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Tasmanian Devil Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is an interview with Danica McKellar and Apolo Ohno on January 15, 2013 about the television movie Tasmanian Devil.

Danica McKellar

Question:
Apolo, can you talk about your big scene? You must have been covered in a lot of gross stuff and that scene was really, really disgusting, but in a good way.

Apolo Ohno:
Disgusting in a good way, I think is exactly what we were trying to go for. This was my first real shot at being able to be on screen with people like Danica and Mike and the others. And it was an incredible experience, but at the same time, it was pretty nasty. But that's what we were going for; we wanted to be as realistic as possible and I try to make it seem how much in pain I actually really was. I did my best.

Question:
What was your favorite part?

Apolo Ohno:
My favorite part is when I die, because that's pretty much what goes down. It's fairly straight forward for me.

Danica McKellar:
I'm kind of afraid of heights, but it was also really fun to work with green screen. And there's that jump that my character has - I think everybody in the movie has a jump - and you know I was all like suspended by wires and things. And it's just wild to like get all the gear and all the stuff that goes under your clothes, and then you put the clothes on top of it and then you feel like a robot or something. I don't know; it was wild. I'm not a huge, big fan of heights and having to sort of build up the courage to do that was fun and exciting.

Question:
What made you decide to take on these roles?

Apolo Ohno:
I've loved the Syfy channel for as long as I can remember. And this is just a really fun opportunity for me to go somewhere out of my comfort zone and play a character who I think I could associate with and I could be on screen with some people. I've been a fan of Danica's since I was a kid. So for me it was just fun to be able to be around people like that and be around the production team and be around a group and a crew that was all willing to work so hard toward achieving I think the same goal. And I got to play a small role in it, which was an absolute blast for me.

So it was a no-brainer for me to sign on and say Yes. And you know, I do get a lot of opportunities to play certain roles and be a part of certain films, but this one to me, it just seemed different. It seemed fun and you know, being able to film in my back yard in Vancouver was very easy too.

Danica McKellar:
Yes, I also love Syfy. I love all kinds of different projects. I mean obviously I've been acting for a long, long time and I love the variety. I mean I just did a romantic comedy, a Christmas movie for Lifetime that was on last month, and then I've got this Syfy movie. And I sort of like to change it up and keep it different. Shooting in Vancouver was amazing. We were shooting in some of the mountains North of Vancouver and it was just gorgeous, I mean oh my goodness.

It was cold though, I will say that, It was cold. And it wasn't really supposed to be cold because it's supposed to be Tasmania, we were playing Vancouver for Tasmania, which of course is like Australia. And you know, we were wearing like, not enough clothing for the temperature. But that's again part of the adventure. One day it actually snowed on us. And they added a line about how it was snowing, and then they didn't end up using the scene at all. So I thought that was kind of interesting.

Question:
Since you guys are considered such good role models, what advice would you give to people that look up to you?

Danica McKellar:
Do your best. Be grateful. I think gratitude has got to be huge up on the list, in terms of how to be successful and happy is to be; first of all, grateful for what you have; and then be willing to work hard for more. Actually I think that Apolo and I have a lot of the very same views on this.

Apolo Ohno:
I agree.

Danica McKellar:
We follow each other on Twitter so I'm always seeing his inspirational tweets and Apolo, good advice.

Apolo Ohno:
I don't think I could have said it better. I mean anyone who's looking for inspiration, we all need to be refreshed every single day, just by motivation and striving to be our best and trying to reach further than we thought was possible. I think we're all human too, so we all have down days and days that we don't want to be our best. And you know, those are the times that we look to friends and to others who can hopefully uplift us.

So I think it's just consistency and I think like Danica said, role models come and they go. And I think it's up to us to kind of go deep inside of ourselves to find out what motivates us and what pushes us to continuously strive further.

Danica McKellar:
There's also a quote that I really like that I don't remember who said it first but, "We are what we habitually do." So if you want to be a certain kind of person, than be that person every day, as much as you possibly can. And you know, I think sometimes the images that we have in our head of who we are, are different from who we actually are. And if you want to find out who you are, which is a great starting point for self-improvement is, "What do I do every day? What are the things that I habitually do?" And you learn about yourself. Find out, "Who am I now and where do I want to be? And let's see, now I know where I am, where I want to be, and now it's time to figure out how to get there."

Question:
Apolo, what was it that made you get into acting. You're a dancer now and you're an Olympian, so how did you decide to get into acting?

