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Since breaking out with Con Air back in 1997, director Simon West has done his best to keep it fresh. While he also directed Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, one of the first major video game adaptations, he’s also dabbled in drama and horror. But tomorrow, West makes his triumphant return to the genre that started his career with The Mechanic.
Speaking with the director one-on-one during the junket for his newest film, we discussed his genre-hopping habits, the need to convince his actors that they aren’t invincible, and his next project, which will reunite him with Nicolas Cage. Check it out below.
*SPOILER WARNING: During the course of the interview, we discuss both the ending of this new film as well as the 1972 movie. As a safeguard, I have changed the color of the text. If you wish to read this portion of the interview, simply highlight the section with your curser. Happy reading!
While you’ve directed action films before, like Con Air and Tomb Raider, you’ve also dabbled in other genres, like drama with The General’s Daughter and horror with When A Stranger Calls. What draws you back to making action movies?
They’re just a lot of fun to make. When I did Con Air it was the ultimate action movie, Jerry Bruckheimer has all the bells and whistles, and I sort of satiated myself on that, it was like, “I don’t need to do another one for a while” and I really wanted to go into drama. So I did The General’s Daughter, which is very much a drama. And those big movies take so long to make and prep, you find your making a movie every two or three years. And in that time, that’s a lot of time to pass. I started to think, after General’s Daughter, it was a lot of fun doing that stuff. And Tomb Raider was offered to me a few times and I turned it down, but after a while you go, “Yeah, that is a lot of fun. I’ll do it again.” And I did it for Tomb Raider. Then, again I was satiated.
So I think it’s just a cycle. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s like going to have fast food after a while. You want to do it every once in a while but you don’t want to have it for every meal. And it’s a lot of fun and it exercises the practical side and the childish side of you, but then you think, “Oh, I should make some serious stuff or stuff that stretches other muscles.” I think it’s just a cycle. I don’t want to make every movie I make an action movie; I’m not obsessed with it. But, like you say, it’s like going to different restaurants. You want to have a different type of food, you want Chinese sometimes, Japanese another, and French. So that’s what it is. So I’m sure I’ll come back to it, but probably the next one will be much more like The Mechanic.
Which one is that?
It’s with Nic Cage, it’s called Medallion. But it’s in this world again. Probably because this film was so manageable, it wasn’t a 120 day shoot, it was like 45 days, and it was great, had a great time, just a couple of good actors and we got to do some action. And it almost didn’t take anything out of me, it was just fun. So I’m ready to do another one just like that. But then that will probably be enough and so the one after that will probably a romantic comedy.
Just to talk about that a bit, Medallion will be your first time working with Nic Cage again since Con Air.
Well that’s the other big attraction. We’ve been trying to work together ever since Con Air. It’s both our favorite films. We’ve been trying to do it four or five times and it never worked out. And then finally we did it and we spoke over Christmas and suddenly we’re doing it again. So it’s very exciting and it will be fun, because we have an old history together.
Well, I think the difference was, because I think it’s fun to take actors into a different place, I don’t want to be just the next guy that used them, so I think for this one it’s pushing Jason into a more serious role. He’s done a lot of action, but they’ve been quite varied in their style. Especially some of the ones made in Europe and had sort of Euro-action feel to them or an Asian action feel to them. This one is like an American drama with action, so it’s taking him to a different place, I think. So I definitely don’t feel like he’s repeating himself. But he has that, and we probably didn’t use enough of it for some people but he has that huge store of ability that, “When is he going to fight? When is he going to do some action?” and it’s very restrained, this film. It lets him out of the gate only a few times and so I think it is different from his other stuff, more of a serious hard-man role.
A big part of that is the relationship between Arthur, Jason’s character, and Steve, Ben Foster’s character. Because that bond is so important to the film, how did you ensure the chemistry between the characters?
