There’s a lot that isn’t particularly known about the British military here in the States, including the fact they have their own special forces made up of an elite team of soldiers who are pivotal to the wartime effort; one division of these forces is known as the Special Air Service or SAS.
Killer Elite, based on Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ 1999 novel “The Feather Men,” is a conspiracy thriller about three SAS agents targeted for assassination by one of their targets. Jason Statham plays Danny, an assassin hired to get revenge on three British soldiers responsible for the death of the sons of a powerful Sheikh. Unbeknownst to him, there’s an elite group of businessmen and politicians who call themselves “The Feather Men,” who, realizing they can’t have someone infiltrating their secrets, hire their own ex-SAS agent “Spike,” played by Clive Owen, to put a stop to Danny’s mission. The movie also stars Robert De Niro as Danny’s mentor Hunter, whose life is at stake if Danny doesn’t succeed.
Directed by Gary McKendry, who previously directed commercials and the Oscar-nominated short “Everything in This Country Must,” it’s a really impressive action thriller that has a very different feel from the movies either Statham or Owen have done before. Besides the intricate plot, which is smarter than the average action movie, the best part of the movie is watching these two British actors clashing whenever they’re on screen together.
ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to talk to both actors, albeit separately, at last week’s Toronto International Film Festival. We talked to them about making Killer Elite as well as their upcoming projects and a couple of sequels we’d like to see: Sin City 2 and a sequel to The Mechanic.
We’ll start with Clive Owen, since we spoke to him the day before we spoke to Statham…
Clive Owen Interview
ComingSoon.net: You’ve obviously been in a lot of action thrillers over your career, so what was it about “Killer Elite” that made you want to do it?
Clive Owen: The thing that really interested me, and when I talked to Gary about the film, was playing a guy that is ex-SAS and what happens to those guys. I know a few people who were in the SAS and there was a guy who was out there with us making the film advising, and he was ex-SAS. It’s an incredibly intense experience being in something like that. It’s an amazing sort of process just to get in there, just the selection process is unbelievable. They take top sort of people in their particular field – the fittest, the best. They all go to this place and so many of them are out within a day or two. They’re just not going to cut it. Then you go to these extraordinary things, and you have these incredible experiences, and then, what happens at the end? You’re left with a pension and you’re sitting and trying to get on with a life with ordinary people who don’t have any understanding of what you’ve done and where you’ve been. Playing a character that’s been through that was the thing that sort of hooked me in. I thought, “That’s an interesting thing to think about.”
CS: Over the years you must have had contact SAS agents and people who worked in that field…
Owen: Yeah, for sure.
CS: So were you able to call upon them as research?
Owen: Yeah, of course. I do know a couple of guys who now do security and things, but it’s just that thing of where you go and what you do afterwards? One guy who was an advisor on the film, you got the sense that he was more comfortable when he was hanging out with other guys who were ex because they kind of all knew and shared something that other people wouldn’t really understand.
CS: There’s a scene in the bar where it’s all retired agents, and you wouldn’t expect them to be that public and gather in a place where someone else clearly doesn’t belong.
Owen: Exactly, yeah.
CS: What about working with Gary? I had never heard of him before making this movie and it’s really quite an impressive debut and you see his name at the end and “Who is this guy?” Were you at all concerned about getting this script and not knowing his work?
Owen: Yeah, but then I saw his short. He won an Oscar for a short a number of years ago*, and I really loved that. I talked to him on the phone and I warmed to him and thought he was very smart and had a very good take on the movie. (*Note: His short didn’t win but it did get nominated.)
CS: Was this all shot in Australia?
Owen: No, they did some stuff in Paris and in Wales. I did my stuff all in Australia. It was weird going all the way to the other side of the world, to Melbourne rather than London and then trying to do ’70s council estates in London, recreate them. (laughs)
CS: The period is really interesting and you’ve talked to guys in the SAS since then so is it very different now than it was then?
Owen: Yes, it is, for sure, yeah. It is. It was funny ’cause I was a young kid during that time, so a lot of things came back to me. I went into some of the sets and I go, “This reminds me of when I was a little kid.” You have to be very careful sometimes. At one point where someone was bringing some shopping in and they gave a paper bag and I’m going, “We never had paper bags here. Guys, we were always plastic. We never had paper bags for the shopping, yeah.” (chuckles)
CS: I haven’t read the book, “The Feather Men,” so did you get the impression these guys actually do exist or is this one of those things where you don’t really want to know too much about what’s going on behind the scenes with that crowd?
