Interviews: The Taking Lives Cast & Crew


On March 19th, Taking Lives, a serial killer thriller starring Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and Olivier Martinez, will try to build on a genre that has seen some groundbreaking movies like The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. Based on the novel by Michael Pye, the killer doesn’t just kill his victims, but he literally takes their identities. Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Olivier Martinez, director D. J. Caruso, producers Mark Canton and Bernie Goldmann, and screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp took some time to speak to about the movie and their characters.

In the movie, Angelina Jolie plays an FBI profiler brought in by the police to help find the killer. She told us why the character and movie appealed to her so much. ” The script surprised me,” she told us, “I don’t often read scripts where I just love the characters and their story arc. This one was just so much smarter. I am fascinated by human behavior, partially because that’s what I do for a living. I wanted to study the women who do these things for a living and how it affects their personal lives and who they are.”

Producer Mark Canton told us a bit about how the project came together. “We bought the book and developed it. What was nice for us was that the actors pursued us, because they all thought the roles were strong for them. In a way, we’ve turned the genre on its head a little bit, because you have Angelina playing the role that Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood or Brad Pitt might play.”

Producer Bernie Goldman agreed. “We think of Angelina as the ‘leading man’. She’s a powerful and accomplished woman in this movie. She makes a mistake and yet she comes out heroic in the end, so it’s a very relatable thing. In life, we all screw up and come back and you try to make up for that. It’s pretty simple in terms of storytelling, but I think that’s why women respond to it.”

Jolie’s character, Agent Illeana Scott, was created specifically for the movie, having not appeared in Pye’s novel, so we asked screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp why he decided to introduce a woman to the story. “I’m intrigued by a strong female character and somebody who has the sophistication, vulnerabilities and strength that a woman would have,” he told us, “The audience expects the man to be the tough guy, fight his way out of a situation and say the cool things. In that sense, you’re allowed a window into the profiler’s character that you wouldn’t have if it was a guy, because you would think that he’s a wimp.”

Angelina added another thought on what makes her character so interesting. “We wanted to make sure that she wasn’t too smart. I think one of the mistakes some of these films have is that when the female comes in, you have to prove that she’s tough, but you don’t feel anything for her. We wanted to make Illeana human and flawed and kind of awkward.”

“There are so many phony back stories in Hollywood movies,” director D. J. Caruso expressed when asked about the character’s background. “The idea was to make the character incredibly good at what she does and Angie’s big contribution is that she’s a woman. She’s going to react the way a woman would react, without needing any sort of ‘this is what she used to be, this is what her dad did’. Angelina is just so strong and good with the character that she brought a lot to it. She’s the reason that I was initially attracted to the movie.”

As a counterpoint to Jolie’s tough female lead, Ethan Hawke plays a witness to the murders who becomes the killer’s next intended victim, putting him under the wing of Jolie’s character. Goldmann explained, “Ethan’s role is usually the woman’s role. He’s the victim looking for protection.”

“No one would think of Ethan in this type of role,” Caruso agreed when asked about his casting, “Ethan is this cool, bohemian, poet, actor and everything is so perfect. After ‘Training Day,’ that scene in the tub where they stick the gun in his mouth, the vulnerability that came out of that man when he was saying ‘I have children!'”

Hawke elaborated on this a bit. “So many of the parts I’ve played, particularly in mainstream movies from ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ to ‘Training Day,’ is the moral center of the movie. I’ve been looking to find a part that wasn’t like that and find something that gave me an opportunity to do something I haven’t done before. That was the appeal of this movie to me. For me, it’s all about shaking it up and doing different things. ”

“I thought Ethan was a very interesting choice,” Bokenkamp agreed, “I went up to the set and saw him working. Watching him bring the character to life was fascinating, because each take would be very different. He did a great job.”

Of course, the very premise, hinted at by the title, is one of the most intriguing aspects of the movie, as well as one of the reasons why many of the people got involved in the first place. Bokenkamp explained, “The thing that was different about this movie was the character of Martin Asher, and that he goes from identity to identity, literally taking lives. It’s not really about the people who he’s killed, but about those whose lives he’s changed and what he leaves in his wake. I think it would be fascinating to try to charm somebody into gaining their trust and then trying to live their life. Identity theft is obviously a very real and spooky thing. Knowing that there is a reality that it could happen, that’s how I connect to it. It’s like having an alter ego, going to movies to try to be that guy for a while.”

