s a really cool idea. Maybe I’m going to leave acting and make a show.
Reporter: It’s a new career now.
BE: I had one more question just based on the production notes. I saw that you were in “Casanova” with Heath Ledger.
LC: Oh, yeah.
BE: Were you guys close at all?
LC: Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t really on the film for that long. I was only there for a couple of weeks. Knowing him had an effect on me and I feel really honored to have worked with him. I think he really is, like, one of the great people of our generation.
BE: I mean, everything I hear, he was just a really great guy to know.
LC: Really incredible person. Just, like funny, good sense of humor and kind of rambunctious, you know? He’s kind of like a kid, running around and he always had a lot of ideas and a lot of enthusiasm. Just a beautiful person.
BE: What was it like watching him as the Joker in “The Dark Knight”?
LC: Yeah, that was surreal. Well, it wasn’t surreal but it was, like, crazy. He really goes to the depths of it. There’s a lot of times I found that with him in film, like in “Lords of Dogtown,” I was watching that and I didn’t even know it was him for the first…and that was after I had worked with him. I just think he can really be selfless in his performance and really let go.
BE: Great! Well, thanks for your time.
LC: Yeah, thank you, too.
BE: And good luck on the next project you’re moving on to.LC: Yeah, thank you so much.