IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Filmmakers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas talk 'The Double' and 'Overdrive'

Monday, 07 November 2011 10:01 Written by  Jami Philbrick
Rate this item
(1 Vote)
IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Filmmakers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas talk 'The Double' and 'Overdrive'

Screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas are best known for their work on such successful films as Invincible, 2 Fast 2 Furious, 3:10 to Yuma, and Wanted. But the scribes are now adding director and producer, respectively, to their resumes with their new spy thriller The Double, which opened in theaters in October 28th.

The movie features an incredible cast of actors including Richard Gere (Primal Fear, The Jackal), Topher Grace (Predators, Spider-Man 3), Stephen Moyer (TV’s True Blood), Odette Yustman Annable (TV’s House), Stana Katic (TV’s Castle), and screen legend Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, The Departed). The Double tells the story of retired CIA operative Paul Shepherdson (Gere) who is paired with a young FBI agent named Ben Geary (Grace) to unravel the mystery of a senator’s murder, which appears to have been committed by a Soviet assassin that Shepherdson thought he killed during the Cold War. The film features many twists and turns and will keep audiences guessing until the very end.

I recently had a chance to speak with Michael Brandt and Derek Haas about their new film The Double, while they were in Paris preparing for their next film Overdrive, which stars Karl Urban (Star Trek) and Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian). The co-writers spoke to me about the new film, its complicated storyline, the spy thriller genre, No Way Out, casting Gere and Grace, Brandt’s directorial debut, controversy over the movie’s trailer, Overdrive, and casting Urban and Barnes as brothers.

Here is what they had to say:

IAR: To begin with, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Topher Grace and Steven Moyer, and they were telling me how as actors they've always wanted to be in a spy thriller. They said that it goes all the way back to when they were kids and they would play “cops and robbers.” As writers, and director and producer, respectively, do you feel the same way? Is this a genre you’ve always wanted to explore?

Michael Brandt: We've loved the spy movies of the 70's, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View and all those kinds of thrillers. Then No Way Out was an important movie for us when we were younger too. Then what's interesting is getting to write characters that are saying one thing and that absolutely believe in something else. You're not writing something, and then ultimately not directing something, that's straight forward so it's really ... it's more fun to be able to do things where you can have two different meanings.

Derek Haas: Yeah and we love (Tom) Clancy and (Robert) Ludlum, and all the spy novelists so for us to get to write one was a blast.

It’s funny because all of the films you just named are the exact same movies Grace and Moyer mentioned as their favorites.

Haas: Really? We talked about those a lot.

Did you? Were those films big influences on The Double?

Brandt: Definitely, we talked about them all the time. We screened No Way Out for the cast and the crew so they could take hard looks at the way Costner plays that role because there's such a big twist at the end, and also for us as filmmakers to take a look at different ways to shoot different scenes. So that when you go back through the film a second time maybe there's a second meaning there.

Michael, obviously the movie has a lot of twists and turns, so as a director is it difficult orchestrating the actors so that they're not giving away too much too early, but at the same time leaving clues so that audiences will be able to pick up on them their second viewing?

Brandt: I would say the biggest job in making this kind of a movie is that once you feel like the script is there and it's working, then it's just a matter of being a policeman in a certain way. Because you want the actors to play something right up to the edge of where they'll give it away. You also want to make a movie that is completely fair to the audience, that on a second viewing everything that the actors are doing is organic to who they really are. They're not having conversations that only serve the purpose of the ruse. You know that they have to have conversations that are real, and given who's in the room at the time, what part are they playing. What do they say, what do they give away and what do they not give away? So I think this is the kind of movie that as a first time director, it's something that you want the person directing to have such an intimate knowledge of so when there is an idea on set, you know instantly, yes we can do that, or no we can't do that because that screws up everything that we're doing forty-five minutes later in the actual movie.

When the trailer for the film was released there was a lot of online criticism saying that it gave away the movie’s major plot twist regarding Richard Gere’s character, was that at all a concern for you or did you intend for audiences to know that twist going into the film?

Haas: I've of two minds on it now. We always conceived the movie as a guy who is a double agent who is assigned the task of hunting himself, and so in that scenario it is a No Way Out structured film. Just when you think they're bad they do something that redeems them, and just when you want to like them they do something to turn you away. For us that's really interesting to write because every scene can go either way. I think Richard really responded to that early on and he does a great job in the movie of depicting those two shades.

Can you talk about the process of casting Richard Gere in the film and then putting together the rest of the cast including Topher Grace, Stephen Moyer, and Martin Sheen?

