The director of the new Jason Statham movie ‘Homefront’ stops by to chat about the film with us. We also discuss how Homefront was originally going to be planned as a sequel to Rambo.
We have the audio below but also an abridged written version too.
What was it about Homefront that made you want to direct it?
Well, there were two things really; one was I’ve always been a big fan of the classic Western. So when I read the script which was based on a terrific book by Chuck Logan I thought it had the perfect shape of a contemporary Western. You’ve got the small town community; you’ve got the outsider coming to town; in this case Jason Statham’s character Broker. All of the displeasure and distrust of that town is dumped on that character and he has to basically contend with it.
What I like about Westerns in general is they tend to have very strong and simple stories but within that they have really interesting characters and interesting dynamics among the characters. I love that part of it.
I also really liked the father/daughter relationship; being a dad (I’ve got a 5 and a half year old girl) I found it very relatable. The notion of a dad trying to make a go of it with in this case, a 10 year old daughter. I thought that relationship was really interesting. It reminded me of a film I really loved called Man of Fire from Tony Scott. I love that film and the backstory; the connection of how far would you go to protect your child/family.
I got to see the film last week and loved it; it was incredibly intense. What kind of challenges did you face in trying to maintain the tension throughout?
That’s a great question and I don’t think I know the answer… I think part of a director’s job ultimately with a thriller is to make sure the audience in every single scene is never quite relaxed (laughs). You’re never quite out of danger or out of jeopardy. Creating tension happens by how you use music, how you shoot a scene, it happens with lighting. There are a lot of different elements that give you that feeling of tension.
There’s also something that happens in the first half hour of the movie; Statham’s character Phil Broker; there’s a situation where he could walk away from at the gas station but he makes the choice not to. He knows and we know that he’s essentially opened up this Pandora’s Box and that’s what happens. Once he makes decisions to engage in physical violence with the people that are toying with him we all know it’s gonna go bad… or good depending on your point of view.
A lot of the movie takes place at night, making the environment seem almost threatening; was that a deliberate move in creating a sense of unease?
That’s a great observation because I remember whenever I was looking for locations like the home for Broker. The house was built in 1784 and was an old river plantation. It’s a beautiful and iconic property up in New Orleans. I remember saying to the production designer Greg Berry, it’s the sort of place that’s beautiful during the daytime but at night it’s really scary.
Even going back to another I directed Kiss the Girls with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd; I remember thinking what I loved about the woods; there was a lot of action scenes in the wooden areas. I always like it when a location is one thing in the daytime and another at night. Same thing here; a very good observation. There’s a beautiful touching scene between Phil Broker and his daughter on this pier in the daytime. It’s this beautiful very delicate scene; now this is the exact same area where at the end of the movie the bad guys arrive to dispose of Phil Broker. At night it just looks really ominous. There’s also that polarity with the same location where the day-time and night-times have very different personalities.
I loved the choice of music in it; the songs and the score by Mark Isham. It’s so important in creating the right atmosphere. How involved do you like to be in choosing the music to your films?
Well there’s really two levels, the songs which go on the soundtrack and also the score. I’ve worked with Mark Isham a few times; the first time was on Kiss the Girls which was 15 years ago and we’ve worked on several films since then.
Mark and I have a lot of conversations about the sound and the feel of whatever film we’re doing. For this one we wanted to have an indigenous sound with the score so you heard fiddle, acoustic guitar and a lot of these instruments are almost Appalachian in flavor. There’s also a cello which essentially becomes James Franco’s sound where different characters have different themes. It’s like I’m talking to an actor, sometimes we talk about it conceptually, emotionally and we try to figure out what the sound of the movie is. What happens is Mark goes off and he’s presenting demo tracks, sketches if you will of music along the way. It was also a lot of fun because I got to also involve my editor Patrick McKinley who I’ve worked with on several films. The thing is about the action wouldn’t really work if you didn’t care about the characters or the relationships in the movie. I think it’s important that there’s an emotional core to the action otherwise what are you rooting for? That’s why I mentioned Man on Fire before; you really care about Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning in that film.
Yeah, everyone in this movie was fantastic but Kate Bosworth pretty much deserved an Oscar. I also now look at James Franco in a different light as he was absolutely terrifying in it and I now wouldn’t want to meet him in real life.
