Interview: Legion Director Scott Stewart

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Ready to unleash his angels with machine guns

His credits include Sin City, Superman Returns, Pirates of the Caribbean and Iron Man, now Scott Stewart – who brought the FX of those aforementioned titles to life via his company The Orphanage – is making his feature directorial debut with Legion, starring Paul Bettany as the archangel Michael. His mission? Protect a mother-to-be in a diner full of people who are under siege by angels sent by God to destroy the human race. Shock caught up to Stewart for an early chat about his 2010 Screen Gems release shortly after he presented a trailer to a San Diego Comic-Con audience.

ShockTillYouDrop.com: This script has been floating about for a while. What elements of the story attracted you so much that you decided to make this your feature debut?

Scott Stewart: I had been brought in, at the time this was some time ago, and they had that script and there was a different director involved. It was ambitious, a different project and a different kind of movie. They were having difficulty making that project for the budget they had. It was really different filled with monsters. It was like Starship Troopers with dozens and dozens of fantastic characters. What they really needed to make and what they made was a contained, dark, scary action-adventure movie. So I came in and I had a visual effects background, but I had just been doing quirky character dramas as a writer. They asked me to rewrite the script. I was really intrigued by the idea, but I couldn’t really wrap my arms around it until I could find my own way into it. I think there was a lot of really cool stuff [writer] Peter Schenk had come up with. I just felt like I was going back to the basics and start over. I liked the setting and this idea of these characters stuck in an overall big idea of the movie. Then it was figuring out who the characters were and the thematic idea, because if you’re going to have a bunch of characters stuck in one place for a significant portion of the story then it’s got to be a scenario where you care about them and the drama they’re going through. Why they’re necessarily the ones you’re following and they’re not just disposable people waiting for the next one to die. I wanted it to be a morality tale. I was raises Jewish so I was an Old Testament guy with no experience reading Revelations so I read a fundamentalist view, a teaching guide of Revelations. It was nuts. Crazy stuff. Let’s make a movie about that stuff. The big line in the movie, that Paul [Bettany] says, is “The last time God lost faith in man, he sent a flood. This time he sent what you see outside.” You sort of ground that question in, “What would we do if the Noah’s Ark scenario happened again?” What if it manifested itself in the contemporary world? It’s sort of about the madness of suburban life becoming monstrous and attacking us. These characters are all dealing with family issues and on top of that angels with machine guns. Highway to Heaven with machine guns!

Shock: Did it ever occur to you, during shooting, that a lot of directors cut their teeth on siege films like this? George Romero and so on?

Stewart: Oh yeah, it felt like a great place to start. It was the right size of movie and really ambitious for the budget that we had, trying to do what we could to deliver a roller coaster ride for people. What was also fun was creating a new mythology, taking stuff that was familiar to people, things that people find scary…like I said, I was raised Jewish, but I saw The Exorcist as a kid and it terrified the living shit out of me. Even though, I didn’t believe in any of that stuff. As opposed to the other bogeymen of the world we can invent – like Freddy Krueger or The Terminator, which I bow down to and am heavily influenced by it – there’s something about these religious ideas, whether we believe in them or not, that instantly gets you in different ways than other things in the horror genre. Also, I love comic books. I love Close Encounters, I love The Terminator and it mashes everything together. It’s a heavy action movie, but at the same time it’s a horror movie and there are some fun moments.

Shock: What’s the MPAA rating going to be?

Stewart: It’s R rated. A hard R.

Shock: We were stuck here in the press room while you showed the trailer to the crowd – what did we miss?

Stewart: The green band trailer will be out soon, but it sets the stage for the movie. It shows you Paul’s character, Michael. It sets the tone of the movie. Adrianne Palicki’s character is the voice over at the beginning of the film and trailer. There’s this lost Americana vibe and she talks about how her mother, she grew up in a trailer on the edge of the Mojave desert and her father had left the mother alone. Her mother used to tuck her in at night, pray to God because he’s kind, merciful and just, but things changed when her father left. And her mother talked about when the world would be covered in darkness and the fate of mankind would be decided. “One night I asked my mother why God had changed his mind and was mad at all of his children, and she said, ‘I guess he just got tired of all of the bullshit.'” And that sets the tone for the movie. You realize it’s a character film but it’s got an edge to it. When Paul lands in L.A. and pulls off his halo collar, which is like our heavenly LoJack, and he proceeds to cut his wings off, break into a warehouse and steal a bunch of weapons, kill cops and drive to the desert.

Shock: The Terminator elements are pretty apparent then…

Stewart: That was the story as it was unfolding, absolutely. Unabashedly so. We’re doing our own thing with the story, but it has those elements but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a major influence. Steal from the best.

Shock: How did being the effect background influence knowing what you could and couldn’t pull off?

Stewart: That’s the other thing, even though I’ve worked on some of the “money is no object” visual effects movies as a visual effects artist, invariably a lot of times they’re amazing and a lot of times you see them and you’re like, “It was just about the effects.” The movie was an excuse for those things. Terminator was amazing in that it was a $6 million movie, totally staggering that’s all it cost. The effects were amazing for that time, they’re still great. Terminator 2 pushed the boundaries. Poltergeist, all of the Amblin pictures, even The Exorcist had groundbreaking work at the time, and Close Encounters which is another huge influence for me and I pay homage to it in this. I don’t think you watch those movies and say they’re effects films, we don’t think of them that way as opposed to a movie that’s about a big wave because that’s what the trailer says it’s about. I guess the long answer is I just wrote what I wanted to see for the story. There are a lot more visual effects in this people will know: Change backgrounds, change skies… Paint this out, add this in. Hopefully you won’t notice any of those things. Then there’s thousands of angels swirling down, coming at you, that’s fun, too. We wanted to give people a glimpse of that world in this movie. So I chose very carefully how to get that in because I knew I could only afford a little bit.

Shock: Did you wind up doing stuff yourself to cut corners?

Stewart: I would do stuff myself. We can’t afford that? Then I’ll do it. I don’t have time but I’ll figure out a way to do it. I don’t sleep much. We’re starting Priest, another movie, on August 23rd.

Read more about that film here and look for Legion in theaters on January 22, 2010.

Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor