When Rosa Salazar began preparing to play the title role of a cyborg with a mysterious past in "Alita: Battle Angel," the heroine of Yukito Kishiro's post-apocalyptic manga series came with her own five-page dossier. It included "where she's coming from, how she must feel being a stranger in a strange land, down to how her body is made," said the "Alita" actress, whose previous credits include "The Divergent Series: Insurgent," "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" and "Maze Runner: The Death Cure."
In playing the cyberpunk heroine with a foggy memory and precise combat skills, Salazar connected to her deep and multi-dimensional humanity.
"It's important to show how dynamic women are in general," Salazar said at The Times' Comic-Con video studio, where she and director Robert Rodriguez teased the Dec. 21 sci-fi action film from 20th Century Fox. "She's so vulnerable. She leaps first. She has no regrets in that way."
Salazar portrays the role via motion-capture in the ambitious live-action film and describes "Alita" as an emotion-driven tale. "She's really going through this journey leading from the heart," said Salazar, "and that gives me chills every time."
With a screenplay by James Cameron ("The Terminator," "Aliens," "Avatar") and Laeta Kalogridis ("Terminator: Genisys," "Altered Carbon"), "Alita: Battle Angel's" protagonist joins iconic characters such as Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor in a tradition of awe-inspiring action heroines of sci-fi cinema.
"She's everything," said Salazar of her "Alita" alter ego. "She's not just one thing; she's everything, and that was the through-line for me."
But Alita's own journey of self-discovery offers a new twist within the genre, says Rodriguez: "It wasn't a very heartfelt character discovering their warrior spirit, it was the flipside — It was someone who was remembering and realizing she has a pure warrior spirit and is actually finding her heart."
The film also stars Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Keean Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Eiza González, Lana Condor and Jackie Earle Haley and is produced by Cameron with "Avatar"'s Jon Landau.
Watch the video for more on "Alita: Battle Angel."