Director George Tillman Jr. On Set Interview FASTER

     November 8, 2010

While director George Tillman Jr. was incredibly busy when I got to visit the set of Faster earlier this year, towards the end of the afternoon, during some down time, we managed to get in a few questions about Dwayne Johnson’s return to kicking ass.

What I liked about Tillman Jr. was that he told us Faster reminded him of a 70’s action film (which he’s a big fan of).  He told us, “I just felt like this movie was a throwback to those films in the Seventies… like with Steve McQueen.”

The other thing that made me happy was that Faster wouldn’t be filled with CGI cars and fake driving. Tillman told us, “we doin’ it all, there’s no visual effects, it’s us.” And if they didn’t get a shot they needed, “we gotta come back and get it next week.  I think that’s what makes it interesting.  The closest recently I think is what (Quentin) Tarantino did with Death Proof. ”  Much more after the jump:

He also told us that Johnson learned to drive for himself.  He said:

“We do the driving; we get in there, no visual effects.  Dwayne went in there and he learned how to drive.  The killer drove, he drove the Ferrari.  We’ve got two cars, how do these two cars perform from two different worlds… and just play it as they were played back in the day.  Walter Hill and those guys did it themselves.”

Like we always do for on set interviews, you can either read the transcript or listen to the audio by clicking here.  Tillman Jr. explained how he got involved in the project, why he wanted to make the movie, what music we might hear, and a lot more.

Finally, if you missed the green band, red band, or the first clip from Faster that we premiered earlier today, click the links.  Faster hits theaters November 24.  Expect a lot more interviews soon.

So what was it about this project that got you involved?

George Tillman Jr: I think the thing that got me involved was I’m a big fan of the 70’s action films.  Where there is a lot of character and a lot of great action, but the action is kind of cemented with a great back-story with characters.  And I thought, this kind of reminded me of the movies that, early on when I was telling Dwayne (Johnson) and the guys, the producer… my whole thing is if you look at a movie like The Driver by Walter Hill, it’s a film where there’s no names.  They are just named, “the driver”, “the cop”.  The same thing, I just felt like this movie was a throwback to those films in the Seventies… like with Steve McQueen.  But I feel like this movie wasn’t really trying to be those films, it wasn’t paying homage.  It was just part of the character, part of the DNA of the story.  I just felt like, you know, I read a lot of scripts out in L.A., out here in the industry and I just felt like this film was just being genuine.  I just felt like it had really great characters.  And all the three different characters have completely different stories and they’re all kind of intertwined together thematically.  So I just thought it had great characters, great themes.  It was a throwback.  It was a film that got caught… it was at Warner Brothers at one point; CBS picked it up, and Sony.  So it was just in limbo and I just felt like those are the great films that get made, where it’s in limbo, nobody wants to make ‘em, that’s why this film works.

One of the things that seem interesting about these characters and we were talking about using The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as an archetype, I always loved the “ugly”  in those movies.

Tillman Jr: Yeah…

The guy who is playing his own agenda and it seems like everybody in this movie kind of has their own agenda.  Is that something that you guys worked on to make sure that there was no easy answer to who these…

Tillman Jr: Yeah, it starts in the script, but really for me it really kind of started when I first saw Billy Bob Thornton play the character.  He told me he hasn’t done a film in a couple of years.  He felt he wanted something he could put his teeth in.  So when he first came out, his first day on the set, he was playing it like his character – this guy who’s a heroin addict, he’s a cop, he’s black he is in that grey area, it’s not black or white – Billy came in and he just cemented his character where I wanted to go, as soon as he came in.  Then you’re looking at the “driver” where he doesn’t have more than twenty-twenty-five lines throughout the whole movie; you are looking at guys who are like everybody in the world today.  It’s not just clear cut, you know what I mean.  That was what I was attracted to.  Even looking at my last film, Notorious, you got a perception about B.I.G. and who he was, but there was a different side to him.  Everything is grey, and I like that about all the characters, the killer, the driver… the movie has a very unlikely Hollywood ending, at the same time it helps you for a sequel too.  Those are the things that I think are attractive, it’s more, its real life, and people can identify with it and it just grounds it to a certain degree.  That’s the reason why.  And I think Billy Bob and Dwayne… but Billy Bob came in and he was just edgy and he was playing this character, and its throwin’ back to something we haven’t seen him do in a long while.

You get in your car, you rev the engine, first thing you do is turn on the radio.  How important is the soundtrack in this film and what kind of choices are you making there?

Tillman Jr: I think the soundtrack is gonna be great, because I think the whole movie is a journey from where we see the character of the driver driving throughout.  You know, the journey throughout the film.  And looking at the whole Inland Empire, with the character coming from Los Angeles, from outside Los Angeles, from Bakersfield, also from all the different areas outside of California, there are a lot of opportunities for music.  The great thing is, you’ve got a lot of opportunities for… I’m excited by it because I’m going to bring something that we haven’t seen for awhile.  There is a lot of blues, gospel stuff that we bring from the Forties and the Fifties that’s going to be thematically played throughout the movie that really has a lot to do with the film.  When the driver shows up as this revival tent and there’s this whole religious undertones and overtones for the movie that really guides these characters.  So I’m interested in bringing a blues, gospel, religious aspect.  A darker side, with blues to the soundtrack that will kind of open it up, so I’m really excited about bringing that aspect to the film.
That’s not just because one of the killers is an evangelist…?

