Director Baltasar Kormakur on 2 Guns, Everest and Vikings!


Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Korkámur has pretty much cornered the market in his native country with a wide variety of films he directed and produced, acclaimed films like 101 Reyjavik, Jar City and his most recent film The Deep (no relation to the ‘70s movie based on the Peter Benchley novel). In recent years, he’s also started to get noticed in Hollywood, having a huge hit with Mark Wahlberg and 2012’s Contraband, itself based on an Icelandic crime thriller.

Now he has 2 Guns, a high stakes crime comedy that pairs two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, which is loosely based on a Boom! Studios graphic novel by Steven Grant. Denzel plays DEA agent Bobby Trench who has been working undercover with U.S. Naval intelligence officer Marcus “Stig” Stigman (Wahlberg) to try to take down a narcotics ring, neither of them knowing the others true identity. That is, until they rob a bank of $43 million presumably belonging to the Mexican cartel and have numerous people and agencies after them, forcing them to work together to fix the situation.

It’s a marked step forward for the director, not just from Contraband but also his Icelandic work, showing that he can do a lighter, poppier Hollywood movie with enough humor and action and explosions to appease American audiences but still offering the type of intricate plotting that keeps you guessing every step of the way. got on the phone with Kormákur over the weekend and for some reason, we thought it would be fun to start the interview with a joke about the schizophrenic nature of Kormákur’s filmography; that joke completely tanked and didn’t get the laugh we expected. Fortunately, the rest of the interview picked up as we got into other topics like his upcoming film Everest, but ouch, not a good way to start an interview with the director who is clearly doing some of his best work right now. I wanted to start by asking if you’ve ever met the Icelandic filmmaker with your name who made “Jar City” and “The Deep” because he’d be interested to meet the director who would make an action-comedy like “Two Guns.” This seems so different from what you’ve done before.
Baltasar Kormákur:
Yeah, well, maybe not from the first one if you’d seen it “101 Reykjavik,” that was a lighter one, but…

CS: You obviously had just worked with Mark on “Contraband” so had you been looking for something to do together after that or was this something Mark already had on his plate you were interested in? How did it come about that you directed this?
Well, Mark asked me to check it out as we were doing post on “Contraband” and I kind of liked the idea of doing something lighter and fun and this kind of allows for humor and playfulness and I always been a fan of those kinds movies that don’t take themselves too seriously. I thought it’s a good opportunity and then the ball started rolling and then we kind of got into it. I think it went faster than we expected.

CS: It’s also based on a graphic novel, but by the time you got involved had it already moved past that and written as a screenplay as its own movie?
Yeah, in a way, when I got to it, but I did look at the graphic novel after I was approached and offered to do this and I brought some elements back into the screenplay which I thought were good. I’m used to doing that anyway. When I write and develop things myself, I might work for a while on a script from a book and then I go back and read the book and go back into it to see if I lost something, is there something there? There’s always a reason you decide to adapt something–there’s something in the material–it means there are some elements or a mood or something you want to get to.

CS: At what point did Denzel come on board to play the other role?
That was always the next thing to do – who is going to be the other guy and that was always a biggie. How do we create the right screen couple? I was very excited about getting Denzel to do this and it was always interesting to me when you saw Robert De Niro do “Midnight Run” and you see a really serious actor do something lighter, it has so much energy in that and that’s why I was really interested in doing it with Denzel. He liked it and got on board and it was about casting the right people around them and finding the tone. I didn’t want to go too comic. I wanted to keep it grounded, but at the same time, playful.

CS: “Midnight Run” is a great in-point for a buddy comedy so was that brought up a lot while developing or shooting the movie?
Yeah, these kinds of movies of course we discussed but tonally, and they go from being serious and dramatic into lightness and almost goofy at moments, which just allows the audience to have fun, and we also looked at the Peckingpah stuff which is great, but for me “Out of Sight” is another one, the kind of movies that allow themselves to be movies, if that makes any sense.

CS: I’m actually talking to David Gordon Green tomorrow and he’s been doing a lot of studio comedies lately, but he just went back to making smaller and serious, which is in fact adapted from an Icelandic film, so it’s always interesting to me when directors choose to make such departures from their previous work.
Yeah, but for me, one day I’m in a good mood and I tell a funny joke and the day after I’m more serious and I might tell somebody a serious story so it’s that, and I think I don’t necessarily want to repeat myself all over again.

CS: It’s an interesting transition because as an actor and filmmaker you’ve cornered the movie market in Iceland and are the premiere filmmaker there, but this movie really is the dream Hollywood movie for a director because it’s two big name actors and a very easy movie to sell. It has a great trailer, so how has been making that transition from how you worked in Iceland to going through the Hollywood system where a movie will sell based on the two actors.
For me, it’s very different with the distribution and all that. Of course, for me, I’m not a big part of that. I’m behind making the film and delivering the product and for me that’s not as different as you might think. It’s the same job at the end of the day. There’s a little more at risk and more money involved and sometimes more egos, but at the end of the day, it’s telling a story with this medium and it’s pretty much the same. I try to keep it real by the way. You can get lost with “What am I doing with these people?” I was in Iceland yesterday shooting a small film but at the end of the day, it’s a job. You do your work and you go home to your family. I don’t want to get lost in the Hollywood thing.

