Exclusive: Nimr贸d Antal Gets Armored

A few years back, he helmed Vacancy, a different take on the slasher genre that owed as much to Hitchcock as Tobe Hooper, and now he鈥檚 back with the heist crime-thriller Armored, which brings together Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Columbus Short and others for a armored car heist film that should pay suitable tribute to Tarantino and Michael Mann.

From the first time we met Antal, we could tell that the enthusiastic filmmaker was someone who truly loved film and while he absorbed many influences, he was able to turn out something that was unique and original, something which he鈥檚 in turn brought to his studio films.

ComingSoon.net is pleased to present our third interview with Antal, and we鈥檙e convinced that if Armored isn鈥檛 the one that breaks him in the States, than the one that鈥檚 waiting in the wings next summer should do the job. (More on that below, for those who hadn鈥檛 heard.)

ComingSoon.net: I haven鈥檛 seen the movie yet, but I remember it was announced right around when 鈥淰acancy鈥 came about, which is surprisingly two-and-a-half years ago now. Did Screen Gems just show you the script and ask if you wanted to do it or was it something you found and brought to them?

Nimr贸d Antal: They had three screenplays that were ready to go, and 鈥淎rmored鈥 was the one that I responded to the most of the three. Clint Culpepper, who had given me 鈥淰acancy鈥 gave me another shot to do this so I was really happy with it, and then, when we got the cast that we got, I was just blown away by it.

CS: So there was no one attached when you came on board?

Antal: No, there was just a screenplay at the time.

CS: Cool. What was it about the screenplay that got you interested? Was it the genre or something else that grabbed you?

Antal: I just responded to that subculture of armored car drivers. I thought that was something that was very mysterious and we didn鈥檛 know much about it, and again, it was a contained film, which I seem to enjoy.

CS: Did you do any research yourself or talk to any armed guards before tackling this or was it pretty straightforward and you didn鈥檛 have to?

Antal: No, we definitely wanted to speak to some people. We even got in with one of the bigger armored car companies, and they were being very helpful for about four days, and then they got robbed. When that happened, they shut us down at that point.

CS: I was wondering about that. I would think that with a security occupation like that, you wouldn鈥檛 want people to know that many of its secrets, and you wouldn鈥檛 want a movie out there saying, 鈥淗ere鈥檚 how you rob an armored car.鈥

Antal: And it was a little underwhelming. You kind of envision this complex system of checks and balances and hi-tech security gates and satellite links and things like that, but it鈥檚 very much not that.

CS: I鈥檓 not sure when you shot the movie but was it affected by the writers strike at all or was the screenplay already done by the time you started shooting?

Antal: The screenplay was finished at that point, so we just finished it right when the writers strike started up.

CS: I remember you did some writing yourself, so are you still involved in that or have you been so busy directing, you haven鈥檛 had time?

Antal: Every screenplay that I work on, if there are things that I can鈥檛 quite see how I do them, I鈥檒l try to tweak it and try to make changes, but nothing since 鈥淜ontroll鈥 as far as a completely original idea, unfortunately.

CS: I remember last time we spoke, you were toying with ideas for a few other screenplays, but I guess this movie came up so fast that you had to put 鈥檈m on the backburner.

Antal: Well, before I started working on this last project, I tried really hard to get something going called 鈥淭he Bicycle Race鈥 that I wrote, and there were some positive responses going into it, but no one believed in it enough to throw a lot of money at it, so unfortunately, I鈥檓 still in that same situation where I鈥檓 really yearning to get back to making something like 鈥淜ontroll.鈥 Those are the filmmakers that I always look up to the most and those are the filmmakers that I feel has the most intimate relationship with whatever they鈥檙e shooting, and that鈥檚 ultimately what I dream of getting back to. For some reason, that鈥檚 a very difficult path for me.

CS: Then again, when you鈥檝e directed enough movies for the studios, it helps your status to get those other movies made eventually.

Antal: From your mouth to God鈥檚 ears.

CS: I mean, everyone started somewhere. Even David Fincher started by doing projects like this, where he was just directing scripts that came his way

Antal: It鈥檚 something that I鈥檓 really passionate about getting back to, so we鈥檒l see. I鈥檝e got two little boys so to be able to support them is a big deal for me right now, and I don鈥檛 want to seem ungrateful or unhappy with where I鈥檓 at, because it is really a blessing. But that said, it ain鈥檛 鈥淜ontroll.鈥

CS: Well, I do like seeing that in 鈥淰acancy鈥 and I assume this one as well that we get to see some of your sensibilities brought to these genre movies and stories we鈥檝e seen done so many times. I know you鈥檙e a big movie buff, so with this movie, were you able to explore some of the stuff you enjoy like Tarantino or Michael Mann? Were you trying to bring some of that love to this?

