Producers Joel Silver and Susan Downey Exclusive Interview – ROCKNROLLA

     September 11, 2008

Written by Monika Bartyzel

Guy Ritchie’s long-awaited return to form, RocknRolla, is scheduled to hit theatres on October 8. Starring big-name actors Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, and Thandie Newton, Ritchie’s latest film returns to the world of moral ambiguity with a shady land deal that brings together everyone from low-level crooks and hoodlums to a Russian billionaire and a heroin-addicted rock star. It’s fun, wild, and action-packed Ritchie without the recent film derailments that made us pine for the past.

Before RocknRolla it kicks off its North American run, the film has been making waves at the Toronto International Film Festival. Last week, as TIFF geared up, I got a moment to sit down with producers Joel Silver and Susan Downey (yes, Mrs. Iron Man) and chat about the film and some of those future projects we keep hearing about. Read on to find out what’s in store for RocknRolla, and what’s on the way with future projects like Sherlock Holmes and Ninja Assassin. And here’s my review of RocknRolla, in case you missed it.

Collider: Joel, you’ve said that you’ve wanted to work with Guy Ritchie for a while. What drew you to his work, and what made this the project?

Joel Silver: I’ve liked Guy’s work for a long time. We were developing a few other things with him and he had come to us on a few other projects that we were trying to make. We had been having a series of meetings and discussing different things that we were trying to make into movies, and he called Susan one day and said ‘Look, I know we’re developing these projects, but I’ve written a script that I’d like to make right away. And I think it’s good, I think it’s strong, and I really want to go right to work.’ We had just created a new financial structure for Dark Castle where we were funding our own pictures, and up to now they were funded by Warner Brothers and distributed by Warner Brothers, but these are being funded by us and distributed by Warner Brothers. And we were trying to kind of broaden the label to a full-on kind of genre label to do not just horror films but action films, urban thrillers, comedies, and whatever else we want. Susan read the script and said ‘This is great.’ And within about 24 hours we said: ‘Let’s make the movie.’

Because of the struggle some of Ritchie’s more recent films have had, did that make you at all apprehensive about taking this on, or conversely, more determined?

Joel Silver: I thought it was a return to what he had done in the past. It was a really fresh take on the English gangster picture. It was a new way to look at it – a little more sophisticated, a little more involved than his earlier films. And I thought it would be very special, so we went to work on it.

Susan Downey: We’re just big fans of Guy’s work. We knew that he would nail this one. He was definitely excited to get behind the camera again. As Joel said, we were working on some other stuff with him, so given this opportunity – reading the script, seeing these great characters, this great story – we knew he was going to bring his unique vision to it. We were just excited to get going.

There’s a really diverse array of actors in these roles. How did you go about casting the film, and did you have anyone in mind?

Susan Downey: It’s interesting. It was a fairly traditional casting process, in that when Guy gave us the script, he didn’t have anyone on board yet. He had a couple of ideas, and we all knew that we wanted to have some fresh faces to it – not necessarily use the faces he’d used in previous films. We just started talking, and I think a lot of, or most of the actors who ended up in it were his first choice, like Gerry and Tom Wilkinson. The only two that we talked a lot about were the two Americans who were going to be in it. We’d just done a picture with Chris Bridges, and were excited to put him in, and Jeremy [Piven] had gotten a hold of the script from his agent and was just dying to play anything in it. We thought it would be a really cool coupling. We were fortunate that we had a good piece of material and a great director, so we kinda got who we wanted.

So there was no switching? It was pretty much these are the guys, and girl, for it?

Susan Downey: Yeah! I mean, pretty much. We worked with this great casting director that Guy had a relationship with named Reg and he’s actually doing Sherlock with us now, and he’s just really good about finding fresh and interesting faces. But Guy also stays up on it. With Toby, for example, for the role of Johnny Quid, he had seen a couple movies that Toby was in and just knew that he was our guy. He put him on tape; he was the first person he saw, and Guy sent it to us and said ‘This is who we want.’ The nice thing was after the first two or three people, we felt really confident that anyone Guy was sending our way, who was his first choice, was going to be great. So there didn’t have to be a lot of discussion.

Now I thought it was interesting that the production notes said Gerard Butler was in a stage production of Snatch. Did that play into the casting at all?

Susan Downey: I didn’t even know that.

Joel Silver: He did?

In the production notes, it said he did Snatch on stage.

Susan Downey: Wow.

Joel Silver: That wasn’t really a play, was it?

I couldn’t find anything about it being a play, so I thought I’d ask.

Joel Silver: That’s a production note? It must be a typo.

Susan Downey: But I know that Guy saw Gerry in 300, and just fell in love with his abs and decided to cast him in our movie.

Now, the film has a myriad of big London locales from the streets to Wembley Stadium. How did you go about securing all these distinct locations?

Joel Silver: We had a good crew. London’s a great place to shoot now – they really want to help all filmmaking happen there. I’ve done a bunch of movies there, and we’re about to shoot Sherlock Holmes there in about 4 weeks. They show a tremendous interest in promoting filmmaking. They helped us get through all the red tape, so we were all over the city.