Apolo Ohno:
I've always had like the utmost respect for actors and actresses. I guess I looked at it as a craft, I mean someone who can evoke emotions through a TV screen, those who you know, dedicate their entire lives to the craft of what they do to me it was so fascinating. Involved in sports my entire life, every emotion I was showing was real, it was there, it was pure and a lot of times that I would have to shut off and show no emotion. When I first started doing my acting classes and going to do one-on-ones with my acting coach, I was so blown away with just the depth of all the individuals that I would see in class and the people that I would witness.

It was the ultimate self-expression of who we are, who we want to be, and who perhaps we never could be but we can now play on screen. To me it's a never-ending I think quest to always be better, and there's something I think that is very similar to what we pursue in sports as well, is that we're always looking to constantly get better. Some of the actors that I've witnessed and seen just, to me it was so motivating. And there wasn't a day that didn't go by where I wasn't in class or I wasn't on set with somebody and I was just thinking, "My God this is so cool." And I think everybody that I know kind of secretly wants to be like some sort of a film or an actor or a movie star in some capacity.

But the work that goes on beyond that day-to-day, I mean it's a complete lifestyle. And I don't know, for me it was something that I've always wanted to do since I was younger as a kid. And now that I've taken a long break away from speed skating and from my Olympic pursuit I was able to actually present my best hand at it.

Question:
Apolo, what was the most challenging part of filming this movie for you?

Apolo Ohno:
I'd say there was many challenging parts. I think it was because it was my first real on-film experience. You know, everything was new to me. Because I have so much respect for the producers and directors, and all the actors and actresses; you don't want to mess up. And you know, you just want to be able to blend in so everything is so seamless and works together.

I guess that was the hardest part was I think just trying to be me on screen and not Apolo Ohno on screen. I guess that's the first challenge that anybody would face in any position so. But it was fun, I mean I'm not going to lie =every single day I'd go home and I would just smile, and I loved it. It was great.

Question:
Danica, what about you? What was the most challenging part?

Danica McKellar:
This is not what I would call like a challenging movie, this was like a fun movie. This was fun every day. It was different every day. I guess the most challenging part was the temperature because it was so darn cold. They gave us these heating packs. And I was wearing a tank top. We're like running around the jungle. This is the kind of movie it is. It's not like a movie that takes itself too seriously. It's the kind of movie you sit back and have popcorn and watch and laugh with your friends.

It was so cool, but I put these packs and I put them like on my thighs, on my shins, I had them on top of my feet, I had them on my back. Like everywhere you could possibly hide one of these things. So sometimes I would actually overheat. Managing temperature was my big challenge for this film.

Question:
Danica. What was it like working with Apolo?

Danica McKellar:
Apolo and I didn't really have too much interaction in terms of the movie itself, but we got to ride back and forth in the van together, which was great. But just knowing that Apolo's going to be in the movie, and I was also told there was going to be a lot of running in the movie and I am not that athletic.

So I was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm not going to show up on set and not be able to like run for 10 takes in a row and like have Apolo be there, looking at me like, what is her problem?" So I like trained, like I did my own like self-training. And I've never had a trainer myself. But I would run every day. I like started running for a month before I did the movie. I would like run every morning just so I could build my stamina up so I wouldn't be embarrassed on set so.

Question:
Apolo, you've talked in the past about not knowing what it meant to be an Olympic athlete before the 1998 Olympic trials. With acting, is it a similar starting point for you in knowing what it means to become an actor?

Apolo Ohno:
I think so; I think it's very similar. With acting you often hear people practicing the art and the craft for 10, 12, 15 years before they ever have any type of a break. And very much like Olympic athletes, I mean there's hundreds of Olympic athletes who perhaps make an Olympic team or never make an Olympic team, but they've trained 8, 10 years of their life and you've never heard of them. It's very similar.

I think my starting out as an actor was something that I was very much interested in and I was very grateful to be able to have the opportunity to do so. But it's something that I know that I cannot rest on just doing a film and being a part of something, it's an ongoing process. So I'm constantly trying my best to learn and to constantly improve. But it's hard, man; it's difficult. There are days when I really question if I have the ability. And I guess that's what makes it so attractive at the same time.

Question:
Since speed-skating requires so much preparation to be great, like how has that helped you prepare for acting, especially in a project like this?

Apolo Ohno:
My role is fairly small in a film like this, but preparations from my Olympic pursuits was definitely very beneficial. I'm used to hard work, I'm used to dedication, I'm used to sacrifice and putting my head and my mind to something solely 100%. So I mean hopefully it transfers over. I guess you guys will have to be the judge.

