Directed by McG and written by Luc Besson & Adi Hasak, the action-thriller 3 Days to Kill tells the story of Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), an international spy who is trying to find the always balance between work life and home life. Determined to give up his high-stakes life to finally build a closer relationship with his estranged wife and daughter, he must complete one last mission before he can leave his life of danger behind. The film also stars Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld and Connie Nielsen.
At the film’s press day, McG spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what drew him to this script, what makes Kevin Costner a credible action star, the biggest challenges with this production, overcoming his fear of flying to shoot in Paris, why he wanted to shoot these stunts practically, how much the film evolved from the original script, shaping the film during the editing process, and what sort of deleted scenes you can expect on the Blu-ray/DVD. He also talked about working with Kevin Costner, who is a very accomplished director, versus working with Chris Evans, on his first feature as a director, called 1:30 Train, that the big-screen version of Spring Awakening is the next thing he’ll be focusing on, whether he’s really looking to make a feature film version of The Fall Guy, and what it means to him to have The CW series Supernatural, which he produces, picked up for its 10th season. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
McG: Just being so influenced by Léon: The Professional, when I was young. And then, [Kevin] Costner was circling it. The idea of working with an Academy Award winning director was exciting. Then, there was the idea of synthesizing tones that don’t traditionally coexist. I thought, “What if I made an action movie that had a great many comedic beats and a bunch of heart, working together?” That’s hard to do. They traditionally collide. I hope we did that, but I don’t know. I defer to [the audience]. I hope it doesn’t clunk. I hope people watch it and go, “I wasn’t expecting to be close to tears when he was teaching his daughter to ride a bike,” but they also really enjoy the action in the streets of Paris, and then are laughing at a weird Italian guy giving a pasta sauce recipe in a bathroom while he’s duct taped. It’s a tough order to make that work in the same movie, and I’m hoping we pulled it off. The goal was to make a real character-based film led by Kevin Costner. He was a huge part of Hatfields & McCoys, Superman and Jack Ryan, but this is Kevin. This film is Kevin Costner. He’s in every scene in the film, and I’m hoping it shows why he’s the great entertainer that he is.
It’s nice to see actors like Kevin Costner and Liam Neeson as these bad-ass action stars, at this stage of their careers.
McG: Yeah, and I think they’re doing it in a credible capacity. You don’t see Kevin doing Jujitsu to get the job done. It’s more a function of, “Hey, my knees hurt, but I’ve been around the block a few times and I know what to do here.” He uses his intelligence and his spycraft acumen to get the job done. It’s all reality-based. Kevin talked about increasing the IQ of the film, at all times. That was the challenge, every day. That’s what makes it feel grounded enough to keep the audience deeply invested.
McG: It was challenging working with a French-speaking crew. But, I thought that brought out the best in me, as a decidedly American filmmaker. And it was challenging trying to balance those tones that I spoke of. I always try to ask myself, “Why is this movie worth making?” I want to be able to look you in the eye and say, “Here’s why it was worth two hours of your life.” If it can surprise you, move you, make you laugh and thrill you, that is my favorite kind of film. Those are the Amblin movies that I grew up on. I like that E.T. was funny, E.T. made me cry, and E.T. was thrilling. To me, that’s what it means to be alive, and it’s my favorite movie-going experience that allows me to let go of my real life and immerse myself for those two hours that I’m in the theater. I aspire to make movies that are dimensionalized, and not just one thing. I hope we achieved that on this.
For someone who’s been very afraid to fly, what was it like to shoot this in Paris? Did you have any hesitant, in regard to that aspect?
McG: I’m doing better, in that regard. It’s part of who I am, and it’s something that I’m always monitoring and trying to stay on top of. I got thrown off Superman because I couldn’t fly down to Australia, at the time. That was a real defining gut-check. It was really sad for me, and very emasculating. I really wanted to get over it, so I went and made We Are Marshall, which was a movie about a plane crash, in the spirit of trying to slay that dragon. And then, I had to fly back and forth to Paris, over the Atlantic. I always try to stay sharp and practice what I’ve learned, in regard to overcoming my fears, in that respect. It’s part of who I am, and I’m doing better. I just keep trying to move forward. It’s unnatural to be in a tube, seven miles above the earth, going 600 mph. It’s fucking weird! You can’t get out. It’s just weird.
McG: Making sure it’s exciting. I just think that we’re at a place where there’s some blowback, in regard to the over-saturation of CG. It just starts to feel animated, a little bit. I think people are very accustomed to looking at physics. You know what it means. You know what something is going to do, so if it’s a drawing, you know it looks a little bit off. When you see the cars in the streets of Paris and they’re banging into each other, it’s got a little bit of bite and a little bit of grit that I think is complimentary to who Kevin is. Obviously, Terminator was a big visual effects extravaganza. Charlie’s Angels had a lot of that going on. But, I wanted this film to be decidedly in-camera and grounded because, to me, that’s a metaphor for the character.
What was it like to work on 3 Days to Kill with someone like Kevin Costner, who has the directing background that he does, and then produce Chris Evans’ directorial debut, 1:30 Train? Do you like learning from both ends of the spectrum, like that?
