Friday, April 13, 2012

Guy and Grace on "Lockout"

Playing in Theaters

Guy and Grace on "Lockout"

(from brinkzine 4/13/12)


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Okay, in the super-charged sci-fi thriller, Lockout, which is set about sixty years from now, a wrongly-accused, resourceful former agent named Snow agrees to a deal whereby he can avoid being sentenced for murder if he sneaks into a maximum security prison in space to rescue the president's daughter, Emilie. You see, while on a good-will mission, she was taken hostage by murderous, crazed convicts during a jail break. It's essentially Die Hard in Space, but if Bruce Willis isnt available, who are you gonna call? Well, Luc Besson and his cowriters, Irish directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, made an inspired choice in Guy Pearce, a cult star since The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Memento, and just off his Emmy-winning turn in the mini-series Mildred Pierce. Pearce has made his mark in films with action, especially L.A. Confidential and The Proposition--where he played another character who can avoid prison by performing a dangerous mission--but he'd never played a full-fledged action hero in a blockbuster. The Aussie pulls it off admirably. What about casting the president's daughter? Leggy, blond beauty Maggie Grace, one of the original stars of Lost, had been a memorable kidnap victim in Besson's Taken, so she was an ideal choice to play Emilie--especially since she proved adept at engaging in comic banter with her leading man, like Irene Dunne and Rosalind Russell were with Cary Grant. She, too, proved to be suited for a blockbuster action film. In anticipation of the film's release on Friday, I took part in the following roundtable interviews with Pearce and Grace.
Roundtable with Guy PierceQ: What was the appeal of this character Snow that made you want to do the project?
Guy Pearce: His sense of humor, ultimately. I sat down with Luc Besson and he ran me through the project. He gave me a script and said, "There are two Irish guys that I've written this with and we're very keen to make sure this character is amusing and he finds himself amusing. He wanted to get back, I suppose, in that retro-sense to Bruce Willis-type characters we saw in action movies in the 1980s. I didn't want to go back and look at those characters and consciously plagiarize anything. I didn't want it to fall into that two-dimensional world of action heroes we've seen in the past. I found the idea interesting but I needed to make sure Snow wasn't just flippant for flippant's sake or insensitive about killing people.
Danny Peary: Do you think he is so insolent and cynical because of the negative way the world has developed?
GP: What clinched it for me about taking the part was that Snow has a humorous view of everything but only because he needs to bury some of emotions under it. I didn't delve deeply enough into human psychology because the movie didn't require it, but I think it's a combination of things that cause Snow to be as cynical as he is. His age is one. He's just getting tired of the work he is doing. And, yes, he's unhappy with the way the world is developing and the fact that we now have a prison that was thrust into outer space when obviously the prison system on earth is in dire need of reassessment. The planet is overpopulated and the prison system is clearly overpopulated. Those elements are interesting and surely Snow finds them disturbing under his armor of humor.
Q: What do you think of the idea of sending prisoners into space?
GP: It's a nerve-wracking idea, isn't it? We're all aware that the prison systems in America, and around the world, and at home in Australia don't work.
DP: Australia was founded by convicts, so its a bit similar.
GP: That's right, so you'd think we'd get it working. I think it's a sad prospect if we eventually say we have too many prisoners and not enough prisons, so start shooting them into orbit. And in the prison in the film there's no therapeutic rehabilitation, and that's the main concern. They don't learn anything while in prison. They're put to sleep so if they wake up it feels like just a minute after they committed their crimes.
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Q: How much did the actors know about the world of that time?
GP: I don't know how to answer that to be honest. I don't think the guys were interested in developing the world to great length. They just wanted to make a piece of entertainment, the story being set far enough into the future to establish a different kind of world but not so far that we can't relate to it. We all had questions about how the world would be at this time, but I imagine each actor delved into it at a different level. I thought Stephen and James were interested in the dynamic between Snow and Emilie and the extreme nature of the situation more than a real analysis of what the world would be like at that point in time.
