Eiza Gonzalez on ‘Ambulance,’ ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ Changes and the Ambitious ‘Three-Body Problem’
The actor, who rented a broken ambulance to prepare for the role, reflects on the surprising sensitivity with which Michael Bay treated her character and looks ahead to teaming with the ‘Game of Thrones’ showrunners for their next series.
To play the best paramedic in Los Angeles, Ambulance star Eiza González knew that she needed to go above and beyond to prepare for the role. So the actor not only got to know various medical professionals prior to shooting Michael Bay’s latest action thriller, but she also rented an out-of-service ambulance so she could get overly familiar with her character’s second home. At the beginning of the film, González’s Cam Thompson gets caught up in a bank robbery gone awry as two adoptive brothers, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, hijack her ambulance and hold her and her patient hostage. The rub is that her patient is an LAPD officer (Jackson White) who was wounded during the bank robbery, and Cam has to keep him alive during the high-speed chase that ensues.
“I rented a broken, old ambulance … just to get adjusted and acquainted with my space,” González tells. “I wanted to take this role as seriously as I could, and the premise of the movie sets up Cam as being the best paramedic in town. So everything in that space, and the character’s physicality, had to feel like it was second nature. In my experiences on jobs, the weirdest things can sometimes derail you on the day of performance, like not being accustomed to a space or not knowing how to work something.”
González is also getting candid about her Godzilla vs. Kong role, which was abbreviated in postproduction. However, González remains grateful to filmmaker Adam Wingard and Warners for the opportunity, and understands that such changes come with the territory.
“My role completely changed in that movie, for sure. A lot of the story got cut out and the story was completely changed, so it was a bummer because my character had a whole different storyline that went in different routes,” González reveals. “And Jessica [Henwick] getting cut out of the movie really affected all of the other characters. But it wasn’t anything to do with Jessica’s character. It was just that the storyline changed because the movie is called Godzilla vs. Kong and it obviously has to service them. They’re the big stars. But listen, I’m just grateful that I got to do a really fun movie. So my experience was really good, but that’s just par for the course, sometimes.”
González is currently fulfilling a 10-month commitment to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ The Three-Body Problem, which is their first TV series since show-running Game of Thrones. The ambitious Netflix project is also produced by the production companies of Brad Pitt (Plan B), Rian Johnson (T-Street) and Rosamund Pike (Primitive Streak). The latter became close friends with González during their experience on J Blakeson’s I Care a Lot, but their existing connection had virtually nothing to do with González’s casting.
“It’s actually crazy. Rosamund Pike and Robie [Uniacke], her husband, have had the rights [to The Three-Body Problem] for many, many years, and everyone had to buy the rights from them,” González says. “And by the way, Rosamund didn’t know I was auditioning for the show at all. I basically called her one day and said, ‘Hey, I think I might do this show you’re involved in.’ And then she lost her mind. She was like, ‘You have to do this show. You have to do this show. There’s no other option. This role is incredible.’”
González adds: “Rosamund and I are really good friends, and I’ve always shared with her my first vision of just wanting the business to look at me in a different way and sometimes struggling with that. And that’s when she said, ‘This is going to be the cure to what you’ve been begging for. This is your opportunity to go a different route and I know that you’re going to do such a good job with this role.’ So I felt very protected by her …”
In a recent conversation with THR, González also explains how White was the unsung hero of the Ambulance cast. Then she discusses why The Three-Body Problem is the “most lovely” experience of her career.
Prior to making this movie, I’m guessing that you’d heard the term “Bayhem” to describe Michael Bay’s movies. But now that you’ve made your own Michael Bay movie, was the experience as crazy as you were expecting?
(Laughs.) Absolutely. It was utter Bayhem all around, but it was a different kind of Bayhem. It was like having golden hour 24/7. Usually, in his other films, there are scenes that are more relaxed, but this movie is on the go the entire time. So that added so much stress and exhilaration to the energy and the environment, and it also made a really wired Michael. But the practicality of being on an ongoing ambulance in the middle of traffic, on a highway and driving full speed, really added this layer to the film, which gives the audience this feeling that they’re part of the film.
I used to know an EMT, and similar to Cam, she tried not to bring her work home with her. She didn’t like to talk about it, but you could still feel how much it weighed on her. Did you talk to any paramedics about whether they’re able to let go of their patients once they drop them off?
