Opening November 27th, Homefront follows the classic Western paradigm of an ex-lawman who goes to live a quiet life in a small town only to discover he can’t escape his troubled past. Jason Statham plays former DEA agent Phil Broker, a family man who moves off the grid with his daughter (Izabela Vidovic) to a seemingly quiet bayou backwater until meth kingpin Gator Bodine (James Franco) puts them in harm’s way forcing Broker back into action. Directed by Gary Fleder from a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone based on the book by Chuck Logan, the action thriller also stars Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder.
At the film’s recent press day, Statham, Franco, Ryder, Bosworth, Vidovic and Fleder talked about bringing depth and humanity to the characters, finding the right emotional tone, Bosworth’s physical transformation, Statham’s unusual role as a father protecting his daughter, handling the dangerous stunts and action sequences, how production designer Greg Berry and D.P. Theo Van de Sande created the film’s authentic look, shooting on location in rural southern Louisiana, and composer Mark Isham’s indigenous score that acknowledges the region. Franco also revealed what he’s learned from teaching, how he balances it with his busy filmmaking career, and his decision to adopt the film’s kittens. Hit the jump to read the interview.
QUESTION: James, you have a character that’s very unpredictable on the dark side and you bring some great humanity, depth and quality to him. How did you find that emotional tone and balance in creating Gator?
JAMES FRANCO: When I got the script, I was very interested in the project. I knew Gary a little bit before that. I was interested in working with Jason, and I was intrigued with Sly who wrote it. I read it and I saw that it was a well-constructed movie and that there was a good villain that I could have a lot of fun with. Gary and I talked a lot about it. I thought there were two key things to be brought out with Gator. In the original script I read, he did everything that was in the script, but he didn’t really care about his sister. She was addicted to drugs and he would hold it over her head. So I went to the book. Gary and I looked at the book and realized that in fact there was a much more complex relationship to be had, that he actually loves his sister and cares about her and probably likes her more than she likes him. Kate can maybe speak to this more, but I took it that she was kind of using him because he can give her drugs and stuff like that. He wants to give her everything that he can, and it kills him that the thing that she wants is what he knows is killing her. I thought there’s a more complex relationship. That will help humanize this character. And then, the other thing I thought was, with Winona’s character, it was written like I was the boss of the relationship. There was this sex scene in there, and it came at the end of laying out the plan to her, and the sex scene was the punctuation. It was like, “Yeah, let’s do my plan and then we’ll have sex.” I thought it would be more interesting if he was insecure about this relationship, and it turns out she was seeing one of the other gangsters before, and it upsets Gator. I thought it would make it a little bit more unusual that he could be insecure in this relationship rather than just, “I run this show,” and that she’s the boss of the relationship until the end.
Kate and Winona, could you address those comments, too?
KATE BOSWORTH: I, too, was interested in looking at the character, and not as just a drug addict, but who this girl was ultimately. I’m from a small town. I just thought how heartbreaking to sit in your room at 15 or 16 and have these dreams for yourself and think, “I want to get out of this town one day. I want to meet that guy one day. I want to do the things I want to do.” And then, flash to a point where you haven’t done them, and it’s painful, and you’re living in this pain and hell, and how then do you cope? That’s ultimately when she decided to do meth and started to abuse herself that way. For me, the interest in playing this character was connecting to the humanity and to also not strip her of her dignity. That was always very important to me.
WINONA RYDER: I thought what was very interesting was the fact that my character was actually not doing meth. She had done it, but she was part of this operation that was dealing. To me, that was as diabolical as you could get because she knows what happens. It happened to her. She knows how bad it gets. She knows it destroys lives. Yet she’s sober and she’s enabling and getting people [hooked]. But of course, that comes from damage and severe pain. I think the stuff that she probably went through… Gary and I talked a lot about the back story and what these women had to go through to get into these biker gangs, which is pretty horrific and very degrading. You can’t do something like that and not be an incredibly damaged person. There’s a great quote by Josephine Hart, “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.” I thought that was very interesting to play someone very damaged. But I do think her relationship with Gator is interesting and I love what James brought. I loved that whole idea that he brought. I think she’s on the other end of it waiting for him to call, waiting to get brought in. I did love that he brought in that whole dynamic of “I’m the boss of you, man. You ain’t the boss of me.”
Jason, you usually play alongside a sexy female. How was it this time playing a father alongside Izabela, the cutest co-star you ever had?
JASON STATHAM: Exactly. She taught me everything I know. She’s so bossy! You would never know, right? “Get off the horse! Get back on the horse!” And there are whip marks. Anyway, I eventually came around. We had a great time. It’s something quite sweet when you actually get good chemistry with somebody and I think we got very lucky. Right?
IZABELA VIDOVIC: Yeah, we did.
