Samantha Mumba Interview

Irish pop songstress discovered at age 15 has now lauched an acting career in H.G. Wells adaptation

Irish pop songstress discovered at age 15 has now lauched an acting career in H.G. Wells adaptation

(Some questions in this interview have come from another journalist present for the Q&A.)

As I walk into the hotel room of rising pop singer and newly christened film star Samantha Mumba, a Miniature Pomeranian that looks as if it might lose a fight with a small cat comes yap-yap-yapping at my feet as ferociously as she can manage. This is a dog determined to protect her mommy from strangers, no matter what her relative size.

"Quiet Foxy!" the exotic yet everygirl-gorgeous, 19-year-old chanteuse scolds before looking up and laughing in a light Irish lilt, "In her head she's a Rottweiler."

Poor Foxy has been working overtime lately, traveling with Mumba around the U.S. as she's interviewed by reporter after reporter for her acting debut as an aboriginal, 800th Century tribeswoman in the big-budget adaptation of H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine."

Mumba plays Mara, an entirely new take on the girl befriended by a 19th Century time traveler (played by "Memento's" Guy Pearce) that rescues the residents of her cliff-side village from an underground band of monstrous mutants that regularly hunt and eat them. In the 1960 version of Wells' book, the Eloi, as they're known, were blonde and vapid sheep being led to the slaughter by the growling, gray-skinned Morlocks. But in the new film -- directed by Simon Wells, great-grandson of the story's revered creator -- Mumba's mixed racial and cultural heritage is far more typical of the reinvisioned Eloi.

The daughter of a Zambian father and an Irish mother, Mumba started performing at age 3, when she learned to tap dance. By 7, she says, "I was able to start holding a note." When she was 15 and performing on stage in an Irish production of "The Hot Mikado" (a souped-up take on Gilbert and Sullivan) she was spotted by British boy-band producer Louis Walsh, and "a couple weeks later I was over in London making records." In two more years, her hit songs "Gotta Tell You" and "Baby Come Over" were chart-toppers in the U.K. and starting up the Billboard top 40 in America.

The same kind of luck and karma led to finding herself second-billed in a major motion picture, a concept the singer says hadn't even occurred to her until her screen test. Not only did she land the role, but her 12-year-old brother Omero also got cast to play her brother in the film.

Now with two parallel performing careers underway, Mumba admits to feeling a little frazzled as she absent-mindedly toys with a wide silver ring on her right hand after flopping onto the cushy couch in her ritzy hotel room.

Q: You're shooting movies, you're making records, you're doing press tours. What do you do with your free time?

A: Free time doesn't exist right now! If I get a couple days off, I'll fly back home maybe or fly friends out. I'll go shopping or to the pictures.

Q: What was it like on your first big-time movie set? Was it any different from shooting a video?

A: Oh, god yeah! For the movie there was hundreds of crew -- it was on a much bigger scale.

Q: Better food?

A: No, actually! When you're doing a music video, you pick what you want to eat!

Q: Because it's all about you when you're doing a video!

A: Yeah!

Q: And you're not the big cheese on a movie set.

A: Actually, I was treated excellently! The trailer I was given was beautiful! I was only expecting a pokey little thing, but I got a big bedroom and a living room and digital TV and a shower!

Q: Was it difficult to go from that spectacular trailer into pretending you live in an aboriginal society?

A: I guess that's acting! [Smiles a doesn't-take-herself-too-seriously smile.]

Q: Well, I imagine with those incredible sets...

A: Those sets were unbelievable. They made it so much easier for me, going into this whole world -- it was so easy to get wrapped up in it.

Q: You were working with H.G. Wells' great grandson. Was there any weird feeling on the set about that, good or bad?

A: No. Simon said himself he never met H.G. Wells (who died 15 years before the director was born). More than making him a better director over anybody else, I think it's just a nice way to do it. It's nice that his great grandson is directing the movie. Simon was great. He's a wonderful director. Just very, very relaxing and not at all intimidating. It was kind of nice because we were in the same boat. It was his first (live action) movie to direct and it was my only movie I've ever acted in.

Q: How badly were things thrown for a loop when they had to bring in Gore Verbinski? (The director of "The Mexican" took over for two weeks after first-time helmer Simon Wells' collapsed from exhaustion and mental fatigue.)

A: Oh, actually, it was cool because it was only for like two weeks at the very end, and it was just all the action sequences.

Q: So it wasn't anything pivotal. It was just stuff like that "Planet of the Apes" chase.

A: Yeah. Yeah. [Smiles] Basically. It was different having a new guy on set, but he was a great guy.

Q: So does this feel like a pivotal moment in your career?

A: Absolutely. You don't just do a movie every day. I would have been happy posing as a tree in the movie. I didn't expect all this to happen. Kind of everything with my career is happening like that. I'm really starting to think everything happens for a reason. I'm having a great time. It's like I'm on some ridiculous big roller coaster not knowing what's happening next, but just having a great time on the ride.

Q: Is film acting part of a strategy to broaden your horizons as a performer?

A: I don't know. It wasn't a conscious decision and I didn't wake up one morning and say, "I want to do movies." When I'm doing something, I give 150 percent, so I was just so focused on the music that when (my agent) said there was an opportunity to do a screen test, I was like [shrugs], well, OK. It hadn't been something I was thinking about, in part because there hadn't been time to. Then when the screen test came up, myself and my manager didn't think I was going to get the role anyway. It was just like, "You'll get to meet the casting agents, get your face out there and maybe something else will come of it." So I was like, "Yeah, cool," and pretty much forgot about it. Then I got a phone call a couple weeks later asking me to come to New York and do another screen test with Guy. Then I kinda thought, Oh! Maybe there's a real chance here! Then I got the role! So it all happened in a really bizarre way.

Q: So how did the opportunity come to you? Were they looking for a particular kind of person?

A: I think so. I don't know. I was in an article in People Magazine, and the casting agent saw that and got in touch with my manager.

Q: You know, there's an internet rumor you're doing the next "Matrix" movie.

A: Oh, there's so many rumors! I hear I'm in the new (James) Bond movie too! Oh, please!

Q: I heard that too. Saw it on a German James Bond site.

A: What?!? [Laughs] How weird! See, I was up in Glasgow (Scotland), where Sean Connery's from, and in this five-minute interview somebody asked me if I'd like to be in a Bond movie. I was like, "Yeah! That would be a cool role." And all of a sudden it was "Samantha Mumba In New James Bond Movie!"

Q: Are you ever just overwhelmed by it all? Do you ever sit down and go, "What's happening to me? What is all this stuff?"

A: It's kind of weird. At the end of the day sometimes I'm so exhausted I just want to have a shower, put on my big, fuzzy pajamas and watch TV. I really need that time to just do normal things and not even think about what I'm doing the next day, what I've done the past few days, you know? Then every now and then, when I have some time off, I kind of lay back and (think) I'm very, very lucky. But I don't think about it that much.


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