Taken 2 arrives in theaters this weekend promising pretty much everything you loved about the original Taken-- Liam Neeson is back in Europe, bad guys are back to doing bad, and he's got to set them straight in order to protect his family. But of course, no sequel is as simple as that, and nobody knows that better than director Olivier Megaton, who when he was first offered the job of directing Taken 2 said "What's the point?"
Obviously he changed his mind, and after some script rewrites and a decision to take everything in a darker direction-- seriously, the movie opens with the funerals for the guys Liam Neeson killed in the first film-- he set out to Istanbul to make his most high-profile film yet. Megaton, who has known producer Luc Besson for 20 years--since he turned down a job as second-unit director on The Professional-- previously made Transporter 3 and Colombiana, and moved on to Taken 2 to tell yet another story about an unlikely action hero, though one who had already proven his "specialized set of skills" once before.
In New York last week I talked to Megaton about how he changed his mind and wound up directing Taken 2, why Neeson's Bryan Mills is the right action hero for our times, the continuing plans to make the Professional sequel Mathilda, and how he wound up going from a graffiti artist from a director-- and that Luc Besson had less to do with it than you think. Check out our entire conversation below, and see Taken 2 in theaters this weekend.
It's really ballsy to start the movie with the funeral for the guys killed in the last movie. Where did that idea come from? In this one we wanted to base everything around something a little stronger, with the family thing and so on, so we decided to create two action sequences based on what we did in the first one. Just to build to more about this character.
People criticize movies like Taken for having violence where you don't think about the victims. This one takes it really seriously, and makes it darker.
We created this new character of the villain, played by Rade Saverdia, who is a huge actor. We wanted someone who could be a father. We had to learn a lot of things about the success [of the first Taken], because nobody was waiting for it. We chose another direction because we couldn't do it exactly the same. We wanted to change it and have more depth to all the characters. We worked on this character to be a good opponent against Bryan. The point was to do something a little stronger, have more depth, have a darker character in Bryan. He's bored, not of killing people, but of doing this. The whole story, the whole plot, the whole structure, everything was to try and create something different. Action movies today are going to so fast you can't say you're going to do everything faster and faster. We tried to work in a little more structure.
There are a lot of elaborate action sequences in the movie. What are you most proud of?
I'm not a fan of action movies. I don't watch many action movies, I don't have a lot of references except for 70s action movies or cinema noir. and what I like the most today are the Korean movies, Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. For me, the sequence I am very proud of is after the fight-- the fight is great and huge, and it was very hard to do, we did it in two afternoons. The same day we shot the drama with Rade. We were in the same mood-- everybody, the team, the actors. Rade was there, he saw the fight. Liam was exhausted, and when he says "I'm tired of all this," he was really tired of this. To mix all this and make a very emotional movie to everybody. I don't want to be the best director of action movies. It's very technical, mechanical for me. I know that the audience will stand there and there and there. Everything has been thought out and is very precise.
Between Zoe Saldana in Colombiana and Liam Neeson here, you seem to be establishing these new kinds of models for the modern action hero.
Yeah, especially Liam, because Liam is a huge actor, he's been in like 70 movies. Suddenly a real, great actor becomes an action hero. But he is an actor, he's one of the best actors in the world. Every crisis, economic, wars and so on, every crisis creates a new hero. In the 30s it was Superman, then Captain America… every crisis creates this. We had a huge, huge crisis 3 years ago, and Taken arrived like this. Because this crisis creates something in the audience. The people, they couldn't believe anybody, because they were screwed by everybody.
So for the first time this new hero close to them, he's like the father next door. He could be a guy you cross on the street. He doesn't have a superpower, he just has his heart and the love of his family. I think this is something new. They tried to do this in other movie, like in The Dark Knight, he broke the superhero logic and brought someone dark. Even The Joker in The Dark Knight, you were attached to him, because there's something about him-- sure he's a psycho, sure he's a bad guy, but there was something different. I think this is the new deal when you make an action movie today. CGI is going too far, so we have to be closer to the people, closer to the audience, more realistic, more organic.
How did you learn to direct action?
I never learned. I'm a painter, I was a graffiti artist, and I painted all over the world. One day a guy told me "You should be a director." So he helped me, this guy was a photographer, and he helped me shoot my first movie. I never wanted to be a director. I came into this industry by the little door, so I never learned anything, I never went to school. Actors will tell you I'm very precise. I just have the intuition of doing things. People say that I have a sixth sense of action. I think it's much more improvisation and intuition. I'm structuring a lot and working a lot, but I don't learn anything from anybody. They say, yeah, you come form Luc Besson. No. The story is not so easy.
What's the story then?
He proposed that I work on The Professional 20 years ago as a second unit director, and I never did. I told him, what for? I didn't know how to do it. I don't want to do something if I don't know how to do it. After this we didn't meet each other for a long time. He bought my first movie, but he just bought it, and for 10 years we didn't work together. One day he called me because they were working on Hitman, and the director was young, so he asked it I could direct the second unit and especially the action sequences. It was fun for me. I did it, everyone liked it. So it began like this.
Was Colombiana in fact developed from a Professional sequel?
It's not a Professional sequel. There is the Professional sequel, it's called Matilda, Luc or I will direct it one day. Colombiana is very close, but a lot of stories are very close. He wrote the story, not because he couldn't do Matilda, which is the real Professional sequel--
Which he will do some day?
Some day, sure. Today it is hard. Everything is not really easy. I would like to. It's the only sequel I would like to do.
Even though this is a sequel?
Taken, I didn't want to do the sequel. After Transporter 3 I didn't want to make another sequel. Especially Taken-- what's the point? I saw the movie, and it was something on its own. After Colombiana he proposed it to me again, and I read the script. Working with Liam-- it wasn't a dream, but you don't have a chance to work with such actors many times when you're in France. So I agreed. When I read the script, I agreed because I found a lot of things to do. At first I didn't find a challenge because the script wasn't very interesting, so they changed everything, they rewrote everything.
What were the changes to the plot?
In the beginning, for example, there was a huge action fight in Los Angeles. It didn't have any meaning, because it was after the driving lessons, they went to a diner and a couple of guys were passing by, had problems with the car, they didn't want to make a report. then he kicked the asses of all those guys. i told everybody, why? When he's in his own town, he's a normal guy, he doesn't want to fight. He shuts his mouth just like everybody. I thought it was a mistake to put it there, because then it's just another action movie, and every 5 minutes we absolutely have to have another fight. I think maybe the best thing is not to do it. OK, some people will say the beginning is boring. Fine. Most of the other people would say the contrary.
It's not really the same structure as Taken. We really decided to have nothing in the opening 15 minutes, just to have his family. We didn't know Maggie, we didn't know Famke. In the first one we only saw Maggie hysterical in the beginning and drugged in the end. Famke it was ever worst, because she was the posh, rich girl in the beginning, who cares about the daughter but she cares more about her money. We restructured everything and created the story of Maggie. "What did you see? You've been raped, you've seen girls killed. Two years ago the experience you had was so cruel and so bad that, sure, you'll be impacted two years later." We recreate fall of this, even in the ned, the one -to-one fight was not like this. I really believed strongly in the danger of the main character at the end is the best way to push the audience to the last last gasp. We changed many, many things. It's just your job as a writer.