Brandt: I mean Richard was obviously an easy choice for us. Richard he's an easy, obvious choice because those of us in our late thirties or forties remember Richard from Internal Affairs, American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman where he had this dark side. The badass version of Richard is so badass and I feel like we haven't seen a lot of that in the last ten years in the movies he's been doing. There's like a whole generation of movie goers who don't understand what Richard Gere did in the 70's and the 80's as an actor and so he's also one of those actors who while he's being bad, you still like him. There's something about him that's still endearing just because he goes for it and he's an intense guy. He's just kind of naturally likeable even when he's being bad and so he was an easy one to cast. Topher I thought he did such a good job in the Dennis Quaid movie, In Good Company. I feel like he's really scratching the surface in his abilities as a dramatic actor. I mean he's obviously a funny guy, and he's just learning. He's really learning how to be a dramatic actor right now and it was fun to get to work with him. A lot of times when Topher's natural instinct would be to be funny, we'd have to pull him away from that and remind him the kind of movie we're making. Not that that was ever difficult, it was actually a great process for everybody involved. (Stephen) Moyer is … the guy is unbelievable. He comes in and he is so ready, he is a true trained actor. He disappears into his character. It's almost unsettling how in one moment he can be this crazed Russian killer who's almost animalistic, and then when you say, "cut" and he comes over and sits in his chair, he's like this perfect, proper, English gentleman. It just shows you how well trained he is as an actor because I know he's been training his whole life. Then Stana (Katic) and Odette (Yustman Annable) for us were just two great gets because I've always loved both of their work. They're obviously lovely women, and Stana just totally went for it as the Russian hooker too. So she and Richard had some real knocked down, throw down fights and there were no stuntwomen used in her scene. She rolled around in the sand and fought Richard all the way. She got sand in her eyes and she didn't care. She just went for it. Then finally Martin Sheen, what more can I say? You're just lucky that he even responds to a script and wants to do it. He came on set and he's just the perfect gentleman, truly one of the nicest human beings you'll ever spend time with. We got to celebrate his seventieth birthday on our last day of shooting so that was just a cool moment to be a part of.

Michael, as a first time director what was that experience like for you and Derek, are you interested in getting behind the camera at some point?

Brandt: Derek, you can answer that first.

Haas: I'm actually not. I love writing. I wake up thinking about writing and when I go to bed I think about writing. Michael is an awesome director, and I was included throughout the process one hundred percent so I just liked sitting next to him and letting him answer all of the questions.

Brandt: We definitely have a Coen Brothers kind of relationship, and I’m not comparing us to the Coen Brothers in any way other than the kind of working relationship we have. We are both making the movie together and any major decision I made Derek was involved in. Then he had the luxury of not having to go into all the meetings where we discussing what pants people are going to wear. Directing my first movie I knew it was going to be hard but it's even harder than that because the lessons that you have to learn as a first time director are not really, for me, about lenses and the kinds of shots you're going to put together, or even working with the actors. But really there's an emotional toll that gets taken out on a director in making a movie and it took me a few weeks of prep and shooting before I realized what I should spend those emotional chips on. For a while early in the production I was trying to do other people's jobs for them, trying to make everybody's life easier. In reality as you begin to get experienced in directing you start to realize you just have to stay focused on making the best movie you can and let the professionals that you've hired do their jobs. I think that's the biggest lesson as a first time director.

Haas: As a producer it's funny because you realize quickly, I've actually talked to a bunch of other producers since making this movie, you don't get credit for the things that you did that day in terms of making your shoot. For instance, we had a forty-five day schedule that we shot in thirty days because that's all we had the money for. There were days where there's no way we should've been able to shoot this entire action sequence in one day, but somehow Michael and I got it done. You want to get credit for that, "look what we did all in one day." But at the end of the day the movie is just going to stand up on its own.

Brandt: We joked on set but you want to be cognizant of the money and of the schedule. Those first few days we were pushing really hard to make sure we finished on time. We didn't go over time. We didn't spend any more money than we had to. Then we quickly realized that we're never going to have the ability to run into a screening later, a year later, and say to the audience look, “I know that scene wasn't everything it could've been, but we didn't go over budget, we brought this in on time and the financial guys are really happy." You know you can't do that so it's a lesson you have to learn. So you just got to fight to make the movie that you want to make.

Finally, I wanted to ask you guys about your next film Overdrive. You're in Paris right now prepping the movie, is that correct?

Haas: Yes, we're shooting right now. We start shooting on Monday. We're in Paris and we're thrilled. It's one of these things where we wrote a movie set in Marseille, France, and we're going to shoot it in Marseille, France, and no one told us we had to shoot it in Montreal so we're thrilled. It's funny you always get the note that you roll your eyes at from studios which is, “make the location more of a character in the script.” This one really is and it’s awesome that we're getting to shoot it there.

Michael, coming off The Double, did you have any interest in possibly directing this yourself or are you guys pleased with having Antonio Negret as director?

Brandt: Well we're definitely pleased with Antonio. I mean I think I needed to take a breath personally. When this was coming together we were still in post on The Double. This was coming together pretty quickly and I wanted to take a breath and just take a shot of producing something with Derek. Antonio came in and wowed us with what he wanted to do, and quite honestly I want to make a movie from the other side here. But we're trying to give Antonio everything we possibly can, at the same time we have Pierre Morel as a producer, and I'm a producer, and Derek's a producer. So we have three filmmakers here supporting Antonio and I should also say that what is unbelievable about the experience we're going through right now is there in nobody else we have to answer to. Our executive producer is putting the money together and then we are the studio. We are the ones answering every question, there's no suit above us, we're making the movie we want to make and this is a really great way to do it.

Are you excited to start working with Karl Urban and Ben Barnes who are playing the leads in the film?

Haas: Yeah we're thrilled man. I mean that's another thing. A lot of times on these movies you have to play these games of, this actor makes this amount of money, that actor makes that amount of money, and instead on this one it was like, let's get the two best actors for this roles playing brothers and we're thrilled.

Brandt: They’re actors on the rise.

As you mentioned, they’re playing brothers and I think it’s a good bit of casting because Urban and Barnes actually look like they could be related. A lot of times in movies they’ll cast two actors as siblings who look nothing alike but these guys really could be brothers, don’t you think?

Brandt: Yeah they go well together, I mean if we do this right it's going to have that Newman/Redford feel and you're going to want to see these guys in other movies.

The Double is in theaters now!

More in this category

Follow ROGUE

Latest Trailers

view more »