On Friday, Training Day director Antoine Fuqua brings a new gritty, non-stop action thriller to the big screen. Paramount Pictures’ Shooter stars Mark Wahlberg as a marksman who left the job after his partner was killed in the field. He is later recruited to stop a Presidential assassin and he reluctantly agrees to take on the assignment. He soon learns, however, that he’s been set up and is deeply involved in a conspiracy. He must put his survival skills to the test if he wants to make it out alive.
ComingSoon.net talked to Fuqua about his latest directing project.
ComingSoon.net: When was the last time you saw Mark [Wahlberg]? When did you finish the movie up?
Antoine Fuqua: I finished the movie on Thursday night [Laughs]. I’ve been in a dark room. I saw Mark a few times, doing some ADR stuff here and there, but I haven’t seen them all in a few months.
CS: If you just finished the movie on Thursday night what was the thinking behind keeping the Anna Nicole joke in there?
Fuqua: I just think that it’s dangerous for us to cut it out because it was done before her passing and I think that when movies starts to do that every time the world changes we’d never finish. We’d been in the editing bay because the world is always changing, and then I hope that I’m not speaking out of turn, but she seemed to have a really light sense of humor when I saw her. I didn’t know her personally, but I think she would probably laugh at it herself. I would hope so. I don’t think that it’s anything that degrading that no one has ever said before about her. It’s just some kooky in Tennessee who says… Levon Helm, he can get away with anything. So I hope it doesn’t offend anyone.
CS: This movie seemed to have a lot of challenges especially with the glacier. Did everyone stay up there for the four days?
Fuqua: No. I was up there for three or four days, but they weren’t. The glacier, it’s just shooting on ice. You’re up on top of the world and you’re exhausted because the air is thin and there is nothing up there. Everything had to take a helicopter up there and it can go from minus five degrees because I had to be there before the sun came up to be ready. You can’t walk in the same place twice because of footprints. There are no porta-potties for the actors. There is nowhere to really sit. We had to bring up these folding things for them to sit on. There’s no cover so you have to be really prepared with every shot and every lens that you want because if you don’t have it there going back to get a lens takes about forty five minutes of your day and they have to take the helicopter back to base camp to get it. You have to keep everyone focused on the work at the same time and you’re freezing up there.
CS: How high is it above the ski resort?
Fuqua: The ski resort was about a half hour helicopter ride below us.
CS: So you were right on the top?
Fuqua: I was right on the top. I scouted it and it was so beautiful. When I was up there location scouting the snow was up to my waste when I first got up there. I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to shoot there because of the difficulties and we couldn’t tell where the helicopters would land because there was so much snow at that time, before I started shooting it. So I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to film there, but it was so beautiful that when I scouted other locations I just couldn’t get it out of my head and I kept thinking, “Then I have to do it.” So eventually what happened was that the studio said, “Well, you can shoot it, but you only have a certain amount of time because to shoot there you need more choppers. You need more support. You can only have, as opposed to a two hundred man crew, thirty to forty people at a time on the glacier.” So everything sort of got cut in half, but it was worth it for me, visually for me, to have a little less time and deal with the elements not knowing the last day we got evacuated because a storm came in. We canceled the day.
CS: How many people on the set there fell right on their ass?
Fuqua: Oh, all of us including me. You step out of the helicopter and it’s all ice there and if you’re not prepared it’s just one of those things that’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. We had a crane up there that got stuck and when we got evacuated we had to leave that up there for a week. Everyone fell. Ned Beatty fell. Danny [Glover] fell. Mark fell. There is a shot where the guy stands up after shooting way over at the other end of the hill and they look up at the guy coming down the thing, and the thing that’s dangerous about that place is that the perspective is an illusion. I mean, we took a guy in a helicopter and put him up there, but walking down took forever. This guy was a mountain guy because that had to be a double, and I was rolling film on him going, “Oh, my God, we have to go get this guy.” We were sitting there waiting and waiting and then he would just disappear completely and I was like, “Oh, my God. Be careful what you wish for.”
CS: Was there ever any thought of doing the book as it was and not updating it? It seems though that if you were going to make it contemporary that you had to do the things that you did.
