Opening this Friday is director F. Gary Gray’s “Law Abiding Citizen”. The film is about Gerard Butler’s character taking matters into his own hands after his family is brutally murdered during a home invasion and the justice system fails to fully prosecute the men involved. Jamie Foxx plays the prosecutor and the film is a cat and mouse game between these two great actors.
Anyway, last week I was able to get on the phone with F. Gary Gray and we talked about why he took so long between movies and what was the reason he wanted to make this film. And for fans of DVDs, Gray revealed there will be an unrated directors cut of “Law Abiding Citizen” when it hits home video. Of course we also talked about other subjects and I got an update on the sequel to “The Italian Job”. Our conversation after the jump:
Finally, if you’d like to watch some clips from “Law Abiding Citizen”, click here.
Collider: So I guess my first question is, you’ve taken I want to say a few years since your last film, so what was kept you away from movie theatres?
F Gary Gray: Oh man, I needed to take a break, you know? I was putting one movie after another and…you know I had to really kind of decide that it’s really, really time for me to take a break and recharge personally and even professionally. As Quincy Jones puts it, make deposits into the creative bank account because when you just withdraw, withdraw, withdraw, you know, bad things happen you know? And I took some time, I traveled the world. I went to Egypt and all throughout northern Africa and traveled all throughout South America, throughout Brazil and Europe and all throughout Italy, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, and I just really had a chance to…I had a good time and learned a lot. I taught a master class in film in France and that was a great experience because I got a chance to study the French film culture and the French film history, so to add…just to expand myself just personally and professionally was really helpful.
I’m super envious that you’re getting to live in France like that.
F Gary Gray: I didn’t get a chance to live there, it was just for a brief moment but it was definitely really fun to work with the French on their projects because you really…it just shines a light on how…just the wide range of stories that you can tell and how to tell them and it also kind of points out some of the clichés that we fall into as American filmmakers and things like that, so it was just really refreshing.
What was it about this project that pulled you in that made you want to get back in the chair?
F Gary Gray: Well, it was exactly that. The material was unique. It was a lot of fun. It was very smart. The concept of a guy taking an entire city hostage from prison is a great concept. And, you know, with movies of this genre it’s very easy to identify the bad guy and the good guy and pretty much predict what they’re going to do. With this movie it was so unpredictable and the characters are so complex, I mean you don’t know at what point who the antagonist is or who the protagonist is at any given moment. You just kind of live with these characters through the story and at different points you feel different ways and I love the complexity of the story and the characters within the story, so that’s what made me just kind of step up and say this is the one and I’m glad the film department and my producers, Lucas Foster, Allen Segal, all these guys had the balls to step up and say we’re going to make this and we’re not going to compromise. With a movie like this, it’s very easy to compromise and go for a PG-13 or smooth out the harder…the rough edges and I think very rarely do you get a film and a story like this that has as much edge and complexity at the same time providing thrills and edge of your seat action and I just loved this.
No, I agree with everything with what you said about the complexities of the characters and nothing is black or white. That’s one of the reasons I really liked the movie. One of the things I also really liked about the film is the quick opening. That you don’t dilly-dally around showing that this is like a perfect family. It’s like in an instant you’re thrown into the action. Was that always the plan?
F Gary Gray: No, it wasn’t the plan. I read the script and there was fairly…it was impressionistic– the opening of the movie–and I felt like this movie the story is so good and you really have to open this movie with a punch in the gut, you know? I called it a punch in the gut because once you see the first 4 minutes of this movie, all bets are off. You don’t know what’s going to happen because you just normally…you don’t ordinarily jump into a movie that strongly and I felt like I really wanted to grab the audience by the collar and grab their attention immediately. So you just wouldn’t know what to expect from that point on and that was a conscious decision that I was….and I’m glad that it worked because you run the risk of people saying, whoa that’s pretty strong, but people seemed to respond to it.
