At last weekend’s press junket for Ninja Assassin, I had the opportunity to speak with producer Joel Silver twice. The first time was an exclusive TV interview, and the second time was during a roundtable interview the following day. While I normally would be happy to use just one of the interviews, since Joel Silver is producing so many high profile projects (Lobo, Sgt. Rock, The Apparition), I knew getting to speak with him twice would be a good thing.
Also, what a lot of people don’t realize is how much info a producer can tell you. While it’s always great to talk with an actor, unless you’re a Brad Pitt, most actors don’t have that much juice to get a project made. So that’s why getting to speak with Joel Silver is so great, because not only can he talk about all his projects that are getting made, he can give you the status of projects like Lethal Weapon 5, or the next Shane Black movie, or even tell you they once almost remade Commando!
While most of this interview explains how Ninja Assassin got put together, he does reveal Sherlock Holmes is two hours and the studio really wants to make sequels. Lethal Weapon 5 is dead. And he answers the big question….why hasn’t he acted since Rogger Rabbit! Hit the jump for details:
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the interview by clicking here.
Question: I want to start off by asking the big question. How is it that since “Roger Rabbit” you haven’t been acting?
Joel Silver: That was it. I did it. I did my acting performance in “Roger Rabbit”. I think I did a voice-over also in “Osmosis Jones” and I directed an episode of my show years ago, “Tales from the Crypt” and that’s my endeavors in the non-producer oriented ranks.
They havn’t come after you for “Entourage”?
Silver: I think I did one. I think I did one thing where I was at the Laker game with “Entourage” once but that was it.
Is it something you’d want to do though? Have they asked you?
Silver: I’m happy with my place in the firmament here. I like to produce movies and that’s where I want to be. I’m not looking to….I’d like to build my company and make a bigger company always, but I think in the behind the scenes arena is where I’d prefer to spend my time.
Well, this is probably the first Ninja movie we’ve seen in at least 20 years, what are the things about Ninja legends that appeal to you and will appeal to audiences?
Silver: Look, we wanted to make a Martial arts movie. That’s what we wanted to do. I mean, when I made my deal…when I put the deal together for “Dark Castle” which is a self-funded entity which distributes through Warner Brothers, I was talking to an executive at Warner’s. He said what you really ought to do is you ought to develop a new Martial arts star. He said we’ve never been able to do that. I mean that’s not what we do. And, you know, they have had a history of having very successful movies with Martial arts stars. I mean back to Bruce Lee and Steven Segal and Jet Li and they’ve made a lot of Martial arts movies with kind of personalities who the audience accepted who could do that kind of activity. And he said if you can find one, it can be great. And when we met Rain and we saw what he could do in “Speed Racer” we thought here’s a guy. So we actually designed “Ninja Assassin” around him to make it for him. So that was the intention-to build a Martial arts star. And I think we did. I think if the audience agrees with us and if they feel that they accept him as this guy, I think he can make a lot of movies.
But Rain is a Korean and Ninja is Japanese, I’m Japanese so when I saw this movie and they cast Rain and he’s Korean. Hollywood has a trend of taking a Japanese character and people cast a Japanese actor and Japanese/American actor, but why do you guys cast a Korean?
Silver: Well, we made a point of saying it was an orphanage that these people were taken from all over Asia and he wasn’t necessarily Japanese. It just was a…Martial arts tends to be a Chinese…most of the big Martial arts stars that I’m aware of…it’s the Kung Fu is a Chinese esthetic. When we did “The Matrix” I mean we were combining kind of Japanese animation, which was a style with Chinese martial arts, I mean it kind of is as an Asian influence but there are movies, I mean, that are Hollywood movies. I mean, Jet Li is really a Chinese martial artist, but he worked in American movies. But I don’t think that we are confining ourself to just a Japanese style. I mean, this is a movie that has Asian influence, but it’s a movie for the whole world. It’s a movie designed to attract a world audience.
Do you think there is a Chinese maybe actor that could be very handsome and tall you could get a Chinese or is it just because of Rain that you think that he is actually right for the character?
Silver: Well he had a tremendous athletic ability to be able to do these kind of…look Steven Segal is neither, you know? I mean, he was just very good at what he did. But, you know, I think that Rain had great sense of this kind of style of fighting and acrobatics and because of his dance experience he was able to do unbelievable feats and a lot of this was not involving wire-work either. I mean, there is wire-work in the movie, but when we did “The Matrix” I mean, all of them-Keanu and Carrie Ann Moss and Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne, I mean there was a lot of really serious wire-work where they were in harnesses a lot. And we tried to make this movie a different kind of martial arts, much more rooted in being attached to the Earth so much. It’s not so much flying as it is kind of athletic ability. And I think that he has that ability. And it wasn’t as if we were, you know I mean, and this movie most of the stunt people-the 2 guys who did the design work-Chad and Dave-were American guys who had worked with us and with Woo Ping and all the guys on the other movies and they had understood the process of staging and creating these fights. So it was kind of an international movie more or less.
