The action thriller Abduction tells the story of a young man who is suddenly thrown into the deadly world of covert espionage. Nathan Harper (Taylor Lautner) is a high school teenager who has the uneasy feeling that he’s living someone else’s life. When he stumbles upon an image of himself as a little boy on a missing persons website, he realizes his parents (played by Jason Isaacs and Maria Bello) are not his own and that his entire life is a lie. Targeted by a team of trained killers and with CIA Agent Burton (Alfred Molina) hot on his trail, he is forced to go on the run with the only person he can trust, his neighbor Karen (Lily Collins), who he’s had a crush on for years.
At the film’s press day, Collider spoke to director John Singleton, in both a roundtable and a 1-on-1 interview, about his interest in working with Taylor Lautner and showing him in a different light, how it’s important to him to be able to bring something personal that he feels will elevate a film, what it was like to shoot the movie with 500 to 600 Twilight fans hanging around the set, what made Lily Collins the perfect co-star, his feelings on 3D and how he would like to shoot his own 3D movie, and the challenge of shooting an action movie with a PG-13 rating. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
JOHN SINGLETON: Just the opportunity to really work with Taylor [Lautner] and do something different with him, as an actor. I’ve worked with a lot of different young actors, and they’re totally different when they work with me than when they work with anyone else. For me, it was just a thing, as a director, to show what I would do with this young man.
Had you been familiar with Taylor’s work before this?
SINGLETON: No, the script came along and I met him, and he said, “I really want to do something with some edge to it. I want my first starring role to have a lot of edge to it.”
Do you think they wanted you for this because you have such a great rep for working with young actors?
SINGLETON: I think that’s the biggest reason I ended up being on the movie. Taylor liked Four Brothers and 2 Fast 2 Furious, and he really wanted to come off really edgy in this movie and do different things within one character. He wanted to kick ass and do the action stuff, but he wanted something that also had a dramatic impact to it, where he could be funny, charismatic and romantic. It was a great thing for him, as a young actor, to have something that could show all the things he’s capable of doing. He’s really hungry to really make his mark.
The great thing about Taylor is that he’s been acting since he was a kid, but he was a kid actor. This is more of a maturation for him – to be around Sigourney Weaver and Alfred Molina, and to sit with me and study. We sat and studied James Dean, John Travolta, Matt Damon and Tom Cruise – people who were young and made the transition into their career as mature actors. And then, we talked thematically about what the character of Nathan was going through, and looked at what was in the script and what was not there that we could bring to it. That’s how we made the movie.
SINGLETON: If it’s whack and it feels like it’s going to be too hard to sell, and I can’t bring anything personal to it to elevate it, then I don’t want to do it. I feel like this movie is my movie, even though it may not look like it’s a movie that I would do, on the surface. It’s still a young man on a journey of self-discovery that has something to do with his father, which goes all the way back to my first movie. We have two generations of people who have family issues – not just father issues, but mother and father issues. The structure of the American family has evolved and changed over the last 25 or 30 years. This was a way of doing that, in a genre movie. That’s the subtext and that’s what makes it profound for me, as a filmmaker, to do movies like this. I don’t just look at it as an action movie. I have action in the movie, but the action that I do is all character based.
Since this film really hinges on the audience’s investment in the protagonist, what makes Taylor somebody that you feel the audience can really follow?
SINGLETON: Just the fact that he is a young man who is very much like the fans that he has. He’s an actor, but he’s also the demographic of the people that would go to see his movies, and he’s interested in the same things – the same type of music, the same vibes, the same sports. He’s just an all-American kid. It was great for me to be able to do this movie with him and get to know him as a person, and get to talk to him about the challenges of having a career and being so famous at an early age, and the responsibilities that he has for himself, to try to navigate that carefully. I told him to look at people who have had a similar path, at an early age, like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, or Tom Cruise’s transition from Risky Business and Top Gun to Rain Man and Born on the Fourth of July. It’s cool for me because I’m a director, but I’m also a teacher. I’m a lover of cinema, and I love working with people who are hungry and have the energy to really do better work.
SINGLETON: Yes. I wanted him to be able to try everything, but in an organic fashion, for this character.
What do you think will most surprise people about his performance in the film?
SINGLETON: I just think that the die-hard fans will look at him like, “Wow, he’s a different guy.” They’ll see that he’s just so new in it. That’s what I’ve gotten from the fans that have seen it so far. They’ll see a difference in him, and that difference is just the fact that it’s new.