CS: That’s very cool. You’re always developing a lot of interesting things that you’re producing. I was curious about balancing those two things, developing things for yourself to direct and doing jobs as a paid director? What’s the balance of going back and forth?
I never wanted to just move out there and become a part of it. If I can do this and still build on what I’m doing and connect the two things at some point, it’s a dream to me. I just keep on doing what I do. I went home to shoot “The Deep” and then I came back to do “2 Guns” and next thing I’m doing is “Everest” and that will be shot in Nepal and partly in Italy and partly in Iceland, so it’s more like expanding your experience and the ground you’re working instead of leaving something behind, so you build on what you’ve done. I’ve been producing movies for other directors and TV stars and all kinds of stuff back home ,so I’m trying to also my use my opportunity to bring more opportunities to my Icelandic fellows.

CS: That’s one of the great things about the film industry you’ve created there, beause I love the country and the films that have come out of there. It’s a small market, but the fact that you could make these great movies that are now being remade in Hollywood as big hits is a great example of how the movie are being discovered here after the fact.
Oh, absolutely.

CS: Speaking of which, I know that there’s interest in remaking “Jar City,” which you directed a couple years back, so are you personally involved with that one at all, doing an English language version of that?
I’m involved with it as a producer, but I didn’t want to direct it. I didn’t feel there was enough to make the same movie again. It just doesn’t appeal to me, but as a producer, I’m fine with it. I have no problems with remakes and I think it’s an interesting… I mean coming from the theater, we’ve been remaking “Hamlet” for a hundred years so it’s no problem to me at all. A good story can be told in many different ways in different places, I just think it’s interesting. For me, the source material can come from anywhere. It can be a poem, it can be a dream, it can be a movie, as long as the end part of it is interesting, that’s what it’s about for me.

CS: Your “Everest” movie sounds interesting, I was just reading about that, so how far along are you in developing and writing it? I know there’s a lot of research and talking to people about it.
Absolutely. I’ve been working on it for the last two years and developing the script and it’s gone through Italian Parliament two days ago because I got in there, because we plan to start shooting in October, so that’s how it’s looking. That’s closer to “The Deep” but on a huge scale so I mix it up.

CS: What happened to Christian Bale’s involvement with that?
Christian Bale? No, that was just for a moment, but now I can say because it’s been in the media that we’ve been talking to Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and Jake Gyllenhaal. I want to make it more of an ensemble. Of course, their stars, Josh Brolin and Jake, but more as an ensemble rather than based on one star.

CS: That sounds great. So if you want to start shooting in October, at what point do they need to go in and start training that’s necessary for a mountain climbing movie?
Yeah, pretty soon. It’s a greenlight, it’s kind of half green now but next week hopefully it’s on, it’s just funding and stuff like that, so everyone is already getting to it, it’s about to happen.

CS: Are you going to shoot any of that in Iceland as well, because obviously you have mountains there.
I’m hoping to be able to shoot the studio stuff in Iceland and some of the glacier work, the ice, it’ll be interesting to see if we can do that in Iceland, but the high mountain stuff will definitely be shot in Italy and of course, we’ll go up on Everest and see a lot of stuff there, too. I can’t do a 70 day shoot on Everest; I believe we’ll lose half of the crew.

CS: Have you already been there location scouting yet? Or is that something in the future?
No, I haven’t been there yet, but I’m going there in September, because it is what it is, so we can take one trip to two places. I mean, we know which way we’re going, so basically we just have to go that way and choose what is the best spot. I’ll start doing that just before I start shooting.

CS: That sounds really exciting. So “Everest” is your main focus right now, but having directed two movies in Hollywood now between “Contraband” and this one, both which are very different, do you feel you want to continue to go in that direction when you have new ideas? Or do you want to keep mixing it up?
I also have a big Viking project that I really want to shoot in Iceland, but I really have to do that on a Hollywood budget to create that world. It’s hard to talk too much about the future, but I definitely want to develop and bring more and more of my stuff into the light.

CS: It’s been great that Hollywood’s been shooting more in Iceland because there have been more productions brought there like “Prometheus” and “Thor: The Dark World.”
Yes, absolutely, and it’s a great place to shoot.

CS: Great talking to you. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m seeing it Tuesday. I’ve watched the trailer over and over about five times ’cause it’s such a fun trailer and it makes it look like such a fun movie.
It is, and I really feel that the screenings have been going great and people have been responding to it, so yeah I’m excited.

2 Guns opens exclusively in 2D theaters nationwide. Do you really need more than 2D with those two guys and their two guns?