row2k Features
Alexandra Metz of the film 'ackwards
September 20, 2012

Alexandra Metz at the start

row2k Interview with actress Alexandra Metz, who learned how to row from scratch for her part in the new film Backwards. Alexandra next appears as Elise Mills on the new Dick Wolf series CHICAGO FIRE, which premieres on NBC October 10th.

What was your rowing and acting background prior to filming the movie?
Alexandra Metz: I had never rowed before filming Backwards, apart from occasional casual rowboat outings in summer camp. To be honest, I knew very little about the sport of rowing, though my college friends and I were very proud of Brown's rowing team, which always did well competitively. As for my acting background, I have been acting professionally for four years, and have been so fortunate to have guest-starred opposite many of the industry's finest actors on television shows such as The Good Wife, Blue Bloods, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

Rowing has a bit of a learning curve, how much practice did you have before filming and where did you learn the sport?
Alexandra Metz: I had a 2.5-week crash course in rowing before the start of filming. The movie production paired me up with a wonderful coach, Kirk Beckman, at Vesper in Philadelphia, where we filmed many of our scenes. I traveled back and forth from New York City to Philly 2 or 3 days a week to train, and most days we tried to get out on the water twice for two hours each session. When back home in NYC, I worked out more in the gym following a training circuit Kirk had given me. This routine included forcing myself to get on the ERG--that thing is harder than it looks, especially when trying to maintain form and build stamina over time, let alone go for longer than 10 minutes!

I also went to upstate NY for 2 days to meet and practice with my costar and teammate, Meredith Apfelbaum, where we put my brief training and rowing lessons to the test. Meredith's parents are both super talented crew coaches, so Stacey, Meredith's lovely mother, took the time to work with us as a team while I was up there. Without all of these amazing people to patiently guide and support me, I would not have been able to become a credible rower in such a short amount of time.

Are you happy with how the rowing scenes turned out?
Alexandra Metz: I have not seen the film (yet!), but I hear the rowing scenes turned out very well. I know my hands came up too high once in awhile though as I've seen it in the trailer. It's hard not to cringe when I see such poor form, but it helps to remember we were rowing under pretty unusual circumstances: there was over 70lbs of camera equipment rigged to the front of the boat as well as foam floatations devices that counteracted the weight, but also created a heavy drag. In those close up shots it literally felt like we were trying to row through drying cement.

After filming several takes of intense 400m-500m race runs that earned me my raw, bloodied and blistered rower's hands (not to mention Meredith and I having to reset the boat ourselves for each take until the scene was what the director, Ben Hickernell, wanted) I gained a great appreciation for what rowers go through when they train. Though real rowers certainly make it look easy, that "ease" is actually a combination of grace, skill and discipline. It's an incredibly tough sport, so I understand why rowers are protective of rowing's reputation in the sports world. I do hope that I make the rowing community proud. I have a lot of respect for rowers.

What did you like most about rowing? Least?
Alexandra Metz: I loved that the preferred time for leisure rowing, or training in my case, is either early morning or early evening when the summer sun is not too intense. We usually opted for early morning to avoid the heavy evening traffic on the Schuylkill, since most rowers would go in the evening after work. Though difficult at times, getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning is a really beautiful thing! It's such a special time of day when most people are still sleeping, which creates a certain kind of quiet that's great for reflecting and building discipline.

When you have the opportunity to row during the early morning, nature is selflessly communing and it's a privilege to witness as you glide through the water. My mind would enter a state of absolute peace and focus while my body would follow the smooth sculling movements I'd learned. I then would realize, "I'm doing it, I'm rowing!" Once I docked, put my boat away and showered at the end of morning, I felt like I'd accomplished so much before the day had really begun! I also really loved learning how to turn and steer, as that's what my character in Backwards, Hannah, had to do.

What I least liked about rowing? The dreaded ERG!

Have you continued rowing since the film?
Alexandra Metz: Unfortunately, my work schedule has not afforded me much opportunity, so I haven't rowed since we wrapped on the film last summer, though I hope to again soon. I wonder how much muscle memory I've retained...and if I'd blister again as badly!

Any "hollywood secrets" for rowing blisters?
Alexandra Metz: Refrain from high fives or any serious handshaking! Taping my hands before rowing got me through to the end, but the only real healer or concealer for blisters is time.

What struck you as most unique (or odd!) about the sport of rowing?
Alexandra Metz: All the terminology! Way enough.

Was there a funniest story or thing about learning to row and rowing for the film?
Alexandra Metz: Rowing with James Van Der Beek in a quad towards the end of our shoot was a blast, since he'd never rowed before and had been dying to try. He had athlete's pride and though his strokes were sometimes wild and erratic, he kept up impressively. James is a quick study, because for someone who just learned that day, his form was great and we were even able to get a couple power tens in!

Alexandra next appears as Elise Mills on the new Dick Wolf series CHICAGO FIRE, which premieres on NBC October 10th.


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