Hard Kill starring Jesse Metcalfe and Bruce Willis is out later this week and yesterday I got to chat with director Matt Eskandari about the film which is his third collaboration with Bruce Willis after Survive the Night and Trauma Centre.
Hard Kill is your third project with Bruce Willis after Trauma Centre & Survive the Night; how do you find working with him?
Yeah it’s been good; this is what I call the conclusion of the Eskandari/Willis Trilogy and it’s been a blast. I mean, I really, really enjoyed working with Bruce and over the course of almost two years and getting to do these three projects was a lot of fun. What’s crazy is every film was completely different in its own way. I mean, they were all sort of action thriller hybrids, but every one was a completely different story and Bruce’s character is completely different in each film. So it was a lot of fun to be able to almost do like a new anthology of films and have a huge a movie star playing a part. I’m so grateful.
What was it particularly about Hard Kill that made you want to direct?
I felt like Hard Kill, as I read the script, was very much a throwback. Late 80s, early 90s, smash and grab; not pretentious action flick. I love those kinds of movies. So, you know, it really kind of appealed to that aspect of it and being able to do a lot of shoot outs; I’ve always wanted to do more balls out action in a movie. So it was a lot of fun to choreograph some fights and wide-scale kind of gun shoot-outs between all these characters and blow things up. It was a lot of fun and it was cool. You know, as a filmmaker, one of the reasons why you get into it is to be able to live out your dreams of doing things that you always wanted to do like shooting guns and playing around like that. So it was a great experience.
We get a good final showdown between The Pardoner (Sergio Rizzuto) and Miller (Jesse); can you talk us through putting that scene together?
Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I mean, we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot that final showdown, but I really wanted their final confrontation to be built up to it. So, you know, they obviously have that animosity for each other. There’s a backstory and you know that they have that hate towards each other. Sergio is just a big guy; I mean, you look at the guy, he looks like he’s menacing just by the way he looks and his body is just massive. So I knew it was going to be fun to be able to create some sort of scenario where they have a standoff showdown like it’s a classic Western face-off and then go balls out against each other and I like how there’s no weapons. It’s just mano-a-mano. I mean, I always figured there were going to be fisticuffs with some kick ass fights. I really wanted that final showdown, the location of it, to be sort of like an iconic looking place. Whenever you’re doing an action movie that last set-piece has to be an incredible looking set. I mean, obviously, like Terminator 2, you have the molten lava and steel plant, Terminator 1, you’ve got that factory so you look at every iconic action film and they always find that kind of set-piece and a cool set. We found this power plant that was inside the warehouse and it was sort of like a decommissioned coal power plant. There were parts of it we weren’t allowed to go because there were literally like health or safety hazards, we couldn’t touch but it just looks incredible on set. Awesome to see that face-off in this visually interesting location.
Was it all filmed in one location?
Yeah and it was all filmed in an abandoned Bicycle Playing Card factory in Cincinnati. So we found like a perfect set and had a lot of different sub sets within that we were able to use.
What kind of challenges did you find working in that location?
Definitely the biggest challenge was in the 10 days, because it’s one thing to be able to execute action, but being able to do it safely and effectively with limited time is definitely a challenge. You can’t compromise safety to be able to shoot something so that was the biggest challenge, to be able to kind of prepare as much as we could and plan everything and then be open to whatever happens on the day and if things aren’t working exactly right being able to improvise and make adjustments as they come through. Also just the weather was really cold in Cincinnati; I grew up in California so I’m not a fan of cold weather. So I’m packed in layers and layers of clothes; you get used to it after a while and you just tough it out as part of the process of filmmaking; it is never easy to make a movie and if it is it’s boring.
Why was Jesse Metcalfe the right choice for Miller?
I think Jesse was definitely perfectly cast; he’s the anchor for the entire film. His performance is really able to elevate a lot of material. I mean, just having him as our lead he’s able to kind of take a lot of these scenes and add nuance and carry the weight of the performance. Really, the film is his; it’s about Derek Miller and his redemption arc of kind of bringing revenge for things that have happened in the past and saving the life of Chalmers’ daughter so he really did an incredible job in that role.
Is it wrong that I kind of liked The Pardoner?
