It’s been roughly five years since director Nimród Antal showed up on these shores with his underground thriller Kontroll, which showed there to be quite a bit of talent coming from the Eastern Bloc. Even though he was born in Los Angeles, Antal spent many of his formative years in Hungary going to film school, doing commercials, and shorts, and yet, the influence of Hollywood films on the ambitious young filmmaker was quite strong. His first film certainly impressed anyone who had a chance to see it, making it quite a calling card when looking for directing gigs.
A few years back, he helmed Vacancy, a different take on the slasher genre that owed as much to Hitchcock as Tobe Hooper, and now he’s back with the heist crime-thriller Armored, which brings together Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Columbus Short and others for a armored car heist film that should pay suitable tribute to Tarantino and Michael Mann.
From the first time we met Antal, we could tell that the enthusiastic filmmaker was someone who truly loved film and while he absorbed many influences, he was able to turn out something that was unique and original, something which he’s in turn brought to his studio films.
ComingSoon.net is pleased to present our third interview with Antal, and we’re convinced that if Armored isn’t the one that breaks him in the States, than the one that’s waiting in the wings next summer should do the job. (More on that below, for those who hadn’t heard.)
ComingSoon.net: I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I remember it was announced right around when “Vacancy” came about, which is surprisingly two-and-a-half years ago now. Did Screen Gems just show you the script and ask if you wanted to do it or was it something you found and brought to them?
Nimród Antal: They had three screenplays that were ready to go, and “Armored” was the one that I responded to the most of the three. Clint Culpepper, who had given me “Vacancy” gave me another shot to do this so I was really happy with it, and then, when we got the cast that we got, I was just blown away by it.
CS: So there was no one attached when you came on board?
Antal: No, there was just a screenplay at the time.
CS: Cool. What was it about the screenplay that got you interested? Was it the genre or something else that grabbed you?
Antal: I just responded to that subculture of armored car drivers. I thought that was something that was very mysterious and we didn’t know much about it, and again, it was a contained film, which I seem to enjoy.
CS: Did you do any research yourself or talk to any armed guards before tackling this or was it pretty straightforward and you didn’t have to?
Antal: No, we definitely wanted to speak to some people. We even got in with one of the bigger armored car companies, and they were being very helpful for about four days, and then they got robbed. When that happened, they shut us down at that point.
CS: I was wondering about that. I would think that with a security occupation like that, you wouldn’t want people to know that many of its secrets, and you wouldn’t want a movie out there saying, “Here’s how you rob an armored car.”
Antal: And it was a little underwhelming. You kind of envision this complex system of checks and balances and hi-tech security gates and satellite links and things like that, but it’s very much not that.
CS: I’m not sure when you shot the movie but was it affected by the writers strike at all or was the screenplay already done by the time you started shooting?
Antal: The screenplay was finished at that point, so we just finished it right when the writers strike started up.
CS: I remember you did some writing yourself, so are you still involved in that or have you been so busy directing, you haven’t had time?
Antal: Every screenplay that I work on, if there are things that I can’t quite see how I do them, I’ll try to tweak it and try to make changes, but nothing since “Kontroll” as far as a completely original idea, unfortunately.
CS: I remember last time we spoke, you were toying with ideas for a few other screenplays, but I guess this movie came up so fast that you had to put ‘em on the backburner.
Antal: Well, before I started working on this last project, I tried really hard to get something going called “The Bicycle Race” that I wrote, and there were some positive responses going into it, but no one believed in it enough to throw a lot of money at it, so unfortunately, I’m still in that same situation where I’m really yearning to get back to making something like “Kontroll.” Those are the filmmakers that I always look up to the most and those are the filmmakers that I feel has the most intimate relationship with whatever they’re shooting, and that’s ultimately what I dream of getting back to. For some reason, that’s a very difficult path for me.
CS: Then again, when you’ve directed enough movies for the studios, it helps your status to get those other movies made eventually.
Antal: From your mouth to God’s ears.
