‘The Wall’: Aaron Taylor-Johnson on the Physical & Psychological Demands of the War Thriller

     May 11, 2017

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From director Doug Liman, the psychological thriller The Wall is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that follows two soldiers (played with expert skill by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and WWE superstar John Cena) who are pinned down by an Iraqi sniper. Their fight becomes a battle of will and wit, and as they learn more about each other, all that stands between them is a crumbling wall that can only last so long.

At the film’s press day, Collider sat down with actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson for this 1-on-1 interview about how physical and psychological this shoot was, the extensive research and training that he did, the intense 14-day shooting schedule, having the wall itself play such a big role in the story, and the experience of having John Cena as a co-star. He also talked about taking a bit of a break from acting, so that he can work on writing something with his wife, Sam Taylor-Johnson, why he’d like to work with her again, and why he’d like to get more involved in the projects that he signs on for.

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Image via Roadside Attractions

Collider: When you signed on for this, did you know that it would be such a huge undertaking, as far as how much you’d be doing?

AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely! It was everything I had hoped it to be, and more. When you read the script, you could see, on the page, how physical this would be, but also how psychological it all is. The concept of it, the budget, and what we were going to try to achieve and accomplish was definitely a huge challenge, but knowing that it was going to be Doug Liman was the real go-ahead for me. That was the exciting thing, to be able to be puppeteered through the whole journey, by him and with his vision. I felt secure and safe in his hands.

It seems like, in order to properly play a character like this, there are multiple different layers to get a handle on, whether it’s the physicality, the mentality of it all, or the skill that’s required. Where did you start with all of that, and when did you become secure with it?

TAYLOR-JOHNSON: We didn’t really know if he was a sniper, a Marine, or a soldier, so I first got in touch with a Marine, Jacob Schick, who’s a third generation Marine and a war vet. He’s a part of the 22 Kill Foundation, which is named after the fact that 22 veterans a day commit suicide. He’s remarkable. I went to Boston and spent some time with him and the guys, and we got out on the shooting range. I came across this amazing woman, serendipitously, who’s a gold star wife, which means she lost her husband in action, and he was a sniper. I sat down with her and talked to her a lot, and she was very helpful in giving me a lot of information on him and in giving me photos. I used a lot of referencing for my character from him. My character’s costume and look is based off of those photos. We had Nick Irving, “The Reaper,” consulting. He was there, every day, and he’s incredible. And I spent four days in the top sniper school in the country, which is in Arkansas. I was on the base with those guys there, while they were learning their course. We talked ballistics and mathematics, and we shot rifles, up to a mile out. I picked up mannerisms, bad habits, humor and banter, and tried to apply that to the character. That was about two months of research, but it always should be that way.

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