Owen: No, yeah, exactly. Also, the film veers very far away from the book really, so it’s kind of inspired and is based on what that book was. I always think whenever you’re doing something that’s based on a book or a true story, at some point you have to commit to the script, really. You can’t go back to the source material because it’s kind of a different thing. Once you’re into a film narrative, it kind of changes and I always think that however much it’s based on something, you have to just start getting on with the script and make that movie.
CS: Again, you’ve done a bunch of conspiracy and action thrillers like “The International” and “Shoot ‘Em Up,” so how did you feel this one differed from those ones? Even though it’s set in the ’80s, it has this almost ’60s vibe to it.
Owen: Yeah, and almost a ’70s vibe. It’s set in the very early ’80s and it kind of had that vibe, the way that Gary photographed it and sort of grabbed it, it had a kind of rough ’70s vibe. It was a little different.
CS: One of the biggest draws for this is the thought of you fighting with Jason Statham, which are three of the biggest scenes, so how much did you actually spend with Jason when you weren’t fighting with him?
Owen: We did very little, yeah. We had one scene together and then we had these big fight sequences, which we had to rehearse for quite a lot. They take a lot of work, putting those things together. I always treat those scenes like I would a dialogue scene. You want them to make sense, you want them to add up and you’ve got to commit and make them believable, you know? The idea was we wanted to make them as intense and as strong as we could.
CS: How is Gary at directing action? These actions scenes are shot in pieces and edited together.
Owen: No, he was great because we had a really fantastic stunt team that did a really great job. Gary was very particular about it always feeling sort of dirty and real and not too stunty, so that the fight wasn’t unbelievable and heightened. He wanted to really ground it and make it very intense, but kind of make sure it added up and was believable.
CS: Was any of this shot on stages at all or was it all on location?
Owen: Most of it was on location, yeah, a lot of stuff, yeah, yeah.
CS: It’s amazing that they were able to find these places that looked like they were in the ’80s. I would think over the years you and Jason would have run into each other…
Owen: I’d never met him actually before this. I met him the first time when I signed onto the film and first went out to start to talk to Gary and start the prep and I met him then.
CS: Really? Other than the guys who did “Bond,” you two are pretty much the main British actors who have come over to the States to do these big action movies. What were some of your conversations with him about that? Did you have a lot of time to hang out with him and talk to him?
Owen: Like I say, it’s weird, because even though there’s a sort of parallel between our characters, we only really meet in those fights. We don’t really get to do many scenes together.
CS: You’re here in Toronto doing double duties as you’re also here for “Intruders.” I remember hearing about this a while ago, so is it a horror movie?
Owen: Kind of, yeah, but a kind of psychological, strange horror. Yeah, it’s not a classic, obvious just scare you for the sake of it. It’s kind of a very strange psychological one where my daughter is getting freaked out that there’s something in the room and something around and things start to happen and it’s very weird and you’re kind of not sure what the hell’s going on.
CS: What was the draw for doing that kind of movie?
Owen: I don’t know if you saw “28 Weeks Later” that (Juan Carlos) Fresnadillo did, the second one of those. I loved that. I thought it was so visceral and so cinematic. He did this really cool Spanish film called “Intacto,” it’s such a cool film. I just saw those two films and knew I wanted to work with the guy because they’re both seriously good films.
CS: Where are you at right now? You’ve done some action movies. I think “The Boys Are Back” is one of the best things you’ve done. I love that movie.
Owen: Thank you.
CS: I also saw “Trust” finally a couple of months ago and I thought that was great as well. Are you looking to continue doing more of that sort of intense drama?
Owen: No, I’ve never, ever had a plan. It’s piece by piece. It’s just about responding to a piece of material. I’ve just finished a couple back to back. I did a really amazing project about Hemingway and his relationship with Martha Gellhorn. It’s for HBO. It’s opposite Nicole Kidman and Phil Kaufman directed it, who was just fantastic. I’ve just done a film in Ireland with James Marsh who did “Man on Wire” and “Project Nim” and is a very, very cool, tight tense thriller set in Northern Ireland.
CS: Right, I remember him mentioning that. So is the script always the first thing?
Owen: It has to be, because as an actor you respond to the material and it’s if you got something to do in it, whether you’re responding, “Oh, I could do something in this.” So it has to start there. But straight after that, it’s the director. It doesn’t matter if you respond to the material if you don’t respond to the director. It’s about wanting to work with the person. It’s very much for me, I have the best times when that collaboration is good.