CS: I mean, everyone started somewhere. Even David Fincher started by doing projects like this, where he was just directing scripts that came his way
Antal: It’s something that I’m really passionate about getting back to, so we’ll see. I’ve got two little boys so to be able to support them is a big deal for me right now, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful or unhappy with where I’m at, because it is really a blessing. But that said, it ain’t “Kontroll.”
CS: Well, I do like seeing that in “Vacancy” and I assume this one as well that we get to see some of your sensibilities brought to these genre movies and stories we’ve seen done so many times. I know you’re a big movie buff, so with this movie, were you able to explore some of the stuff you enjoy like Tarantino or Michael Mann? Were you trying to bring some of that love to this?
Antal: To answer the first part of that question, I think Tarantino is a God and I love Michael Mann, so obviously, being inspired by them and being big fans of their work, obviously some things are going to slip in. I always make an attempt not to monkey off of anybody. I always make an attempt to try to keep it fresh, I guess. I never want someone to look at (one of my films) and go “That’s an…” (homage) but obviously these guys are such talented filmmakers and being a young guy, I’m completely influenced by what they do. So yes and no.
CS: Having been working with Robert, have you had a chance to meet Tarantino yet?
Antal: No, I’ve never gotten to meet him, but I consider him to be f*cking awesome.
CS: I have to assume it’s going to happen sooner or later since you’re working with his buddy on his movie. How difficult was it doing a movie in the crime or heist genre and keeping it PG-13? Was that decided very early on or did it just end up having to get that rating?
Antal: The funny thing is that the PG-13 on this film… when I put together the director’s cut and the cut that became the PG-13 cut, the discrepancies between the two cuts was so minor that it wasn’t that painful. Obviously, I was apprehensive and I wasn’t that excited about a PG-13 in a film that involves grown men stealing something, because they’re not going to be watching their language and we did have a few pretty intense moments in the film. Interestingly enough, when we got to the ratings board, the discrepancy between the two are really minor, so I don’t think it’s going to bother anybody. I had to take out like two “f*cks” because I think you’re only allowed one, and I had three “f*cks” in my movie. There was something interesting. (And this is a MAJOR SPOILER!!!!) Laurence Fishburne’s character is on fire at the end of the movie, and they were uncomfortable with the length of the shot, so the shot itself is still there, it’s just not as long as it used to be, which infuriated me at the time, because I’d just seen the latest Batman film and Harvey Dent’s face is on fire in a close-up as he’s screaming in agonizing pain for I don’t know how long. There doesn’t seem to be a uniform thought process on how they decide to edit things, but anyway, that said, it didn’t affect the film or the quality of the film in anyway.
CS: That’s good to know. I don’t know if you caught the movie “Taken” by Pierre Morel, but he had an R-rated version and the PG-13 version is different but it’s just as intense and tough to watch. So you have a director’s cut that will be on the DVD maybe?
Antal: Yeah, there is a director’s cut and as we were mixing the film and doing all the post-production for the film, the director’s cut of the film was happening simultaneously, so I know that Sony put the effort into making it.
CS: Let’s talk about the casting, and I’m really curious how that came together. Were they all generally interested in the script? They’ve all done similar things in the genre, but it’s interesting to see them all together at once as an ensemble.
Antal: I can’t speak for their reasons, but Matt Dillon… to me “Drugstore Cowboy” was a HUGE movie for me when I was a young guy… or a younger guy, and obviously, from all the Luc Besson films, Jean Reno was… I mean, “La Femme Nikita,” when he shows up as the cleaner, that’s forever embedded in my mind. And then Laurence Fishburne, who I could just go on and on about as a person and as an actor. I so looked up to these guys, so to get the opportunity to work with them was just HUGE for me. I was a little bit freaked out on Day 1, but interestingly enough, you kind of get into it and you start blocking the shots and doing your thing, and the process is just the same with them as it is with anybody else, so I was able to calm down eventually. But yeah, the Film Gods definitely smiled down on me with that one. It was incredible that I was able to secure a cast of that caliber. Even the young guys. Skeet Ulrich is going to blow your mind, he’s going to blow your mind. No one is going to see him coming.
