IAR Exclusive Interview with 'Mechanic' Director Simon West

Thursday, 03 February 2011 10:40 Written by  JimmyO
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IAR Exclusive Interview with 'Mechanic' Director Simon West

Simon West is a name most action fans will recognize. His resume includes such hits as Con-Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, but his recent film is a far more violent take on simply car chases and shoot outs. In The Mechanic, Jason Statham is an assassin-for-hire who takes on his mentor’s son (Ben Foster).

This remake of the1972 Charles Bronson cult classic serves up as Statham’s most intense and violent picture to date. The kills are extreme and shocking, but what really makes this remake interesting is the fantastic relationship between Foster and Statham. Ben brings a whole new level of talent to this kind of picture.

While out promoting The Mechanic, Mr. West talked with iamROGUE.com about the film and the level of violence. He also spoke about the Seventies feel that is prominent in his latest feature. Fast-paced and thrilling, West has created a terrific companion piece to Bronson’s thought-provoking original.

There is a real, “old-school” Seventies vibe from this film. Was that the plan going in?

Definitely it was, in a sort of, sub-conscious way. Not to reject the Seventies but what I didn’t want to do is go in and say, okay this is 2011 and it is all going to be techie and we’ve all got to be on smart phones and all that stuff. Because that is not the essence of the film and in some ways, that dates it when you are watching if five years down the line, it just feels dated. I like something that is classic that you can watch any decade. When choosing Statham’s house, it was a Seventies house but it wasn’t chosen for that, it was more like, you find it and it is perfect and it’s by the water, and it is woodsy, there is a workshop for his cars and stuff that he can work on. And it is also Seventies which is kind of nice. So you don’t reject it and say we can’t have everything Seventies, you just embrace it and say, this is nice and it sort of builds up the Seventies background.

I even shot it on a very old-fashioned film stock that is very grainy. You know, they wanted me to shoot it HD, and I was saying you don’t want to shoot it HD, this is a classic film and it should be shot on film. It’s a tough guy’s action movie and [Charles] Bronson wouldn’t shoot it on HD. So I actually used an old-fashioned Kodak stock that is very grainy, but we lit it like a modern film so it doesn’t look like a Seventies film, but when you watch it on the big screen, you’ll see how it is kind of grainy and it’s not that super clean HD, or clean film you get now. And that was a deliberate sort of hark back, because… how long will I be allowed to shoot on film, it’s disappearing, so I’m going to shoot the most filmic film I can while I’m still able to, before it dies out.

That must have been a fight correct, because they probably wanted to go cheaper and film is not necessarily cheap?

Well actually, the funny thing is that the price is basically the same when you really break it down. All that is cheaper about it is the money moves from shooting. The shooting is a little bit more expensive but the post is cheaper. In HD, I think the shooting is about the same, maybe a little cheaper, but the post is much more expensive. The overall budget ends up being the same but they like to push the cost off as late as possible. So they’d rather the cost be in post than shoot. So that is the difference.

This is an unusual film as it is a hard- R with some really violent set pieces. Was there ever a point that you felt you should hold back?

I go as far as I think is realistic and I suppose I have a personal barometer… you can see it is fake blood and you can see that the guy gets up after he has been strangled or whatever and you can get softened to it, but when you are watching it as a film, they get into it and they think it is real. It’s not a slasher movie, where they are bathing in the blood. Yet it is a dirty, messy business and so there is going to be blood around and it is going to take them awhile to die and it’s not going to be pretty. But there is no point in really stretching it out. And most of what we shot is actually in the film; I didn’t sort of re-edit back or extend it.

I was kind of asked to cut back some of the violence in the fight with the big guy, but I just kind of snuck the shots back in again. They said, ‘Could you just take out one of the stabs, because he stabs him four times, can you cut one of those out.’ Then you cut it out and preview it and after a few weeks it eases back in and nobody notices the difference between the three stabs and the four stabs. But rhythmically, it was better with the four, it went with the music… it was da, da, da, da, [mimicking stabbing] and if you cut one of those out it spoils your rhythm. The audience doesn’t care whether it is three or four; it’s pretty bloody up to that point anyway.