CS: I have to say, I was thinking back and trying to figure out if you’ve made any bad movies or movies I didn’t like. I couldn’t think of any. You’ve done movies which I thought were just okay, so whatever you’re doing is working.
Owen: Wow, that’s very kind. Thank you. Some of mine I liked. (laughs)
CS: The first time I met you was at the press conference for “Derailed,” which was six years ago now, and after that press conference, I asked you about doing “Sin City 2.”
CS: Now it seems like Robert’s back on board and they’ve got a new screenwriter working on it.
Owen: It seems like it, yeah, yeah.
CS: Do you think at this point you’d still do the movie and still do the role even though it’s six years later?
Owen: I don’t know; I don’t know quite what the plans are now. Like you say, I think every year since we made the original one I’m asked about, “Are they going to do another one?” But I mean, listen, just even the fact that I was in it just as a guy who watches movies, I was a huge fan of the first one. I thought it was pretty groundbreaking, that movie.
CS: I loved the second graphic novel that Frank Miller wrote, it was a great story, but there’s an issue about Dwight’s appearance since he gets a face lift, which makes one wonder.
Owen: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right. That’s true, yes.
CS: I wondered how they were going to do it and that you might have some insight.
Owen: No, not at all.
CS: So you have two movies here at Toronto and two movies you’ve done. Do you have anything else lined up or are you going to take a break now for a while?
Owen: Well, I’m taking a little break and sort of work out what I want to do next, yeah.
CS: Are you looking to do any really big, big movies at this point?
Owen: I’m never, ever looking for anything specific. There’s one script that I’ve really responded to that’s a comedy. I’d quite like to do that because I haven’t really done a full-on comedy, and this a very, very wicked script, so hopefully that will all come together.
The following day we got to sit down with Owens’ opponent/target in Killer Elite, Jason Statham, an actor who has mainly been doing action movies as well as a couple of franchises over the past few years.
Jason Statham Interview
ComingSoon.net: “Killer Elite,” when you got this script, did you already know about the book at all or just the script?
Jason Statham: The script came to me and then Gary was talking to me about the book, so I was aware after meeting him that it’s such a popular book, you know? Based on true events, it’s always something that’s going to get my attention. I love true stories. The last true story I did was “The Bank Job.” So I’ve had a lot of luck when it comes to quality when it comes to true stories.
CS: A lot of people have already been comparing this to “The Bank Job,” maybe because it’s a period movie. Was it really obvious that this was going to be something a little different than the normal action movies we’ve seen you do?
Statham: Well, I just knew it was a mature thinking man’s action movie, an intellectual action film that had a great story and lots of interesting characters and that attracted some heavyweight talent.
CS: Was Clive already on board?
Statham: No, I was the one and then all of a sudden Clive and Bobby De Niro came.
CS: Gary had directed a short and that’s pretty much it, and this is a fairly complex film, so it’s quite impressive for a first-time director.
Statham: Unbelievable. It takes a very ambitious thing to be able to put together in terms of all the locations and all the layers of what’s going on. It’s a sophisticated film by any stretch, so as a first feature, congrats to him. It just shows you what a talent he is. He’s going to go places, I know it.
CS: When I first watched the movie, I didn’t know who directed it, so I stayed through the credits and I was like, “I don’t know who that guy is. I’ve never heard that name before.” How did you know when he approached you about doing this that he could actually handle directing what was in that script he’s co-written?
Statham: I saw his short film and that got nominated. It was a short that was really, really cool. Clive had also seen that; I think that’s what got him interested as well. But the script was so good and Gary knew the material. He had it for seven years. He knew every aspect of the story and the characters. He was really, really clear and confident. Betting on that man was the right thing.
CS: I spoke to Clive yesterday and he told me he’d spent a lot of time with ex-SAS agents, so have you done similar research?
Statham: No, I met a couple in the past. My library of research was Gary. He knew everything. If I had a question, I’d just go, “Gary, what’s that?” He just knew everything. He’s well stocked with information. (chuckles)
CS: How hard is it doing a period piece like this and “Bank Job” and shooting in Australia where a lot of places probably look a lot more modern than when this was set.
Statham: Gary said that to me. He said he had all the intentions to just swing that camera everywhere, but when you’re looking at parking meters, satellite dishes and buildings that are far too modern for that to happen, so there are things that just don’t allow you to go, “Oh, that’s a period thing.” So it was hard for him and he had to get a bit more restrictive with what he did with the camera and a bit more conscious of where to put it and not to expose that we weren’t back in the ’80s.
