David Mamet has earned a reputation in Hollywood as one of the foremost screenwriters due to his sharp dialogue, interesting characters and innovative storytelling. For Spartan, his ninth film as a director, Mamet takes a fairly simple premise about the search for the missing daughter of a political figure and creates a rich tapestry of political intrigue and conspiracy.
At the center of the story is Agent Robert Scott, played by Val Kilmer, a former Marine that has become an agent of the government’s Special Forces used to deal with tough situations that they do not want traced back them. For this mission, he works with two rookies, played by Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) and Tia Texada of the NBC drama “Third Watch”, to try to find the girl, hitting roadblocks at every turn.
ComingSoon.net sat down and spoke to Val and Tia about their tough roles in this intriguing political thriller. Of course, our first question was how they got interested in David Mamet’s latest project:
Val: “I liked the story. It’s a very simple premise about what happens when the daughter of a high ranking political figure goes missing and the secret service doesn’t know what to do about it. It’s a strange group, the secret service, because they don’t have a leader. It’s not set-up like the military because each one is supposed to be able to act as the leader when it comes up. As consequence of that, certain things can happen and they can’t coordinate with every organization to get the girl back.”
Tia: “When I read the script, I loved the role [of Jackie Black] immediately, because she was so committed and dedicated. I felt she was like a nun; her commitment was like a nun’s commitment would be to God. These people in the Special Forces, they give their lives over to the country. We had specific instructions that everything was about the mission, so it didn’t matter what else was going on.”
And what about how it is to actually work with Mamet? Is he as difficult to work with as some might think?
Val: “He has an opinion and he’s outspoken, and not at all shy. But he’s fantastic. He’s funny as hell and he cares pretty much about everything. He always has an observation that is worth hearing and he writes like mad!”
Tia: “Mamet’s an amazing playwright, so there’s always an intimidation, but he makes everybody want to do their best with his energy and what he puts out there. David’s dialogue is very crisp; it has a rhythm and a cadence. It was great seeing Val working with David, because I would never put them together, just from their styles and backgrounds, but they worked so well together. David definitely has a style and knows what he wants, so sometimes it would be different than what I’d bring. He’ll be very specific, and you wonder why he wants to see it like this, but when I see the film as a whole, I can see what he was trying to create, and where my character, Jackie Black, fits into that. When you work with David, everybody wants to come back.”
For their roles, they had to play characters that had to make quick and often difficult decisions. It was interesting to find out how they worked at developing their characters:
Val: “We had a technical advisor, Eric Haney, who was around quite a bit. He was very helpful, because he has lived this same life beyond the government, like this character, where his own actions, become technically-speaking illegal. When the government is doing something illegal, that’s the dilemma.”
Tia: “Haney was a member of the Delta Force for years, and he wrote a book called “Inside the Delta Force”. He helped me learn how to speak the dialogue, how the military would speak to each other with a certain respect, and how sometimes, you’d have to block your sexuality out. I had to pull back on things that maybe I would do naturally.”
Val: “They speak very casually, but they’re amazing characters, because they are trained like a brain surgeon or like a combat medic, where someone’s life is on the line. Your ability to handle that stress and do something that is as intricate as getting inside someone’s body and put it back together is how they live. It’s a very, very stressful job. Most of them die. There’s 0% chance of most of their missions succeeding. They’re genuine warriors, although they’re not warmongers, because they like it when there’s peace time, but they’re also action junkies that thrive in this place in life where they pretty much know they’re going to die.”
Tia: “Eric explained to me that there would be no women in this organization at all, so it’s interesting that David wrote her as a woman.”
Was there a lot of training involved?
Val: “I worked very hard on it, because you can’t really fake this sort of prowess that they have. They’re not like tough guys, and you don’t really see them in a crowd. That’s why they’re so good at their job. They’re very strong and very quick. I had a lot of weapons training and learned how to move like them.”
Tia: “I did my military training here in New York. It’s funny, because I was in such great shape, but you can’t tell. I thought I was going to be like in tank tops, but instead, I’m wearing men’s fatigues. They also trained me in knife fighting even though you don’t see it in the movie.”
Both stars had strong opinions on the movie’s political views, and how it reflects on the current government:
Val: “I think “Wag the Dog” (also written by Mamet) was a really good film representing what’s possible with the manipulation of media. I’ve very wary of news on television. I was very impressed with media analyst Neil Postman’s book “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, because his theory was that television doesn’t influence our culture, but it is our culture and that the presidency or anything that relies on television is now totally dictated by it. We saw that during Desert Storm where government officials were saying, “I won’t know what our policy is in relation to today’s battle, because I haven’t seen CNN yet.” They just started saying that, and it was shocking! That isn’t reality. That is entertainment. News is something that happens that matters to you, not something you watch on television.”
Tia: “It’s so interesting really what goes on in our world today, and I think that’s what David is so great at showing. The political aspect of it is what makes the movie intriguing, and it’s what pulled me in. There’s a lot of underlying things going on in our government, which we always wonder about. David is very interested in politics, so it was interesting to see his word on it.”
Spartan opens nationwide on Friday.