It’s funny you reference that because I think both performances are really worth noting. I think all of the performances are really good in the picture. Kate Bosworth, for me I think this was a transformative performance for her. I think we’ve seen her do more glamorous parts where she’s all dolled up and very beautiful. When we met, before we even made the film I said “this is not a leading lady kind of role; this is a character role. I referenced Charlize Theron in Monster; that was a role where she had to completely let go of physical beauty and play a really unattractive person emotionally as well as physically. I said “the role you’re playing Cassie peaked in High School; when she was 18 that was her peak. She’s beautiful, she’s homecoming queen. Now she’s pushing 30, she’s got this kid who has special needs. She’s got this husband who runs a junk-yard, drinks too heavily and she’s self-medicated.”
The thing with Kate was when I first saw her eyes I saw her commitment that she’d really like to go there and play this woman who is physically and emotionally ugly.
The other thing about her character is that she’s got the most pronounced arc in the movie with how she changes. You really see her one way at the beginning of the film and then another way by the end.
Anyone who says to me that his movie is clichéd or simplistic, I would just point out that the woman who initiates all the mayhem and danger in the movie is also the one by the end who courageously tries to be a peacemaker.
That was actually one of my favourite elements, making the story really unpredictable.
Jason Statham said in an interview with the Miami Herald that there was a draft of the Homefront script that was originally going to be Rambo V. Did you see it at all?
I never actually saw a draft which was Rambo; I think the story is Stallone bought the book over a decade ago and wanted to make it as a standalone story and at some point, someone talked about it evolving into a possible Rambo sequel but that then never came to fruition. Then it went back to being based on the book. The tone actually adheres to the tone of the book by Chuck Logan. I guess in the Rambo version, he would have had a woman who is now deceased and he now has a kid but that would have been a lot of backstory.
The draft I saw much more closely adhered to the book and then when I got involved I went back into the book even further and Sly and I were restoring a lot of elements that we thought were really wonderful.
I think the one thing about the movie that’s really refreshing is that you have as much dimension for your bad guys as you would for your good guys. You’ve got this odd relationship with Bosworth and Franco; there’s a scene at the house which doesn’t necessarily move the story forward but it moves their relationship forward. I was very protective of those scenes in the movie because anything you can do in an action movie whether it be The Expendables or Jason Bourne where you can up the emotional stakes or add complexity; I think audiences really love that. I think if you just have a car chase, fight scene or foot chase it’s kinda like just eating a bowl of candy… it’s gone and that’s it.
If you could summarize the movie in one word, what would it be?
I would say “Thrilling!” If I could have one word o the poster, that’s the word it would be. Not just for the story but also for the characters; it’s a thrilling couple of days in their lives (laughs) having to face danger and adversity. A lot of things come to mind about fathers, daughters and protecting your home. Ultimately I think it’s just a wildly entertaining film; the experiences I’ve had of going to screenings of the movie and sitting with audiences. People jumping out of their chair and sitting on the edge of their seats.
Any plans to make an action picture again?
I really hope so; I did a few thrillers in the past like Kiss the Girls, Don’t Say a Word and also Runaway Jury.
I think was my first thriller/action movie and I gotta say it was really fun. It’s like directing a war film because you’re piecing so many elements together. It was great fun and I think I did a pretty good job on it and I think I could do a better job next time out. I really like suspense, going back to my love of Hitchcock; I loved him. Actually one of the movies that started me was Jaws where just by being near the water you felt unsafe. The first hour of that movie you don’t even see the shark.
So I think I’ve learned a lot even my first real memory of seeing Jaws where the audience can feel completely unsettled throughout the movie. The tension just ramps up and up. It’s great to sit with an audience as a filmmaker for the first time when they’re seeing the movie; it’s a vicarious experience. Even last week at the première in Las Vegas; I’d seen the movie dozens of times but when I sat with several hundred people in Planet Hollywood in Vegas it was like watching it for the first time though their eyes.
It’s like going to your own rock concert and sitting with your audience. It’s why filmmakers do it; we don’t do it to see how many screens we can get; we do it so we can sit with the audience and have them follow it whether it’s a comedy or thriller. Just sit and enjoy it along with the audience.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us and all the best with the movie; it deserves to be a huge success.