From acclaimed Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and screenwriter J.H. Wyman (Fringe), the crime drama Dead Man Down tells the story of two strangers who are bound together by their mutual obsession with revenge. Victor (Colin Farrell) is a mysterious man who has infiltrated the crime empire run by ruthless kingpin Alphonse (Terrence Howard) for his own very definite reasons, while his neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) wants Victor’s help to carry out her own plans for retribution.
At the film’s press day, director Niels Arden Oplev and writer/producer J.H. Wyman talked about what this film brings to the revenge genre, never wanting to talk down to an audience, assembling such a talented cast, and using Google Earth for location scouting. Oplev also talked about what made him want to direct the pilot for the CBS adaptation of Stephen King’s Under the Dome and why the Flatliners remake appealed to him, while Wyman talked about what inspired the futuristic cop drama that he’s doing for Fox with J.J. Abrams. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
J.H. WYMAN: How I work is that I have something that really bugs me about being on the planet that I feel is really important to say, and then I make a metaphor of it. When I watch a movie like Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional, that became a classic to me because it was really a love story. What the crux and the center of the film really is, you can boil down to one sentence, and that is that even the most damaged heart can be mended. But at the time, I was absolutely terrified of being vulnerable to evil in the world and that those that I loved were always at risk, and it consumed me for a long time. I started to really get worried that humanity, with all the technology and everything that’s going on, probably needed a good story or two to remind people that life is valued by the connections you make. I felt that a lot of people are afraid to engage in relationships because they’re afraid of being vulnerable. And that very vulnerability that I felt is the heart of the movie. Evil can touch all of us now. It’s so dangerous. It just seems to be everywhere. And I just wanted to put a movie out that was actually about good and about finding strength in vulnerability and saying, “You do your best. I said what I meant and I meant what I said to the person that I love and, if you take them, that’s on you. It’s not on me. I have something that’s really close. My job as a human being is complete because I connected.” So, that’s where the movie was. When you start to talk about things on that level, it becomes unique in its own right because I’m not sure that other filmmakers are concerned with the same things. That’s my own perception of the world. I’m a romantic at heart and I wanted to make something that was romantic, but at the same time, I wanted to talk about something that is true and really worthwhile.
NIELS ARDEN OPLEV: I think that the element that is new about the revenge in the film is that it is a double revenge story. It’s a revenge story about two different people seeking revenge, that get entangled into each other’s story, but it’s also really a story about, if you get revenge, what would then be on the other side. I think a lot of revenge stories cut out when the revenge is fulfilled, and the hero that got the revenge then walks away feeling great. This is so much more complex. Joel has taken revenge and turned it inside out, starting it in what could be a traditional revenge story, and mingling it in into this double plot of it, and then turning it inside out without revealing too much of what’s going to happen in the story. It certainly doesn’t go down easy. Because revenge is a very known feeling in American culture, there’s a certain element of an eye for an eye. There’s the saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.” When you wish for revenge and you think you’ve gotten it, what happens then? Revenge is just a really good drive for drama and good action. This film holds such an intellectual level in it and, at the same time, it elevates it and turns it, which was very attractive for me.
WYMAN: You don’t know what’s coming for you in life, and you don’t know what’s around the corner. When you’re in a great deal of pain, you’re only imagining your world the way it is. Those reveals that are on a deeper construction of the screenplay are to hopefully lull us into a sense of understanding that anything can happen, anything can change, and life is convoluted, sometimes in a good way. You don’t know what’s around the corner, and that’s how the plot was designed. You don’t know who’s good and who’s evil, or what’s going on. The reveals are there for those reasons.
OPLEV: You get piece of information that leads to another piece of information. It’s not like, from the 17th fucking minute, you know everything that’s going to happen.
WYMAN: Honestly, I don’t ever want to talk down to an audience. I think they can get it. I really want them to be engaged. It’s such a strange business sometimes, even in my television world. But, the truth is that you really will understand. I want people to pay attention to every frame. When you say it’s a plot that has many twists and turns, to me, as a viewer, when I watch cinema, that’s what I enjoy. I marvel at those type of things because I did not see where it was going, I’m totally engaged, it made me forget about my life for an hour and a half, and I left feeling like, “Wow, that was a trip!” I don’t want to sit down and know, 17 minutes into the movie, that it’s going to be this or that. I’d much rather read a book.