CS: How was the action different from some of the things you’ve done before? It had a very different feel to it.
Statham: Real, you know? Gritty, thuggish, definitely a tough way to go. No fancy stuff.
CS: I was amazed to learn from Clive that you guys had never met before working together. I thought you guys were in the same circles or would know each other.
Statham: Ah, yeah, the old thespians, the crowd of thespians back in England, but no. (laughs)
CS: You are the two British actors who do a lot of action stuff and you’ve worked with some of the same directors.
Statham: Yeah, I think Clive comes from an acting background, theater and stage. He’s the real deal. I came through a different channel. Different roads brought us together, but yeah.
CS: Do you generally enjoy doing the action stuff still?
Statham: Yeah, I love it. In this context, yeah. If you could tie a good performance in with some good action, then that’s the objective. Do something that’s satisfying for you. Each year you want to do something that has taken you a little bit further in your profession, whether it be action and drama or a combination of the two.
CS: Before I forget, I want to ask whether you think you’ll ever do a sequel to “The Mechanic”?
Statham: So you liked “The Mechanic”?
CS: I saw it in its third week of release with a packed audience and when I went to the men’s room afterwards, everyone was still talking about the ending, and I think everybody who saw the movie would want another one.
Statham: Ah, good. Yeah, they want to do another one, but yeah, I had a good time doing that and I loved the original. It’s again though, you don’t want to do too much of the same thing. I’d love to do one. It’s just we’ve got to get the script right and then it’s gotta make sense. If we had an understanding of who would like to see one and who wouldn’t. We could take a poll. (laughs) If they go, “Okay, no one wants to see the f*cking thing, okay.”
CS: What’s next for you? Have you shot something else?
Statham: I’m shooting a really good film at the moment called “Parker” with Taylor Hackford. It’s a Donald Westlake novel; Lee Marvin did it in “Point Blank” and this is based on a book called “Flashfire.” When Donald Westlake was writing, he had a couple of fake names, one of them was Richard Stark. That’s who the book’s by.
CS: Why were you interested in doing that? Was it to work with Taylor?
Statham: Well, no, we had the material and we sent it to Taylor and he loved it. He’s an A-list director and to have someone like that give me the stamp of approval to come work with me is brilliant. He’s gotten people to the Oscar podium. (laughs)
CS: Are you producing a lot more of your own stuff?
Statham: We’re trying to, yeah. We get involved a lot and the movies are in collaboration, and we’ve had some more success with the ones that we get involved with and we want to keep it that way. We’re quite involved with this. Steve Chasman’s a big part of my career. He produced this. He did a lot of the “Transporter” films and he’s producing “Parker.” We hope we know what we’re doing. We know what we like and if “Killer Elite” has a little bit of success, it’s going to help us a lot.
CS: Absolutely. How do you feel about the “Transporter” TV series that they’re talking about doing?
Statham: They’re filming here, right?
CS: I’m not sure, but I know that Luc isn’t that directly involved because he doesn’t do TV, and I was curious what you thought about it.
Statham: They never even told me about it. They just went and I heard online that they were doing it. I was like, “Oh, really? They obviously don’t want to make another one, do they?” (laughs) So that’s the end of the thing, but fine, how many of those can you do anyway?
CS: Yeah, it had a good run.
Statham: It had a good run. They were fun. I think these other things, there’s so many. The movie world is such a great place and there’s so many more stories and characters to play and this is a bit more grown up for me and I’m enjoying this kind of work. Bobby De Niro’s not going to come and turn up for “Transporter 4,” I know that. (laughs)
CS: Well, you never know with him. What about “The Expendables 2”? Is that something you’re going to be shooting pretty soon? Are you involved as far as picking people to be in “The Expendables 2” now?
Statham: No, I’m not involved with that. I’m the one who gets summoned by Sly. (laughs) No, I love it. Sly did me such a great thing in the first one and we had such a good chemistry, and we want to repeat and have a bit more fun and he’s got all the faces we all know so well. It’s the meat truck of heavyweights, they’re all going to be in Bulgaria and I’m going to go join them.
CS: When are you going to be doing that?
Statham: Yeah, after I finish “Parker,” yeah, I’ll take a week off and then go do that and then maybe take six months off and sit on my ass. (laughs)
Killer Elite opens nationwide on September 23; look for our interview with director Gary McKendry later this week.