Tillman Jr: Well yeah, one of the guys he kills is an evangelist.  But I was listening to all kinds of music and there was this one blues song, it’s this song, “John the Revelator” that he sings at the end of the movie I’ll be playing throughout.  And then I started listening to other stuff, some of the blues back then and some of Robert Johnson’s stuff.  I just thought, this is stuff that you haven’t really seen or heard.  I’m hoping too that we are still talking about it, like my relationship with Notorious, just dealing with Danny Elfman and trying to get him back in the movie and just put this and put Danny Elfman, who wants to do different kinds of things and use a lot of his blues soundtrack.  I’m just thinking there is a lot of opportunity for that because we have three different stories and three different styles, and there are some really cool things that we can do with that and the soundtrack at some point.

How big are the car chase scenes?  I mean, are we gonna see stuff that we haven’t seen before or is this gonna be more of a throwback to the older…?

Tillman Jr: I’m looking at it from a throwback.  I mean, our budget is… Those guys, Fast and the Furious and The Dark Knight, those guys got hundred million dollar movies, and we’ve got it at a certain price.  I look at it as how do you be original?  Being original is look at the character, look how they did it in the Seventies, these guys just got in and get what they got.  They get the best that they get…

Which is great because that’s what I want to see in a car chase…

Tillman Jr: And we doin’ it all, there’s no visual effects, it’s us.  Alright, we got that shot for the day, we didn’t get it we gotta come back and get it next week.  I think that’s what makes it interesting.  Closest to that, the closest recently I think is what (Quentin) Tarantino did with Death Proof, that was the closest to that.  And I feel like, for our money and what we have, that is the closest that we can do is just be real about it.  Just be real.  We do the driving; we get in there, no visual effects.  Dwayne went in there and he learned how to drive.  The killer drove, he drove the Ferrari.  We’ve got two cars, how do these two cars perform from two different worlds… and just play it as they were played back in the day.  Walter Hill and those guys did it themselves.

It seems like part of the fun in that would be to do it yourself.  How much are you doing second unit, how much are you doing first?

Tillman Jr: It’s a balance.  Like, we are shooting the big car chase at the end and it’s me with everybody.  And I got my stunt coordinator who shot some stuff and I’m like, you are right next to me, why don’t we do it together.  And “driver” Dwayne is in the car, he’s behind the wheel.  It’s going back to old school, the way it was done and I’m finding out there is something different, a little interesting.  There is something just a little fresh about it because I haven’t seen it done like that in a little while.  I’m embracing it, you know.  Instead of saying, ah, I don’t have the money, just embrace it and do what we can do.  And the scenes that we film and the characterizations in the scenes can come out interesting.  And I really feel good about that, going into it.  But there are two major sequences in the film, one early on where we establish why the driver is as good as he is.  I really look at it like, from a standpoint, why is he good.  He can use all his senses, he sees and hears and he thinks before it happens.  It’s a process while he is driving so it’s something that we are exploring.  It’s just trying to get inside his head.  He can see things before they happen.  Not in a supernatural way, but he just uses his ears and uses his eyes.  And I guess, my way, from a director, taking that approach and trying to find something fresh with it.

He seemed to be doing that in the scene that you were shooting earlier, where he just paused… is that what was going on?

Tillman Jr: Yeah, that’s what was going on.  And what’s really backing me up with that is that he’s a guy who is on a death mission.  He learns a little bit in the movie, like learning to forgive and learning to accept, but at the beginning of the movie, he is a guy who is death, he could walk across the street with all these cars passing, he don’t care if he die.  I’m on a death mission.  He could carry a revolver, you know, the Ruger and just go right in a kill, he don’t care if he get out.  With that mindset, it gives you an interesting stand point in the film of how to play the character.  He gives different elements to it and that’s how it is here.  He can take a blast from the killer from his block, it just misses him by a bit, and he keeps moving.  I think that can be interesting, a guy who doesn’t have any… he don’t care if he die or if he live.  In the movie he learns that.

You have Billy Bob Thornton, you have Dwayne Johnson.  Oliver, who plays the killer who may not be a household name in his own household… I mean was that exciting to cast?

Tillman Jr: That was exciting man, because the killer is a different kind of character.  There are a lot of people who wanted to play the role.  I’m happy that Sony and CBS took a chance on a new face.  I like the idea that he is from a different country.  He has a British sensibility.  I like that Billy Bob has a darker edge.  I love that the driver is Inland Empire, California and this guy is somewhere else.  You know, Billy Bob represents a certain generation, and then you’ve got this young guy.  It’s different then what you see in some of the films where you have a younger, twenty-year-old playing a role; he is playing a mature guy.  So I love it because I think he’s got charisma.  He comes right off the page.  He has a style of his own; I really can’t say what… it gives you room for originality and not fall back on something that you have seen before.  And I liked the idea that he has the acting chops, he can do it, but there is a rawness to it, I embrace that.  Like I said, I embraced that on my last movie, you know, with Biggie, half of the movie was first time actors.  You just like that, you know what I mean, you just get something new and it gives it a different style from the two other characters in the movie.  His character and Maggie Grace… there is something interesting, something different.  I embrace that and I’m glad he is the guy.

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