Director Scott Waugh Talks NEED FOR SPEED, the Narrative, the Action, Shooting Inside the Cars, Casting Aaron Paul, and More

     January 29, 2014

scott waugh need for speed

As a preview for the upcoming DreamWorks action flick Need for Speed, opening in theaters on March 14th, Collider was invited, along with a handful of other online outlets, out to the Bandito Brothers headquarters to check out about 20 minutes of the film and then chat with some of the folks involved.  Based on the video game series, the story chronicles a near-impossible cross-country journey that begins as a mission for revenge, but ultimately proves to be one of redemption.  From director Scott Waugh, the film stars Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Dakota Johnson and Michael Keaton.

The thing that instantly became clear from the footage we saw was that not only are the stunts incredibly mind-blowing and awesome – with car races, car flips, cars crashing and bursting into flames, and even a car driving off a cliff and being pulled away by a helicopter – but they were also all practically done, in camera and for real.  During this interview, director Scott Waugh talked about the film’s narrative story, how the action in Need for Speed is different from the action in Act of Valor, actually shooting inside of the cars to put the audience in the middle of the action, what led him to Aaron Paul as the lead actor, casting Kid Cudi, and working with Michael Keaton.  Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.

need-for-speed-set-image-aaron-paul-imogen-pootsQuestion:  What’s the narrative story that these characters are going through?

SCOTT WAUGH:  The narrative story is about Aaron Paul’s character, who gets condemned for the life of one of his friends, and he’s seeking revenge for the man who did it, and that’s Dominic Cooper.  So, it turns into this high-stakes race within a race.  He’s gotta get from New York to California in 48 hours, and then he’s gotta get into a race that’s there.  So, it’s a race to the race.  Dominic’s character is in that race, so he’s trying to seek revenge and get across the country without being caught.  He’s on parole, so he can’t fly, he can’t take trains and he can’t leave the state.  The only way he can get there is to drive himself.  So, it’s the race before the race.  It’s inherently built in a lot of great car chases.  You’re along on this adrenaline-filled thrill ride for Acts 2 and 3 because he’s gotta get there.

How does Imogen Poots’ character come into the story, and how does she end up in the car with Aaron Paul’s character?

WAUGH:  She is a sales broker for a lot of high-end car buyers.  The Mustang that you see, she’s responsible for one of the buyers who bought it.  He’s going to loan Aaron’s character that car to drive at this race, but the only catch is that this owner wants her to go with it to be responsible for the car because he doesn’t trust Aaron’s character.  So, you have the guy and the girl that don’t like each other and they’re forced into a car together, and it turns into this really fun relationship that starts on complete opposite sides.  Everyone who’s taken a road trip knows that it can be the death of you, or you can bond with people on it.  There are so many little subtleties and throwbacks in the movie that have those things that we’ve all done in the car world, like going on road trips.  Stuff happens to you on road trips.

How is the action in Need for Speed different from the action in Act of Valor?

need-for-speed-aaron-paulWAUGH:  In the middle of Act of Valor, I already had my eyes set on a car movie.  I wanted to do a car movie.  I’ve always really loved the genre.  I think it’s one of the coolest genres, back to the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, with Bullitt, Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, The French Connection, Grand Prix and Vanishing Point.  There were all these great movies that were so much fun, but they disappeared, and I really wanted to do a throwback to that world.  You’ve gotta be careful what you wish for because Need for Speed just came out of nowhere.  When you work with Navy SEALs, in the platforms that we did, with that scope of movie, and then taking it to an even bigger level with the speeds that we worked with on Need for Speed, and we traveled across the country, that kind of mobility was something I learned a lot from on Act of Valor.  We traveled the globe on Act of Valor, so I wasn’t afraid of going to all the locations and doing it all practically.  One of the Bandito Brothers’ skill sets is doing it all practically in the location that we say we’re in.  At the beginning, the studio was a little bit like, “I think we should shoot all of this in Georgia,” but I was like, “You can cheat the United States in Georgia.  It’s all green.”  Then, they started really wrapping their heads around my approach and they went for it, and I was really stoked that they did. 

What was it like to actually shoot inside of the cars?

need-for-speed-dominic-cooperWAUGH:  I grew up with action my whole life.  It’s something that is fun for me, but it doesn’t stimulate me anymore.  I’ve been doing it for too long.  It’s more the story and the characters that stimulate me, and I was really captivated, on this movie, with all of the character’s arcs and how private it is, in this big, crazy world.  Tobey (Aaron Paul) and Julia’s (Imogen Poots) arc through the movie is so much fun, and I really wanted it to be intimate.  Cars, in general, are loud, and I didn’t want it to be a loud movie.  There are so many private, intimate moments.  I wanted to make a movie for all four quadrants.  I didn’t want it to be just for men.  Women really love heroes.  And the love story in this movie is really captivating and really romantic and really unexpected.  That’s what I loved about the material, when I read it.  It’s not what you expect, and it’s something I really wanted to dive into.  When you watch the movie in its continuity, you will see that you become Tobey.  The only time you go into first person is with his character.  So, we do become him and we feel what it’s like to be him and be in this unfortunate circumstance that he’s put in.  That’s why I chose the first person for this movie, on that perspective.  I wanted you to feel what it’s like to drive that fast ‘cause that’s always a thrill that most people don’t get, and I really wanted you to root for Tobey. 