Like Pulp Fiction’s suitcase, RocknRolla has a never-seen painting. Was it always a mystery? Does anyone have any idea what it is?

Susan Downey: I think Guy has a specific idea, but we’re just waiting to see what it looks like.

Joel Silver: Because we want to see it.

Susan Downey: Yeah…

So it might come out in…

Joel Silver: If we do another movie, I hope so!

A recent LA Times article mentioned that you screened RocknRolla for other studios, which sent the Internet into a flurry of speculation. What happened there?

Joel Silver: Friends of mine were interested in the movie and wanted to see it. I wasn’t shopping the movie around. I have great faith in Warner Brothers, and it opens in the UK tomorrow, so we’ll see what happens. We’re talking about a platform release, but it depends on how well it does. We’re looking forward to the audience seeing the movie.

Since Ritchie has already written a sequel to the film – have you read it, what’s it like, and will we hear more about it soon?

Susan Downey: We haven’t read it yet. He does have it. He had a lot more stories to tell, so there was the idea of putting it on paper. We talked just a little bit about it, but I’ve also noticed that even over the course of making this movie, it’s evolved. Apparently, certain characters lived and remained, and others disappeared and then they come back, so I think he’s got it. He’s got all 100-something pages, but I think it’s still a bit of a work in progress. So, we want to see it once he’s committed to the vision.

For the characters who survive, are any of them committed to it?

Joel Silver: No… It’s dependent upon the picture succeeding, so we’re waiting to see what happens.

It’s a great movie, so is there anything you’d want to tell apprehensive moviegoers?

Joel Silver: That’s just it. It is a great movie. It’s entertaining. It’s a little bigger than the other movies. It’s got more going for it. I think it’s smarter, a little easier to understand, maybe. It’s a wild ride, and it’s a great, fun movie.

As you mentioned, in four weeks you’re starting Sherlock Holmes with Guy Ritchie. How do the three of you movie from gangsters and rock stars to the world of Holmes?

Susan Downey: I think it’s kind of a great marriage, and a natural evolution. Guy has a sense of style and attitude and energy that he brings to movies that’s going to be evident in Sherlock Holmes, and Joel has the experience with doing bigger, event-type movies. So it’s really utilizing both strengths. Guy is a storyteller and visualist, and Joel has the ability to bring together a production of that level of quality on-screen. I think it actually makes a lot of sense.

Can we expect Holmes to be in Guy’s usual style, or will this be more of a David Lynch/Straight Story sort of film that has a new take and way of filming?

Susan Downey: Well, we’re using the world that was created in all of the short stories and novels, and he has a very specific sense of style that he wants to bring to it. Joel and I have talked to him quite a bit about the look of the film, and it evolves as the actors come on-board and all the crew is brought together, then you really figure out what the sequences are going to look like. The story itself is not from one of the short stories, but the world is. And Guy wants to do a slightly stylized – not over-stylized, but slightly stylized – 1891.

Going back to RocknRolla, that reminds me of the subtitles used in the dance sequence, which brought to mind more of a comic feel, rather than simply relaying the dialog you couldn’t hear. Can you talk a little bit about how that came to be?

Susan Downey: The subtitles were always there, but the style of them evolved. He’s talked a lot about how he feels … he loves not so much comic books and cartoons, but he loves the idea of taking the aesthetic of those genres and putting it up on the screen. The particular look of the box was something that Guy was drawn to. Joel and I had some different ideas, but Guy really felt very passionate about it. He’s incredibly easy to work with and collaborative, so when he really has a specific thing he likes, then we trust it and go for it. So it’s probably no mistake that it looks a little bit like a comic panel.

Joel, how did the shooting for Ninja Assassin go?

Joel Silver: Great. Great, great, great.

Is it still set to come out in January?

Joel Silver: No, no, no. It was never January, it was always a March release. Yeah, the intention is March. We haven’t seen it yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing it. We shot the whole thing in Germany, and it’s going to be an exceptionally visual and stylish movie.

And can we expect a trailer any time soon?

Joel Silver: Yes, soon. Hopefully before the holiday.

Two of the big, anticipated projects on the roster are Wonder Woman and Logan’s Run. What the latest?

Susan Downey: They are both in the wonderful development stage, which means that we’re trying to get the script right. But we are working on both of them and they’re coming along.

More recently, a whole bunch of fans went nuts when Rob Thomas said that he was looking to do a Veronica Mars movie. Joel, he said he talked to you about the possibility, so what’s going on with that?

Joel Silver: Well, we said if there was a way to tell the story, let’s discuss it. Rob’s trying to find somebody to do it, so I’m open to discussing it. We’ll see what happens.

Lastly, between the two of you, you have a ton of films under your belts. Is there any type, theme, or specific story that you’re itching to do?

Susan Downey: You know, I’ll sort of speak for myself, but maybe a little bit for Joel because we talked about it. We kind of like the world that we work in. We like the genre that we play around in, so I think the goal each time is to try and do it a little bit different, try and work with new people and retain relationships with people that we had great experiences with. So, you know, keep refreshing it, but I don’t know that either of us are itching too much to jump outside of that and try to do some heavy drama, or broad comedy , or something like that. We kind of like the world of entertaining, commercial films.

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