Was there ever a longer cut than 92 minutes?
Silver: I think it went through a few versions until we got where we got it, but I think the movie works at this length. It feels good and it’s the right length of the movie.
Can you talk about the fact that, we were discussing before at the roundtable, that the movie might make it’s whole budget back just in Japan or in Asia. Can you talk about what you guys are doing in Asia to promote the movie?
Silver: Well, I mean, it’s a world-wide marketing situation. We’re marketing it everywhere. I mean, we’ve got a huge…we had some big commercial work in Seoul and we did…I don’t think they’ve done a big Japan tour yet, but we’re talking about it. We heard that they might want to do a big premiere in Hong Kong next week. But I mean, primarily we’re concentrating now on the U.S. because that’s where it’s going, you know, that’s the first place it’s opening. But there has been…he did some promotional work in Canada and the east coast. So I mean, we’re just trying to roll this out with what makes the most sense. It’s a tough time. There’s a lot of movies that are opening now so we’re trying to get it…but it’s a good date. It’s a good time to open the movie, I think. I think once every person on the planet sees “New Moon” and there’s nobody left who hasn’t see it, then I think they’ll be able to go see “Ninja”.
But isn’t it good for the entire industry when a movie does that well because it gets people into the theatre and then maybe they go see something else, or how does that work?
Silver: That’s a rule of thumb. I mean, I think that would be nice. I mean, that would be good but this weekend this movie “Blind Side” did great, too. So people are going to the movies now, which is fantastic.
Following up on a previous question, so you didn’t look for any Japanese actor to play this character and Rain is first and let’s build Ninja around him.
Silver: Well, when we realized we felt Rain could do this, we decided to design and develop a movie for him. And we always wanted to make a Ninja movie, so it made sense to just make this and we crafted a situation where he didn’t have to be Japanese and show….Krashugi is Japanese so I mean it was just….
As a producer, because Rain has kind of big fan-base in Asia so that’s why he was cast, okay…
Silver: No because he was in…”Speed Racer” didn’t do very well in Asia either so I mean I think he has a fan-base but you have to make the right movie. Nobody goes to see anything really just because of the people that are in it. They have to want to see the movie. So I hope that he has a fan-base will help but I hope that we made a good movie so that the movie will attract an audience.
Shô Kosugi is homage for all the Ninja movies?
And you decided or director recommended it or what was the…?
Silver: We all decided to use him because he really has a resonance for the audience who remember those movies for these kinds of pictures. And then he didn’t really want to do it because he felt he was over it, you know, but he did it and he had a good time and we’re really happy he did. It worked out good.
At the last junket we had you mentioned you were developing a Swamp Thing movie. How are things going on that and when might we see something?
Silver: We’re working on it. It’s happening so we’ll see what happens. I mean, it’s something I’m excited about doing and I want to hopefully pull that off, so we’re working on that now.
Could that be for next Halloween or…?
Silver: I don’t think it’ll be that soon, but we’re working on it.
And another comic book character that I’d love to see get done if you can do it is Lobo.
Where is that?
Silver: I mean we just did a big test and the studio just saw it, so we’re seeing how we’re going to pull that off and we’d like to do that, too. But, you know, it’s up to the studio to make the decision what they want to do. So, I’m waiting to see if they want to make that movie.
What was the test? Was it CGI or prosthetics?
Silver: I don’t want to tell any more about it but we did a test.
Do you think Rain has great potential to appeal to Hollywood?
Silver: I think we’ll see if he attracts an audience now. I mean, this is getting a big promotional push, this movie. They’re really supporting it. It’s a lot of advertising. A lot of money is being spent to get the movie out there. It’s opening in a lot of theatres. Again, it’s a really good time of year to open the movie and if people go and see it and if they like it it’ll be great for us. It’ll be great for Rain and it’ll be great for this type of movie. You know, if people go and see it. I keep saying I hope that the teenage boys are saying to their girlfriends this weekend, “okay I’ll go see Twilight with you or “New Moon” if you come see “Ninja” with me”, so I hope we can get an audience to see it. And if they do come, it’ll be great for him, yeah.
What was your favorite thing about Rain other than action?
Silver: Well, he’s a great guy. Smart guy. Really hard worker. Really committed. Really focused. I mean, he’s a dream…I mean you make a movie like this he’s your partner and he’s a great partner.
I’m curious, there’s so many re-makes and stuff from earlier films and you have some classic films from the 80′s like “Brewster’s Millions”, “Weird Science”, have you been approached about remaking some of those things and what’s your feeling on remakes?
