CS Interview: Director Derrick Borte on thriller Unhinged
As the film is finally racing to theaters as the first major theatrical release of the summer, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with director Derrick Borte (American Dreamer) to discuss his latest thriller Unhinged led by Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius. Click here to rent the thriller now!
When it came to looking at wanting to step into the director’s chair for the project, Borte explained that his interested “started with the script,” calling Carl Ellsworth’s work one in which “you just keep turning the pages because you have to see what happens next,” as well as getting to partner with Solstice and the rest of the production team. Though it was a conversation he never thought he’d be able to have, landing Russell Crowe for the brutal antagonist came from making a wishlist of potential stars and putting hope out there.
“It was just one of those things where it seemed like it was worth saying out loud. ‘Probably never happen, but I gotta say it,’” Borte stated. “Then Russell read the script and we met and we kind of went along through the process together and he watched my last film, American Dreamer, and called me immediately and told me, ‘I love the film’ and said, ‘I want to make this film with you.’ It just sort of seemed like it was the perfect role for him.”
While his star may have been hesitant to initially step into the role upon receiving the script, Borte found that once Crowe had signed on and the two began discussing the film he developed a great “back and forth” rapport with the Oscar winner in further developing the character to bring to life on screen.
“I think some of the best stuff comes from that, some of the best things that end up on camera come from that back and forth,” Borte opined. “I think with Russell, it was always just about how to ground it and how to base it in some kind of reality and keep it authentic and that was an ongoing conversation for the entire run of the shoot. Breaking down every one of The Man’s actions to try to make sure they were motivated, make sure they came from this real place that we kind of created with the backstory for this guy.”
Given the film is mostly set within the car of Caren Pistorius’ Rachel as she races around the unidentified metropolis to escape Crowe’s antagonist and protect her family, Borte noted that “cars are always tricky,” especially with figuring out the “logistics of trying to shoot in and around a moving vehicle” and that it proved to be one of the biggest challenges during production.
“You combine that with driving erratically in that crazy weather we were dealing with in New Orleans, it was a challenge every day trying to figure out how to adapt to whatever we were being dealt as it related to the car and trying to find a way to capture it,” Borte described. “Any given day was something, we had these things called pod cars where a stunt driver that’s on the roof of the car is actually the one driving so that the actor wouldn’t have to drive and act at the same time, especially during the more erratic sequences, and those things are prone to breaking down. So whether it would be the pod car breaking down or lightning strikes shutting us down for hours or ridiculous temperatures up in the hundred and teens, there were obstacles every day in trying to shoot this in vehicles, but thankfully with the great team that we had we were able to find a way to make it work every day.”
One of the most important things for Borte in keeping the film on the road was bringing a claustrophobic feeling to the majority of the scenes, which he credited to changing the location from the originally planned New Orleans suburb of Kenner, which was “all pretty flat” and lacked “interesting architecture,” to the warehouse district of the Louisiana city.
“I saw the gas station first, but with the overpasses in the distance behind it, I just had to stop the van and we just got out and walked the path of where I wanted this chase to happen so that it was taking place in these underpasses just to feel like more claustrophobic and more like she was a rat in a cage, just sort of trapped,” Borte expressed. “From that first day, that’s where all of that was shot, we used the parking lot for the World War II museum down there, which is along just these beautiful underpasses and I really wanted the whole thing to feel like a cage to amp up that tension.”
With a number of major vehicular set pieces throughout the film, which allowed Borte to tap into “the seven-year-old in me playing with Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars” and getting to blow things up and crash cars, he actually found one of his favorite sequences to be the diner confrontation between Crowe’s antagonist and Jimmi Simpson’s Andy.
“It’s one of those scenes where for me as a director I get to sit back and watch two actors on that level work together and bring it the after take and give me options that I know I’m going to love in the edit room,” Borte brightly explained. “That was one of those experiences, those couple of days there with that scene, that really stands out to me.”
That being said, the action on the road did allow Borte to see his stars get behind the wheel and show their stunt driving skills, namely Crowe, who has done much of his own stunt driving in the past and “never used a pod car once” during the entirety of Unhinged‘s production.
“When you’ve got a very controlled environment, it’s always great to have the actors drive because it’s business, it’s something for them to do so that they’re not in their head as much,” Borte noted. “Caren proved to be a good driver, so we tried to let her drive whenever it was safe to do so, just because I feel it helps the performance a little bit. Russell’s done so much stunt driving himself, in fact a couple of my stunt guys who had worked with him in the past immediately were just like, ‘Oh yeah, Russell’s great, he can do this and that, we’re not worried about him.’ He showed us how his stunt driving was and it was pretty spectacular, but Caren held her own as well.”
The film, which was originally slated to hit theaters in July, will now be hitting theaters on August 21, with the official statement confirming that though not all theaters will be open in time for the release, forecasts show that more will open up the film’s second weekend of release and that “80 percent” of moviegoers were surveyed and said they would “definitely attend” the film in theaters.
Unhinged is a psychological thriller starring Academy Award-winner Crowe (Gladiator) from Ellsworth, the writer of Red Eye and Disturbia, and Lisa Ellzey, the producer of Warrior and Kingdom of Heaven. The film explores the fragile balance of a society pushed to the edge, taking something we’ve all experienced- road rage – to an unpredictable and terrifying conclusion. Rachel (Pistorius) is running late to work when she has an altercation at a traffic light with a stranger (Crowe) whose life has left him feeling powerless and invisible. Soon, Rachel finds herself and everyone she loves the target of a man who decides to make one last mark upon the world by teaching her a series of deadly lessons. What follows is a dangerous game of cat and mouse that proves you never know just how close you are to someone who is about to become unhinged.
The film is directed by Derrick Borte (American Dreamer) and also stars Caren Pistorius (Mortal Engines), Gabriel Bateman (Lights Out, Child’s Play), Jimmi Simpson (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Westworld) and Austin P. McKenzie (When We Rise).
Unhinged is in select theaters and on digital platforms now!