Also, you’ve acted alongside Sylvester Stallone in several films, but this time he was more behind the scenes on this speaking to you from the background. How was that different?
STATHAM: As for Sly, I have worked with him. I’ve done three films with him so I’ve got this ever present voice, (mimicking Sly Stallone’s voice) “Hey Jason, make sure you do this properly.” He’s always there putting the fear of God in me. He’s such a prolific writer, and I think it’s easy to forget how many films he’s actually written. He really does care. He writes with a lot of heart. Instead of just concentrating on a couple of characters, he fills the whole story with great roles and he does it very, very well.
Kate, you gave a terrific, lean performance and I was wondering if you could discuss a little bit your physical transformation and what it entailed?
BOSWORTH: I got very little sleep. The physicality was something that the role required. She’s someone who’s abusing herself every day and that starts to take a toll. Gary, myself, and the make-up artists wanted to make sure that she was far gone enough that there was a real danger to her physicality, and an edginess to her, and a discomfort, and constant agitation, but that she wasn’t so far gone that there was not a point of no return. We wanted to make sure that she was going to be coming back because of her realization by the end. It was just figuring out the kind of volume for her look. Clearly meth is a very destructive substance, and it shows physically very quickly, and it’s a quick demise. It was just a conversation about how rough we wanted her to look and to maintain the sense of hope in her as well. It wasn’t something that I thought twice about. It was something that was required.
GARY FLEDER: One thing that I think is amazing is that Kate never judges this character. This easily could have been a caricature, but what makes it a character is that Kate never once judged her to be a bad person. I think that probably my thing was that Cassie peaked in high school when she was 18, and now she’s pushing 30, and she’s got this kid and this husband that owns a junkyard. It’s the idea with no silver lining ahead, with no hope ahead, what do you become? How do you self-medicate? That’s why I think the one character with an arc in this movie is really Kate’s character. She’s got the one full arc.
For the actors, how was it for all of you to see Jason in action?
STATHAM: What? In the bedroom or…? (Laughter) They weren’t invited.
BOSWORTH: It’s impressive because you’ve had so much experience and the physicality. I do think there’s an inherent athletic approach to the process of filmmaking. We’re all in the trenches together and figuring it out. And just the way that you approached the character and the athletic process you took to that was impressive to me. He’s a real leader. There’s a joy to him and optimism that’s very important.
STATHAM: Oh, thank you kindly.
VIDOVIC: It was awesome to begin with. I got to learn a lot because he just went for it. There was no waiting or anything. I think that because he has the physical endurance of a professional, I had so much to learn from him because he’s done it for a while. I’m not saying you’re old or anything. (Laughter)
STATHAM: I’m sorry, but it sounded a bit that way.
For Gary, can you talk a little bit about creating the look of the film and what it was like shooting in such a beautiful location?
FLEDER: I have to give huge credit to Greg Berry, our designer, who’s not here. He’s in Vancouver. And Theo Van De Sande who’s big sin is he’s so eclectic. As D.P., he shot Wayne’s World. He shot an Adam Sandler movie (Grown Ups). People don’t realize that he can shoot pretty much anything. I worked with Theo a few times doing TV pilots and he’s amazing. He’s also very fast which is very important on any movie these days. You’ve got to shoot fast. The combination of Greg Berry’s design, Theo’s work, and frankly even the costumes (by Costume Designer Kelli Jones), everybody worked together to give it a level of authenticity. A film I really admired was Winter’s Bone last year. It felt like it was one notch away from being a documentary. My thought was to get a film that felt like it wasn’t again a cartoon or caricature, but really felt like it was a real place. Gator’s barn, which is an amazing set, was built from nothing. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t some location. In fact, when Jason walked in the first day of shooting, he said, “How long has this been here?” I said, “A week, two weeks.” Literally, it’s an astonishing collaboration between designer and D.P. I think the film is beautiful and the location work. For me, as a director, finding locations, rather than looking for what’s in my head, the thing is to look around and to see what’s out there. If you see a plantation or a farm or a stable, you say, “This could be amazing.” In fact, in the script originally it’s written that the bad guys arrive by car. And then, once we were scouting places like Slidell and Ponchatoula and Manchac, these places look amazing in the bayou, and we thought they should come by boat. For me, the locations inform how you shoot the movie.
What did Mark Isham contribute in terms of the music?
FLEDER: I’ve worked with Mark since Kiss the Girls in 1987. The great thing about Mark, like with most of my crew like Greg and Theo, we don’t talk that much. It’s a lot of trusting their tastes and their point of view. With Mark, my thing was to bring some indigenous sounds to the table like a sultry fiddle. Those ideas are part of the music landscape so it’s acknowledging the region without sounding like it’s a cartoon or pandering. Mark has done a lot of scores, and again, he has an amazing range. He did my last movie, The Express, which was a very dynamic, bombastic sort of a period film, and this is a much more intimate thriller. Mark is amazing. He’s one of the great composers.