Q: Your character isn't a stealthy spy. The minute he arrives at the space prison everyone knows he's there.
GP: That was a conscious decision to play it that way. We needed a prisoner to see him when he arrives on the ship. Maybe twenty years before, he might have been stealthier, but he just doesn't care much anymore. He's there to rescue his friend but doesn't really want to be there and doesn't really care about the president's kidnapped daughter. He's gotten to that point in this life where he'd rather be sitting on a couch at home, watching sports and drinking a beer. This all falls under the guise of entertainment in that it leads to a humorous situation. But when called upon, the skills of his past--his ability to fight hand-to-hand or use equipment--is something he can do blindfolded. He's clearly a skillful guy.
Q: We've seen you play tough guys before but never with this level of physicality. What were the challenges of doing some of the action sequences?
GP: That stuff is always challenging but funny enough it was really easy for me. I'm quite agile and quite physical and very fit and I really work from a physical point of view as an actor, anyway. Even if I'm not in fight scenes or doing stunts, my physicality is very present in my mind. That plays a big part when I am trying to put together a character like Snow. I don't take an intellectual approach and a lot of my work does come from a physical place.
Q: So were you working from the outside in?
GP: I wouldn't say it's as clear as that because I'm also trying to understand him from the inside, ultimately. I get so far from the inside and then I actually have to get on my feet and start moving around before I can answer more questions about him and delve deeper into him. I can't sit around a table for weeks and weeks discussing a play or the characters in a play. I need to get on my feet and move around before finding some of those answers as to who my character is.
Q: Snows a lone action hero, a single guy, but despite the constant action he and Emilie find time to begin a relationship.
GP: Because of their differences they get off on a particular footing with each other and there's bickering from the outset. That's obviously something we've seen through the history of filmmaking; it's a nice way to create drama between two characters who we hope on some level will get together. It's an entertaining way to bring their relationship to life.
Q: Do you think that relationship will last?
GP (laughing): It probably will. He is someone who needs to be challenged and she can challenge him as well as anyone can. And he clearly finds her attractive and there's some sexual chemistry between them.
DP: Talk about Maggie Grace.
GP: Maggie was a horrible, horrible girl. No, she was a delight. She's a very smart girl and we got along really well. It was really important for us to establish the relationship of Snow and Emilie and understand we were on the same page in regard to the disdain they feel for each other and the bickering they're engaged in. So she was great. And clearly she's a better dresser than I am!
Q: How long was the shoot?
GP: Nearly three months. It was basically October, November and December of 2010.
Q: How much impact did Luc Besson have during production?
GP: He wasn't on the set at all, other than at the beginning when he talked to each department to make sure that everyone was feeling good about what they were doing and indicating that if he could help he would. But I don't think he wanted to inflict too much of his style on the film. What he impressed on me was how impressed he was with Stephen and James and the short film they'd made, Prey Alone. All the work that Luc did was in the establishing of the script and he really wanted to allow them to do what they were good at doing. Having said that, the impression that I have is that he was far more present during post-production, throughout the editing. There were a lot of visual effects that they had to render for this movie and I think Luc was present for that period.
DP: I wonder on slow-paced movies if the pace on the set is slow, so conversely was the pace on set high-octane for this high-energy film?
GP: Not really. It didn't seem too rushed. There were some days when we had to whip through it pretty quickly but there was nothing out of the ordinary. And Stephen and James are Irish guys with great senses of humor so they were always up to taking time for a laugh and I think everyone had a good time. They were are aware of what they could create in post-production in terms of rhythm and energy and intensity of the work. There were some specific shots we were doing that we knew were going to be really dynamic, but generally things were serene. The first day was calm and the first day is usually the gauge of how the set will be.
Q: Can you talk about being in Ridley Scott's Prometheus?