Antal: To answer the first part of that question, I think Tarantino is a God and I love Michael Mann, so obviously, being inspired by them and being big fans of their work, obviously some things are going to slip in. I always make an attempt not to monkey off of anybody. I always make an attempt to try to keep it fresh, I guess. I never want someone to look at (one of my films) and go 鈥淭hat鈥檚 an鈥︹ (homage) but obviously these guys are such talented filmmakers and being a young guy, I鈥檓 completely influenced by what they do. So yes and no.

CS: Having been working with Robert, have you had a chance to meet Tarantino yet?

Antal: No, I鈥檝e never gotten to meet him, but I consider him to be f*cking awesome.

CS: I have to assume it鈥檚 going to happen sooner or later since you鈥檙e working with his buddy on his movie. How difficult was it doing a movie in the crime or heist genre and keeping it PG-13? Was that decided very early on or did it just end up having to get that rating?

Antal: The funny thing is that the PG-13 on this film鈥 when I put together the director鈥檚 cut and the cut that became the PG-13 cut, the discrepancies between the two cuts was so minor that it wasn鈥檛 that painful. Obviously, I was apprehensive and I wasn鈥檛 that excited about a PG-13 in a film that involves grown men stealing something, because they鈥檙e not going to be watching their language and we did have a few pretty intense moments in the film. Interestingly enough, when we got to the ratings board, the discrepancy between the two are really minor, so I don鈥檛 think it鈥檚 going to bother anybody. I had to take out like two 鈥渇*cks鈥 because I think you鈥檙e only allowed one, and I had three 鈥渇*cks鈥 in my movie. There was something interesting. (And this is a MAJOR SPOILER!!!!) Laurence Fishburne鈥檚 character is on fire at the end of the movie, and they were uncomfortable with the length of the shot, so the shot itself is still there, it鈥檚 just not as long as it used to be, which infuriated me at the time, because I鈥檇 just seen the latest Batman film and Harvey Dent鈥檚 face is on fire in a close-up as he鈥檚 screaming in agonizing pain for I don鈥檛 know how long. There doesn鈥檛 seem to be a uniform thought process on how they decide to edit things, but anyway, that said, it didn鈥檛 affect the film or the quality of the film in anyway.

CS: That鈥檚 good to know. I don鈥檛 know if you caught the movie 鈥淭aken鈥 by Pierre Morel, but he had an R-rated version and the PG-13 version is different but it鈥檚 just as intense and tough to watch. So you have a director鈥檚 cut that will be on the DVD maybe?

Antal: Yeah, there is a director鈥檚 cut and as we were mixing the film and doing all the post-production for the film, the director鈥檚 cut of the film was happening simultaneously, so I know that Sony put the effort into making it.

CS: Let鈥檚 talk about the casting, and I鈥檓 really curious how that came together. Were they all generally interested in the script? They鈥檝e all done similar things in the genre, but it鈥檚 interesting to see them all together at once as an ensemble.

Antal: I can鈥檛 speak for their reasons, but Matt Dillon鈥 to me 鈥淒rugstore Cowboy鈥 was a HUGE movie for me when I was a young guy鈥 or a younger guy, and obviously, from all the Luc Besson films, Jean Reno was鈥 I mean, 鈥淟a Femme Nikita,鈥 when he shows up as the cleaner, that鈥檚 forever embedded in my mind. And then Laurence Fishburne, who I could just go on and on about as a person and as an actor. I so looked up to these guys, so to get the opportunity to work with them was just HUGE for me. I was a little bit freaked out on Day 1, but interestingly enough, you kind of get into it and you start blocking the shots and doing your thing, and the process is just the same with them as it is with anybody else, so I was able to calm down eventually. But yeah, the Film Gods definitely smiled down on me with that one. It was incredible that I was able to secure a cast of that caliber. Even the young guys. Skeet Ulrich is going to blow your mind, he鈥檚 going to blow your mind. No one is going to see him coming.

CS: His name sounds very familiar but I wasn鈥檛 sure from where.