Yes, that was a very big question for me, so it’s funny that you say that. And that’s obviously something that we see with Cam. [Writer’s note: Cam detaches almost too easily.] What I realized and what I came to understand is that the people who are better at disconnecting from their patients are the most efficient because they move on to the next thing. If one specific moment lingers and it keeps them thinking about their patient, it slows them down mentally for the next job. So they say it’s really hard to let go. And now that the conversation around therapy and mental health has become more common around the world, I feel like people in the medical industry are becoming more self-aware that working on your mental health is crucial to strive and maintain your sanity and have a balanced life, because they do experience some of the hardest things anyone could ever imagine.
Cam also has a pretty sad backstory as she was on track toward becoming a doctor, but she succumbed to addiction, which is a very real problem among medical students.
Yeah, my brother is a lawyer, so [I know firsthand that] law and medical school require so much studying. They lead to some of the most complex and difficult careers on Earth. I dug into the medical care business, in very different ways, not only for Ambulance but also for I Care a Lot. So I’ve learned a lot of things, and being a medic, a nurse, a firefighter, an EMT is selfless and honorable. And yet, it’s sad because the way that the education and hierarchy is systemically built, getting to a higher level is almost unachievable without pushing yourself too far, to impossible levels of capacity, and people just crack. So it’s really sad. Recently, when we were doing the press junket at Universal, I got to meet this young paramedic who’s Mexican as well. She’s one of the two paramedics in her unit that are Latina, and she said that she became a paramedic straight out of school. She went from the fires in California to the pandemic, and she told me how grueling and hard it was to keep up. So it’s so hard for the middle class to succeed, and I think the movie really talks about that in a deeper way. We talk about the forgotten heroes, veterans and medical professionals who have to work extra hard to make it.
You always do a great deal of prep for your roles, and Ambulance was no exception. Is it true you rented an ambulance?
Yeah, I rented a broken, old ambulance. It wasn’t capable of being used anymore, especially at a time when they needed more ambulances than ever. So I got my hands on an old ambulance just to get adjusted and acquainted with my space. I want to take this role as seriously as I could, and the premise of the movie sets up Cam as being the best paramedic in town. So everything in that space, and the character’s physicality, had to feel like it was second nature. In my experiences on jobs, the weirdest things can sometimes derail you on the day of performance like not being accustomed to a space or not knowing how to work something. So I really wanted to have that down by the time I was on set, so it felt seamless for Cam. Even in her opening scene, it had to feel efficient and smooth like she knows exactly what she’s doing, and I do feel that it paid off.
It definitely felt authentic. That’s when I knew I was in good hands the rest of the way.
By working in such an intimate space, did you get to know Jake and Yahya pretty quickly?
(Laughs.) Yes and no. Yes, because we were intimately in the ambulance, but no, because we were in the peak of the pandemic. So every time they would yell cut, we would have to go our separate ways. We weren’t able to get to know each other or hang out or connect outside of our performances. We had to create extra space because L.A. had its highest case numbers ever. This was pre-vaccination, too, so we worked under pretty unusual circumstances, and I hadn’t done that before. Jake had just done it with The Guilty, so he was more accustomed to it. Yahya shot part of The Matrix: Resurrections in the middle of the pandemic, but we were really separated. But it was interesting because I did get more comfortable with my co-stars when it came to performance. Every time we were together, we were Cam, Danny [Gyllenhaal] and Will [Abdul-Mateen]; we weren’t Eiza, Jake and Yahya. So now that we’ve been on this press tour together, it’s nice to see completely different sides of them. And it’s not that we were method or anything. It’s just that every single time we were put together on set, it was go time. It was performance time. So it allowed for a very different dynamic.
Did you enjoy shooting your reaction shots to them singing Christopher Cross’ “Sailing”?
(Laughs.) It’s such a good moment, isn’t it?
It’s funny because it was movie magic. I shot that without them because I wasn’t there on the same day, but it works so well. I like that I played it with a poker face; I didn’t go big with it. But I loved that Jake played so much with improv. He’s such a talented actor. He understands the assignment. He really knew what the role was, and he really wanted to have fun. He brought the levity that was needed, and he came up with the idea of singing “Sailing.” He came up with a lot of things that brought levity to this movie, and if those things weren’t there, the movie would’ve been too heavy. That’s why it’s so good to work with professional and experienced actors like Jake.
