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Love at First Flight — Erica Linz

“Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” leading lady Erica Linz brings a longtime passion for circus performance to her first major film role

Author Sam Polcer

HOLLYWOOD BREAKS don’t come much bigger than this: For her first movie role, Erica Linz landed the female lead in Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away, a dazzling love story executive-produced by über-director James Cameron and showcasing the internationally acclaimed performance troupe Cirque du Soleil. But where the challenge might have thrown other actresses, Linz is used to keeping her balance, quite literally—trained as a gymnast, the 30-year-old Colorado native has been tumbling, spinning and soaring in Cirque du Soleil shows for more than a decade.

In Worlds Away, Linz plays a small-town girl named Mia who catches the eye of a handsome performer during his act, causing him to slip. The two then fall into a magical circus world and spend the rest of the film searching for each other, wandering through scenes from seven Cirque du Soleil stage shows (including and Mystère). It’s a highlight reel of sorts, as only Cameron and Shrek director Andrew Adamson could have imagined it: If the feats of acrobatic derring-do don’t leave the audience breathless, the cinematography—which has cutting-edge cameras swooping in and slowing time—will.

Now living in Los Angeles, the 4-foot-11 Linz teaches, performs and works as a stunt double for child actors. Play caught up with her between back flips to talk about the challenges of bringing Cirque du Soleil’s artistry to the big screen, the parallels between Mia’s journey and her own, and what it’s like to crash into some very expensive camera equipment.

Your character in Worlds Away is looking for a life more exciting than the one in her small town—and finds it in the circus. Given that you flew to Vegas the day after graduating from high school to audition for Cirque du Soleil, could you relate? Absolutely! The first time I saw Mystère, my jaw dropped. This existed, this amazing thing that combined what I loved: music, athletics and theater. So I felt very much like Mia—meeting all the crazy characters on this journey and basically falling in love with it.

Given your many years of performing live, was it strange to have a camera so close to you? That was the beauty of the whole film: They had the opportunity to bring the audience closer to the action than even the best seat in the house, as well as do things like slow down the action so you can see the centrifugal force on artists’ faces as they’re flying through the air.

I heard there was a collision with some equipment. Did the camera get a little too close? At one point, Igor Zaripov [Linz’s co-star] threw me out for a spin and I kicked a quarter-million-dollar camera. I’m used to human obstacles, but not giant cameras flying at me on cranes! Nobody was hurt; I got a Band-Aid and we were back up and shooting in 10 minutes.

Are there many differences between acting in the circus and acting on film? That was probably the biggest challenge of the entire project. In the world of Cirque du Soleil, the last row might be a hundred feet away from you. You have to use your whole body. It’s a very exaggerated style of performance. Onscreen, that exaggerated style looks pretty comical!

What was the best acting advice that director Andrew Adamson gave you? “When you get to the point where you feel like you’re doing almost nothing, you’re probably doing it right.”

Your character gets to explore different Cirque du Soleil worlds—that must have been a rare treat. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you think of Cirque du Soleil as a country with an overarching culture, each of its individual shows is like a state within that country. Each has its own vibe, its own sense of humor, its own way to be. And I felt as though I got to be adopted into each one. It was the best thing ever.

The film was shot with 3-D technology, which seems like a perfect match for Cirque du Soleil. Why do you think it’s taken this long to put them together? The technology wasn’t really at the point where it could capture that magic and do the live performances justice, until James Cameron and Andrew Adamson got hold of it.

With Worlds Away, is there a risk that people will choose to see the movie instead of the live shows that inspired it? No matter how good a film is, I don’t know that it could ever replace that element of surprise or danger that a live performance gives. But the really cool thing for me is that when I was a kid, the idea of getting to see seven Cirque du Soleil shows was financially and logistically impossible. I really love the idea that this film is being shown all over the world, and hopefully there are people out there who will get that same kind of feeling I got when I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show.

You live in Los Angeles now. Are there similarities between working for Cirque du Soleil and living in L.A.? It’s definitely a circus in L.A.! [Laughs.] Plus, my natural home is the circus community, and I immediately found that here. There’s actually a beautiful underground scene—one of the gyms I train at is a barn in somebody’s backyard.

Hollywood has had its share of singers, bodybuilders, athletes and rappers who have crossed over into acting, but no circus performers. Is there anyone whose career you emulate? There’s really no trail to follow on this one, but it’s cool. I’ve got the whole circus community behind me, and it truly is a family. Rather than any kind of feeling of competition, they’ve had that hometown pride: Look at our sister, she’s on a movie poster!

You’ve been promoting the film, teaching, performing, doing stunt work on commercials and in movies, and you founded a Las Vegas–based cancer charity. When do you find time to sleep? [Laughs.] I find that unnecessary. I’m sitting here at a circus studio drinking tea before I go off to the next adventure.

Well, it’s not like you’re doing anything dangerous. Not at all!

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