Antal: Skeet Ulrich was in the 鈥淪cream鈥 films and he was in Ang Lee鈥檚 Civil War film, but he was really great in them. Amaury Nolasco, who was in 鈥淧rison Break鈥 was just a blessing, and of course, Milo Ventimiglia was great, but Columbus Short. Man, Columbus Short is someone who is really going to surprise a lot of people with his talent.

CS: Was it hard getting the cast together? Was there any of the roles that was harder than others to fill or did it come together fairly easily?

Antal: Everybody was humble and down to earth and there was none of that Hollywood bullsh*t that you tend to hear about. Everybody was very grounded and they were all about the work. More importantly, there was this really jovial atmosphere on set, so again, overall it was a beautiful experience for me.

CS: How long ago did you finish filming the movie? I was trying to figure out the timeframe earlier鈥

Antal: We finished it a while ago, but right when we were doing the cut, Screen Gems said that they weren鈥檛 planning to release it until September of the next year, so they weren鈥檛 going to release it for a year after we wrapped. And then sometime in the spring, they said, 鈥淲ell, actually it鈥檚 going to be December.鈥 We鈥檝e been sitting on it for quite a while now, but I want everybody to rest assured that it isn鈥檛 based on the quality of the film. It was a decision made early on.

CS: Finding the right time to release the movie gets harder and harder as more movies are released, unfortunately. I鈥檓 more concerned that the trailer or commercials give away too much of the movie (which I haven鈥檛 seen) so are there still some surprises for people who want to see the movie? Is there more to the movie than we鈥檙e getting out of the commercials?

Antal: I don鈥檛 like what marketing did with it, but that said, the film is much more elegant and much smarter than the way the trailer portrays the film to be unfortunately.

CS: It does look great and it gets me excited to see the movie but as is too often the case these days, I feel like they leave very little for the actual movie experience. Maybe 鈥淰acancy鈥 was the same way, and that was probably a better movie than the trailer made it look.

Antal: Yeah, which drives me crazy, but I think that鈥檚 the case here as well.

CS: How is it as a filmmaker to go from something like 鈥淜ontroll鈥 where, no pun intended, but you did have full control over everything to be working in a system where you have to deal with the MPAA and marketing and all that stuff. Are you hoping to get to a point where you can be involved more in the marketing?

Antal: Yes, yes. It鈥檚 very difficult for me to sit back and watch someone take a film that I鈥檝e worked on for six, seven, eight, nine months and then not be involved in that process, it鈥檚 very difficult.

CS: What I鈥檝e seen looks great and there seems to be a lot of big action pieces, but was this still done fairly low budget compared to other action movies? Is it generally in the same budget range as 鈥淰acancy鈥?

Antal: It was about ten million more but it was still I think for what we were accomplishing in the film and for the scale of the film, I think it feels much bigger than the money that we had to shoot it, that we were able to make it look and feel like a bigger film.

CS: How has it been going from that to working on 鈥淧redators鈥 with Robert Rodriguez? Working on something so iconic and presumably a much larger scale?

Antal: Well, we still have about a month left of shooting so I don鈥檛 want to say anything prematurely, but so far, it鈥檚 been great, and I think that the fans who may have been underwhelmed by the last two films, the AVP films, I think they鈥檙e in for a very pleasant surprise.

You can read the rest of what Antal told us about the currently-filming Robert Rodriguez鈥檚 Predator here.

CS: Have you had a chance to return to Hungary in the last couple years or have you been so busy with the three movies you鈥檝e been making?

Antal: I was back with my wife and my kids last summer, so it was really awesome. I really miss being there, and I also want to make another film there.

CS: I was wondering about that, because there was this moment where it looked like there was going to be this wave of Hungarian filmmakers, and then Hollywood just hired many of them to make American movies.

Antal: There鈥檚 some really talented Hungarian filmmakers. There鈥檚 Gy枚rgy P谩lfi, who did 鈥淭axidermia,鈥 and there is Ferenc S铆k and a guy called Roland Vranik, there鈥檚 a lot of really talented guys right now, so I鈥檓 sure world cinema will be hearing about Hungarian films in the near future.

CS: I also hope that people who go to see 鈥淎rmored鈥 or 鈥淧redators鈥 will go back and find 鈥淜ontroll.鈥 I don鈥檛 know how difficult it is to find on DVD, but everyone I know whose seen the movie loves it, and I always hope more people will discover it.

Antal: Yeah, I hope so. The more people that see it, the better.

Armored opens nationwide on Friday, December 4.