CS Interview: Rawson Marshall Thurber Talks Skyscraper and Red Notice
Universal Pictures provided ComingSoon.net with the opportunity for a fun 1:1 chat with Skyscraper director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who reunites with his Central Intelligence star Dwayne Johnson for an original summer action thrillride. Check out the interview below, where we discuss the Die Hard influence, teaming Johnson with Gal Gadot for Red Notice and much more!
Skyscraper will open in theaters on Friday, July 13.
ComingSoon.net: Was that you in the shot where Dwayne and Pablo are coming off the ferry?
Rawson Marshall Thurber: Oh my God, yeah. I been doing press for two solid weeks and no one, literally no one has said a word or noticed it. I never imagined they would since it’s such a blink and you miss it little piece. But yeah, that’s me coming off the ferry, but more importantly it’s my wife and my eldest daughter, who at the time was just a little glass of water. Now she’s 2. And my mother-in-law, Joanne. And it was really important, to me, just to get a little glimpse of my daughter at that age, so that when she looks back on this movie, she can see herself. Thanks for noticing. It’s the best thing ever, and I’ve only been a dad for two years, but having a daughter is just, there’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like it. It changes you completely, and for the better.
CS: The last time I talked to you, you had told me you really wanted to transition to doing action, and “Central Intelligence” was sort of a stepping stone to that. Was the experience of actually doing one of these behemoths what you’d hoped?
Thurber: You know, it actually was. Thank you for remembering that. Yeah, I’ve wanted to make an action movie since I was about 8 years old. My mom took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark at this little two-screen theater in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and I just fell in love. My eyes were big as saucers, and I fell in love with movies, and I sort of fell in with action movies at that point. And I wanted to do it for a long time, and I started in comedy because I loved comedy. It’s a genre that’s near and dear to me. I’ll be making more of them. But I always wanted to make an action film, and I grew up on sort of late 80s, early 90s action. Die Hard, Towering Inferno, The Fugitive, Renny Harlin’s Cliffhanger, of course. And that’s what Skyscraper is. It’s a love letter to those action pictures that I grew up on. Getting to make a big action film is a thrill. It’s basically the same as making any movie, right? Whether you have 100 million dollars or 10,000 dollars, all the challenges are still the same. I think any filmmaker would say they never have enough time, never have enough money, etc. etc. But, in a lot of ways, making an action movie was a lot easier than making a comedy. First of all, I don’t have to make people laugh three times a minute. I can’t tell you how relaxing that is. And then on the big action sequences, the super crane jump, the turbine sequence, the mirror at the end, all the fights, you have so much support. You have stunt coordinators, second unit directors and VFX and special effects, story boards, all these things to help you execute this concept, this idea that you have at the highest level. When you’re making a comedy and the scene’s not funny, and you’re the writer/director, it’s up to you and the actor. There’s no special effect that can help you make a scene funny if it’s not working. So, I felt very supported, and I hope to get to make another action picture.
CS: When people have been asking me about this movie, I’ve been very snarkily telling them it’s “Die Hard in a building.”
Thurber: That’s a good one.
CS: Upon seeing the movie, I’d say you bent over backwards to make it as different from “Die Hard” as possible under the circumstances. And like you said, it’s a bit of a mixtape. But, what would you say are the biggest differences between your movie and John McTiernan’s?
Thurber: Well, first of all, Die Hard is on the Mount Rushmore of action films.
Thurber: I mean, that’s plain and simple. And McTiernan made a flawless picture. Bruce Willis just exploding on screen in his first sort of star role. Alan Rickman’s first feature. It’s a perfect film. So anytime you are going to make a movie where bad guys are in a building that’s higher than two stories, you’re going to be compared to one of the greatest action films of all time. So, you’re already cruisin’ for a bruisin’, and I accept that and that’s what it is, because Skyscraper“s the movie I wanted to make. I don’t know so much about the differences. I think there are many, but if I started to list them, I think it might seem like I was trying to defend Skyscraper. Or draw a distinction between Skyscraper and Die Hard that I don’t think I really need to draw. I think I’ll let the audience go see it.
