Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers) was instrumental behind the scenes of director Kim Jee-woon’s American debut, The Last Stand (watch the new trailer here). The stylized Western stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as retired LAPD officer turned sheriff, Ray Owens, who settles in the peaceful border town of Sommerton Junction. When cartel leader Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) escapes from the FBI and makes a run for the border, Owens and his small-town sheriffs department are the only things standing in his way.
During our set visit to The Last Stand, Lorenzo di Bonaventura took time out of his busy schedule to participate in a roundtable interview and talk with us about the film, how long it took to develop from script to screen, being introduced to Kim Jee-woon’s work and how he brought him to Hollywood, how he thinks audiences will react to seeing Schwarzenegger return for a lead action role, his belief that Johnny Knoxville will surprise people in this movie and his appreciation for the level of camaraderie among the cast and crew on set. Hit the jump for our interview with di Bonaventura from our set visit to The Last Stand.
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: No, I gave up that idea when I became an executive. I used to do a stunt in almost every movie. When I became an executive, all the insurance guys freaked out. I haven’t done that in a long time.
You could always get blown away by Arnold.
di Bonaventura: Yeah, that would be fun. That would be great.
How long a road was this project in terms of script to production?
di Bonaventura: I want to say this was about 2 1/2 years. There was a spec screenplay. A guy wrote it and it was great. He did a great job. A very young writer. He was inexperienced, but he had a central idea that worked really well. We liked the visceral quality of it, it was great. We went out to Jee-Woon about two years ago, shortly after we got the script. He was the first director in mind. Well he wasn’t the only director. We showed it to Timur [Bekmambetov] and he really liked it, but he was going to go shoot Abraham Lincoln [Vampire Hunter]. There were a lot of ups and downs trying to figure out the cast, you guys asked me about Liam [Neeson], we had Liam at one point. Then Arnold said he wanted to return to the screen. This character fits Arnold’s age. Arnold has left the big city in a way. He’s left a big Governorship and now he’s back on a movie set. The story makes an interesting parallel in that.
It’s interesting that you mention Timur because the Western is such a traditionally American genre. Do you think it’s important to have an outside voice behind the lens?
di Bonaventura: Important, I don’t know. “Maybe,” is the answer. What you have to have is a guy who is willig to look at it and aspire to the traditional demands of it, but have their own take on it, you know? I think that could be an American, too. I think you don’t want to get too tied into trying to fulfill each step of a Western. You need to create the atmosphere of it and the collision of it is very Westernlike between the good guy and the bad guy. The inevitability of that collision is very Western. Jee-Woon has a very distinct point of view as a shooter. It’s a very sort of idiosyncratic way of looking at each scene. What’s fun about watching it is that every time you think you know the scene, it’s a little bit different than you thought it was. He does alter you perceptions of what it was.
This film is coming out in 2013 of January. That’s a long post-production.
di Bonaventura: That’s Lionsgate. They thought it was a really good release date. I think all of us wish it would maybe come out a little bit earlier, but it is a really good release date. Life changes. You never know. We’ll see how good the film is. I sort of don’t pay too much attention to it because there’s a lot of time between now and then for things to change. Or, if it doesn’t change, Martin Luther King weekend is a great time to release a film like this. I like that date.
We’ll see Arnold in The Expendables 2 before audiences see him in The Last Stand. This will be his first lead role. Is there a concern that audiences aren’t going to embrace Arnold as the star that he once was?
di Bonaventura: No producer is ever confident about any movie or any decision they make, so no (laughs). But there is something interesting going on on this movie — so put aside that question for a second and we’ll come back to it — which is, the mixture of comedy, drama and action is going to feel very different than the movies in this genre that have been in the last few years and that I’ve seen coming out next year. It’s going to feel unique. I think that, even when it’s bad, unique is more interesting than just another movie. I think we’re going to be really good and I think there’s a uniqueness that’s going to make people want to see it. I think Johnny Knoxville in this thing is a revelation. I think audiences that know Johnny Knoxville, when they see what we’re doing, are going to want to come see this movie. It’s that younger male audience that’s younger than Arnold’s audience. They’re going to respond to how funny that character is. He makes you laugh. It’s a crazy fucking character in the middle of this insane shoot-out. We all wanted him to do it and I, especially, really wanted him to do it because the worst thing that actors can do is go from doing “Jackass” to Shakespeare. We’re not asking him to do Shakespeare. We’re over here. There’s an echo of the fun that you can have with “Jackass” in this character, but it is absolutely a different character and it’s one created by an actor through his performance. Fans love him. It’s different, but it’s not so different that people go, “Whatever.”
