- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

This weekend offers the coincidence of two movies with "Machine" titles. Moreover, these "Machine" films happen to be remakes. A new version of "The Time Machine" derives from the H.G. Wells dystopian classic of 1895, vigorously filmed by George Pal in 1960 with Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux as the co-stars.
The British import "Mean Machine" borrows a team nickname that will be familiar to moviegoers who remember the source material, the 1974 football-behind-bars fable, "The Longest Yard." It starred Burt Reynolds as a former pro quarterback who embraced the chance to redeem himself during a bruising exhibition game between inmates and guards.
Samantha Mumba, the teen-age leading lady of "The Time Machine," paid a promotional visit to Washington recently for her film. Vinnie Jones, the British soccer legend who has inherited the Reynolds role in "Mean Machine," heralded the American openings by phone from London.
Miss Mumba, 19, born and reared in Dublin, is making her movie debut on the heels of her precocious success as a pop singer. She toured the United States a year ago with 'N Sync. Her debut single, "Gotta Tell You," became No. 1 in Ireland, No. 2 in the United Kingdom and No. 4 in the United States. The single was also the title of her first CD.
"I loved it," Miss Mumba says of her first movie experience during an interview at the Mayflower Hotel. "Acting lets you be something completely different from yourself. You can go off into a fantasy world. And it's everybody working as a team. In the music industry, you're kind of competing with other artists to make the charts. It's everybody working for themselves."
A cheerful presence, Miss Mumba had appeared in a few music videos, so being in front of the camera was not a total novelty. The immersion demanded by a feature was. "Music videos are so short-term," she says. "It takes a maximum of three days. Acting is a whole new area of work. The people who know me from my songs won't necessarily be the same as people who get to know me as an actress."
Miss Mumba and her younger brother Omero, cast in the movie as his sister's younger brother, have an Irish-Zambian heritage. Their parents have been separated for several years. Miss Mumba says her mother worked for a solicitor until the show business careers of her children flourished. "She's gonna be my brother's tour manager now," Miss Mumba says.
In "Time Machine," the brother-sister duo play inhabitants of a cliff-dwelling community discovered by Guy Pearce as a time-traveling inventor-explorer when he brings his time machine to a halt in A.D. 802701. Many of their scenes were shot in the upper reaches of a soundstage at Warner Bros. in Burbank, Calif.
An aspiring performer from age 3, Miss Mumba was associated with the Billie Barry Stage School in Dublin. A performance in a theatrical revival of "The Hot Mikado" in 1998 brought her to the attention of agents and television producers. "I met my manager by a kind of fluke," she says. "I had got a bit of press, and one evening after a show he approached my Mom and me. It went on from there."
It went on to the role of Mara, the nature girl in "The Time Machine," after a People magazine article attracted the attention of Mindy Marin, the film's casting director. A suitably exotic ingenue still had not been selected, and the beginning of production was rapidly approaching. "My first test was just with a camcorder, and I read from the script. The second test I did with Guy and a proper camera and everything with the producer and director watching and no reading from the script. That was a little harder."
Miss Mumba says the name of her leading man struck a somewhat familiar note when they met, but she had not seen any of his work. "I couldn't put a face to the name," she explains. "Then when I saw the face, I still didn't know it." Nevertheless, she found Mr. Pearce a prince of a guy with whom to work.
"I do go to the movies a lot," Miss Mumba says, "but I was in L.A. filming our movie when 'Memento' came out. There just wasn't time to see it, even though everyone was excited about it. I was up at half [past] 5 and back home at 9 and totally exhausted. Going to the movies was the last thing on my mind. And how old was I when 'L.A. Confidential' came out, 14? I'm not sure it was suitable, and it wasn't the type of film I would have gone to see at that age," she says of two films in which Mr. Pearce had roles. "I've got some catching up to do."

Vinnie Jones, born and reared in London, was recruited to the movies in the twilight of his soccer career, which began with the Wimbledon Football Club and brought him a championship in 1988, when he was part of a legendary roughneck squad nicknamed the "Crazy Gang." He later played for Leeds United, Sheffield United and Chelsea before ending his career back at Wimbledon.
While appearing as himself on a TV "chat show," he looked like a natural for a character that the aspiring film producer Matthew Vaughn and writer-director Guy Ritchie would ultimately need to cast in a crime spoof titled "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." A combination of ruthless enforcer and fiercely protective father figure, this hulk was called Big Chris. The role and Mr. Jones proved to be made for each other.
"After the movie came out, I won the best British newcomer of 1998," Mr. Jones says. "I got asked to do 'Gone in 60 Seconds' after that. So it snowballed pretty quickly. From 'Lock, Stock' to 'Snatch,' with Guy Ritchie and Matty Vaughn again at home, and then from '60 Seconds' to 'Swordfish' over in the U.S. My other movies were like learning the ropes, you know? Guy and Matty thought I was ready for a lead role. They came up with 'Mean Machine' because Matty had really liked the original, 'The Longest Yard,' a lot.
"I wasn't so sure. I thought maybe I should steer clear of playing a soccer player," he says. "The British response might have been to brush it off as just me playing myself, but it's not that at all. Danny Meehan (his character) is the opposite character to me in real life."
He acknowledges that the abundance of trick plays that the filmmakers could resort to were severely limited when soccer became the game of choice. "In American football, you're always running, throwing, diving, tackling, catching. If it's a wide-open game, you can smack people and everything else. We didn't have as much flexibility, and there couldn't be as much scoring. What we could do is get a lot of ex-professionals, old friends of mine, and make it look as if they were really playing a game.
Mr. Jones, the father of two youngsters with very different sporting enthusiasms lacrosse and show jumping believes that he has avoided the potential pitfalls of simulating his old line of work on the screen. He now looks forward to "different roles, a wide range, from zero to 100."
"People advise me to stay natural," he says. "I'm very comfortable with the way things have gone. I don't want to go off and take lessons if they interfere with what I've got to offer. A lot of people say my screen presence is quite distinctive, so I don't want to change any of that."


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