But I will say this: Similarities between the two are apparent, but the thing I think that’s most important when you talk about Die Hard is, obviously it’s a great film, but I think the reason it has stood the test of time.. what that movie’s really about is a guy trying to get his wife back. Guy trying to fix his marriage, right? It’s Holly Gennaro McClane, or McClane and then Gennaro, and when they first meet each other, they get in an argument. They’re separated and on the way to divorce. And the film is about John McClane trying to fix his broken marriage, and of course at the end it is. It is fixed. And the best scene in that movie, the scene that gives it the heart, is after McClane has all that glass in his feet, he drags himself into the bathroom, and he’s talking to Al, the cop outside, and it looks like it’s going to be curtains for our hero, and says, “Look, my wife’s heard me say I love you a thousand times, but she’s never heard me say I’m sorry. And I want you to tell her I’m sorry,” right? He says, “You’re gonna tell her that yourself, buddy.” But that moment is the heart of Die Hard, and that’s what I think and hope we have in Skyscraper. Yes, it’s a heart-pounding movie. It’s a big action movie with a lot of thrills, and people who are scared of heights like I am can have a pretty intense experience. But ultimately the movie is about a husband and wife, a mother and father, willing to do anything they can to protect their family. And so, I hope we made a movie that’s both heart-pounding and heartfelt. And I guess we’ll find out the hard way this weekend.
CS: Another movie that clearly had an influence was “Lady From Shanghai,” where you did sort of a technological update on the famous hall of mirrors sequence.
Thurber: Yes, yes. Thank you for noticing. Yeah. Orson Welles. Rita Hayworth. It’s a classic. It’s an incredible sequence. And then it’s been ripped off ever since, right?
CS: Sure, yeah. Woody Allen ripped it off for “Manhattan Murder Mystery.”
Thurber: Woody Allen, Enter the Dragon, Conan the Barbarian, most recently John Wick 2. And it’s a great- Mirror fight sequences are fantastic and fun, but it just shows the genius of Orson Welles, right? But yeah, I wanted to tip my cap to Lady From Shanghai, mostly just to impress my old professors from USC. I’m trying to score points after the fact. But, I wanted to give it a new spin, and so instead of just a hall of mirrors, a funhouse of mirrors, with essentially mechanical reflections. It’s all reflections. I wanted to make it smart. I wanted to make them panels, projection panels that can stick, where images can change, lensing can change, angles can change. So if you’re standing in front of it, it doesn’t have to just be you. Right, standing right in front of it. And I think that was sort of emblematic of the whole film, which has a very throwback feel. Intentional and sort of nostalgic picture, right? It’s an old-school movie, the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. And I wish they did. So, “Skyscraper” is sort of an old-school film with some new-school tech.
CS: Well, speaking of old-school films,you’re keeping the action thing going with “Red Notice” next. Given the logline, is that going to be your sort of take on “Thomas Crown Affair?”
Thurber: Yeah. This might be the best interview that I’ve done. No sh*t, man. I commend you. I can’t tell you…
CS: The most film nerdy one.
Thurber: Yeah. Thank God. Yeah, of course. So, Red Notice is very much tonally, of course, we’re talking Ocean’s 11 meets True Lies with a little bit of Thomas Crown Affair thrown in for seasoning. And it’s a sort of international heist picture, kind of a travelogue romp. Beautiful people, beautiful locations, beautiful clothes and a diamond thief. You know, obviously it stars Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot. Dwayne plays an Interpol agent who has to capture the most wanted art thief in the world, played by a third actor yet to be cast. But we’re going to announce it very soon. I’m super excited. And Gal Gadot, of course, plays a mysterious figure in the art world. It comes out June 12, 2020. I hope to start writing the whole script soon, and we start shooting May 1 up in Europe and London.
CS: Obviously Gal and Dwayne have been in a few “Fast” movies together, but those were more about the intense sexual chemistry between Dwayne and Vin.
CS: What do you hope will happen when you put these two icons on the screen together for “Red Notice?”
Thurber: Oh, gosh. That’s a great question. Well, I think like any director or producer who’s worth his salt, you hope for magic. You hope for chemistry, and chemistry’s not a function of directing, it’s a function of casting. I hope we get the cast right. We’re off to a pretty good start.
CS: Do you plan on integrating a little bit more of your comedic skills for this one, or are you going to play it straight again?
Thurber: You know, it’s so funny you asked that. I was just having this conversation with my wife this morning. Because Skyscraper“s pretty straight action…
CS: Totally straight.
Thurber: It’s got a few moments of levity just to break the tension, but it’s not … I don’t think you would find it in the action-comedy category by any stretch. But, yeah, for sure. Red Notice is gonna be much more light on its feet and hopefully funnier than Skyscraper. Maybe not quite as broad as Central Intelligence, but I think it has a chance to be kind of a great blend of what I learned making comedies and what I just learned making Skyscraper. So, a great blend of fun, sizzling kind of heist action with a light touch and a lot of laughs.