A lot of it comes from Ben, because his character is the over-enthusiastic, slightly off-hinged guy, and so he can talk a lot and Jason is the man of few words, who is just looking at him and studying him and he never says very much. It worked out itself, really, because Ben’s like that, very articulate and very fast, and wants to do as much as possible and so I kind of let them do their thing, because they were very much like that, the two of them. Jason is the more restrained and he’s done a lot of action movies and he has all of this pent up ability, and Ben is very much the enthusiastic, “Let’s do this, let’s do that.” It’s very much who they are in the film.
One of the biggest things that drives Ben’s character, both in this film and the 1972 original, is his drive for one-upmanship. Seeing as Ben did all of his own stunts in this film, did you see that same kind of attitude in him behind the scenes when it came to Jason?
Yeah, I definitely think so. Ben’s done more actor-ly roles in some way, so he was coming into Jason’s world, but he had a great amount of fun about it. And the roles he’s played, like in Alpha Dog, there’s a huge amount of violence about those roles, and I had all sorts of stories about him wanting to throw himself through a real glass window and stuff like that on other films, so I knew he was committed. It was more like keeping him safe so he didn’t get hurt. But, you know Ben, if you put him into a musical he’d be like the world’s greatest singer and dancer. Whatever genre he goes into I know he’s going to throw himself into it. So this was coming into Jason’s action world, and he wanted to be like Jason.
With all actors that are committed like that you have to watch them. And even with Jason, who’s so confident, you have to watch to make sure they don’t become over-confident because things like Jason running around the top of a building at 450 feet, he’s very comfortable with it. But he has a safety cable on just in case he trips and he goes over the edge or something, but it’s getting in his way, and he wants to take it off. Because he’s confident, but you have to be the adult and go, “He’s not allowed to take that cable off because anything could happen.”
When you play that many action roles I have to imagine that at some point you begin to feel indestructible.
Yeah, and he has the ability, you know? And he doesn’t have the fear, which stops us all doing those things, he doesn’t have the fear. And Ben did throw himself into that fight sequence, literally, and I think Jason learned how to protect himself in fights and how to not get as injured as possible. Because when you start out you get injured a lot, but he knows how to not get injured. But Ben, I think it was nine months in took his shoulder to heal up.
But he’s all better now.
Yeah. I met him nine months after and he was said, “It’s just healed up.”
Another part of the film I wanted to ask you about are the marks that Arthur and Steve are assigned to kill. There seems to be a point made about each one that they were involved in some sort of crime, be it gun running, drugs or statutory rape. Do you think those were important details to add?
I don’t think it was that important, to be honest. It think if you followed Arthur Bishop over ten other missions, half of them wouldn’t be that bad and he doesn’t really care one way or the other. It’s more for the audience to feel a little more comfortable about who he’s killing. To be honest, I think he’s a contractor who kills people and he does it really well and the chances are half of them, we wouldn’t think they deserved to die and others who do. But that’s not his business. His business is taking a contract and fulfilling it. For the sake of the movie those three happened to be nefarious types. Does anyone deserve to die? If you believe in capital punishment I suppose so.
It depends who you talk to, I suppose. The people paying for it would see it as protecting their sequel issues, but I would argue that it was also because in the original he’s a bit of a broken man and he’s on his decline and he’s looking at this guy as a replacement. He almost doesn’t mind dying in that one. In this one, Jason is not that guy, he’s much more vibrant and he’s at the top of his game and it’s only because he lets down his guard for a little bit to let this apprentice in that it all goes wrong. And once he’s cleaned up that mess he goes back on his job. I think, for the audience sake, they really like him and they think he’s cool and what he does is cool and they want him to go back into doing it. I personally would have been fine with him dying at the end, but I think the audience likes it better because they want to feel he’s still out there, even if you never make a sequel. There’s more satisfaction if you feel he’s still out there, doing his job and he’s cool. If he’s dead, it’s like the whole thing’s a memory and it’s not as satisfying. Part of me would have liked both of them to die at the end, but it was also suggested at one point him sailing off and retiring. To me that’s the worst, because that’s neither. That’s neither the cool guy and it’s not a guy saying “My job’s done, let the apprentice take over.”
If they do end up producing a sequel, would you want to be the guy to direct it?
Yeah! I’d love to. I’d love to.