At the film’s press day, Collider spoke to director John Singleton, in both a roundtable and a 1-on-1 interview.
Question: How did this come about for you? What was it about this film that made you want to sign on?
JOHN SINGLETON: Just the opportunity to really work with Taylor [Lautner] and do something different with him, as an actor. I’ve worked with a lot of different young actors, and they’re totally different when they work with me than when they work with anyone else. For me, it was just a thing, as a director, to show what I would do with this young man.
Had you been familiar with Taylor’s work before this?
SINGLETON: No, the script came along and I met him, and he said, “I really want to do something with some edge to it. I want my first starring role to have a lot of edge to it.”
Do you think they wanted you for this because you have such a great rep for working with young actors?
SINGLETON: I think that’s the biggest reason I ended up being on the movie. Taylor liked Four Brothers and 2 Fast 2 Furious, and he really wanted to come off really edgy in this movie and do different things within one character. He wanted to kick ass and do the action stuff, but he wanted something that also had a dramatic impact to it, where he could be funny, charismatic and romantic. It was a great thing for him, as a young actor, to have something that could show all the things he’s capable of doing. He’s really hungry to really make his mark.
The great thing about Taylor is that he’s been acting since he was a kid, but he was a kid actor. This is more of a maturation for him – to be around Sigourney Weaver and Alfred Molina, and to sit with me and study. We sat and studied James Dean, John Travolta, Matt Damon and Tom Cruise – people who were young and made the transition into their career as mature actors. And then, we talked thematically about what the character of Nathan was going through, and looked at what was in the script and what was not there that we could bring to it. That’s how we made the movie.
Since this film really hinges on the audience’s investment in the protagonist, what makes Taylor somebody that you feel the audience can really follow?
SINGLETON: Just the fact that he is a young man who is very much like the fans that he has. He’s an actor, but he’s also the demographic of the people that would go to see his movies, and he’s interested in the same things – the same type of music, the same vibes, the same sports. He’s just an all-American kid. It was great for me to be able to do this movie with him and get to know him as a person, and get to talk to him about the challenges of having a career and being so famous at an early age, and the responsibilities that he has for himself, to try to navigate that carefully. I told him to look at people who have had a similar path, at an early age, like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, or Tom Cruise’s transition from Risky Business and Top Gun to Rain Man and Born on the Fourth of July. It’s cool for me because I’m a director, but I’m also a teacher. I’m a lover of cinema, and I love working with people who are hungry and have the energy to really do better work.
What do you think will most surprise people about his performance in the film?
SINGLETON: I just think that the die-hard fans will look at him like, “Wow, he’s a different guy.” They’ll see that he’s just so new in it. That’s what I’ve gotten from the fans that have seen it so far. They’ll see a difference in him, and that difference is just the fact that it’s new.
The boxing scene between Taylor Lautner and Jason Isaacs, as father and son, really sets the tone for the rest of the movie. How did you find the levels, as to how far you could push that scene?
SINGLETON: It’s uncomfortable at first, but that’s what I wanted. I wanted it to feel like the fine line between abuse and training. People go into the movie knowing that Nathan is on a path to go into the espionage world, but when he’s drunk and the father is kicking his ass, it’s a fine line. It’s disconcerting, but in a good way. You feel like it’s just this family. The dinner scene that comes right afterwards, where it’s just water under the bridge, you just feel like, “Wow, okay, this is an odd family.” That’s what gives it something.
The other thing is that I really told Taylor, “You have to do things in the opening of the movie that are going to shock your core audience and the audience that you want, of young men.” To be an action star, you have to have young men at the movie. I said, “You’re going to have to get smacked around a lot.” He said, “You want to smack me?!” I said, “No, man, Bruce Willis got smacked around, all through Die Hard, and he smacked other people around, and he got hurt. You’ve gotta do that. The guys will love you, and the first time you get smacked, the girls will [freak out].” That’s what happens when we show the movie. That way, when you prevail, as a hero, and you triumph over all these forces, then everyone is with you.
What was the most difficult thing about filming this?
SINGLETON: Just the time. That was the most difficult part. Everything else was easy. The crew was great. The cast was great. I love this cast. We didn’t have any crazy personalities on the movie. Nobody was out of place. Every time I got really intense and serious, Taylor or Lily would prank me. There were a lot of ice cubes down shirts, but it was summer.
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