Arnold Schwarzenegger knows how to make an entrance.
Last December, ComingSoon.net was part of a small group of journalists gathered around a monitor on a soundstage at Albuquerque Studios. On the screen, Schwarzenegger was dressed in a Sheriff's uniform doing battle atop a metal bridge, surrounded by green screen. Right behind our group, the actor's stunt double, dressed in the same wardrobe, watched the fight as well.
One of The Last Stand
's many action scenes, the fight had been scheduled to shoot outside before the production was hit with some unfortunately timed New Mexican snow and ice. Not missing a beat, the crew re-created the bridge as a set and, when all is said is done, no one is likely to notice the change in the final film. They'll hopefully be too excited seeing one of the biggest movie stars of all time in his first starring role in nearly a decade.
When shooting stopped, the monitor began to replay various takes when, suddenly, a voice boomed from where the stunt double had been standing.
"Hi," it said, "I'm Arnold."
Somehow, Schwarzenegger had snuck around in back of our group and switched places with his double. It was hard to say whether or not he planned the surprise, but he offered an enormous grin as he shook everyone's hands and welcomed them to set.
The film, which will hit theaters on January 18, 2013, marks the English-language debut of Korean helmer Kim Jee-Woon, known for recent projects like The Good, the Bad, the Weird
and I Saw the Devil
, and features a cast that also includes Eduardo Noriega (The Devil's Backbone
), Jaimie Alexander (Thor
), Genesis Rodriguez (Man on a Ledge
), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland
), Peter Stormare (Fargo
), Johnny Knoxville (Jackass
) and Luis Guzmán (Boogie Nights
The Last Stand
stars Schwarzengger as Sheriff Owens, a former LAPD officer who, after a tragedy on the job, moves to a small border town called Sommerton Junction. Thinking his glory days are behind him, Owens soon finds that his new town is the last obstacle between an escaped FBI prisoner (Noriega) and freedom in Mexico. Banding together with some of Sommerton Junction's colorful residents, Owens prepares for an epically-scaled showdown.
"[I]t felt like riding a bicycle," Schwarzenegger says of his first day being back on a movie set. "It comes back. You may be a little concerned when you step on the cues for the first run. You know that you're going to do it, but you're concerned. That's what I was when I first started. I was concerned with the translation. An Austrian trying to figure out from a Korean what a guy from Brazil is saying… But there are really experienced people here and the atmosphere was good. The catering's great. The hotel's great. Everyone's making a real effort. It has been a really terrific experience."
"Obviously, I've made several films in Korea," adds Jee-Woon, speaking through a translator, "so I'm very well accustomed and acclimated to Korean filmmaking. To say that I've needed a point of transition to get accustomed to it goes without saying. I feel that there are strengths and weaknesses to both styles of filmmaking, so I've been able to find the best of both and I believe the result will speak for itself."
Pulling Jee-Woon into his first English-language film is producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, the man behind franchises like G.I. Joe
. He admits that the unusual combination of talent on The Last Stand
is a risk, but says that the odds are definitely in their favor.
"It's so hard to find a director who, when you look at their body of work, you like everything," he explains. "…I have this really crash and burn philosophy where we're going to try. If it's going down in flames, it's going down in flames. But we're gonna try. If we don't succeed, we're not surviving. If you go in with a quality director, you have a much higher probability of finding that."
"It is sort of a hybrid," Jee-Woon says of blending Korean and American aesthetics. "It's tough to say whether it's going to be more of one side or the other, but if I were to make a comparison, it would be an American canvas with my colors on it… Just as a man and a woman from different backgrounds meet, they need a time of adjustment, but eventually they learn how to get along and they have a baby."
As far as the film's southwestern setting, Schwarzenegger is well aware of the parallels between Owens' move from Los Angeles and his own as the former Governor of the state. It wasn't without some consideration that agreed to a role in a film being shot outside California.
"It's a debate," Schwarzenegger says. "In one way, I fought for keeping movies in California. Finally, after six years of battling between Democrats and Republicans, we finally got the tax credit. $100 million every year for five years. But you can't compete with that with New Mexico, Louisiana, places like that. They just give a much better tax credit and you really save a lot. 'Terminator 3,' I remember that we kept that movie in town, but it cost us $8 million and some of it came out of my pocket. But I was happy to do that because everyone wanted to stay in L.A. and we all chipped in. But in this movie, the number now is so big, of what the state's offering, it makes sense to do the shoot in a place like that, especially since now they have the facilities."
For Jee-Woon, the southwest enables him to fully embrace the western genre, albeit with a thoroughly modern and somewhat comedic bent.
"One of the earlier films that I've referenced was 'High Noon,'" he says. "In 'High Noon,' you have a man who really puts up his life for something that others perceived as wasteful. It's not necessary and it has no value, but it's a man who has his own morals and principles and he's sticking by them no matter what other people perceive. America is a country that, even with all its flaws, has been able to flourish because there is a certain ideology about fighting for what you believe in."
Part of Owens' task in the film is to round up a group of locals to help him defend Sommerton Junction. Among those is is Knoxville's Lewis Dinkum, who happens to own a museum of antique weaponry. That means that, when the bullets start to fly, Owens' team is armed with everything from machine guns to morningstars.
"My choice of weapons is those big guns," says Schwarzenegger, although the production was careful not to arm the actor with anything that would immediately recall previous film roles. "There's one great scene where we have a big machine gun from the second World War… It fires 400 rounds a minute. You see the effect of it, because they shot over my shoulder as I'm shooting, of what it does. Even the shops in the background, everything comes apart, that's how powerful it is."
While Schwarzenegger may be providing the biggest star power to the moviegoing public, the actor says that, when his own kids visited the set, all they cared about was meeting Knoxville.
"I think Johnny Knoxville in this thing is a revelation," adds di Bonaventura. "I think audiences that know Johnny Knoxville, when they see what we're doing, are going to want to come see this movie. It's that younger male audience that's younger than Arnold's audience. They're going to respond to how funny that character is. He makes you laugh. It's a crazy f--ing character and this insane shoot-out… There's an echo of the fun that you can have with 'Jackass' in this character, but it is absolutely a different character and it's one created by an actor through his performance."
On the offense against Owens is Noriega's Gabriel Cortez. Having escaped the FBI, he's racing across New Mexico in a modified car capable of traveling at speeds in excess of 200mph.
"I spend most of the movie in the car with Genesis Rodriguez. So I'm lucky," Noriega laughs. "….The car is crazy. I didn't know that these kind of cars were legal. You just push it a little and the whole care goes in a direction. I was so scared… Then I saw the scene editing and I'm like, 'Oh my god! I'm driving the car! I'm driving the car against Terminator!'"
Ultimately, it's important to the cast and crew of The Last Stand
to assemble a film that celebrates what makes it unique and doesn't wind up another generic action film.
"I really wanted to convey that it's a fight of a man who's willing to fight for his town, his family, for what he believes in," says Schwarzenegger. "He's willing to risk everything to uphold that... I think this is a perfect movie because we're not trying to outdo the other movies. That's not what this movie says. What this movie says is: 'I've moved forward with my age eight years since the last one.' This is the perfect character, the way it's written. The way it always was written."
The Last Stand
hits theaters January 18, 2013. You can check out the brand new trailer in the player below!