Then you come to Arnold’s audience which, I think, is older. Like all of us who grew up with Arnold action movies, I want to go see Arnold. I think that audience is going to come. The challenge has always been, for this movie is how does it get younger? My kids are 10 and 13 and they’ve seen “Terminator”. They like him. They don’t necessarily have a passion for him because he’s not continuous enough in their lives as he was when we were watching him. They see a bunch of movies with him all together and they go, “Yeah, he’s really good.” That’s the tricky part is that younger demographic. Johnny is going to be a big help and the attitude of the picture is going to be a big help. My experiences with the older audience and, selectively, the people I hang out with or run into, they all want to see Arnold kick some ass.
di Bonaventura: There you go. Exactly. I think it’s going to be a really nice combination for the movie. There’s also something else going on is where we’ve got really quality actors in Luis Guzman and Forrest Whitaker. There’s a lot of people who won’t know who Eduardo Noriega is, but he’s a fantastic actor. I almost forgot Rodrigo Santoro, who you guys probably do know from 300. He gives a fantastic performance. Also, as a male action picture, there are three hot chicks in this movie one of whom was just in a movie I did called Man on a Ledge. You need to see her in that. She just steals that movie. It’s unbelievable how good she is in that. She’s going to bring a certain amount of credibility. It’s sort of an interesting collective that has occurred. I don’t like the term ensemble. It’s bland to me. It’s a collective of energies and audiences and who people will respond to.
And you’ve found that camaraderie existing on set?
di Bonaventura: Absolutely. A lot of that has to do with the director, too. He’s such a mellow guy. Everything is very cool. The result is, everybody else stays mellow and everyone else stays cool.
There’s something that feels relaxed about this film’s production, right down to Arnold’s ease at being on set again. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a set where the leading man sits down and eats lunch and offers an earnest conversation for 45 minutes.
di Bonaventura: Well, that’s just Arnold. We’re all having a good time making this movie. It doesn’t always guarantee a successful movie, but it does always show up somehow in the energy. You can’t will that to happen. If it happens, it happens and it has a hell of a lot to do with the director, a hell of a lot to do with the star and a little bit with the producer. As a producer, I try to bring as many nice people as I can to insure that there’s no screaming, there’s no shouting, there’s no bullying. The more of those kind of people that you can bring together, the better the experience everyone has on set.
di Bonaventura: It’s so hard to find a director who, when you look at their body of work, you like everything. Usually, you’re looking at a director and going, “Okay, I like that movie. Hopefully he’ll do that again.” When you look across his body of work, every movie is different, but it’s really, really good and interesting. For me, I have this really crash and burn philosophy where we’re going to try. If we’re going down in flames, it’s going down in flames. But we’re gonna try. If we don’t succeed, we’re not surviving. If you go in with a quality director, you have a much higher probability of finding that. I find, in particular, his attention to detail and his attention to nuance where it comes sorta foreground where a lot of directors’ insert shots, where it’s, “Okay, here’s the guy.” There are different ways he does that and when you put it into — let’s say a “simple” universe like that — just enriches it.
You also took his leading man [Byung-hun Lee from I Saw the Devil] for G.I. Joe 2. Obviously it seems like you’re a fan of both of them.
di Bonaventura: 100%. I got to know both of them watching one of their movies. When I was at Paramount I said, “We should cast this guy” and they’d say, “Who the hell is that?” Then, as soon as we asked the international guys, they were like, “Please cast that guy right away.” We did staggering grosses on that movie in Korea because he’s a giant star there. In Japan as well. In all of Asia. But particularly those countries. But, yeah, I like what they did together.