Angelina added: “Obviously, you’d have to be very good to be able to take over someone’s personality. Also, the idea that a profiler is someone who studies behavior is interesting. I think we often try to figure why can’t we do things, but a profiler looks at a murder scene and says, ‘This kind of person is the kind that would do that. ‘”

Although a story about a serial killer would tend to be dark, the way that the police and FBI are portrayed in the movie was also a bit dark. We wondered why that might be. “Homicide detectives go to such a dark place,” Caruso told us. “I guess it’s the James Ellroy fan in me that sees the darkness in it. Television cop shows are just so cookie cutter cut and dry, and America is so obsessed now with ‘Law and Order,’ which is fine, but there’s no personality and no depth to it. I tend to find that the darker side of the characters and what they have to deal with appeal to me.”

Olivier Martinez, who played the bad guy in S.W.A.T., had his own take on playing a police officer. “For this kind of role, I try to use my own experience. Usually, when I see an actor in a movie playing a cop, most of the time, he does not know how to handle the gun. I start by knowing how to hold the gun, so my concept was to practice and shoot. I also have a background in the French army, so I used to live and sleep with my machine gun.”

By its very nature, there are a lot of gruesome visuals in the movie, and we wondered what Angelina thought about them. “Some people have more of a comfort level with it,” she said, “The lady profilers I met weren’t dark people. They were kind of light and lovely, and there was nothing about them that said that they like to hang out with dark things. They were sensitive people to all different sides of life. I certainly don’t get grossed out when I see death or blood, since I can see that it was just a person who passed away.”

Caruso told us how some of it might have posed a problem. “When they originally rated the movie, they used the word ‘grisly’ as in ‘grisly violence’, so I had to go back in and trim a few frames. We’re not showing anything more or less than CSI.”

Taking Lives is the second feature film for Caruso, who has been involved with television for many years. Bernie Goldmann told us why they picked him to direct the movie. “For ‘The Salton Sea,’ he chose a wonderful group of actors and got great performances from them. Here’s a young director who not only has a sense of style but he knows how to work with actors. You can see that from that movie, and you can see from this movie that he did a great job with them; they all loved working with him.”

Caruso explained how his experience writing for television helped him to take on this project. “Television is a great training ground that is overlooked by movie studios nowadays, because it’s not very cool to be a television director and then come out and do movies. It’s just not that common. They’d rather get the guy who did that milk commercial, and those guys are talented too. I’m convinced if you see a great hour of television, you can’t tip your hat off enough to the director, because it’s so hard to do. On ‘The Shield’, they shoot like eleven pages a day for some of those shows. To get good stuff at that rate, it’s like being in a gym doing an amazing workout. When you get to do a feature, and you only have to shoot two or three pages a day, you’re ready for it in a really good way.”

Jon Bokenkamp talked a bit about how his screenplay differed from the book. “We truly respect that the book exists on its own, and the movie doesn’t obscure it. They are two separate stories.” Mark Canton added, “Michael Pye, who wrote it and is a very good author, loved the screenplay. This was not a case of us adapting something in a different way without his knowledge, but it’s a different point of view.” Bokenkamp continued, “I was taken by the killer character, and I wanted to explore him and the perfect venue for doing that was by bringing someone else in. [Agent Scott] is just fascinated by him and trying to worm his way into his mind.”

The two lead actors also had nice things to say about the cast’s veteran actress Gena Rowlands who plays Martin Asher’s mother, the rather distinctive woman from the commercials. Angelina explained the reverence she holds towards the actress involved in the early days of independent cinema. “When she showed up, we all became these little actors that just loved her! The thing about Jenna is that she loves this kind of movie. She has this whole murder-mystery side to her that’s very cool. She’s probably the darkest and wildest of all of us. She’s just amazing.”

Ethan was also a fan of Rowlands’ work. “‘A Woman Under the Influence’ is one of my favorite all-time movies. She’s such a great actress, and it’s fun to be around people who have done it their whole life. She’s an inspiration, because she’s had such a huge success and such a long career. So many people have spent their life in my profession and turned into some kind of disaster case, but she’s an admirable person and I liked her.”

Taking Lives opens Friday nationwide.