Gale Anne Hurd has been in the action business for two decades, but has only recently gotten into the comic book trade. She produced last year’s The Hulk, and The Punisher is her second Marvel outing. She was not involved in the 1989 version of The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren, but she was familiar with its production and commented on its possible impact on the new film.
“First of all, I have to say that the gentleman who directed that movie is a very close friend of mine, Mark Goldblatt, who edited ‘The Terminator,’ ‘Terminator 2’ and ‘Armageddon’,” Hurd said. “So I think that all I can say is that the movie wasn’t released theatrically here and the awareness level is primarily among the fans of the comic book. And if you read the boards, as I do, there are a lot of people who actually liked that film. We made an entirely different film. The inspiration was different. Frank Castle obviously wears a skull iconic logo a lot, which Dolph Lundgren didn’t, so I think they’re two completely different movies, two completely different tones.”
Fortunately for Hurd, there was no messy paperwork that needed to be sorted out to make another film based on that character. “The great thing about Marvel is that Marvel’s characters, each time a movie’s made there’s a license that is granted and it’s for one time only. So there weren’t any issues. And I believe that the first film was certainly controlled ultimately by Artisan which was the same company that made this film before it was purchased by Lion’s Gate. So I think there weren’t any issues at all because of that.”
Neither Artisan nor Lion’s Gate are known for their big action spectacle movies, so Hurd embraced the challenge of delivering her brand of big action under the Artisan budget sensibility. “We like to think we deliver big action without a huge price tag. I do believe that at the time it was the most expensive movie that Artisan had embarked on, so it was a big roll of the dice for them. It’s under $40 million.”
That means that co-star John Travolta, who normally gets $20 million a picture, did not of course take up half the budget with his salary. “Since his part was a four-week part, I don’t think he took a pay cut, but I do think it was certainly pro rata what he was paid.”
Having known director Jonathan Hensleigh personally for some time (he is her husband) and produced some of the movies he wrote, Hurd knew he was ready to direct his first feature. “Jonathan is not a shy retiring type. He’s not someone who as a writer lives an internal life without communicating. In a previous lifetime, he was a lawyer. He’s got a very logical mind. He also is very good at leading. From his screenplays, we already knew that he could the vision for the film, the characters, the dialogue. He could describe the action, and unlike a lot of writers, he was on the set of almost every film on which he served as a writer. On ‘The Rock’ he was on the set absolutely every day. He had a terrific relationship with Nic Cage as well as Sean Connery. On ‘Con Air’ he was on the set every single day. On ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ he was on the set every single day, solving production problems. When the actors had questions about motivation or a particular issue, he was there to support the director in answering. So he really had a lot more first-hand experience on the set than most people. In fact some of his closest friends were people who worked on the crew, production designers and editors and D.P.s from those films. So he was really prepared, and I’m sure if you ask the actors they’ll say that he wasn’t like any first-time director they’d encountered.”
Hensleigh previously described his reasons for casting Thomas Jane as Frank Castle, but Hurd revealed that Jane was hesitant to take the role at first. “It’s a big commitment. When you take on this movie, even though he’s a hero in this movie and doesn’t have to change into tights and he doesn’t superpowers, all of a sudden you become Tom Jane, the Punisher. Like Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man. Christopher Reeve today is still Superman. And that’s a big commitment to make. So he wanted to think about it. And the second thing is he’s a huge comic book fan himself, and the idea of taking on the mantle of playing Frank Castle was a really important one to him, to make sure that the Frank Castle he would bring to the screen would be one that the fans would embrace and that he was up to it. He did know that this was a guy with washboard abs, with no body fat and the ability to kick some serious *ss. When we introduced him to Harry Humphries’ team of Navy Seals, that was a little intimidating at first too, but then he threw himself into it in a way where I’d not seen another actor prepare for a role for six solid months.”
As comic book films have continued to show success at the box office, Hurd is confident that the trend will continue. “First of all, I’m thrilled that ‘Hellboy’, which is a character without the following that Punisher has, opened so well. For a film without a major star like we have in John Travolta, I think it’s only good news.”
And because of ancillary markets, “Punisher’s” theatrical run does not have to be outrageous to warrant sequels. “Right now, more revenue is generated from DVD even than theatrical revenue. If the film performs even moderately well, because of the awareness that you have built in going forward with the sequel if we make one in timely fashion, I know that everyone intends to make one. Thomas is up for it and I know that Lions Gate, Marvel and Sony are excited.”
The Punisher opens April 16.