What is the process like, as a producer, to catch films like his early on? I imagine that, for every movie you see, there’s probably ten that you aren’t so fond of.
di Bonaventura: That’s for sure. And you’re being generous (laughs). But yeah, I’m constantly watching films. My backpack has seven or eight DVDs in it and four or five of them have been there three months and I’m desperate to get to them. Then you finally get that moment where you get to watch a whole bunch of movies. Some Spanish movies, called Kidnapped, which was a rocking movie. I’ve reached out to that director. That was intense, no-holds-barred, emotional. Really, really good. It’s not a comfortable movie. It’s not a comfortable experience to sit through that movie. No question about it.
So are you going to try to bring this guy [Director Miguel Angel Vivas] to the States as well? That’s a smart move.
di Bonaventura: Yeah. We’re actually already talking about two different projects trying to lure him in.
So the future of international directors lies in your backpack?
di Bonaventura: (laughs) I don’t know if it’s like that. I can only follow my tastes. Hopefully I can convince somebody else to like it, too. You see that movie and you give them an action picture, you give them a horror picture. Something with intense realism. I guess a thriller. That’s where I’m looking to try and find the guy. He’s very interested in coming to the States.
di Bonaventura: I think some of it has… I think what’s exciting about him is that you can never pin him down.
What do you do if the movie’s successful and you want to do a sequel?
di Bonaventura: It’s not really a movie that’s designed to have a sequel. But Salt was not designed for a sequel. It has a good chance. Audiences make that decision for you, really. The time you try to make it for yourself is usually about the time they clobber you in the side of your head. The arrogance of predicting you’re going to get one, it usually means failure. I just try to make the first one really good. If something like that happens, great. I’m not quite sure how you’d do it, but I bet we could figure out a way.
What has been the biggest challenge on this?
di Bonaventura: Well, the way they make Korean movies is very, very different than us. We’ve been trying to learn each others’ systems for a very long time. I don’t think we’ve entirely learned them yet. There’s a certain challenge in that and there’s also frustration. There’s a lot of different things that go on in that. More than anything, I find that you make a presumption about how something is going to occur and you plan for it in the production side. Then the Korean team walks on and says, “No, it’s this way.” Then you say, “Alright.” and you stop and you go back and do that. I think that’s the hardest thing. He treats films in a completely different way than any director I’ve ever worked with. We’re all conditioned to our way and he’s not. He’s conditioned to his way. There’s that push and pull. And then there’s the sense of we don’t have enough money to make a movie the size that we want to make and there’s the sense of how we wrench this movie into that size of the movie we want to make.
Since you have so many projects in development at the same time, how do you, personally, balance your time?
di Bonaventura: I just keep moving. That’s pretty much it. I don’t really think about it a lot. People laugh at me because I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow. I don’t even know what I’m doing this afternoon, other than that I’m here. I made a decision somewhere along the line to go, “Okay, I need to be here, here, here and here” and then I just get there. I think that running a studio gave me an appetite for making a lot of different kinds of movies and it’s given me the opportunity to do that. I don’t really want to let go of it and, therefore, I’m the one that has to adapt to what that means. It means not a lot of sleep and lot of planes. It means a lot of confusion. I got out of my bed this morning and I thought I was at my house. I walked into a wall and was like, “Oh, right! I’m in Albuquerque.” That’s actually happening more and more. I don’t know if that’s old age or just a product of traveling too much. It’s true. It’s crazy. It’s really bad when you get on an airline and the stewardess goes, “Oh, hey! How are you doing?” It happens. The New York, LA women all know me because I fly home every weekend to see my family. I’m home twice a week, no matter where I am. The same with New Orleans and LA.