Fuqua: Yeah, you did. No one unfortunately seemed to care about Vietnam anymore, at the moment, except the comparison to Iraq and also Abu Ghraib and shadow governments that were all now becoming familiar with, a little bit more by name. Black Water and the fact that their oil pipelines in Africa all of that stuff brings it up to date. The script went through a lot of different when I got involved, the script that you saw on the screen roughly is the script that I saw. Once I got involved there were maybe eight or nine other scripts because the script has been around Hollywood for a while and for some reason it just couldn’t get made. It was one of those things where I didn’t want to go back and read all of those scripts or get back into the book too much because I knew that I would find things that I’d want and then it would sort of unravel. I would read the book and find things and go, “This would be great.” I mean, the Memphis character is completely different. So some of that character stuff that I really liked would’ve unraveled.
CS: What was the movie originally that you and Mark were going to do?
Fuqua: That I was going to do with Mark? “By Any Means Necessary.” Me and Mark and were going to do that. It’s a really great story. It’s not the Lucky Luciano story, but it was similar. It was about terrorists in New York and how the government goes to a prisoner, sort of a Lucky Luciano type Godfather to get the help because they believed that they were to come into the ports and explode them. It was a really interesting idea, but at the time they were making “World Trade Center” and we were still working on that script and we wound up both reading this and thought it was good.
CS: Is that project still in play at all?
Fuqua: The script is still being worked on and so we’ll see what happens.
CS: And now that you finished this on Thursday are you thinking about what you’re going to do next?
Fuqua: I am thinking about that, but I have no idea though. I have a project called “Without a Badge” that I’ve had for years and it looks like I just got the money for that independently which would be nice for me. It’s about a guy who infiltrated the Cali Cartel to help bring them down in the late ’80s and he got so deep in it he started to believe that he was one of them and they had to kind of pull him out and get him some help psychologically because he believed that his name was Geraldo Bartone. He literally started living that life and behaving that way. I’ve had it for about six years, and I really want to do it because it’s a great character study of that world that goes way beyond walking the line. He’s on the other side completely. I mean, the guy basically became Scar Face.
CS: Is it similar in any way to “Deep Cover?”
Fuqua: Not really. It’s deeper than that and much more exotic as well because it’s all in like Brazil. Al Pacino would be in that one as well and hopefully Mark would playing Jerry. So we’ll see what happens with that.
CS: Would you do a sequel to this movie? I don’t think you’ve ever done a sequel have you?
Fuqua: Yeah. I don’t know. It depends on where my life is. There are a lot of other things that I want to go do right now that I haven’t been able to do.
CS: Some people have started talking about “Rambo” as a comparison to this. Do you agree with that?
Fuqua: I guess. I didn’t think about “Rambo” much until people started saying it. As soon as you blow something up and a guy has a gun and he’s ex-military you think “Rambo.” So I get it. I understand that sort of thing, but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. “Rambo” was entertaining and did well for it’s time, but not completely here. “Rambo” is kind of a different sort of thing. This is a whole different deal.
CS: Were you looking to do more of a popcorn movie, a commercial movie, or did you want to touch on those issues that seem really, really topical?
Fuqua: Both. In a studio picture like this I just think that it’s difficult to make a movie that’s strictly about politics. It’s very difficult to get those kinds of movies made. I think that you have to find a way to try and make it commercial as well as have some statements, have some perspective on politics, to say something. That makes it a little easier too for people sometimes to accept the information that you’re giving them or at least for them to listen to it. There are scenes that we have that are long speech scenes about politics and who runs the country and who ran the national parks and who owns what there was some pretty heavy stuff that I cut down only because it went on and on and on and became such an opinion. It became a little bit like, “Shut up already.” I found myself sitting there going, “Shut up now.”
CS: Was there any pressure from the studio to add more of a romantic element to the script with Kate Mara to get the females to the movie?
Fuqua: No. I think that I was more sensitive than they were. They were kind of like, “Cut more. Get her out of the house.” I kept saying, “She’s the heart of it.” I just wanted to make sure we had that. We set the movie off with her husband dying. I wanted to make sure she had a presence, but the studio was like, “Get rid of it. Is there any way to just have one scene.” I was like, “I don’t think so.”
CS: Her kicking the butt was great.
Fuqua: It was great. I was the one holding onto Kate as much as possible.
CS: Do you see a lot of catharsis for the audience in this considering the mood in the country right now? Mark talked about audiences cheering at the test screening and so on.
