If there’s one genre that Ray Stevenson has nailed down, it’s the action movie, having played The Punisher in Lionsgate’s Punisher: War Zone, Volstagg in Marvel Studios’ two Thor movies, Firefly in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and many others.
His latest action movie is Big Game from Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander (Rare Exports: A Christmas Story), in which he plays Morris, the head of the Secret Service to Samuel L. Jackson’s President of the United States. When Air Force One goes down in the mountains of Finland, the President encounters 13-year-old Oskari (Ooni Tommila), a boy who is out in the wilderness for his first solo hunt as a rite of passage, and as the President’s cabinet try to locate and save him, there’s another faction of assassins who are tracking him down to kill him.
(SPOILER: When things start going wrong, we learn that Ray Stevenson’s character may not be on the side of the good guys in this one.)
ComingSoon.net got on the phone with Stevenson earlier this week, talking to him from his home in Ibiza, Spain, which unfortunately doesn’t have the best cell phone reception, but we spoke to him about Big Game and some of the other things he’s been doing since we last spoke.
ComingSoon.net: I saw Jalmari’s previous movie “Rare Exports,” but “Big Game” is pretty cool, because it’s like “Die Hard” or one of those ‘80s/’90s action flicks.
Ray Stevenson: It’s like one of those old movies like “Force 10 from Navarone” or “Where Eagles Dare,” it has that sort of scale to it. I think it’s got almost a nostalgic look, and it’s not taking itself too seriously, but it’s a damn good adventure, a romp.
CS: How was it pitched to you to play a Secret Service agent in it?
Stevenson: Obviously, the script was sent and I knew that Sam Jackson was attached, so obviously when I read it, and I thought “Hang on.” Some of the big set scenes, when I spoke to Jalmari over the phone, he explained what his vision was behind it. You could just tell that there was a kind of impish, devil-may-care attitude. I thought, “You know what? If he pulls this off, it’s going to be a lot of fun, it’s going to be a riot.” It’s ambitious, and he has a camera operator he has worked with for many, many years—they work in tandem—he does some tremendous set scenes, and also, underneath it all, it’s a rites of passage movie, so it takes the sting off the whole sort bad CIA special forces ops trying to kill the President of the United States, because it’s actually this rites of passage for this 13-year old. So it had a lot of good elements in there.
CS: When you’re playing a Secret Service agent, do you do any research to prepare for the role or do you talk to anyone?
Stevenson: Whether I talk to people, it’s whether they’ll talk to me. (chuckles) It was actually very well written on the page, because they’ve got a guy who is coming to the end of his tenure, and in somewhat unfortunate circumstances, he took a bullet for a man who he has no respect for, who he sees as weakening his own country. He’s gone that road of fanatical patriot really. He believes what he’s doing, no matter how coarse the actual series of events are, he believes that what he’s doing is going to replace the President with somebody who can make his country stronger, because he feels his country has been left weak and exposed. He’s a little bit more of a fantastic patriot, rather than just a terrorist hellbent on killing the President. It’s not about that. It’s about replacing him.
CS: I’m assuming you shot a lot of the exteriors on location in the mountains somewhere.
Stevenson: Yeah, we were and that’s like old school. We’re down in the mountains of Garmisch in Southern Bavaria, which was just stunning. We ended up going with trucks and 4X4s to get way up in the mountains, but it sort of makes you think “My God, this is what real filming was all about.” You didn’t just have green screens and it was a beautiful ride to work in the morning and a beautiful journey home.
CS: Did they shoot the soundstage stuff in Finland?
Stevenson: No, none of it was shot in Finland. They shot it at the Munich Film Studios there, because Finland funnily enough doesn’t have mountains like that. One would always assume that it did, but it sort of has hills that rise into bigger hills which are covered in snow and trees, not sort of that rugged rocky landscape, but it sits beautifully for Finland.
CS: But the stuff you shot up in the air was that must have been a mix of green screen and the locations. Was there a lot of CG used for that?
Stevenson: Surprisingly, not a lot. We did some stuff in the studio with helicopters, because I wasn’t able to go up 2,000 feet and hang out of the helicopter. My erstwhile stunt buddy, who has done five or six movies with me now, a wonderful man called Rob Mars, he got the thrill of hanging out of a helicopter but I got the thrill of doing the close-ups of shooting people and falling off. Thankfully, I only had to fall five or six feet.
CS: You have a stunt man you’ve been able to work with on a lot of your movies?
Stevenson: Yeah, we did “G.I. Joe” together and we did worked together on “Thor,” he doubled me as Volstagg in “Thor” so he got thrown through cafeteria windows and I got to stand up and be this Viking from space and go “Arggh, you didn’t get me.” He was on the wires getting thrown through windows, and he’s great.
CS: You’ve done a lot of action movies, so are you adverse to doing the action yourself or do you just do what you can which is safe?