Well, no that’s one of the things I really like actually, because so many films are…you know they just spend a number of scenes that can be spent on other things showing how perfect everything is and, you know, we’ve all seen it in like 1,000 movies. There’s no surprise. That’s something that I commend you on, the nice opening.
F Gary Gray: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Another question is, balancing the action sequences with the budget that you’re given. How did you go about picking…you know what I mean…everyone has a budget so where did you…how did you balance how many action set-pieces with the money you had?
F Gary Gray: Well, you know the great thing about this story and this movie is that a lot of the thrills come from the chemistry between the two leads. You know the movie is really on fire when you see Jamie and Gerard in the same scene without any action, so it was easy for me to like of look at the resources I had to shoot the action and say “I only need to shoot what’s motivated” you know? There was no need in this story for gratuitous action or larger than life set pieces, you know? This is a great chess game. And all I needed to do was to create moments that served this chess match between the two leads. And the body of the movie, which was completely taken care of by Jamie and Gerard and the two characters, I think is what most people kind of focus on and the action is the icing on the cake. So that made it a lot easier for me to say I don’t need $100 million to blow up 10 skyscrapers or crash a 747 into a moving train because all that’s in the eyes of the characters and that’s what I set out to do is to make sure the fireworks happened between the characters and all the rest of the literal fireworks was just there to supplement what the actors did.
I know I’m going to run out of time so I want to get in two other quick things. First, do you ever think there’s going to be sequel to “The Italian Job”?
F Gary Gray: Um, let’s hope so.
That’s a nice diplomatic answer because there’s been rumors for years that there’d eventually be a sequel and I’m sort of curious if you think that too much time has passed, or is it a project you’re like, “I did it and you know I’m going to do something else.” Or if they came at you would you…?
F Gary Gray: You know what…I’d love for them to come up with a concept that taps the first movie. I mean, that’s the goal to make sure that whatever the sequel is that it’s as inventive and as creative as the original, if not better. And I think that’s where all the energy is being spent is just making sure. You know you just don’t do a sequel for the sake of doing a sequel. You want to make sure you top it.
But I mean, so just to clarify there’s not really anything shaking on the project right now? It’s sort of a big maybe?
F Gary Gray: Little things happening here and there but nothing I can get really specific about.
All right. Then of course the other question, I’m happy that you’re back making movies again. I enjoy your work. So are you developing other things that you’re thinking about for the future?
F Gary Gray: Yes, I am. I am. And it’s a combination of not only directing but producing and also a new media-digital media. Video games and things like that. So again, I had the time to kind of just recharge and think about what the next chapter is and directing will always be my first love and that’s where I’ll primarily focus on but you’ll see a few things in a few different arenas really soon.
Okay, so you’re saying that in a few weeks I’ll regret not asking you about something right now?
F Gary Gray: (laughter) No, no, no, no. Not in a few weeks. I wish I was that good. I just focused on “Law Abiding Citizen” over the last year. That’s it.
Okay, well of course I want to ask you about the DVD and Blu-ray. Do you have a bunch of deleted scenes? What can fans look forward to on the eventual home video release?
F Gary Gray: Oh my God. It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be crazy. I just finished the director’s cut and it’s going to be unrated. I’ll put it that way, and unrated for a reason.
Okay see, you can’t leave me like that. You’ve got to give me a little bit more. I mean, did…
F Gary Gray: It’ll be unrated. I think it’ll be enjoyable and I think everyone should definitely go see the theatrical release because it’s going to be insane and I think that, you know, the director’s cut will be just as insane, if not a little more.
I totally agree with you. Absolutely have to see this in a theatre like you should see every movie. My question is, is it a lot more added or just like a sort of extra special violent stuff?
F Gary Gray: Um, I wouldn’t say a lot more but enough to enjoy it.
I totally get it. Well listen man, congrats on the movie and I hope it really does well for you and thank you for giving me some time today.
F Gary Gray: Spread the word.