Friday, November 14, 2008

Interviewing the Tomb Raider: Lara Croft Never Gets Nervous

I was very clever on Thursday the 13th. I (unusually) set an alarm on my business phone for my 13:50 meeting (encounter?) with Lara Croft (Alison Carroll). At around 13:10 I leave the building to buy CO2 gas bomb cartridges (er…for my bicycle), and as I squeeze through the turnstiles, a man with a half naked Lara emblazoned on his leather jacket, sporting a tripod, is headed in the opposite direction. Outside I see a midnight blue BMW with the words: ‘sponsoring Lara Croft’.

In the parking lot a Mercedes rear-ends into me (we are both reversing at the same time). I saw him and stopped, but grandad kept on coming.
Lucky for me our Bosal hooks nosed each other, meaning there was no damage to bodywork. His hook is bent; mine – apparently – fine. I make it back with some time to spare. Approaching the building from my car, I take out my camera to delete files on the chip. The camera blips and dies. UH OH. Flat battery.

I turn on my heel and head towards Woolworths, in The Zone at Rosebank. I spot some batteries, but at the end of a very long lunch time line.
At the counter I load the batteries into my camera, and figure I am still bang on time.
I start fiddling with my cellphone on my way through the building, up the escalator. The guy in the leather jacket brushes by me, looking very perky indeed. At the end of the hall is a huddle of fiddling PA’s.
As I brush by the doorway someone says, “Great, just in time.”
Someone else is saying to a few photographers jostling inside, “Okay, that’s enough, we need to roll.”

I usher myself in as Lara is wrapping up an impromptu shoot. I ask her to step back for a photo, and then rudely ask her for another photo. She’s kitted out in a brown-khaki sleeveless shirt, brown shorts, calf-high boots, fingerless leather gloves and a utility belt with two holsters. I presume her backpack with flares and medical kit is behind the door…

I try to stall her slightly as we settle down for the interview. For some crazy reason I still can’t find my Music Player to record our chat on my SAMSUNG phone*. I say, ironically, “Are you nervous?”
“I don’t get nervous,” she says, with a lilting British accent [I glance quickly at her] and a small smile.
I’m told to make the interview quick. Ruffled, I abandon my phone, internally a small fluffy toy of anticipation gets covered in oily soot. Trying to make the best of things, I offer my camera to a colleague and invite them to snap away. [None of her photos turn out to be any good.]
Now I make proper eye contact with 23 year old Alison Carroll, the latest incarnation for the iconic Tomb Raider, Lara Croft.
Instead of appreciating the moment, someone nudges me (ticking a fingernail onto a watch face).
I scowl at my phone, pull out an orange pen and get started.
Are you having fun in South Africa?
“I’m loving it," she says. "I’m off to Cape Town this afternoon. I’ll be abseiling off table top mountain tomorrow.”

I’m only faintly aware of the error in nomenclature. I’m off in a daydream, seeing Lara hopping, skipping, doing her acrobatics on our famous mountain, making those soft “Oof,” Lara-esque grunts, while someone else (a woman) corrects her. “It’s Table Mountain.”
“I’d love to come back to South Africa.”
What is professional display gymnastics all about?
“It’s a bit like cheerleading but without the cheers and without the pompoms. There’s a strong dance element.” She references Circ du Soleil.
How do you train typically each day?
“I do a lot of running.” [Indeed, Lara runs a lot.] “I’m often in gym, or rock climbing, mountain biking, horse riding, and then there’s gymnastics.” She describes some of her conditioning exercises and stretches designed to strengthen Lara’s core. One of them is a V-sit – an agonizing bitch of a sit-up that involves raising the upper and lower torso (in a V) simultaneously.
“Backflips, squats and somersaults – I can do those in a hotel room.”
Beautiful eyes. I’m daydreaming again. I’m fairly keen to see what a ‘somersault’ is. As though reading my mind, she says: “Have a look at a ‘Becoming Lara Croft’ on YOUTUBE.”

Right. I scribble down a hurried note. I can feel the warm dew of sweat on my forehead.
Do you work a lot with gamers and geeks?
“They’re not geeks,” she says maternally. “I’m going to San Francisco next where I’ll be meeting the guys from Crystal Dynamics. They’re an awesome group of guys. Heidi Moneymaker was used for motion capture.”
This surprises me. Her name sounds like the James Bond secretary, only stronger and more exotic, but why not the same person for motion caption as the poster girl?
“I started travelling around the world on August 11th in London. Since then I’ve been to Russia, Poland, France, Germany, Australia, Singapore, Dubai –“
Wow. She gets around.
What’s been the toughest?
“Oh I don’t know. I can’t think of anything. Once I had to learn to scuba dive in 20 minutes…”

Why, I ask, has Lara become so militant? Many of her targets in the latest games are people. Why Lara?
She glances at the two handguns – big punchy weapons – on the shining wooden table. “I use dual semi-automatic pistols by default. Sometimes I need more powerful weapons, a shotgun or assault rifle.” Offering a faintly compassionate smile, she says, “Tranquilizers are useful to limit damage.”
I take a long hard look at those guns. Jeepers – they look like they’re made out of plastic. They can’t be very heavy.
Someone prods me - last question.
How popular is Lara with women?
“Oh very popular. She’s a good role model. A lot of the girls who come to see me dress up. From twelve year olds to…well…” She smiles.
Why is it that Lara is always single?
"She's much too independent and busy to bother with relationships."
[I guess I'll have to scratch posing for a photo too - time is up.]

Okay one more question: Why do you think Lara is such an icon?
“She’s got it all. Brains. Beauty. She's athletic. She gets what she wants because she’s a hard worker.”
Lara is a modern, and youthful Indianna Jones. Probably, Lara would kick the pants off Indy.

According to Wikipedia: Lara is generally presented as a beautiful, intelligent, athletic, and somewhat reckless Englishwoman of noble birth who travels the world in pursuit of priceless artefacts. Known as both an archaeologist and an adventurer, she frequently ventures into ancient, and often very hazardous, tombs and ruins.

As I gather my things to leave the room, I’m aware of my journeys, my adventures with Lara. We met, appropriately enough, in good Olde England (Bristol to be precise), where I worked two jobs and came home to a miserable Bath Road apartment the size of a toilet. Lara and I explored plenty of far-off places. Sometimes we worked late into the night to beat off packs of monkeys or roaming tigers in search of some precious artifact. We had to painstakingly figure our way through complex and always dangerous labyrinths all over the world. It always hurt me as much as it hurt her when Lara fell or otherwise injured herself.

As I leave the room I’m aware of how far we’ve come together. A final glance into her steady countenance confirms that Lara Croft never gets nervous.

*It turns out I deleted the application completely in a prior effort to make space available on my phone, so I was looking for something no longer there - something Lara probably felt she was doing in some of her adventures...
Tomb Raider – Underworld – launched November 12 in South Africa

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