James, as well as being an actor, you’re also known for being a great teacher. I was wondering if you carried that over onto the set and if your co-stars learned anything from you?
FRANCO: (laughs) Yeah, I taught Izabela a lot.
VIDOVIC: Yes, he did.
FRANCO: What did I teach you?
VIDOVIC: Well, James taught me to …. It was actually great to watch him rehearse because he went all out, and I didn’t have to worry about him not giving me his all. (to James) It was great to watch you work.
FRANCO: Thank you. No, these are all professionals. I’m not here to teach anybody. I think what I’ve learned from teaching is how to communicate better. I was just working with my graduate students this morning. They’re trying to make movies. They have ideas, and I’m basically just helping them capture those ideas, articulate those ideas. I am constantly asking them, “What are you going for? What do you want to achieve here?” And then, we’ll look at what they’ve done. “This is what I’m getting from what you’ve done. Is that what you’re trying to say? No? Okay then, if you’re trying to say this, then I think you might try this.” It helps my communication skills because then I can just go to Gary and say, “This is how I think it should be. Do you agree? If so, then how do we capture that? How do we achieve that?” I guess that’s the connection between my teaching and working on this movie.
For James and Winona, Woody Harrelson recently said he got into the mind of a meth dealer by watching Breaking Bad. Was there anything you two could draw upon? And then, working together, were there any fun anecdotes behind the scenes?
RYDER: Well we’ve…
FRANCO: Well we’ve done a lot of meth. (Laughs) We don’t need that Breaking Bad.
RYDER: I’m really excited for Breaking Bad because I’m saving it.
FRANCO: It’s really good.
RYDER: I’m still at The Wire. I’m still re-watching that for the gazillionth time.
FRANCO: There’s a show called The Sopranos. Have you ever seen it?
RYDER: No, but I hear Breaking Bad is so good that I know I’ll just go straight through it. I’m saving it because I know it’s great. I’m sorry, what was the question?
FRANCO: How did you prepare? Any funny stories?
RYDER: (Laughs) Well, we’ve done a couple of things together.
FRANCO: It’s true. This is my third movie with Winona, I think.
RYDER: It’s great because he’s genuinely – and I know this word is sometimes used in another way – but he’s genuinely such an interesting guy in a genuine, good way. He genuinely is one of the most interesting guys.
FRANCO: Winona teased me this whole time. She was very close with Allen Ginsberg, and her family is close with all The Beats, and I played Allen Ginsberg. She told me that I was going to get …
RYDER: But you never came in …
FRANCO: …one of Allen Ginsberg’s T-shirts.
RYDER: I have it in…
FRANCO: And it’s been two years.
FRANCO: I’m owed an Allen Ginsberg T-shirt. But preparing, for me, the key was… The other key goes maybe to your question about the character. I think it helps serve the movie if he’s not just a bad guy that’s there as a device, that he is somebody that does bad things, and you don’t condone his actions, but you can understand why he’s doing it. What that meant to me was that maybe he shouldn’t do the meth, that this is a business. He sees it as a business. When he goes after Jason’s character, maybe he has a little fun with the torture of it, but it’s more that he sees this guy as just a key to helping his business, to helping him achieve his dream, the same dream that Kate’s character has, of getting out of this town and just making something of himself, which is something that we all do. Whatever our business is, we want to succeed. We want to achieve. And so, we can all understand that side of it where he crosses the line that hopefully none of us crosses. “Well, okay, I’ll hurt somebody else in order to achieve my dream.” We don’t go with him there, but it’s like you can understand the human motivation behind what he’s doing. That’s why I thought the meth is just his way. It’s just what he found. It’s the way that he thinks he can get out of this wicked little town. I didn’t really need to know what it was to do meth or anything like that. We just had police consultants on there to tell us how the meth lab should look, and what kind of things I should be pulling, and that was it. Kate’s the one who had to do that kind of hardcore research.
BOSWORTH: I just watched about a hundred episodes of Cops.
Jason, you said that Sylvester Stallone put the fear of God into you. Is there anything else that puts the fear of God into you or are you completely fearless?
STATHAM: No, it was only because I wanted to wear a brown wig and Sly wanted me in a blonde wig. We just had a bit of a disagreement there. (Laughs) A lot of things put the frighteners up me, but I won’t discuss what they are because you might be putting them through my letterbox later this evening. I try to keep it under my hat.
James, I’m curious what was going through your mind as you were preparing to do the scenes where you have to go toe to toe with Jason Statham? When you were done and had actually survived it, did you feel a little tougher?