Question:
Danica, since you've also done so much away from acting, what motivates you as an actress today with a project like this?

Danica McKellar:
I'm grateful for all the variety in my life. Obviously I've been acting since I was a kid, and now I also write math books for girls, so very different types of pursuits. But I'm passionate about both of them. And when it comes to acting I really do love variety. And what motivated me to do this was like, "That sounds like fun, run away from monsters and carry a gun." I'm a park ranger in this and it just sounded like a good time.

And I had a one-year old and so as a new mommy, you want to get out there and feel sexy and do fun things. And this seemed like just what the doctor ordered. And I think people are going to have a lot of fun watching it.

Question:
I wondered if you could just expand on your characters that you play just a little bit?

Danica McKellar:
My character is a park ranger who discovers these base jumpers and Apolo plays one of the base jumpers. And they're illegally jumping in Tasmania. And my character goes to arrest them and monsters come and then the rest is history. It's not really a character development type of movie; it's more like a fun little adventure.

Question:
What was your most favorite part to film and your least favorite?

Danica McKellar:
My most favorite part was working with the green screen and having to get hung up from wires and do the jump and stuff. And the least part was just being cold, just being cold when I was cold, and the snow. Walking through the snow in a tank top; it's just never fun, doesn't matter how many heat packs on, your arms are freezing so.

Question:
Apolo, what about you?

Apolo Ohno:
I would have to say that the green screen was very cool. It was kind of my first experience. I had done commercials before on green screen, but nothing to this nature and with this many people. So it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed every single part of being with the film.

Question:
For people that don't necessarily watch Syfy type of films or TV, why should they tune in to watch this film?

Danica McKellar:
Great time to start watching Syfy. They're just fun. The movies are fun, they're not going to be Oscar winners. They're just a fun time. You know, you're being chased around by cg monsters, and everybody knows what that is. And nobody takes it too seriously and everybody has a great time. And the mood on set was fun, and I think that translates into the film.

Apolo Ohno:
I agree. Yes I think, yes the film was very fun. Very fun. You get entertained.

Question:
What are you guys watching on TV right now?

Danica McKellar:
I'm an actress, I write math books and I'm a mom. So the amount of time that I get to watch TV is very slim. But what I've been watching on my DVR lately, kind of sometimes; The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin, I love everything he does; the Goodwife; and Mad Men, which I know Mad Men's not on right now; and I was watching Dancing with Stars. I watched Apolo in the All-Stars Dancing with Stars. I actually went in person to the finale and it was a great show.

Apolo Ohno:Question:
Apolo, you said that, you're always trying to learn more and that. Is there something specific that the two of you learned from filming this, either about yourself or about acting, just in general?

Apolo Ohno:
Well I think Danica, she's acted in so many things. For me, I learned how to die very well.

Danica McKellar:
I don't know man. I hope that you never have to expect that type of death. Let me just say that. My wish for you is that you never have to experience that kind of death. That would be truly awful. Yes. For me every role has slightly different things and it'd be really hard to nail down what I learned in this particular role. You're always just adding layers to your talent and skills just by experience alone and by working with great people. And there'll be some little nuance that another actor will do and you'll just get it on some level. And you'll be like, "Oh, interesting." But you couldn't even put it into words.

I mean I don't know that I could put any specific acting lessons into words in this film because it was so much more about the adventure and the excitement and running. I mean I got better at running while acting I guess. But yes, it was just really great. I'm sure I learned lots of things that I could never put into words.

Question:
Can you talk really quick about working on The Big Bang Theory?

Danica McKellar:
Oh yes, that was awesome. That was really fun. I loved being on that set because it's all about, math and science. And the thing is, like nobody on set was as into the math and science part as I was. Mayim Bialik was not on the show yet when I did it, so I'm sure it would have been different if she'd been there. But I ended up singing the Element Song, which they later had Jim Parsons do on the show, but this is before that. And everyone was looking at me like, "Oh cute." But like nobody cared.

I was like, "Wait a minute, you people aren't actually scientists? Oh yes that's right, it's acting." But I was just excited and I was looking at books they had on their book shelves and all the like fun molecule displays and stuff. And yes, it was pretty cool being there.

Question:
Danica, what is the most challenging aspect of motherhood for you in today's society?

Danica McKellar:
Protecting your child from so much like media and so much information, so much technology. I get him outside. We go to the park almost every single day. I mean we get outside obviously every day a few times a day. But just get out to the park, bring the soccer ball, have him run around. You know, I play soccer with him, he's two you know, so we're not really playing soccer, but we just get out there, go on the swings and just exercise and fresh air. Like play in the dirt. Like all that basic stuff I think is so important for development.