GP: I really can't. I'm not allowed to. Obviously what's being posted on the Internet gives an opportunity for people to get a sense of some of the philosophies and ideas behind the film. We know there's a connection with the original Alien and with all the Alien films I guess, even though I find it difficult to connect 3 and 4 with the first two Alien films. Personally, I think Alien is only one worth look at, by far the best one. To label Prometheus as a prequel limits it. Ridley expanded it and expanded it and took it outside the realm of being just a prequel.
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Q: Are you comfortable going back and forth between big and small films?
GP: I don't cut the pie that way. It's about communication and ideas and whether that comes about in a really low-budget, independent movie with a first-time director or a massive studio film with a highly-established director doesn't actually matter to me because really what I'm responding to is the feeling I get when I read the story. I am aware there is a difference and am aware that from outside there is a difference but that's never the driving force for me. With Ridley on Prometheus, he's able to make the world that we're in and the set that we're on feel intimate, connected, and small and you have time to get your ideas across and have discussions with him without feeling that the monster of a historic franchise is on your shoulders. You forget all about that with Ridley. And I can feel the same with first-time director, as on this film. I worked on a film that Drake Doremus just did that doesn't have a title yet. He's the guy who won Sundance last year with his film, Like Crazy. It's very low-budget and all improvised but wonderfully communicative. So in a way they feel exactly the same to me. I've worked on bigger films that were just terrible because we didn't have contact with anybody and were just dealing with somebody's assistant's assistant. I feel at a loss in that situation but you can also feel like that on an independent film. Some directors don't have the personality to deal with actors and so they'd rather have someone else tell you their ideas. If I don't feel like I'm communicating with the head of the beast I struggle.
Q: So the director is more important than the budget?
GP: Absolutely. You can be with someone on a small budget movie who can make it seem like a big project. Or someone on a big budget movie who is under pressure not to lose millions of dollars and causes more tension than on a little indie picture. Fortunately, that wasn't the case on Lockout, which was fun to make. It all depends on the people you're working with.
Roundtable with Maggie Grace
Q: You're becoming a regular in Luc Besson films.
Maggie Grace: I was in Taken and Lockout and recently finished working with Luc for a third time, on Taken 2. I wish I learned more French back in the Lost days because it would come in handy now that I'm working with him so often. It's such a joy being in his films and working with him and the same people over and over. It sometimes feels like we're a family or a merry band of travelers going to different countries. Taken was shot in Paris. We shot Lockout in Serbia. Taken 2 was shot in Istanbul. I'm glad Luc has come back to the science fiction genre for the first time since The Fifth Element. It's such a fun world with all kinds of opportunities. There's certainly a stylized world in the film but the movie is not pretentious in any way and it doesn't take itself too seriously. There are homage moments, genre references and inside jokes, and it's the sense of humor, especially between Emilie and Snow, that drew me to this. There's a combative sexual energy between them that I loved; there's throwback kind of feel to their relationship, not just of action films of the 1980s but of classic comedies.
Q: Since youre the veteran with Besson, did you give Guy Pearce advise?
MG: In no other context can you say that Im the veteran and not Guy! I wouldn't attempt to advise Guy on working with Luc or anything else in life. He's a smart guy. I'm so happy to see him come to the action genre for a change. I'm sure he's been offered many action movies but in this one his snarky, acerbic, dry sense of humor is well utilized. We need more of that in the action genre. It was a joy working with him. I'm a big fan of his work from Memento to The Proposition. He's always incredible but has not been given his due in many ways. I think it's because he's so mercurial that he disappears into the films and isn't noticed. When I was telling my family and friends I was cast in this movie, they said, "Oh, yeah, Guy Pearce, he's the one in...what was that film?" And I'll name his movies and they'll say, "That was him?" He just disappears into his movies.
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DP: What about you? Do people know you mostly from Lost?
MG: More Taken now.
Q: You learned to speak some French for Lost. Did you have to learn any special skills for Lockout?
MG: Yeah, we had some combat training and work on the wires so we had to feel comfy up there because the schedule was so crazy once we started shooting.
Q: How was it physically being in this action film?