Silver: I don’t know. I mean, to remake a movie that…I don’t know if I want to remake things that I was happy with, you know? If there were movies that didn’t work or weren’t effective or that are out there in the world that I think could be good movies, I mean I would be open. But, I mean, not really. I mean, we talked about maybe remaking “Commando” at one point because that wasn’t….I think it could have been a much better movie and we didn’t really have the money or the time to do that properly, so I wouldn’t mind trying to do that one again. But they’re remaking “Predator” now, which I’m not involved in, but I liked “Predator”.
And you have “Dark Castle”. How many releases are…could you talk about what stuff you have brewing for the company and what releases are coming?
Silver: I mean, this movie “Dark Castle” is a piece of this movie, this “Ninja”. We did it with Warner Brothers and Legendary, so it’s all three of us involved. The next one out for us is a movie called “The Losers” that we just finished which is really strong, really good. Sylvain White did a great job, great cast. It really is fun. It has a really great tone, a great quality and the actors are fantastic and that’s going to come out in April. And then in January we start a movie called “Unknown White Male” which is a thriller with Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger and January Jones, and that starts shooting in mid-January in Berlin.
Is it based on the true story?
Silver: No, it’s just an original screenplay directed by Jaume Collet-Serra who did “The Orphan” for us. And then I have a movie, a ghost story, called “The Apparition” which we’re going to start in February, which is going to be with Ashley Green. She’s going to be in that movie. And I’m just putting it together now and that’s going to be filmed here also and in Berlin. And then we have a movie we did with John Cusack called “The Factory” which is going to come out the following January-a year from this January. And you know there’s other pictures that we’re developing but we have…I hope we can make more Sherlock Holmes films, so we’ll see what happens.
I was going to ask you a follow-up on that. When you were casting for “Sherlock” obviously you’re hoping for a franchise. But when you have somebody like Robert Downey Jr. who obviously can open the film, is there a thing where you sort of agree before you guys commit to everything, you know, I’m signing you up for X-numbers of films in case it does well, but maybe because you have Robert you’re like well, let’s just take the chance on one? Could you talk about the importance of contracting for sequels vs. landing the big star for the first film?
Silver: No, this movie was intended to be a franchise picture. I mean, Robert would love it to be a franchise picture, so would the studio. He wants to do these forever if the audience wants to see them. He loves it. And you know, when you create a deal like this with the studio you do create a situation where there is a provision in the deal built in for sequels. I mean, we had those for “Speed Racer” too but we didn’t have to use that. But it depends on the movie. I think if we….there’s an article in Entertainment Weekly this week about “Sherlock” and Jeff Robinoff, who’s the head of production of the studio, his quote said if the movie’s a hit I want to get the sequel going as fast as possible. So he just came right out there and said that. I would have just waited until the movie opened first, but he wanted people to know that’s what they want to do, so we’ll hope that if…in fact we have a script being written and if the picture does work, you’ll be seeing another one, I hope, pretty soon.
Do you have a running time on it yet?
Silver: Ah, yeah. Yeah, it’s a little over 2 hours.
With “The Apparition”, what did you see in Ashley Green that it’s time for her to take the lead?
Silver: Well she came and met with us and she really wanted to do this kind of movie. I mean she does have some clearly some strong genre chops. This picture is going to be unbelievably successful–”New Moon”–but she wanted to do it and she’s a very beautiful girl and we thought it was a good person for the movie and so we made a deal.
What’s she going to be playing in it?
Silver: It’s a ghost story. That’s all I’ll tell you now.
Is it time to put the rumors to bed on a “Lethal Weapon 5″ or do you think there’s ever a chance of it happening?
Silver: I mean we tried. I mean, Mel just didn’t want to do it. He just didn’t feel it was the right time for him to do it, so we aren’t doing it now.
Do you have a good relationship with him for say another project? Because he seems like he’s acting again, “Edge of Darkness” and a few other things.
Silver: I mean look, we’ll see. I mean, he was open to the idea of it and we went into a discussion and tried to see if it could happen and we did some work. We actually, Shane actually wrote something and he liked it but he just didn’t want to commit to it at that time.
And you’ve opened the door-Shane Black. What’s it going to take? I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for you two to do a project.
Silver: He wrote another script for me called “The Nice Guys” which is….
You told me about it awhile ago. Do you think there’s a chance of it moving forward?
Silver: Yeah, there is. There is. We’ll see what happens.
Sergeant Rock with Frances Laurents, is there a good chance you’ll get into the super hero game at some point with one of these?
Silver: I hope so. I hope so. Frances has got a real vision this thing and if we can pull it off it’ll be a great movie.
Shane Black, please?
Silver: I’m trying.