McG: Absolutely! Isn’t that what it’s all about? I love different kinds of movies, and I love different kinds of people. That’s the spice of life. To see Evans make his first movie, as a director, is so exciting. I’ve seen most of the movie and I’m very, very happy with what that looks like. And then, I was able to learn from a guy like Costner. And I’ve worked with Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Reese Witherspoon. It’s humbling, and it’s an honor. You’d be wise to keep your eyes and ears open. You can obviously learn a lot from Kevin Costner, but you can also learn a lot from Chris Evans and his freshness. The Beatles talked about their naivete, going in to work with the great George Martin, but he would learn from their primal approach to what they were doing while they would learn from his accomplished musical approach to what he was doing. I try to find that way into every relationship.
I’ve learned so much from Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore. And I’ve learned from the studio heads. You keep your eyes and ears open, in the spirit of constantly improving. For me, I’m crystal clear on what I would do. I’ve got my take on what the film is and what the scene is, and the way I’d photograph it and style it, and the way I’d do it all, but I like to populate the film with a director of photography who has a different take on how to photograph it, and an actor who has an idea, and a production designer who’s gonna do it differently. I like to be able to curate all of that talent, and benefit from it. To shut down is a mistake. You’ve gotta always be open to somebody coming up with something better than what you had up your sleeve. I think that’s the key.
How close is the finished film to the script that you first read? Did it evolve a lot?
McG: Both are true. It’s true to the script, in a great many ways. But, the beauty of filmmaking is that you can give the same script to David Fincher, Spike Jonze and Michael Bay and you’re going to get three different movies. Isn’t that wonderful? I think that’s fantastic! That’s why it’s so exciting. Some films go so well, and some films are disappointing. It’s the beauty of the craft. You get it right, and you get it wrong. You have tremendous highs, and you have tremendous lows. Hopefully, you learn from them and become better, as you go along. That’s certainly where my focus is, right now.
Did this film get shaped a lot in the editing process, as far as finding the balance between the action and the heart of it?
McG: Absolutely. I think people underestimate how important post and editing is. The best example I could ever give, of the power of shaping a film during the editing process, is the fake trailer for The Shining. Now, it’s become very chic and they do it a lot. But, there’s a fake trailer that they cut for The Shining, using the existing material, that made it into a romantic comedy. You’d think The Shining is a romantic comedy, watching this fake trailer that uses the footage from the film. It’s funny, but it also illuminates the power of post, and shaping, music and editing. You can take the literal material of The Shining and turn it into a romantic comedy, just by doing that. That’s a lot of power in post, that’s beyond the script and beyond shooting. That’s the editorial process, and deciding what the take-away feeling is going to be. That’s wild. It’s eye-opening.
Do you have a lot of deleted footage for the Blu-ray/DVD?
McG: Yeah, I think there will be some. We shot that one scene in the Crazy Horse, which is a very famous cabaret that’s visited by women as much as men. It’s not vulgar, at all. It’s beautiful. It’s like Cirque du Soleil. So, I tested the movie with a longer version of these women doing what I thought was this very, very beautiful dance, and American women were not really into it. I was saddened because I wasn’t like, “Ooh, look at the nudity.” I just thought it was beautiful. It was like looking at a painting. These women are from the Bolshoi. So, the director’s cut will be more involved, and it will speak to this ethereal, otherworldly quality of the Vivi character. She’s just not on the same planet. She’s almost an extension of Ethan’s consciousness, and a temptation. I wanted the audience to guess if she was even real. That’s why she very rarely interacts with anyone other than Ethan, in the spirit of that Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense thing. So, I can’t wait to show the longer version.
McG: Yeah, I’m gonna do Spring Awakening next, which I’m super humbled and excited about. It won all those Tony Awards, and it’s such an important piece of material about coming of age, child abuse, pregnancy and homosexuality. It’s really difficult subject matter, but to do it in a way that’s funny, musical, entertaining, spectacular and explosive is thrilling. I look forward to that.
You’ve had that in development for awhile now, right?
McG: Oh, yeah! Every time you get a movie together, it’s a small miracle. So, I’m prepping it, but we’ll see. You’ve gotta execute it and get it done. There are a million ways for movies to fall apart, and a million ways for movies to come together. I think it’s Jim Cameron that said, “Every movie that gets made is a small miracle.” But, that’s what I’m working on.
Are you really going to do a feature film of The Fall Guy?
McG: I don’t know. That’s in development. There’s a bunch that’s in development, out there, but my focus for the next film is Spring Awakening.
Supernatural, which you produce, just got picked up for its 10th season, and it’s also getting a spin-off. Are you able to really appreciate just how rare that is, for a TV show?
McG: Absolutely! I’m humbled and honored. People are so passionate about that show, and it’s so exciting. I’ll go to Japan to talk about whatever movie I’m working on, and people will ask me about Supernatural. I’m so delighted and happy for Jared [Padalecki] and Jensen [Ackles]. They’ve done such a good job. I can’t get enough of that show. That’s a show that balances a great many things. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s got heart, and it’s ultimately about family. I think that’s the reason why it’s resonated for so long. I’m super proud of that show. Mark Pedowitz, who’s over there running The CW, is a big supporter of it, with Peter Roth at Warner Bros.
3 Days to Kill opens in theaters on February 21st.