Did you include any subtle details that you’re particularly proud of in Cam’s case?
Yeah, if you pay attention, she’s always checking her clock. She’s always timing herself. She’s always competing with herself. That was something that I found out through working with paramedics. I just wanted to see Cam prove to herself that she’s better than what she’s done in the past. Because she got hooked on speed in med school, she was never able to achieve what she wanted, but she’s still strong and she’s still pushing herself to the edge. I kept fighting Michael about the timing of the clock. I said, “Trust me, when we see her pushing through these moments, people are going to connect to her.” I was also quite crazy about being as realistic as possible and not just going through the motions in the ambulance scenes. Toward the beginning, after Cam picks up [Officer Zach] from the parking lot, she breaks the IV bag, and that’s a bad omen when that happens. When you’re a really good EMT, that just doesn’t happen. So it was a telling moment that I wanted to add in order to show that she started on the wrong foot that day. I love adding little moments like that in movies. I think they tell you a lot about the psychology of the character. She’s not your run of the mill EMT saying big words.
Was there a dummy lying in the back of the ambulance most of the time, or did that actor have to lay there the whole time?
Oh my God, that actor is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. His name is Jackson White, and he’s an incredible actor. But funnily enough, he’s Katey Sagal’s son. Everyone talks about the three leads in the ambulance, but he was a crucial component as the fourth person in there. So he really endured a lot of those scenes. Michael wanted to see him in the scenes and not use a dummy. So he was such a baller … Sometimes, where we were going a million miles per hour on the highway and I had to hit his chest; it can get really dangerous. So it was really important for me to build a relationship with Jackson, so he would feel comfortable enough to know that I was always going to be safe around him and vice versa. And so did Michael. He was very protective of him. He was lovely. His presence really gave the scenes a reality because there’s an urgency when you’re seeing a real human being dealing with some really strange circumstances. So it really helped my performance, and I’m so grateful that he endured all of that stuff for me and the rest of the cast.
Cam’s EMT partner asks her if she has a boyfriend, and she responds that she’s dating a doctor at Mount Sinai. Of course, we later find out that they’ve been estranged for six months. What was your impression of the way she protected herself here?
I think it’s a really big moment that we put in the movie to make people realize that sometimes we don’t take women seriously, even when they are the best at their job. And that’s what Cam is saying. She’s like, “I’m the best at my job, and all you want to do is not take me seriously.” So it is a struggle for women, and I’m not talking just about our business. Women have to push extra to be taken seriously and to be seen as good as men. So it’s really good that Michael put that in the movie because it really gives her power. She’s like, “Yeah, I’m not going to play this game. I’m not going to be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll let you flirt with me.’ Of course, you asked that question. Of course, you only think of me as this object or that I look a certain way. I’m way more interesting than this, so I’m not even going to open the conversation.” So I thought that was cool. I feel like I just eventually gravitate to roles like this. Even in Hobbs & Shaw, [Madam M] is just a powerhouse despite a smaller role. I love playing female characters that have an identity and a clarity of who they are. I don’t know if I gravitate toward them or if people think of me for them, but I’m just proud that I get to play multifaceted women in more interesting ways.
Godzilla vs. Kong was well-received, and it helped get people back into movie theaters. But as a fan of you and the rest of the cast, I have to admit that I was a bit frustrated because it seemed like everyone got less screen time or material than expected. In fact, one of my favorite actors was cut out completely.
Yes. So in keeping with today’s theme, were you able to let go of all that pretty quickly?
My role completely changed in that movie, for sure. A lot of the story got cut out and the story was completely changed, so it was a bummer because my character had a whole different storyline that went in different routes. And Jessica getting cut out of the movie really affected all of the other characters. But it wasn’t anything to do with Jessica’s character. It was just that the storyline changed because the movie is called Godzilla vs. Kong and it obviously has to service them. They’re the big stars. But listen, I’m just grateful that I got to do a really fun movie. I really enjoyed that shoot. I really enjoyed working with Adam [Wingard] and my cast. I love Legendary and Warners. So my experience was really good, but that’s just par for the course, sometimes. You learn so much by doing these movies, and I’m just really happy that we were able to release that movie. I would’ve loved for us to wait a little longer because it was just such a fun, big movie. I would’ve loved for more people to experience it in a big, big theater.