Do you have any other projects in development that Arnold could headline?
di Bonaventura: I don’t think I have any at the moment, but I’m watching how much fun he’s having and I can see he’s going to want to do it again. Honestly, we haven’t thought about it for eight years. When you’re developing material, I always have a guy in mind. He wasn’t in the category for a long time. I’m sure if I stopped and went through everything, I’m sure I could find something. He’d be great for RED 2. I always wanted to do, and I don’t know if you know it, Bruce Willis and Brian Cox, have that whole first exchange and talk about Igor the butcher? Arnold would make a helluva butcher. We had a hell of time getting that movie made. They kept saying, “No one wants to see old people.” I was like, “There’s a hell of a lot of old people and it’s got a young aesthetic. I knew it was working when, all around the country, friends’ 12 to 14 year olds were obsessed with RED on DVD. I get all these crazy calls from people. A lot of, “My son loves TRANSFORMERS. He wants a Transformer.” Now it’s, “Oh, my son loves RED”. I was like, “What? You’re a 12-year-old?” Hopefully we make another one and I think Arnold would be great for it. We didn’t design it with Arnold in mind, but now we’re going to have figure out how to put Igor the Butcher in it. If he’s willing to play a character named Igor the Butcher…but he played Conan the Barbarian, he oughta play Igor the Butcher.
Have you already talked about the score?
di Bonaventura: Yeah, we’re going to use his composer, Mowg. I’ve only talked to him once on the phone. But he sent me some samples of what we were going to do. That little bit of music you heard there at Dinkums, how it was a little bit different from what you would expect, I’m hoping that that’s what he’s doing all the way through because it feels fresh to me. I like it. It gives it a sensibility and feels very modern.
He sent me like eight or nine cues of things he had done before that would, stylistically, give me a sense of what it was. It was very cool. I think it’s going to give it an energy and a modern feel, which is key in a movie like this if you can pull something like that off.
di Bonaventura: It’s interesting. Like I said, his process is very different. He shot for three days and then he shut down for three days and then he came back up. So he’s constantly able to look at what they’re doing and have a conversation about it, have a debate about it. We don’t have that luxury, we’re going. So this tool will help him with this process. [Note: Referencing the chromakey process in which two video streams are layered to provide a finished look to a scene.]
I was surprised at how far along the editing was already.
Di Bonaventura: I promise you, we’ve done one sweep through that. But he’s picking his shots very specifically. There’s some good violence in there too. It’s wild. There’s a thing where three people get caught in a very small staircase and all hell, the craziest shoot-out, there’s so much smoke from the fire that you can hardly see. It’s really a badass feeling.
Di Bonaventura: Forest Whitaker plays the FBI agent in the movie and essentially the FBI is moving the most important prisoner they have from Point A to Point B and he gets hijacked. He’s so smart that he’s managed to shut down…this Corvette that they have now is the fastest car that they have in a straight line. The ZR1 and then the next generation of it. He’s had it stolen from an auto show, a suped-up version with over 1,000 horsepower. And then we did this thing, we realized a helicopter can’t keep up with it. And also, he takes a hostage so they can’t really do anything and you can’t call in an airstrike on something like that. It takes Presidential order to fire something like that. Basically, he can outrun them to the border. So the question is, can he get across the border? The fun part of the FBI dynamic is Arnold’s character calls them up and says, “He’s coming through here,” and they’re like “Shut the fuck up. Stop being a hick. Get the fuck out of the way. We’re sending a SWAT unit there. The best thing you can do is get out of the way. And, by the way, he’s not coming through there, he’s coming through here.” But of course Arnold is right and that’s why you see the barricade and all that. He begins to take things into his own hands.
You had mentioned Genesis Rodriguez. Is she part of the FBI?
Di Bonaventura: She’s an FBI agent. She gets taken hostage.
Here’s more coverage from our visit to the set of The Last Stand:
- 20 Things to Know from Our Set Visit to The Last Stand Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Arnold Schwarzenegger Talks The Last Stand, Returning to Acting, His Personal Favorite Characters from His Career and More
- Director Kim Jee-Woon Talks The Last Stand, Differences Between Korean and American Filmmaking, His Unique Directing Style, and More
- Eduardo Noriega Talks The Last Stand, Playing the Villain, Fighting Arnold Schwarzenegger, Working with Director Kim Jee-Woon and Driving the ZR1 Corvette