Exclusive Q & A: Jennifer Ehle on Contagion


CONTAGION Blu-ray ComboTo celebrate the release of Contagion on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download in Australia on 29 February 2012, Warner has sent us this exclusive Q & A with Jennifer Ehle, one of the stars of Steven Soderbergh‘s film.

QUESTION: You just coughed, doesn’t that creep you out?

JENNIFER EHLE:  I’ve had a cough for weeks.

QUESTION:  And you filmed this movie where a cough is the impetus for everything and sort of the Jaws theme. 

JENNIFER EHLE: Yeah, exactly.  It is like the Jaws theme.

QUESTION: Does it change how you think when you cough or change your behavior when you hear somebody coughing?

JENNIFER EHLE: Yes, I don’t think it has changed my behavior that much.  I’m more likely to wash my hands after being out in public a lot or at a grocery store or at a playground. I do think about it when I press elevator buttons.  Once or twice I’ve used my elbow to press an elevator button but for the most part, I just live my life normally and make sure I wash my hands when I get home.


QUESTION:  Tell me about your character.

JENNIFER EHLE:  I play Dr. Ally Hextall who is a virologist and microbiologist and she is in there every day battling to track viruses and get to know more about them and research them and ways to keep us all safe.  When this particular virus emerges, it is something we have no immunity to at all.  Human beings have never been exposed to it before and it is particularly virulent and she is there at the forefront trying to figure out how we should battle it.

QUESTION: Your character is the one that digs deep into the research to figure out what’s going on and has to explain to us, the audience, what’s happening which leads to a lot of scientific language.  Was that difficult to memorize, learn and understand?

JENNIFER EHLE: I spent two wonderful mornings with Dr. W. Ian Lipkin at Columbia University doing experiments and being talked through all of this stuff.  I had a crash course in virology and understood of course the barest tiniest tip of the tip of the iceberg about it all.

Was it difficult?  Yeah, it was challenging but that’s when acting is the most exciting. Acting is really difficult when it’s not challenging and when you don’t have an exciting story to tell. If you have an exciting story to tell and your character has something to say and the stakes are high and there is passion involved, that’s what you live for.  That’s what you hope for.

QUESTION: What was it like on set?  The stakes are high and from what I read about Steven Soderbergh, he films in a very economical way. 

JENNIFER EHLE: The energy is high, but it’s very focused.  There’s nothing extraneous.  There aren’t people lounging around in chairs.  You are very much in the environment.  It’s like how he doesn’t do any lighting at the time.  Sometimes they go ahead and maybe light a room that you’re going to film in, but you don’t see any light when you go in.  There are no lamps standing around or anything.  If he wants a little bit more light on you, he’ll come and he’ll slide a piece of paper in front of your face and it will look like a piece of paper sitting on the desk of that character, but it will really be your key light to give you a little bit of bounce. Everything is very focused and you just get your work done.  It’s not high pressure, it’s not intimidating.  It’s just focused, brilliant storytelling, and you feel that when you’re there as well.  He knows what he wants but he’s open too, he’s not a dictator. He’s certainly using what’s in front of him; he will watch what people do and utilize it.

Contagion is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital29 February 2012 from Warner Home Entertainment.