In filmmaker David Ayer’s Sabotage, elite DEA task force agent John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) heads a team that takes on the world’s deadliest drug cartels. But after the team successfully executes a high-stakes raid on a cartel safe house, they mysteriously start to be murdered, one by one, making everyone a suspect, including the team members themselves. The film also stars Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Max Martini, Olivia Williams, Harold Perrineau and Martin Donovan.
At the film’s press day, director David Ayer spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how open Arnold Schwarzenegger was to reinventing himself for this role, the challenges of telling a story that leads up to a big reveal, that there are bread crumbs if you know where to look for them, how the first cut was over three hours, that he shot a very different alternate ending, and finding very strong women to go toe-to-toe with the guys. He also talked about what he was hoping to achieve with his Work War II film Fury and how audiences will see a very different Brad Pitt in it, how he’ll be back to the drawing board to write his next film, and that he would love to do something female centric. Check out our David Ayer interview after the jump.
Collider: Since its inception, this movie has been marketed as the movie that’s going to show Arnold Schwarzenegger in a way that we’ve never seen him before. And having seen the film, it clearly does that. Were you ever concerned about whether he’d be game for that?
DAVID AYER: He was open to it. It’s a little bit like Karate Kid, where you wonder why you’re sanding the floor, and then you get in a fight and realize that it’s a block. This is a guy who’s a legend. He’s iconic. He’s done more action movies than I ever will. He’s shot more guns. So then, I went to him and said, “Let’s start from zero and pretend you have no history,” and then build it up and train the way a real police officer would. He went to the range and started learning the orthodoxy of firearms and tactics. And I put him with very cool, very real people who could show him how it’s done in the real world. And then, I surrounded him with an amazing cast that got the same training. They clicked and bonded, and fought and argued, and made up and bounced off each other. It had this affect of making him like a real guy. He’s very grounded, and he has this dimensional quality about him. He’s a real guy with a real inner life and a real soul. Along the way, he really began to understand the process, and really enjoy it and embrace it, once he started seeing how the results were working out. But, it was a lot of fun. I wanted to reinvent him and flip expectations.
Was it your idea to cast him?
AYER: I think it all came together organically. The project needed a star, and the project needed a director. It was like two bullets hitting each other. It was the right time and the right place. He saw End of Watch and was excited about working with me, and I saw the original Terminator and was excited about working with him.
When you’re doing a movie like this, that’s leading up to a big reveal or even multiple reveals, do you have to always pay attention to the little details before that, especially knowing that people will immediately be thinking about what came before and whether it all really works?
AYER: Yeah. This is my first whodunit, and holy cow, they are not easy. It’s an old school action movie, but there’s also this crazy story inside of it with this mystery, this whodunit, why did it happen and who did what, with a lot of finger pointing. You don’t want to get too far ahead of the audience and you don’t want the audience to be ahead of you. So, that balance is difficult and it takes a lot of work and tuning in the edit, to get the right balance. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of fun because you have this great action movie and this insane family that Arnold’s the dad of, with all this amazing chemistry, and then you also have a really cool mystery in the middle of it. There are bread crumbs, if you know where to look.
AYER: The first assembly was over three hours. There’s going to be plenty of deleted scenes out there. And it’s painful. You have these great scenes, and they play well and everything works, but a movie is always its own animal. It emerges organically. As a writer, you have to be willing to kill your darlings, and I’m a writer first. As a director, I’ve got no problem cutting the scenes.
Did you shoot an alternate ending for this, like you did with End of Watch?
AYER: There is a different ending. There are a couple of different endings.
Is that something we’ll ever get to see?
AYER: I think so, yeah. I think it’s gonna get out there.
Is it very different?
AYER: Oh, yeah. It’s so fucking different.
Like with different person responsible?
There’s already a lot of interest in your next film, Fury. When I spoke to Jon Bernthal, he said that it’s the darkest war movie ever made, and Jason Isaacs said that he was surprised you actually got to shoot the script that he read. Do you feel any pressure, now that people have a certain expectation for what you deliver in a film?
AYER: The worst pressure is the pressure I put on myself. I’m confident about Sabotage. I set out to make this insane family movie. Imagine the most evil Thanksgiving dinner with your family, ever, with guns and a body count, and that would be it. With Fury, I wanted to try something totally different and try something historical. I’m a veteran, and I come from a family of veterans and people who served in that war. And the stories that I heard were a hell of a lot different than the movies that I was seeing, so I wanted to make a movie about the people that were really there. It’s tough. It’s going to be a genre flip. But, it’s also beautiful. There’s a lot of heart to it, and these great relationships.
You certainly have another great cast.
AYER: Yeah. We have Brad Pitt, and these amazing people. Logan [Lerman] kills it. Shia [LaBeouf] is unbelievable. And there’s Jon [Bernthal] and Mike Peña. It was a really great opportunity.
Much like you present a very different side of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sabotage, will we be seeing a very different side of Brad Pitt in Fury?
AYER: Yes. It will be a very different Brad Pitt. There are different roles for different times in people’s careers. With Arnold, he was ready to try something new, and was totally receptive to the idea of doing something transformative and playing a very different character than he has. Same with Brad. Brad was willing to just commit, body and soul. Same thing with Jake [Gyllenhaal] in End of Watch. They have to be ready for the commitment, with the training and the time and everything that’s required. With a lot of movies, the actors show up two weeks out for rehearsals and a couple of table reads, and then they shoot it. When I make a movie, it’s almost a relief to get shooting ‘cause the hell is over, or part of the hell is over. It just changes.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to do beyond this now?
You have some very interesting female characters in your films. Have you thought about doing something female centric?
AYER: Absolutely. I’ve got daughters and I’d love to be like, “Here are things you need to know about the world.” For sure. I had a great time with Mireille [Enos] and Olivia Williams, creating these bad-ass women that have to deal with these knuckleheads and hit them eye to eye, and they did a great job.
Was it challenging to find a woman with the kind of chemistry you needed with Arnold Schwarzenegger and could still be a bad-ass?
AYER: Yeah, it was really tough, and t was counter-intuitive to cast Olivia. She’s this Cambridge actress with this background in the London theater. She’s very technical and process and skilled. And to throw her toe-to-toe with Arnold couldn’t have been a better choice. She did an amazing job. I love their chemistry and how they play together. This movie has got so many different elements and levels going on that it’s really hard to put in a box and say it’s one thing.
You definitely start this movie off with a bang, and it makes it very clear, the kind of movie you’ll be seeing. Was it important to you to set it up in that way, to make sure audiences knew exactly what kind of movie they’d be getting?
AYER: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the cold opening, in Hollywood terms. You just throw the viewer into this world and give them a taste of what they’re going to be seeing more of. In writing, it’s called a credential scene, where you see how this team operates together, under the best of circumstances, when everyone is hitting on all cylinders and playing nice with each other. I just wanted it to be a sold, old school action movie, like the kind I grew up enjoying, as a kid, which were a lot harsher and more brutal. It’s not PG-13.
Sabotage opens in theaters on March 28th.