FRANCO: I think Jason does all of his own stunts. I’m pretty sure, at least most of them. I don’t. (Laughs) My guy gets really beaten up. There was a stunt guy that was just happy to do that. I’ve done a lot of movies with fight scenes, and you know when you’re working with somebody that’s good. Fight scenes are really more like dances than they are fights, because you’re depending on your partner to do the right move at the right time. Yes, a tough person or somebody who knows what they’re doing will look better in a fight scene, but it also has a lot to do with the other person. We had one fight scene in the movie. It was like, “Yeah. Okay. This is great. Actually I’m not scared here. I feel great here because Jason knows what he’s doing. I’m not going to get hurt.” Whereas, somebody that hasn’t done a lot of fight scenes is not tough and will probably hit my hand with the sword or punch me in the face by accident.
FRANCO: (to Izabela) What is it?
VIDOVIC: It’s an anti-bullying drama called Because These Kids Are.
FRANCO: Anti-bullying. Oh cool! I’ve got to see it.
STATHAM: I auditioned, but I couldn’t get a part. It’s a tough nut to crack, I can tell you.
FRANCO: I bullied Izabela every day.
VIDOVIC: No, he was pretty nice.
There were some rough scenes between Winona and you. Were those tough for you, Izabela? And did you apologize afterwards, Winona?
RYDER: I was literally, “Okay, I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” during the takes. That was actually really hard for me because she’s really tough. (to Izabela) You were such a trouper. But, to handle a child that way, the idea of it was hard.
VIDOVIC: She was very careful. I remember at one point you even told me to make up a code word because in the scene I was supposed to stab you in the hand with a screwdriver and that was in the cargo part of the boat. The top was supposed to slam and I was supposed to go like this (demonstrates). It was rehearsed. It was careful.
RYDER: But it was just dangerous. I mean it was.
VIDOVIC: In that way, yes, I guess it was.
RYDER: It was like, “Palomino! If you’re really scared, just say…” What was the code word? It was something weird. She’s supposed to be screaming in the scene, but I didn’t want her to be screaming in real life. Plus, I was also in high heeled boots, which was tough doing all of that to her on the boat. That was really tough, Gary, those high heeled boots. Izabela is really amazing. I was really blown away.
FLEDER: People have asked about the idea of her being on the set with all the violence, but actually a few weeks ago in New Orleans, we screened the movie and this guy brought in his five-year-old daughter to see the movie, and I had him ejected. My thought was, “How do you bring a five-year-old kid to see this movie?” I mean, being in a movie is one thing, and it’s kind of easy. There’s craft services and people are nice. But the idea of bringing a kid to see the film, my fear is people will do that opening weekend.
James, you are always busy writing, acting, and teaching, how do you maintain a balance between your personal life and your professional life? And, do you consider yourself sexy?
FRANCO: (Laughs) Jason, how do you answer that question? Jason, how do you handle that question?
STATHAM: Get out of it! (Laughs) Some things you can’t answer.
Jason, do you think he’s sexy?
STATHAM: No, no! (Laughs) (to James) Get it together! I’m on hold here.
FRANCO: I was acting over a decade and then I went back to school. Nobody in my world thought that was … They thought, “Okay, if it makes you happy,” but nobody thought it was a great idea. “But that means you can’t work as much and you’re going to get an English degree? What is that going to do? You already have a career. Why are you doing that?” Nobody was that excited about it, but it was very important to me. I had to fight for that. I had to fight to carve that out and make that part of my life. And now, it’s part of my life. I teach here in L.A. one day a week, and I’m doing a movie in Vancouver, and it’s just part of my life now. I’m very fortunate that I can arrange things that way and that I get to do everything now. Now sometimes things conflict, and I can’t do something at a certain time, but more or less I get to do both and it’s very satisfying. I don’t need tons of time to goof around, because when I make movies and when I do my own projects, it’s like all the people I love, all my friends, the closest people in my life are working on those projects. There’s no relationship that I find that’s closer than a creative relationship. I get to have the most intense kind of relationships with all my friends while we’re working because we get to do the best jobs in the world.
RYDER: I did one of these movies with you and worked with Jay who is your teacher. I know this group of people and they are amazing. I have seen you with them and it’s quite something. It’s almost a telepathic relationship that you have with them. I don’t know how long, but you’ve known them for a while.
FRANCO: She’s talking about a lot of my friends from NYU.
RYDER: Yeah. It’s great.
I can’t believe no one has asked what happened to Luther, the cat?
FRANCO: Oh, I have him. There were a couple of black kittens that were doubles and I adopted them, so I have them. Now they’re with me.
STATHAM: Is that right?
FRANCO: Max and Lux are sisters.