CS: His name sounds very familiar but I wasn’t sure from where.
Antal: Skeet Ulrich was in the “Scream” films and he was in Ang Lee’s Civil War film, but he was really great in them. Amaury Nolasco, who was in “Prison Break” was just a blessing, and of course, Milo Ventimiglia was great, but Columbus Short. Man, Columbus Short is someone who is really going to surprise a lot of people with his talent.
CS: Was it hard getting the cast together? Was there any of the roles that was harder than others to fill or did it come together fairly easily?
Antal: Everybody was humble and down to earth and there was none of that Hollywood bullsh*t that you tend to hear about. Everybody was very grounded and they were all about the work. More importantly, there was this really jovial atmosphere on set, so again, overall it was a beautiful experience for me.
CS: How long ago did you finish filming the movie? I was trying to figure out the timeframe earlier…
Antal: We finished it a while ago, but right when we were doing the cut, Screen Gems said that they weren’t planning to release it until September of the next year, so they weren’t going to release it for a year after we wrapped. And then sometime in the spring, they said, “Well, actually it’s going to be December.” We’ve been sitting on it for quite a while now, but I want everybody to rest assured that it isn’t based on the quality of the film. It was a decision made early on.
CS: Finding the right time to release the movie gets harder and harder as more movies are released, unfortunately. I’m more concerned that the trailer or commercials give away too much of the movie (which I haven’t seen) so are there still some surprises for people who want to see the movie? Is there more to the movie than we’re getting out of the commercials?
Antal: I don’t like what marketing did with it, but that said, the film is much more elegant and much smarter than the way the trailer portrays the film to be unfortunately.
CS: It does look great and it gets me excited to see the movie but as is too often the case these days, I feel like they leave very little for the actual movie experience. Maybe “Vacancy” was the same way, and that was probably a better movie than the trailer made it look.
Antal: Yeah, which drives me crazy, but I think that’s the case here as well.
CS: How is it as a filmmaker to go from something like “Kontroll” where, no pun intended, but you did have full control over everything to be working in a system where you have to deal with the MPAA and marketing and all that stuff. Are you hoping to get to a point where you can be involved more in the marketing?
Antal: Yes, yes. It’s very difficult for me to sit back and watch someone take a film that I’ve worked on for six, seven, eight, nine months and then not be involved in that process, it’s very difficult.
CS: What I’ve seen looks great and there seems to be a lot of big action pieces, but was this still done fairly low budget compared to other action movies? Is it generally in the same budget range as “Vacancy”?
Antal: It was about ten million more but it was still I think for what we were accomplishing in the film and for the scale of the film, I think it feels much bigger than the money that we had to shoot it, that we were able to make it look and feel like a bigger film.
CS: How has it been going from that to working on “Predators” with Robert Rodriguez? Working on something so iconic and presumably a much larger scale?
Antal: Well, we still have about a month left of shooting so I don’t want to say anything prematurely, but so far, it’s been great, and I think that the fans who may have been underwhelmed by the last two films, the AVP films, I think they’re in for a very pleasant surprise.
CS: Have you had a chance to return to Hungary in the last couple years or have you been so busy with the three movies you’ve been making?
Antal: I was back with my wife and my kids last summer, so it was really awesome. I really miss being there, and I also want to make another film there.
CS: I was wondering about that, because there was this moment where it looked like there was going to be this wave of Hungarian filmmakers, and then Hollywood just hired many of them to make American movies.
Antal: There’s some really talented Hungarian filmmakers. There’s György Pálfi, who did “Taxidermia,” and there is Ferenc Sík and a guy called Roland Vranik, there’s a lot of really talented guys right now, so I’m sure world cinema will be hearing about Hungarian films in the near future.
CS: I also hope that people who go to see “Armored” or “Predators” will go back and find “Kontroll.” I don’t know how difficult it is to find on DVD, but everyone I know whose seen the movie loves it, and I always hope more people will discover it.
Antal: Yeah, I hope so. The more people that see it, the better.
Armored opens nationwide on Friday, December 4.