And I know there are so many studies and so many toys that are geared for learning development and blah, blah, blah. And it's like, "You know what, I have this instinct which is get the kid outside, get him running around, get him loving - like oh, "Look at this cool rock," that kind of thing, instead of I do not have an iPad for him.

I don't even have an iPad myself. He tries to take my phone of course, but we do a little bit. But mostly it keeps him outside and sticks with the basics and remember that the best thing you can do is read to your kid, don't have the book read itself to the kid. Read to your child. Sit there with a book. Like that's what I'm doing.

Question:
Apolo, what is the most challenging aspect for today's Olympic hopefuls as opposed to when you were on the scene?

Apolo Ohno:
I think there are a lot of challenges. I think especially in our society now, I think it's common to find people who want to find the fast track to success and I think often times they get a little bit away from the fact that the Olympic space is one that takes years and years of preparation and dedication in order to achieve success. And that not every single person can stand on top of the podium at the end of the day.

There's only three spots on the podium. Only one person gets to stand on the Number 1 spot. But there are thousands and thousands of athletes all over the world who are at the top one-percent of their game. So how they distinguish themselves day-to-day I think is really what the key there is. So I think the challenge is trying, for athletes now, is just trying to find funding so that they can achieve their dreams and they can pursue something that makes sense. I mean no one ever wants to hear about the story of the athlete who's 28 or 30 years old and has had no college experience, no social skills or anything because they've dedicated their entire life to the Olympic space, but they don't have any medals either.

So to me there's a little bit of disconnect in terms of the funding that revolves around Olympic sports. And a lot of people don't even really know that, Olympics are not funded by our government, everything is by donation and/or sponsors. So if the athlete does not have a big name in sport they don't make any money.

Question:
With your demanding schedule, how do you square time out for fun and what is your definition of fun?

Danica McKellar:
My definition of fun these days is going to the park with my son and just playing and having fun. It's the best thing in the world. He is just endlessly entertaining. And it's amazing to watch him learn things and identify letters and numbers. And we sing songs all the time. It's so much fun. I love being a mom. I can't even express it. It's the best thing I've ever done. I'm just over the Moon about it. And I spend every minute I can with him.

Apolo Ohno:
My definition of fun is just being around family and friends. It doesn't really matter what we're doing. If you're with the right group, it honestly doesn't matter where we are or what we're doing, we always are able to find a good time.

Danica McKellar:
I love all the tweets with your dad, Apolo. It's so sweet.

Apolo Ohno:
My dad is awesome. He's so fun.

Question:
Is there was anything to your characters that wasn't originally scripted for you but you added to your roles?

Apolo Ohno:
I didn't.

Danica McKellar:
Extra grunts and groans. Wow that scene when you get killed is really truly gruesome. I'm trying to remember if I added anything to my character. It's been a while. We shot this over a year ago. I don't remember anything significant. No, I don't remember anything significant. You know, sometimes you tweak a line here or there if there's something that you have a conversation with the director and you agree on something. And I'm sure that happened a few times, but nothing major.

Question:
And both of you are very active on Twitter. Why is that such an important place for you to connect with your fans?

Danica McKellar:
I think it's great. I used to be like, "Oh, Twitter, blah," but now I love it. It's so much fun; it's instant feedback; it's interaction with the people who like make your career possible. It's awesome.

Apolo Ohno:
I agree. It's instantaneous, it's fun, it's a medium in which you can share, kind of what you're doing and just what you have and you love. And you can bring people inside of your life otherwise they would never have access to in the past.

Question:
What would you guys each like to say to everyone who has been a fan and supporter of you in your work?

Danica McKellar:
Ultimate gratitude. Thank you so much for everything so far and all of our adventures to come.

Apolo Ohno:
I agree. And just basically saying thank you and for the unconditional love and support, and without it you know, I definitely would not have been or gone where I am today. So hopefully more to come.

Question:
Danica, you mentioned your math books; they actually helped my cousin get through math class. I was wondering, have you ever considered going on tours to different schools and helping girls with math that way?

Danica McKellar:
I've certainly done some public speaking. I would love to like have somebody organize some tour of high schools or something, maybe get a sponsor or whatever. I haven't organized anything like that myself, again being a busy mom it can be tough.

