In 2006, the WWE decided to step outside of their televised arena theatrics and flex its entertainment muscles in Hollywood with its own feature films. First up under the WWE Films banner was the ’80s horror throwback See No Evil which placed the wrestler known as Kane into a villainous role. For their latest, however, the company goes into full-tilt action mode with The Condemned. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is the heavy this time, a man wrongfully held in a South American prison who is hand-picked by an American producer to star in his latest venture – a deadly show of survival set on a remote island. Streamed over the web, convicts are forced to kill each other until one man is left standing.
The real man pulling the strings is director Scott Wiper (A Better Way to Die), an action aficionado, who took his crew and cast of behemoth thugs down to Australia for The Condemned‘s strenuous shoot. ComingSoon.net chatted with Wiper about the film’s influences and hurtles.
ComingSoon.net: Did you have Steve Austin in mind for this film from the beginning?
Scott Wiper: Yeah, there was an existing script which I was brought in to rewrite and direct. When it was brought to me it was a vehicle for Steve to star in. The first thing I did was dive in and figure out what was the right hero to write for him.
CS: And what about Vinnie Jones? Was there anything in particular that he starred in that you had seen?
Wiper: I had seen him in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” – once the script was going I was on draft five and you’re at a point where you can’t sleep, so I just went on IMDb and looked at actor after actor. I think I saw some photo of him from “Eurotrip” where he’s screaming and I was like [that’s it]. In my mind action films can be made or broken on the villain, if you got a cool hero then it’s all about the villain. Like Alan Rickman in “Die Hard.” The image of this legendary Texas tough guy, this total Americana, with this London pub brawler known for grabbing Paul Gascoines nuts. The image of these two guys on a poster? That’s cool.
CS: This film has a real statement about violence and voyeurism – two things WWE banks on – was there a conflict about presenting this film too realistically?
Wiper: If I don’t address the violence in some way then I feel like a pornographer. And I don’t think that’s a new concept. I look at the early films of Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone or Don Siegel, good Westerns and good action films are, on some level, a cautionary tale or a morality tale. First and foremost you want to make entertainment, it’s gotta be fun and what the fans want to see, but I personally needed that. I just can’t kill 30 people in a movie and not address some issue. It’s messy because it’s a double-edged sword, we’ve made a very violent movie, but on another level we’ve condemned violence. Art, movies, books are often like that. Some of the best love songs are about how love stinks. You get the feeling that the writer and singer are a sucker for love but the song is all about how love it awful. I think that’s one of the biggest joys to being a storyteller is you don’t have to necessarily have the answers but you can raise the questions.
CS: Were there things that were too violent to put into the film?
Wiper: No. My last film got an NC-17 and had to go and re-cut it, and it got another NC-17 and I had to re-cut it. And it got another NC-17 until, finally, the style of some of the action scenes were hurt, but I got a rated R. In this one we got a rated R, first pass and I think because the pain of having to cut something, in the way we shot it, I was aware of that. If you look at this film, there’s very little blood. There’s blood on people’s faces but when people get killed you won’t see a lot of squibs. Wet blood will kill you with the ratings board. And there’s a lot of stuff implied. There’s a very hard scene in this when Vinnie Jones kills a Mexican woman – people say what [they saw] but, dude, you don’t know what exactly happened to her. It’s the “Jaws” theory – the shark is scarier when less seen.
CS: Even implied the MPAA takes issue with the “tone” of violence and there’s an overall mean-spirited nature in this. How did you skirt that?
Wiper: You’re absolutely right. That’s what they said about my last movie until it came down to, what do I need to cut? And they’d say, “We don’t know, it’s just the overall brutality.” Those are the worlds I like to create when I write or direct. It’s “Dante’s Inferno,” I like a brutal world because that’s what we’re all doing in Hollywood and on Wall Street, in our daily life in Ohio – where I’m from – no matter where you are. I just have a Nietzsche view on life and I like those worlds. But you’re right, it’s an overall brutal tone but then when you have moments where you do find some kindness, it stands out.
CS: The device of the explosive ankle bracelets all of the convicts wear overpowers the variety of kills you would ordinarily see in a film like this. Everyone tries to disrupt the bracelets rather than knock each other silly, was this something necessitated by the MPAA?
Wiper: The main reason for the bracelets, from a storytelling point of view, if you didn’t have that on, then you could just go in a cave and hide. If you’re gonna think like Ian Breckel [Robert Mammone] the producer and want to create an action-packed 30 hours for people when they log on to your website, you’ve got to encinevize [sic] the contestants. But the bracelets also give the smaller contestants a shot to outsmart someone, it gives the woman a chance to outsmart the guy by seducing him and pulling on the bracelet tab. The other thing is, visually, in the original script this device wasn’t there. There’s going to be a lot of killings and I didn’t want to just see people getting stabbed. As horrific as it is, when someone blows up, it’s, in action-movie terms, more palatable than someone getting their throat slit. I don’t think people would cheer as much. I don’t like explosions for explosions’ sake – there were more pyrotechnics in this than I expected.
CS: Can you comment on the fact that Steve’s character tries to avoid violence at whatever cost…but when he’s pushed into it…
Wiper: When Steve read the script he agreed to play the game. I’ve always been a fan of the reluctant hero. Eddie Van Halen, when he was asked about these new bands – all with these numbers in them like Blink 182, Sum 41 – he was like, “They give it their all in the first 20 seconds and then they’ve got nowhere to go.’ I apply that to an action movie because Stone Cold’s hero doesn’t say “game on” until the end of the second act in this. Then you have action for 25-minutes. You have to pace yourself. You have to brew the audience.
CS: Were you aware that you were bringing the concept of “Battle Royale” to the U.S. – ’cause you’re merely replacing teens with big convicts here.
Wiper: I was given it before production after I had written the script and, clearly, people have mentioned it to me before. If they were going to do an American remake maybe this will stop them. I think with any genre you have to study it, figure out what people have done and figure out what you’re going to do differently. As a first and foremost movie nerd myself I went back to the 1926 short story called “The Most Dangerous Game.” The progeny from that short story are endless.
The Condemned opens in theaters April 27th.