Fuqua: Yeah. It was my intention when I did certain things to try and hit a nerve, I guess, but I was surprised that in one of the test screenings that we did where it came from. I was surprised where it happened. I was surprised at the need and want for revenge in the audience and particularly with women. I was shocked. They were screaming, “You have to kill him!” I was like, “Whoa!” I was really surprised about that, but it’s one of those things that I realize too, that there is a certain pulse, a certain need. People are just tired of what these guys are doing.
CS: This runs like an Elizabethan revenge tragedy. Are you planning a private screening for Dick Cheney and Halliburton?
Fuqua: I think that he has bigger issues to deal with right now [Laughs]. I have no problem about saying what my opinion is or what I think a lot of these guys are up to and so I didn’t have an issue with it at all. I think that it’s a cautionary tale really. I think that if you live by the sword you die by the sword. These guys are trained, these young men and women, to learn how to fight and learn how to kill and then they’re leaving them out there to dry. They can’t even get a decent place to heal. That’s ridiculous and at some point that’ll come back to haunt you and hurt you. That’s kind of what the movie says. If you keep mistreating these guys you could have a problem.
CS: Was it your idea to cast Danny Glover? We haven’t seen him playing a nasty guy in a long time.
Fuqua: For me, yeah, because Danny is the perfect politician. I wanted a guy that you trust and a guy that when he says I need your help and all the patriotic stuff, pushing those buttons that you actually like which is what the politicians do and those are the guys that we vote for. The behavior behind closed doors is despicable.
CS: How about casting Ned Beatty who doesn’t do a lot of movies? How did you convince him to do it?
Fuqua: We talked and got on the phone. We talked about the character and about my intentions with the character and he got it right away and Ned is a really smart man. Ned is the most fun. He’s the most fun. He knows what this business is period. I got on the phone with him and told him what I was interested in and got a call back saying, “Yeah, he’ll do it.” It seemed difficult to get him, but once I got to him and we talked it was the easiest thing in the world. It was like talking to an old friend. He got on the phone right away cracking jokes and he knew right away about the Cheney ideas, right away. He started talking about power and how sexy power is and some guy that he knew who that talked through his teeth and said, “The truth is what I say it is.” That’s all Ned, man. He locked into that right away and it was fun.
CS: Any extras on the DVD that we’re going to see?
Fuqua: There are scenes in there that we cut out, like I said, some of these political conversations that might be more interesting on the DVD than seeing it in a theater. I didn’t want it to be a three hour movie. So things like that and some commentary from some of these guys.
CS: Do you think about the DVD when you’re shooting now because it’s such a part of the business?
Fuqua: No, not at all. I don’t think about it at all, not even a little bit. It’s hard for me to even think of TV lines. As soon as I hear that from someone I cringe. As soon as I’ve got a scene and I’m really happy someone will go, “You have to get a TV line.” It’s like, “What are you talking about? We’re moving on. Since when did that become part of the acting?” “I got what I need, but don’t go back because I need him to say heck.”
CS: How did your B.C. crew respond to some of the challenges on this shoot?
Fuqua: Great crews, great crews. There were a couple of departments that we got rid of halfway through. Some people aren’t used to my sort of pace. Some people aren’t used to physically doing a lot of that and so forth because logistically you move from the freezing cold to being out in the middle of the desert and then all of a sudden we’re in the middle of an urban city and then you’re inside of a small building at the FBI offices. So you’re going a hundred miles an hour and that wears on some people and some people just can’t handle that, but the majority of the crew was really, really strong and fantastic. They loved it because it was like a breath of fresh air because all of a sudden you’re on an ice glacier which was a great challenge for them. It’s fun for them to get out too instead of being on a stage, and then I’m dropping them right in the middle of Philadelphia. Some don’t travel as much as I thought they did. Some people had never been to Philly or to Washington just to see the capitol no less. So it was like a shot in the arm sometimes to change locations and it was nice to see that. The families would come and it was pretty cool.
CS: Can you talk about Mark in this role because we get him right away even though he doesn’t do a lot of the speeches?
Fuqua: Mark brings a humanity to it. He’s a humble guy. He’s a guy next door. He’s a young soldier on our ships and in Iraq. He’s just an average guy as far as I’m concerned and that’s what’s nice about him because that’s why you care about him. He could be your son or your brother or your best friend. He’s not some big muscle bound superhero with all the quick one liners and all of that. He’s just a regular guy and I think that’s the new hero of the day. It’s just regular people doing what they can. That’s what makes it work.