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Michelle Trachtenberg

Michelle Trachtenberg - ’Ice Princess’ Movie - Bangkokpost.com Interview

By Ian Spelling

Thursday 10 March 2005, by Webmaster

Michelle Trachtenberg: Soon to be a star on ice

Harriett the Spy’s no longer a kid

Michelle Trachtenberg is a woman now.

It’s a scary thought, but the cute little girl of The Adventures of Pete & Pete (1994-96), Harriet the Spy (1996) and Inspector Gadget (1999) will turn 20 in October.

``That’s a big, big number for me,’’ Trachtenberg admits. ``It’s my last year being a teenager. The day I turn 20 will be the same day that, 10 years ago, we started principal photography on Harriet the Spy. That’s a lifetime already. I have 10 years in SAG before some people who are 35 years old.

``It’s really interesting,’’ the young actress says. ``I’ve never known anything career-wise other than acting, and that’s always been my choice. I think the reason I’ve been able to have some longevity and not been splattered across US Weekly is my mom, mostly. She’s quite a prominent force in my life, and we’re very, very close. I’m so grateful to her because, when I was three years old, she said, `I’m going to let my daughter follow her dreams.’

``When I started to book a lot of commercials, which was when I was about five years old, she realised something was really happening here,’’ Trachtenberg says. ``But she never let me skip out on my education, and I’ve always kept that in mind. I finished school and graduated magna cum laude. Now that I’m an adult, I can focus more on my career.

``I love this business too much to let it go to my head,’’ she adds. ``When I was in high school, I’d walk through the halls and the dumb little jocks would be like, `Harriet! Harriet!’ I’d turn around and say, `You guys are really stupid. You think by taunting me you’ll make me cry? Obviously, if you’re calling me Harriet, you’ve seen the movie. So who looks silly now?’’’

Trachtenberg is growing up, and so are the characters she plays. Only two years ago she concluded a lengthy stint on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2000-03) as Dawn, younger sister of the Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a secondary character who came into her own by the time the series ended.

Now she’s starring in Ice Princess as Casey, a brainy high-school student who uses her love of physics to understand the complexities of ice skating. And _ voila! _ she’s transformed into a competitive skater coping with triple axels, tough coaches, suddenly attentive boys and jealous rivals.

The film, directed by Tim Fywell _ a Brit who helmed the acclaimed I Capture the Castle (2003) _ will open in the US on March 18. Speaking by telephone from her Los Angeles home, Trachtenberg sounds excited.

``It dropped into my lap, and I thought it was a really good, inspiring story,’’ she says. ``An ice-skating movie hadn’t been done in a long, long time. I also knew what a passion people have for ice skating. I loved it when I was a little girl.

``I thought the story was really, really sweet,’’ the actress continues, ``and I started to imagine the dream cast. I wanted Joan Cusack to play my mum, and she said `yes’. Everything then started to flow together.

``Disney was like, `Okay, done. Now start training your ass off!’’’

Once upon a time, back when she was nine, Trachtenberg decided that she wanted to try ice skating. She took one lesson, then concluded that it was too hard _ to the frustration of her mother, who had spent a small fortune on skates and gear.

``She’s still not happy about that,’’ Trachtenberg says, laughing. ``So, getting ready for the film, I trained for seven or eight months and it was really intense. When I wasn’t working I was training five hours a day, five days a week, plus taking ballet classes every other day. Then, when we were shooting, I was working all day, 15, 20 hours a day, and I was using weekends to learn all the choreography.

``So most of what you see on screen is really me.’’

Trachtenberg can’t deny that Ice Princess is a Disney family film, but she insists that it nonetheless has, well, an edge.

``I think people hear the voice-over _ `A girl going after her dreams and she becomes an ice skater’ _ and they’re like, `Oh my God, it’s another Disney Channel movie’. I’ve fallen prey to going on sites and seeing what people say on the posting boards.

``But, honestly, it’s not a cheesy movie. Our director, Tim, made sure it wasn’t your typical kitschy, girlie story. There’s real drama and actual character development. And I think every little girl will want to buy a pair of skates after they see it, and that’s really exciting.’’

Next up for Trachtenberg is Mysterious Skin, a dark indie drama from writer/director Gregg Araki, and then another indie, Four Women. On the personal side, she’s redecorating her newly purchased first house and spending time with her boyfriend, actor Shawn Ashmore of X2: X-Men United (2003) and the television miniseries Legend of Earthsea (2004).

``Life is good,’’ Trachtenberg says. ``Shawn and I have been together a year, which is crazy, but we didn’t let anybody know until many months into it. And Four Women will be another film in which I get to play an adult, so that’s great.’’

Trachtenberg shocked her fans recently with a guest turn on HBO’s Six Feet Under. In four episodes she proved uncannily convincing as the spoiled, deeply troubled pop star Celeste _ a role that could hardly have been further from her own public image, on screen or off. ``That was awesome,’’ Trachtenberg says. ``People are so quick to peg actors into certain roles. Casting directors, directors and producers pick up scripts and say, `So-and-so would be perfect.’ That’s what I try to get away from. That’s why I did Six Feet Under.

``Everyone thinks of me as nice and everyone thinks I can only play nice characters,’’ the actress says. ``In real life I’m not always nice, and that’s a reality people have to face. I’m mostly a really happy person, but all the characters I’ve played are a small percentage of my personality insanely heightened.

``People only see me sometimes as Dawn or Harriet or whatever,’’ she says, ``and I want to keep people guessing. Celeste was perfect _ she was the combination of everything you read about in the tabloids and every pop star rolled into one.

``I don’t want to be as bitchy as Celeste,’’ Trachtenberg says, ``but I’d like to be as knowledgeable. She broke down at one point, and when she did she realised how screwed up her life was and, for a second, she took a step back from it. That’s something I’d like to achieve, the knowledge that it’s not all about the work.

``I think I’ve been able to do that without the breakdown!’’ NYT SYNDICATE