I also had expectations that most people didn’t have since I spoke to you at a time when you were under the impression that you were in the entire movie. I remember you saying that your Godzilla vs. Kong schedule was so extensive that you almost couldn’t get away to shoot a day or two on Hobbs & Shaw.
Yeah, it’s par for the course. I just now had that happen with me on The Three-Body Problem. I lost the chance to work with one of the biggest directors I’ve ever wanted to work with. So it’s par for the course, and you can’t control the results sometimes. But I really enjoy the process, as you can tell from the little details that I always tell you. I enjoy the building of characters and learning alongside incredible castmembers and directors. So you hope that one thing adds to the other, and I just was honored and grateful that I got to be part of such a big franchise with Godzilla vs. Kong, especially because I grew up watching those movies.
Everything is going well with Three-Body Problem, right? You just couldn’t pull something else off at the same time?
Yeah, I am filming The Three-Body Problem, but I lost the opportunity to do something else because my dates were so booked up. I’m filming for 10 months on The Three-Body Problem, and it’s such a demanding show. So I’m completely and utterly immersed in the Three-Body Problem world right now. Honestly, it’s been the most lovely experience of my life. I’m so proud of the project that we’re putting together. The books are just mind-bending and just really out of the norm. We haven’t seen a show like this, and getting to work with Alexander Woo and both [David] Benioff and [D.B.] Weiss has been just one of the most rewarding, fulfilling processes of my life. I feel creatively inspired. I get to play such a beautiful, multifaceted, layered female character, and it’s such a departure from anything I’ve done before. So I’m truly excited.
The list of producers is a who’s who of Hollywood, to say the least.
And one of the names is Rosamund Pike, who you became friends with on I Care a Lot. Did that connection lead to this opportunity at all?
It’s actually crazy. Rosamund Pike and Robie [Uniacke], her husband, have had the rights for many, many years, and everyone had to buy the rights from them. Robie speaks Mandarin and reads Mandarin, so he read the books before they were even translated and he got the rights for them. And by the way, Rosamund didn’t know I was auditioning for the show at all. I basically called her one day and said, “Hey, I think I might do this show you’re involved in.” And then she lost her mind. She was like, “You have to do this show. You have to do this show. There’s no other option. This role is incredible.” Rosamund and I are really good friends, and I’ve always shared with her my first vision of just wanting the business to look at me in a different way and sometimes struggling with that. And that’s when she said, “This is going to be the cure to what you’ve been begging for. This is your opportunity to go a different route and I know that you’re going to do such a good job with this role.” So I felt very protected by her, and it’s the warmest room. I also adore Rian Johnson and Plan B and everyone involved, so it couldn’t be a better situation. And I just love working with Netflix. They’ve been so wonderful.
I Care a Lot was wildly entertaining, but then there was commentary from some people who felt that they couldn’t root for any of the characters. And the common response to that take was that audiences root for bad men all the time. So did the discourse around that movie surprise you at all?
I mean, it wasn’t surprising. Honestly, it was more expected than surprising. I really was not shocked because we’re just so conditioned on so many levels to think that way. Even when I read the script for Ambulance, I was waiting for the moment where Cam became the love interest. I was like, “Any minute now. Any minute now. It’s going to happen now. She’s going to fall in love with one of the bank robbers or they’re going to over-sexualize her or say something about her looks.” But it didn’t happen, which is so rare. I had to check myself and be like, “Wow, this is crazy.” So it was such an eye-opening moment to read an actual script where I wasn’t reading any of the above. There was no male gaze, no love interest, no woman following their narrative. There was none of the above, and it was really shocking. So it just goes to show that slowly but surely, these types of movies can actually exist, and I just feel very proud that I’m part of projects that push the boundaries on that level, especially as a Latina woman. It’s just rare. It’s really, really rare. We’re so accustomed to seeing even other women doing it, but not really us. So I’m just really happy that I get to be part of projects that are different and push for more.
Ambulance is now playing in movie theaters. Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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