(laughs) Yeah, The Pardoner is interesting because I’m always about creating villains, if you can. I hate the one-dimensional villains. There were some long monologues, so I was thinking it was going to be a challenge and wondered how much of this we’re going to keep. Whenever you’re going to create a villain in the classic Bond sense or Mission Impossible films. A lot of the villains are sort of like antiheroes and I wanted The Pardoner to be willing to go as far as he needs to to get his goals. But there’s some truth to his madness at the same time, like what he’s saying and what he wants sort of makes sense. You kind of see where he’s coming from, where you’re like, OK, this guy is a psychopath, but there’s some truth to what he’s saying. And, you know, maybe he’s just kind of decided to take matters into his own hands. Yeah, it was great to get to work with Sergio and see how he was as it was a challenge as well because he had to create that balance of threat and also sort of somewhat of understanding of his motives for what he’s trying to do. One thing interesting that I thought he did was for the first 40 minutes, he’s very calm, cool, collected, he’s in control. But when things start falling apart he’s starting to lose that cool, calm, and he starts lashing out. There are moments where he starts being unhinged and that was the tricky part, because I didn’t want to see unhinged Pardoner in the first five minutes. Then there’s nowhere for him to go so I liked how he was able to map that out really well in his performance.
One of the things I really loved was the music score. How did you go about working with Rhyan D’Errico and to get the right sound?
Yeah, I’ve done the last couple of films with different composers like Nima and for this one he wasn’t available, so I was getting to work with a new composer, which is always like, oh, God, this is gonna be interesting. I wondered how this collaboration was gonna work. But no I was really blown away by what Rhyan brought to the table; when we temped the score we talked a lot about giving this film sort of a unique sound like I didn’t want generic orchestra kind of sound so I said to him “just have fun with this; make it sound like an old school, electronica, 80s, 90s kind of score”. He went in there and there’s a lot of fun kind of beats and tempos that he was able to add and I thought it gave the film a lot of energy. So it was fun to see how he could tap in to some sort of old school electronic sound. I was even having him listen to stuff like Vangelis and saying “just make it sound like Vangelis, Man!” and make it sound kind of crazy and different. He started to bring it together and we didn’t have a lot of time to obviously in post-production but I think he did a great job in terms of giving the film a very unique sound which is great.
Will the score be out to buy at all?
Well, I hope so, yeah. I think it will. I think it all depends on Vertical, the studio. But I feel like they’ll definitely release the soundtrack.
How challenging is it to make action scenes seem fresh these days?
Yeah, I think ultimately it’s a challenge, obviously, to make an action scene feel different and unique but also especially under the time constraints that we had, we weren’t able to do like a crazy 20 minute one take action scene like they could do on bigger budget stuff. So we had to be able to find different ways to execute the action in a safe way, but also make sure it looks cool and has flair to it and is visually interesting. I think it comes down to just working with the challenges that you have and execute them best within the challenges that you have for that specific film. I mean, if you have unlimited budget and a bigger amount of time to do it I think you have a lot more creative freedom to come up with a completely new way to shoot an action scene, which I’d love to be able to do but on this one we had a different sort of set of circumstances.
What do you normally like to see in a script to make you interested in the project?
For me, it’s a few different elements. Obviously, movies and stories are about escapism and entertainment. So I look for stories that have interesting characters that are within a sort of timeless story. Like, there’s no one particular genre that I love. I mean, I love action thrillers, obviously. I love noir and crime. I love suspense, superhero movies and all that. There’s a lot of genres but whenever I read a script, I want to be taken on a ride and I want to step into the shoes of the hero and the character and see them go through a journey and I don’t want to be beaten over the head or preached to. This has always been my mentality is that I want to escape. I don’t want to deal with the real world. So that’s always been my mentality with the script or a story.
Real life is tough enough…
(laughs) Yeah, it’s like the last thing I want to see right now is anybody sending a script about a virus or pandemic, like, I’m not even reading the title (laughs).
What would you like audiences to take away from Hard Kill?
You know, I’d love for them to just be entertained and I just I want them to pop it on, turn off their brain and just veg out and watch a fun action flick that’ll make them escape from reality for a couple of hours and enjoy themselves. They can get to see some kick ass characters and just have a good time. That’s what I’d like for them to take from it.
Thank you so much for taking time out to chat today. All the best with the film.
Vertical Entertainment will release the thriller HARD KILL On Demand & Digital on August 25, 2020.