OPLEV: This is a very good challenge, in the sense that it intrigues you to try to figure out what is really going on and why this is pieced together the way it is. I think The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good example of a film where you have to juggle a whole lot of information to follow that story and, even if you haven’t read the book, it seems to go pretty well. And that is a film where the characters didn’t meet until 74 minutes into the film, not on page 17.
The cast in this film is very impressive. How did you assemble everybody together?
OPLEV: For one thing, getting Colin [Farrell] and Noomi [Rapace] for the two main characters was such a scoop. I was so thrilled with Joel [Wyman] and Neal Moritz’s excitement about Noomi, when they met her, because I knew she would blow them away. It was just so great to reunite [with her] and do that. I also think it’s really refreshing to see Terrence Howard as this, excuse my French, evil motherfucker because we normally have an image of him in much more sensitive roles. I think the way he comes off is really frightening, so I was really intrigued by working with Terrence. It was a really cool thing for him to do. Isabelle Huppert was a major scoop. It was the first time she had ever played anybody’s mother which took lots of hours of talking to her in New York. Luckily, Joel also speaks French, which is probably what finally won her over. She’s fabulous and brings such life and bizarre humor to this project. And Dominic Cooper is absolutely fantastic as this hipster gang member that starts out being this naive boy, and then actually ending up being the greatest threat against his friend, as a detective. It’s a really, really cool cast. I think that Joel and I were fortunate that the combination of the two of us could draw in such a cast.
WYMAN: It was amazing because nobody was there for the money, I assure you. It was unbelievable. They all just believed in what Niels’ vision was and what was going to happen. It was just so awesome. It’s like a whole bunch of great musicians wanting to get together and just play. Everybody was really cool. Isabelle just jumped right in. There was such a cultural difference, and she’s an icon, at least to me. Nobody could have played that character like her. She would just do these small little things where you were just like, “Wow, that’s so great!” Coming from her experience in European cinema, she knew right away that her job in the movie was to really show how a mother feels about her daughter. It was another notion of vulnerability, where your daughter gets injured and has no life, and you’re trying to push her out.
WYMAN: Yeah, and it’s the greatest thing ever! That helped us immeasurably. People could look at things and literally say, “We’re going to shoot on the corner of this,” and we could go and take a look.
OPLEV: We found some really profound locations. Some locations we couldn’t get to because they were sealed off by the railway company owning this piece of land and they really didn’t want anybody to go in there, but we saw that there was something down there. In the film, there’s an abandoned harbor with these piers that stick out in the water with this rectangular shape, and they’re totally overgrown, and it’s just a fucking cool image. And on Staten Island, there’s a ship graveyard. I’m using that a lot, even for Under the Dome. When I’m dissatisfied with a location scout, I go on Google Earth. It’s an amazing tool.
Niels, what appealed to you about Under the Dome, and what do you like about establishing the aesthetic for a series by directing the pilot?
OPLEV: It is cool to make a pilot because you get to do all the fun stuff, and then you get to leave when all the tough stuff starts. That was really a project I couldn’t say no to because the Stephen King novel is a fabulous novel and the script was really good and [Steven] Spielberg is producing. It was just something I couldn’t say no to.
A story broke that you’ll be doing a Flatliners remake. Is that true?
OPLEV: Well, there are negotiations going on about that. I don’t know who the hell broke that story. It’s an interesting project and I’m intrigued. It’s also quite a challenge because the film that’s already been done was a cult classic. That’s too early to talk about, but it’s definitely exciting. It’s an exciting option that’s being negotiated.
Joel, you talked about how you start writing a project form something that bothers you in the world. So, where did you get the idea for a cop drama with human androids?
WYMAN: That all started, literally, from a text that I got from my daughter, who’s 20. I was very upset because she kept texting me and I said, “I don’t want to get texts from you. I want to hear your voice.” When she calls me and says, “Hey, dad, what’s up?,” because I’m her father, I can instantly tell where she’s at. I know if she’s okay. But, technology scares me in a way that I feel like it’s going to separate us from our humanity, and I’m very worried about that. That’s what I’m heavily into right now – that juxtaposition between humanity and technology, and what’s going to happen to us, as a human race, because of it. So, this new pilot is all about telling that story, in the future. It’s an essay on humanity and being human. Where does technology help us, where does it hurt us, and where is that line?
Dead Man Down opens in theaters on March 8th.