That particular scene is incredibly intense. Not only as far as the violence in concerned, but also the sexual “foreplay” between Ben Foster and Jeff Chase. How did that come about?

Well originally – because we were writing so fast and so late, we didn’t have Richard [Wenk] because he only had eight weeks to write and we were starting to overlap in pre-production. And he said, I’m just writing this scene about him hitting this guy and then we were kicking around on the phone, what if he was - because we were trying to invent what he was – what if he’s gay? That’s a good way to lure him, because why ask a guy back for a drink? So we made him gay. It was another character twist. So if you are going to go that route, you have to have the seduction in the beginning. And it just sort of grows and blooms out of that, and then you give it to Ben Foster who loves that stuff. The stuff on the bed, I wasn’t going to get into, like why don’t you stroke his head or whatever. It’s weird in a tough guy action movie to direct those things, so [Ben and Jeff] made that up as they’d go along. So they’d just get going a certain way and turn it into a fight and they work it out. It just makes the whole thing more interesting.

And then there was casting the guy huge, because I’m talking to stunt guys and I don’t like using stunt doubles, I try to use stunt men who can act as much as possible so that I don’t have to keep cutting away. The guys in the fights are stunt men who act. Like the guy on the bus, he was our stunt supervisor but he can act a bit, so I’d rather give him some lines and have him being able to fight and not double him. And Jeff Chase is a stuntman; he is not just an actor. I said to the stunt team I want someone interesting for this. And they said, ‘…well we do know this guy, do you mind if he is really big?’ No, that sounds great. And he is 6’7” and like 350 pounds but they said he is like a cat. He can leap across a room because he is very agile. So we flew him in from Florida and you see him next to Ben, who is like 6 foot or something close to that and Jeff is just huge above him. You just think, this is going to be a memorable fight. This huge guy is throwing him around like a rag doll so it just develops out of that. We’re making it up as we go on. You don’t sit back a year ahead and think wouldn’t it be great to have a big guy. It’s organic you know, talking to the stunt guys and finding out who’s cool and who is interesting.

What makes this film all the better is the dichotomy of having cast Jason Statham and Ben Foster starring opposite each other. How involved were you in the casting, and was Ben always one of your top choices?

He was my secret dream choice on the side but you couldn’t say out loud. Because people have the original in their head, and so it’s like Bronson and Jason Statham seemed right. Then we have the pretty boy, a young guy for the girls or whatever, and so we went and auditioned hundreds of those typical, good looking, young guys and me hearing it and reading it and matching it, it always felt lightweight. The producers finally said, who do you want then? And I said, ‘What about Ben Foster?’ never thinking that anyone would go for it and I think they were just so worn down by the lateness and how long we’ve been looking, they were like, ‘Okay! Ben Foster.’ And that was the coup de gratis because he elevates it, he is weird and he is unhinged, he’s a great actor. He is a great energy to have in the film and it raises the whole thing.

You mentioned earlier that he would work with the script and want to change the dialogue. You seemed really quite open to that.

Well I started in the BBC and then I started documentaries, and then I went to dramas. And one of the first people I worked with in drama, when I started as an editor, was Mike Leigh who does improvised drama. And I learned from him to get as much as you can out of the actors because good actors can invent characters in their head and they will know what they will say. So you try and get as much as you can out of the actors. And you try and create an environment where the actors can do that and expand on it, because then they get more excited about it and they research it. Before you know it, the whole thing that you never thought of or you – because you’ve got a whole movie to wrangle, you’ve got stunt guys, you’ve got the action and the script, the money people and you are dealing with all this – it would take you five years to develop each character until you are happy. If you’ve got actors and you say, I’m fine with you inventing stuff or bringing stuff to the table, they love it. You know, and then I’ve got free input and then it is contained and I can martial it with that’s too much or that is too little, I’ve got extra stuff coming in. I was taught to trust your actors and let them bring things in. And that is all in the casting. You have to cast the right people. If you just cast anybody and you do that, it will be a disaster. Someone like Ben Foster is super bright and he can write dialogue, he can think of actions and we can bounce around ideas with his voice, so he is not just, ‘What’s my line?’

The Mechanic is playing at a theatre near you.

If you have seen it already, what did you think of Ben Foster's performance?

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