Stevenson: No, no, I’m a firm believer. When you have a stuntman and this is his discipline, you go right up to the stunt itself and then act during the stunt, so you have this overlap, and I involve them in my process. It’s sort of about changing the center of gravity so even when the camera’s on them—the way they walk–it’s all worked out in tandem, so basically the character is on film. It’s not about whether it’s me or the stunt guy, it’s making sure that the character is on film. I can understand that there are some actors who don’t even know their stunt guy’s name, because when you do an action movie, it’s the stunt team doing the action and keeping everybody safe and making sure they get the best results possible. I work very closely with these guys and they’re dear friends of mine now. When I’m in L.A., we hang out together and we know each other socially as well.
CS: What was it like working with Jamalri? Obviously, you liked the script because it’s well-written, but I’m sure that him being Finnish means he has a different way of working.
Stevenson: He’s got his own sensibilities, and as I said, when I talked to him over the phone after I read the script, there was this hint of this impish devil-may-care sort of thing and when I met him, I just thought when he’s not making movies, he’s making toys for Father Christmas/Santa Claus. He’s exactly what you would expect. Finland is a strange place. It’s got a lot of beautiful things about it, but it’s a strange place. You can’t beat around it, but as soon as you get through it, there’s a great sense of humor and a big heart to them. Hats off to him to get this film made and get it out there. I think he’s pulled off a wonderful job.
CS: What about Onni, the kid, who you have a couple of scenes with? He’s quite a force. To have a movie with you and Sam Jackson and a kid who is able to hold his own, is pretty amazing.
Stevenson: His father is a very well known and regarded theater actor in Finland and he comes from a theater background. He’s actually the director’s nephew. He took direction very well and he held his own with everybody. He’s a kid and yet took his work seriously but not himself too seriously, so it was great to work with him. I think what a perfect, strange anomaly to have him at the core of this movie, this strange boy’s rite of passage amongst this tumultuous world event (laughs). I think that’s why Jamalri is genius actually, just to put it out there and then pull it off.
CS: It’s interesting how you, Sam and Ooni are in one part of the movie and then there’s this whole other section of the movie with Ted Lavine, Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent and Victor Garber in the war room figuring out a strategy. Did you ever get to meet any of those actors?
Stevenson: Never met them. Delighted to share a movie with them. Never met them.
CS: Last time we spoke was for “Kill the Irishman” which was about four years ago. Since then you’ve taken on a couple of iconic roles in Volstagg in the “Thor” movies and also Firefly in “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” I know they’re doing another Thor movie, so do you have any idea when you might get called back?
Stevenson: Well it’s in the works, the “Thor” movies. All these movies are coming in as triplets: three “Iron Men,” three “Captain America” and then the “Avengers” series, so I think there is word of “Thor 3” and I hope Volstagg will be dancing his dance through there.
CS: They’re doing “Ragnarok” and that’s a huge Asgardian story, so I have to assume the Warriors Three will be a big part of that as well.
Stevenson: I hope so. Another stint in the fat suit and big beard.
CS: I also liked what you did with Firefly and I assume if they do another G.I. Joe movie, he’d be back. I don’t remember if Firefly actually died, did he?
Stevenson: Well, he did. Essentially he got blown to pieces for whatever reason, but yeah, whatever that was great. Going toe to toe with Dwayne was beyond… he was great. It’s good to step into these roles and it’s a lot of great fun for my kids to get an action figure that they can pull their head off or they exchange my head for a LEGO head, which is even more bizarre, a great leveler. But yeah, it’s good to step up. You have to stop reading the comic books at some point, because you are essentially going to be playing the script and whatever turns that script takes.
CS: Do you make a lot of decisions based on having kids and wanting them to be able to see their Dad in movies?
Stevenson: No, no, no, because a lot of the stuff I do they’re not going to see for many years. I think it takes me away from them in chunks of time and I’ve gotta be able to look them in the eye and say, “I’m going off to do something I love to do,” and I’ll come back and tell them all about it or they can join me on the job. What I love about living here is the fact that when I’m home, it’s 24/7 around the family. The supposed norm is that the father leaves at 7:30 in the morning and goes to work until 7:30 or 8:00 at night and doesn’t get to see his kids anyway. This way, I go away for three or four weeks and maybe the family comes and joins me or I come back for a weekend or week. We generally just try and swing things around until I get through the job, and just work it that way. But I’m pretty excited about them seeing stuff, and they’ve been on set and they’ve been on Musketeer ships, so they’re getting a hook on what I do.
CS: Is there anything coming up that you’re excited about? I know you’re appearing in the upcoming “Transporter” movie and you’re going to play Blackbeard in “Black Sails,” which sounds amazing.
Stevenson: I know, what a great hoot, and actually I’ve just signed on for this “Saints & Strangers,” which is a Sony Pictures and National Geographic four-part mini-series about the Mayflower, the true story behind that. I’m off back to South Africa for two months on Sunday.
Big Game opens in select cities and on VOD on Friday, June 26.