What was it like to have so many Twilight fans hanging around the set?
SINGLETON: There were 500 to 600 people, every day. It’s like shooting a movie and having the audience there, watching you shoot the movie. That’s the coolest thing. You want the audience to react to what they’re seeing, and they were there.
Was it challenging to balance the family drama with the love story and the action?
SINGLETON: No, not at all. I’ve done that in other movies, like Four Brothers.
Yes, but was that something that was already in the script, or was that something you brought to it?
The boxing scene between Taylor Lautner and Jason Isaacs, as father and son, really sets the tone for the rest of the movie. How did you find the levels, as to how far you could push that scene?
SINGLETON: It’s uncomfortable at first, but that’s what I wanted. I wanted it to feel like the fine line between abuse and training. People go into the movie knowing that Nathan is on a path to go into the espionage world, but when he’s drunk and the father is kicking his ass, it’s a fine line. It’s disconcerting, but in a good way. You feel like it’s just this family. The dinner scene that comes right afterwards, where it’s just water under the bridge, you just feel like, “Wow, okay, this is an odd family.” That’s what gives it something.
The other thing is that I really told Taylor, “You have to do things in the opening of the movie that are going to shock your core audience and the audience that you want, of young men.” To be an action star, you have to have young men at the movie. I said, “You’re going to have to get smacked around a lot.” He said, “You want to smack me?!” I said, “No, man, Bruce Willis got smacked around, all through Die Hard, and he smacked other people around, and he got hurt. You’ve gotta do that. The guys will love you, and the first time you get smacked, the girls will [freak out].” That’s what happens when we show the movie. That way, when you prevail, as a hero, and you triumph over all these forces, then everyone is with you.
What was it about Lily Collins that made her the perfect co-star?
SINGLETON: I wanted to make sure that the girl wasn’t just a prop. I wanted her to be initiated in the whole chase. Lily came about because I just had lunch with her at Chin Chin, and I just loved her. I thought she was phenomenal. I begged the studio that day and said, “I’ve gotta get this young lady in our movie.” Several studios were chasing her for their next movie, and we got her.
SINGLETON: Just the time. That was the most difficult part. Everything else was easy. The crew was great. The cast was great. I love this cast. We didn’t have any crazy personalities on the movie. Nobody was out of place. Every time I got really intense and serious, Taylor or Lily would prank me. There were a lot of ice cubes down shirts, but it was summer.
Who do you want to work with in Hollywood that you haven’t worked with yet?
SINGLETON: I want to work with a lot of people. I love Ryan Gosling. I think he’s one of the best actors now. I got a chance to sit with him recently. I want to work with some people that aren’t working right now, who haven’t been discovered. I want to work with veterans too, but I want to continue finding new faces and bringing new talent to the fore.
How has filmmaking changed for you, in the past 20 years?
SINGLETON: I’ve become more relaxed. When I was younger, I had more erratic, nervous tension when I was working. I was afraid to fuck it up. Now, I’m so relaxed that I have to make myself nervous. I feel better when I’m second and third guessing myself over everything. I play with the mice in my head, all the time. The whole model of filmmaking has changed, too. The studios are not really what they used to be anymore. They’re really making a lot more films independently. I’m a producer as well, and part of my job is finding equity and money for making movies, sometimes even more so than the creative process. They’re not making as many movies as they used to.
How do you feel about 3D?
SINGLETON: 3D is good. I’d like to shoot a 3D film. It’s hard to say who’s done it the best, outside of Jim Cameron with Avatar. I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and they still showed movies from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s in theaters, that had 3D. It’s a matter of having it become organic to taking out the whole proscenium arch way of telling a story. We’re just starting with 3D. It’s going to become a thing where you’re watching behind your head. That’s where sound is now. Wait until it becomes more of a 360 effect and you feel immersed, so the whole audience has a different interactive experience. They’re only doing it at amusement parks right now, but I think it’s definitely headed there.
Is it hard to make a good action movie when it has to be PG-13?
SINGLETON: We got an R rating and had to take a few frames out of some of the action scenes. Some of the fights were too violent. I was like, “Did you see Hanna?!” It wasn’t the blood. It was a couple frames, here and there. Some of it was just playing around with the sound.