Out today is The Negotiator starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike. Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a former diplomat confronting his demons in 1980s Beirut (the city the film was originally named after). Pike is CIA agent Sandy Crowder, joined by an impressive line up of Dean Norris, Shea Whigham and Larry Pine.
Brad Anderson (The Machinist, DC Universe’s Titans) directs from a script by Tony Gilroy (acclaimed writer of the Jason Bourne franchise). Anderson’s career has covered many genres (his CV includes Transsiberian and Stonehearst Asylum), and when we sat down to chat with him that diversity seemed to be a great place to start…
THN: This is your first time making a political thriller. How did you find the experience?
Brad Anderson: Basically all the films I’ve done over the years have been different genres, from a horror movie to a drama to a period thriller. I like mixing it up a bit for myself, it keeps me on my toes. I had a great experience with this, mainly because of the script that Tony Gilroy had written. He wrote it over 20 years ago in the early ‘90s, it was one of his first spec scripts.
The idea of doing a movie set in an exotic location, in a time period that was far enough away so you could create a different world, but also was – for me anyhow – a familiar timeframe of the ‘80s, which was a really interesting time for me. To capture the vibe of that world again. And also the characters and the story itself… a central character who’s fallen off the wagon and who’s struggling to redeem himself. He returns to save a friend. To me these were all big draws.
The political aspects of it were interesting. I’ve always had a fondness for those John Le Carré-type political thrillers, I think they’re really compelling. But that was a less of a draw for me than the chance to create this world in Beirut, a city torn by this endless civil war. It felt very topical, a story that was resonating in the headlines again with all the violence in Syria and neighbouring countries. For all those reasons it felt like a good fit, so I jumped on it.
Did the script have to be changed from how it was written back in the ‘90s?
Tony did a pass on it, but it didn’t change much because the story is locked in that period. We changed certain things in order to adapt it to the budget level that we had. The logistics were complicated. Originally the movie was meant to be a studio movie, but we did it independently so we had less money, less time. That was really it, much of it was the original script Tony had written.
You’ve got Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in the cast. They’re both similar in that they look like movie stars but they’re drawn to challenging subject matter. How was it working with them?
Both of them are great. Jon dived into this role. Outside of Mad Men he’d not done a lot of dramas, he’d veered more into doing comedic movies, so this was a chance for him to play a straight out dramatic role, he really responded to Tony’s script. And he’s just a wonderful guy to work with. He’s one of those guys that, despite the difficulties of making a movie on a low budget, and all the problems that come with that, he’s gung ho. He’s not a person who complains, he isn’t a prima donna by any stretch.
Similarly with Rosamund, she was excited to work with Tony and Jon as well. She had a smaller part but she does her research. She researched how the character would look, how they would dress, all the period details. Also she did her interviews with some CIA operatives to get a little background, so she was totally great, really professional and excellent to work with.
You also worked with Dean Norris and Shea Whigham, two of the great supporting actors from Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire.
I worked with Shea before, I always wanted to put him in a movie, going back to my movie Session 9 which I tried to cast him in. I’ve always loved his work, it was exciting to be able to put him in the film. He totally jumped at the chance, he’s great. He is a real character in real life! That’s the thing with these guys, they’re character actors because they are characters. He and Dean and Larry Pine and the supporting cast made this a fun experience.
You mentioned logistics before. Was there anything that was especially tough to film?
We shot the movie in Tangier in Morocco, which turned out to be a very good location, looking like what Beirut may have looked like back then. So the production design was largely taken care of before we started working. I think the issues were we were shooting the movie in the middle of Summer during Ramadan. It just happened to time out that we started rolling cameras on the very day Ramadan started, the Muslim holiday where Muslims can’t eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. So for the entire length of the production all our Muslim crew were suffering badly!
It was a challenge trying to keep everyone content, but in some ways the difficulty of that made everyone rise to the occasion. The non-Muslim Americans, the European crew really helped the Moroccans when needed and vice versa so it became a nice combination of all these people from different backgrounds all trying to achieve the same goal. There’s a lot of infrastructure in Morocco for movies and TV shows, so it’s not like they’re unaccustomed to the process.
You’re also a TV director (Boardwalk Empire among others). Tell me a bit about Titans, which you’ve been making for DC Universe.
Just like I’d never done a political thriller, I’d never done a superhero show. It was new to me as well, but they wanted to reinvent it a little bit, make it darker and more dramatic. Not make it so effects-driven, which was interesting to me. I did the first two episodes and my job was to create the look and the feel of the show and set it up.
It was a good experience, it’s definitely different when you’re working with a network and a well-established canon. I’m not a big comic book person so I’m not really familiar with that world which was a disadvantage but also an advantage because I came at it from the perspective of someone who’s not a fanboy, from the perspective of trying to make a really good story. And I think the producers wanted that as well.
The Negotiator is out in cinemas and on Digital HD now.