But I love talking to girls, I really do. And I love getting the feedback in person. Because I get, tons of emails and tweets and Facebook posts and things with people telling me that their daughters or their nieces or grand-daughters and even some boys too, have like got a whole new perspective on math and they finally get it and all this other stuff. And that makes my day.

There's something special about meeting the girls in person and having them look at you with that little look on their face that I remember having for people that I admired. I'm like, "Oh, my gosh; I'm that woman," that they're like, "Wow, I want to be like her." And it's really, really special. And you know, I wrote the books for me at that age. I wrote like "What do I wish that I'd had?"

"Somebody who was by my side making math fun, not so scary." Like, "Here, we're going to sit down and do this together, it's not that big a deal. And I'm going to make it the context of things that you're already thinking about to make you feel comfortable and show you that you can do it. You can challenge yourself and do a problem that you didn't think you were capable of because that is the biggest gift from my books.

It's not the math itself; it's teaching girls to overcome challenges and to show themselves that they're stronger and smarter than they thought they were. And that extends to all parts of life. To me, math is one of the best ways to exercise your brain and exercise your mental stamina.

Question:
Apolo, you've done so much in your life. You've been an athlete, a dancer, an author, and now an actor; what's next on your bucket list?

Apolo Ohno:
I still want to continuously pursue all those avenues. Broadcasting is something, I mean I've always wanted to be associated with, especially with the Olympic space. And then doing a little bit of a docu-follow based on my life and the kind of interesting, crazy characters that are in and out of my life on a daily basis. And then obviously the health and fitness component, something that you know, I've lived for the past 15 to 20 years and just sharing my message and my beliefs with the world. And hopefully people have open ears.

Question:
Would you consider doing a tour too; going to different schools and talking to students about fitness and healthy eating and stuff like that?

Apolo Ohno:
I actually did that, 2010 and 2011 I think we did a 46-city tour. It was pretty amazing.

Question:
Could you describe what the highlight of it is, of working on this Syfy movie?

Danica McKellar:
I think it was the people; the actors were really fun to work with and the crew was amazing. And just getting to get up and go to work with such an amazing group. Not every set is super fun and friendly to be on, and this was a great one. Everybody was collaborative, the director was great, the producers were great, all the actors had such a great attitude, we all knew that we were coming together to make a film that's just going to be fun, entertaining and it was a joy. It was a real joy. Everyone was really super sweet.

And I got to bring my son on set a couple times, so that was kind of fun too. He's two years old, he was one-year old at that point. So people were like, "Oh he's a little sweet-pea." And of course I just melt in front of my son so that's always fun.

Apolo Ohno:
That's great. I had a blast working with every single person on set, from when I arrived in Vancouver and we started filming to when I left. You know, to me it was an honor to be able to work with people and be able to connect. And everybody was so welcoming and just kind and it was just fun. It was a very pleasant experience. I think I was very lucky.

Question:
Apolo, did you have any butterflies right in the beginning sort of on the first day because this was you know sort of new endeavor in your career?

Apolo Ohno:
Absolutely. Absolutely butterflies. I have butterflies right now just talking about it. It was something that was so outside of my space. And you know, people who watch the movie are going to laugh and be like, "Oh really?" I think we're always our own worst critic. So we try to give our absolute no matter what, no matter how big or small the role is and no matter you know, what type of a character we're playing. So whether I'm dying slowly or I'm smiling and happy as can be, you just try to be your best, so absolutely. I think if I wasn't nervous at all, there would have been an issue.

Question:
A Syfy original movie, there's a lot of fun worked into the script because it's you know, it's supposed to be a little comedic obviously. Do you guys go in sort of with the idea that your character is the real deal? Are you trying to play it seriously? Or do you really always have your tongue in your cheek, because you know it's a little campy?

Danica McKellar:
No, to me you play your character. You always play your character. It's just like, even if you're doing huge comedy, even then you're playing your character and the comedy comes from the situation. It's that other thing, it's that Syfy, silly, fun movie. But you play - but your character has to be your character. I mean as an actor that's kind of like, I think Number 1. You never want to pull your punches, you play your role and then the fun, campy side of it comes from the actual writing and the pacing and the editing and the special effects and all the rest of it. That's my experience. That's how I see it.

Question:
Have either of you ever consider base jumping?

Danica McKellar:
No.

Apolo Ohno:
I would. I would.

Danica McKellar:
You might, I'm not. See, I'm not the athlete, he is.

Apolo Ohno:
I would. I definitely would. Even if I was just jumping, ten feet or you know 100 feet. I think it seems like a blast.

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