INTERVIEW BY: AMON WARMANN
Having previously worked together on The Mechanic and The Expendables 2, Wild Card marks the third collaboration between director Simon West and Jason Statham. We were lucky enough to speak with West ahead of the film’s UK release this week, and we asked him about reuniting with The Stath in addition to filmmakers’ fascination with gambling and modernising films for audiences today. There’s even some thoughts about Con Air 2! It’s all been transcribed for your reading pleasure below.
What was reuniting with Jason Statham like?
Every film is a nine month project, so we’ve spent a lot of time together and you become very familiar with one another. If it goes well then you want to repeat it and we got on really well and we liked the way our previous films turned out.
This script came from Jason to me. He already owned it and he sent it to me when we were doing The Mechanic. And at that time I wasn’t sure because I wasn’t necessarily in that frame of mind to do a character drama. So I went off and did another big action film, and then when we worked together on The Expendables 2 he gave it to me again. Probably because I had been doing so much action, when I read it again I really warmed to it. It’s a 30 year old script but it’s very well written. I’m a huge fan of William Goldman; I worked with him on The General’s Daughter for a few weeks so I knew him very well. The idea of doing a William Goldman script but doing it well this time, because I think they had a lot of disasters when they were shooting the original, it hasn’t been done justice in a way. Because it’s so character driven and there’s no technology in it, there’s no references that don’t work now…it was all already there. Apart from a couple of name changes I shot the script exactly how it was written 30 years ago.
I also think that helped with the casting. Normally with scripts written these days there is so much work-in-progress. Even when you start prep on a film you’re constantly rewriting it, trying to fix it and make it better. Sometimes it’s quite hard to cast because you send the script out there to actors and you’re saying “it’s all going to change, it’s gonna be different, it’s gonna be better”. It’s very hard for actors, especially if they’re in demand, to sign on like that. This was great because the script was as it was so that’s why I was able to get people like Stanley Tucci, Anne Hesche and Sofia Vergara in supporting roles. They were coming in to do just a couple scenes but really raised the level of the film because it was good writing.
You brought up The Expendables 2 there. When I saw Jason Statham in a Santa hat I couldn’t help but think of Lee Christmas…
[Laughs] Yeah, I’d never thought of that but it’s a total coincidence because that was just a joke in the original script 30 years ago.
There’s been a couple of films this year that have dealt with gambling addiction and that also plays a big part in Wild Card. Do you have a favourite gambling film? What do filmmakers such as yourself find so interesting about it?
I think it’s not so much gambling as it is the world of casinos for me. Out of that fascination you sort of get interested in gambling. Really, any time I do a film, even if you’re slightly interested in the subject by the time you’ve done the research and you’ve got technical advisors you certainly become an expert on the subject matter and we certainly did that with this. We had a professional gambler there who had been in the exact same position as our character in the story. He had gotten $1 million in one night and then lost it all again. He’s done that a couple of times and at the moment he’s broke. It never worked out for him because the problem with gambling addicts is that you just can’t stop. I think the cameraman asked me in the middle of shooting when Jason wins all that money “why doesn’t he just go now?” But the problem with gambling addicts of course is that it’s not how much money they win, it’s the gambling they’re interested in.
So anytime you’ve got a character flaw like that it’s really interesting for the actor and the audience because it’s something you just can’t fight. It’s not like Jason can’t fight off 10 guys, we all know he can, but he can’t fight off something that’s inside his head.
There’s a great bit of dialogue where Statham’s character – Nick Wild – is asked to rundown his CV, and some of the things he says you wouldn’t think a guy like him would know. If that same question was posed to you – in terms of give us a CV of your career – what do you think the most surprising thing would be for people new to your work?
Hopefully it’ll be something in the future because my CV isn’t finished yet. Sometimes you can get typecast into certain types of films. At the moment people think of me as an action director because they remember the action films that I’ve done even though I’ve made just as many if not more that aren’t.
Because I know you started off doing commercials and you’re a big fan of comedy. Do you have any plans to get back to that genre?
Yeah, I tried getting into movies by doing commercials, and the only commercials I got initially were comedy commercials. But I got so sick of it that by the time I was going into movies I deliberately didn’t choose comedy. It happened to be Con Air which is more of an action film although there’s some comedy there. But now I’ve come back full circle and I’m quite keen to re-exercise that muscle because it does come quite naturally to me and actually all the action films and dramas that I’ve done have a lot of comedy in them. So I just need to go balls out and do an all-out comedy as opposed to try and sneak it into other films that I’m doing.
You brought up Con Air there, and I can’t let that pass without asking…is there any update on Con Air 2?
There’s no update on Con Air 2. Con Air 2 is a myth. Maybe it’ll happen someday but I think by the time it happens it’ll be so reinvented and twisted that it’ll either be really interesting or a total disaster.
We’re very much in an era where there’s a lot of remakes and a lot of reboots. Wild Card and The Mechanic are both remakes of prior films – how important is it to modernise these films for audiences today?
In a story if the characters are drawn well there’s no reason to change it. Something like Wild Card is a well written script but the original wasn’t very well made so it’s perfectly justifiable to me to remake it as we’d have been wasting a really good script. As far as other things that could be reinvented or reimagined, people have been doing that for thousands of years. Most of the stories that have been told have been retold and reinterpreted as a different film or book. There’s a theory that we’re all just telling the same nine stories over and over again. It’s how you rework them that makes it interesting and exciting and if it’s a great story why not retell it to a new generation that may not have seen it before. For some people if it’s a really good film but it’s made in black and white they won’t watch it. But if you make it in colour they’ll go and watch it. If it’s a really good film but there’s no one they recognise as famous from their era they won’t watch it, but if you make exactly the same film with the people who are famous now they’ll go and see it. So it’s about getting it to a new audience for the audiences’ sake, not just so the studios can make money.
The Expendables and The Mechanic both have sequels that weren’t directed by you. Conscious decision or just bad timing?
Sometimes you spend a lot of time on one film and you don’t necessarily want to spend more time doing a variation on the same story. I can think of so many films I want to make of so many different stories and there’s not enough time if you just keep making variations on the same one. It’s profitable for the studios but for the director and maybe even an actor, whether you really want to go and do sort of the same thing again it’s not that attractive. That’s why I don’t tend to do sequels to films that I’ve done because it’s a bit repetitious.
They are making a new Tomb Raider film. Obviously you directed the first one of the Angelina Jolie era. What are your memories of working on that franchise?
One of the things I remember is that nobody wanted Angelina Jolie on that film. I had to really fight for her; the studios didn’t want her, the producers didn’t want her. She was seen as sort of dangerous and unpredictable. She’d done small independent films like Girl, Interrupted but she wasn’t seen as someone who could carry a tentpole movie like that so I had to really push for her. The reason I wanted her so much is because she was a bit dangerous and unpredictable and a bit dark. Lara Croft is dangerous and unpredictable and whoever they cast in the new one, if you can get someone who isn’t a squeaky clean cartoon character that would really help it. A female empowered action hero is very rare and you’ve got to be really careful who you cast. Anybody who makes the studios nervous! [Laughs]
Wild Card is out in UK cinemas on March 20.