What was it like to work with seasoned actors on this, as opposed to Navy SEALs?  Was there an adjustment, as a director?

need-for-speed-set-image-2WAUGH:  No.  I grew up in theater, so I’m used to that.  It was more of an adjustment working with Navy SEALs who don’t talk, in general, let alone say lines.  That was a massive shift of really trying to figure out how to get performances out of SEALs.  With this, to work with all these great actors, I spent four months casting and really trying to get the best unique actors that I could, and the most unexpected people that you wouldn’t think would be in this movie.  I really wanted Aaron [Paul] to play the lead because I thought it was unexpected.  Playing the bad guy would have been normal.  I wanted him to be the lead and the good guy because that’s edgier and deeper and darker, and they tried to talk me out of it.  They were like, “The studio will never go for that.”  I kept trying and they were just like, “No.”  And then, they put the tape up in front of Steven [Spielberg], so that he could look at everybody, and he saw Aaron’s tape and said, “I love this kid.  Why don’t we consider him for the lead?”  I got a call five minutes later saying, “Great minds think alike.”  I’m never going to say I’m great, but Steven was great for even thinking that.  So, we immediately went out to Aaron, that day.  It was so exciting.  It’s great to have somebody like Steven really support my vision, but also see eye to eye with it.  I don’t do the traditional, and he supported it.  It’s great.  He’s been fantastic.  

What led you to Aaron Paul?  Had you been a Breaking Bad fan?

need-for-speed-kid-cudi-aaron-paulWAUGH:  I’d never watched Breaking Bad.  Now, I’m a damn addict.  When we were looking to cast the movie, we were looking for the lead and they were putting up the bad guys to play around him, and one of them was Aaron Paul.  But, I didn’t know who Aaron Paul was.  It became the running joke with casting because they were like, “How do you not know who Aaron Paul is?!”  So, I asked casting to put some tape together for me because I didn’t want to just see Breaking Bad.  I wanted to see some other stuff, so she put a compilation together for me and I was just mesmerized.  When we were looking for someone to play the part, I was like, “I want to find the next Steve McQueen.  We haven’t had a Steve McQueen, since he passed away.”  He had an inherent quality to him that was so raw and real and sexy, but not trying to be sexy.  That’s rare, nowadays.  Guys take their shirts off and do their whole deal.  And I felt like Aaron has something that you can’t put your fingers on, that’s just raw.  The dudes love him and the women love him, and that’s not common, at his age.  I told him, “I think you’re the next Steve McQueen.  You just have something that’s not tangible.”  There’s a danger to Aaron, and there’s a lovability to Aaron.  Those are two hard qualities to obtain, and he does it.

How come you don’t have Michael Keaton doing any driving scenes in the film?

WAUGH:  Michael is so good in the movie.  When we talked about the character, he said, “Who is this monarch?,” and I said, “He’s really an eccentric guy.  He’s loaded.  He’s a billionaire, but he doesn’t like to be around people.  He’s a recluse.  He loves cars, but he doesn’t care about all the other crap.”  It’s like Beetlejuice mixed with Jack Nicholson.  It’s something we’ve been wanting to see out of Michael for a long time.  He has tones to his performances that only Michael can deliver.  I was behind the monitor, giggling.  I was like, “Oh, my god, this is great!”  I was always a fan.  He was one of the best as Batman. 

need-for-speed-aaron-paul-rami-malekWho is he playing?

WAUGH:  He’s his own over-arching character in the movie.  He’s the backbone of the movie.  He’s great.

How did Kid Cudi end up in the film?

WAUGH:  The studio wanted me to read Kid Cudi, and I had no idea who the hell Kid Cudi was.  I had three scenes for him to audition with.  He read the first scene and we worked on it a little bit.  I was like, “This kid’s not good.”  But I always try to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, so we started working the second scene.  I was like, “There’s something there.  This kid’s actually not bad.  I think he’s just nervous.  That’s the problem.”  All I could sense was that he’s green.  He’s not an experienced actor.  So, we moved on to the third scene.  I said, “Are you nervous right now?,” and he started laughing and said, “Yeah.”  I said, “Forget about that!”  That really broke him down.  I told him to just have fun with it, and he came alive.  I was like, “Wow, man, this guy’s got the x-factor.  I don’t know what it is, but this guy’s got possibilities.”  He left the room and my assistant came in and was like, “You have no idea who the fuck that was, do you?”  I was like, “No, not at all.”  So, he played me “Day and Night,” and I was like, “What!  That’s him!  No wonder!”  He was just green.  I told him that, if he just gets comfortable, nobody can touch him.  He’s so incredible in the movie.  He’s so funny, and he’s got such an inherent quality with his timing for jokes.  He’s great in the movie.  And I told him, “I don’t know who in the hell you are.” 

Need for Speed opens in theaters on March 14th.  For more on the film:

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