MG: I prepped a lot. But there are limits to what the president's daughter can do--it has to be within reason, right? That she can shoot is part of a joke--she's a Democrat--and is an indication that she's surprising.
DP: Because this is an action film, did you and Guy say to each other that you had to make all of your characters' intimate scenes count?
MG: Yeah, there was a sense that you had a limited amount of time to create characters who people will really care for. You won't necessarily have a full first act with characters sitting around living rooms talking so people will know who they are. We did have some time at the beginning where we could act things out and make a lot of changes and talk about what we wanted in each scene.
Q: How did you like having short black hair from the midpoint of Lockout?
MG: That was fun, although I don't know if I'll get my next haircut from Guy. We had a wig obviously but he may have gotten a few slices in there.
Q: Your characters don't develop much during the movie. So did you talk about a background story with Emilie from before she went on her mission in space?
MG: Yeah, Stephen and James had developed the story for a while, so they did have an idea of the lives the characters came from. We didn't cut anything from the script at the beginning.
DP: After the one female hostage is released, Emilie is the one female character left. So what was it like being the one female surrounded by actors and men in the crew?
MG: Luckily we had a pretty bad-ass producer named Leila Smith, so we could hang. She's quite amazing. There were also Serbian ladies on set as part of the crew. But yeah it was largely a male environment, which is a good portion of what my life has become.
Q: What do you want people who see this movie to take away from it?
MG: You know, if I'm going to be really honest, if you're looking for a message film, look elsewhere. It's really unabashedly a good time. It's unapologetic about that. It's a fun romp and a popcorn movie. And it's funny. That's what I was excited about when I read the script. Yes, it's a sci-fi action thriller, but it's funny.
Q: When you do something that is quiet and introspect and something like this when it's not that introspective, which is more of a challenge?
MG: I cried after gym class in middle school and was kind of Maggie Graceless so action movies always provide bigger challenges for me, although they are fun to make. It's fun to do gun training at the range or horseback training or work on wires. It does really inform me as a person. If I could do an action movie every time I have a breakup in a relationship, it would be wonderful. It's easier for me doing action than before because I'm working with the same people. I felt safe and there was a sense of community and we had a great stunt team. So if a more kick-ass heroine who comes along, I'll be prepared.
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Q: In Taken you were the kidnapped daughter who didn't do much; but in Lockout the kidnapped daughter gets to fight some. Are you hoping at some point to play the person who does the rescuing? Would you like to be a kick-ass action hero?
MG: I think that would be fun. I don't know if it's my goal in life but I'm having a lot of fun making action movies. It's kind of new for me because I was a Jane Austen-Jane Eyre girl growing up. My family is getting a kick out of this. I would love to play more empowered characters, maybe like Laura Croft Tomb Raider.
Q: Talk about Taken 2, where you do get to be the rescuer.
MG: We just wrapped about a month ago. It was crazy having Liam, Famke Janssen, and myself back. It was almost five years that we shot the first one, so that's a long time to wait for a sequel. It's really interesting what they've done. What happens is driven by a personal vendetta. The body count in the first one was thirty-seven and that did have consequences. In this one my character's parents are taken so I have to help free them. Trust me that it does make sense, it's not a coincidence. My character doesn't suddenly morph into a Nikita. Of course, I have dark hair there too. When she changes her hair color at the airport her actions change. She's a young girl who tries to cope with the circumstances. She's her father's daughter and rises to the occasion because she has the most compelling reason to do so.
Q: What about The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2?
MG: We blocked shots for the installments together. I haven't seen it. I again play Irina Denali, a vampire, who through a misunderstanding, is a villainess.
Q: Is there anything else on the horizon?
MG: I did a little film called Decoding Annie Parker, which is about finding a cure for cancer. I have a supporting role but it was something I really wanted to be part of. I said that whatever role they needed me to play, I'd be there.
Q: Will there be a sequel to Lockout?
MG: You never know. It was a lot of fun to make.

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