david j. moore chats with filmmaker Jonathan Mostow…
Filmmaker Jonathan Mostow has been making some incredibly entertaining films since his early days, directing such made-for TV movies as Flight of Black Eagle, but it was his film Breakdown, starring Kurt Russell and J.T. Walsh that really put him on the map. Following that success, Mostow wrote and directed the World War II drama U-571, the mega budgeted Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and the Bruce Willis science fiction film Surrogates, and now after a break he’s back with the hitman action drama The Hunter’s Prayer, starring Sam Worthington. In this interview, Mostow talks about his career and his latest endeavor as a filmmaker.
I wanted to start this interview off by telling you how big of a fan of Breakdown I am. I saw a sneak preview of that movie and fell head over heels in love with it. I’ve seen it several times since over the years.
Oh, thanks, I appreciate that.
That was your first big theatrical feature, right?
Say something about working with Kurt Russell and J.T. Walsh on that picture. That was an incredible film.
Well, thank you. Credit has to go to those guys because they were phenomenal to work with. If you’re a fan of Kurt Russell – and it’s hard to not be a fan of Kurt Russell – you just think of all the genres he’s done, and he just does something interesting and compelling each time out. Whenever I see a movie with him, I just love watching him in it. You know he’s going to make it better, and he’s just a phenomenal guy. He’s truly one of the great film actors. J.T. was the definition of a phenomenal character actor. A character actor basically being someone who is swallowed up in the role and you’re not thinking about them. When you look at a movie star like Tom Cruise in whatever part he’s playing, you see Tom Cruise in that role, but with a character actor they get swallowed up in the role. The tragedy about J.T. is that he died soon after … Breakdown was his second to last role. At his memorial service, they showed a 45-minute clip reel of his work, something like a minute or two from each film he was in. Everyone’s breath was taken away by the volume of films he’d been in. Every time they showed a new clip, it was like, “Oh yeah, I forgot he was in that!” Because he just became organically part of every one of those movies. When you strung it all together and saw them back to back, it was just amazing. Breakdown was the first film where he really got some real attention that he hadn’t gotten before. His salary tripled after that and things were just starting to take off for him, so it was really tragic that he passed away so soon.
Well, you went from glory to glory after this. Following Breakdown you did U-571. It was quite a movie.
Thanks. I wrote U-571 before I wrote Breakdown. Even while I was writing it, I thought, What am I doing writing a World War II movie? It was very out of vogue at that point. And worse, set on water, which Hollywood was still recovering from after Waterworld. The studios had sworn off doing movies on water. I thought I was crazy. So I wrote the script and put it in a drawer and didn’t show it to anybody because I thought it was pointless. It was expensive and I hadn’t done anything so no one was going to hire me to do it. So I wrote Breakdown, and in the wake of Breakdown, everyone asked me, “What do you want to do next?” So I opened the drawer and said, “Well, I’ve got this one.” So that’s how that happened. The process of making that film was interesting in that there’s almost no CG in that movie. Maybe there’re five or six shots that have CG in them. We used miniatures, or full-sized submarine replicas that were built, or real ships. Nowadays, I don’t think anyone would be crazy enough to try to do that. It was the ultimate big, huge electric train set to play with. It was a Christmas kind of an experience.
Your next two films were giant, star-driven vehicles: Terminator 3 and Surrogates. Say something about those two films. Terminator 3 has to be the biggest movies you’ve done to date, right?
Yeah, yeah. At the time, it was the biggest independent film that had ever been done. Even though it was distributed by a studio, it was actually technically an independent film. When you’re in the middle of it, you’re not really that conscious of the budget. You’re just trying to push the envelope, whatever size envelope you’ve been given. You’re always straining the resources, and you’re aware that the resources are much bigger than you’re used to, but you’re still trying to do as much as you possibly can with the tools that have been given to you. It does enable you to do a level of spectacle that you can’t do on a smaller movie.
Which brings us to The Hunter’s Prayer. It’s a smaller, more intimate movie than anything you’ve done before. Say something about what drew you to this project. It’s been awhile since you’ve done a movie. Why come back with this one?
I took some time off, and what appealed to me about The Hunter’s Prayer was that it was a little, compact “B” movie. The way that Hollywood has changed since I started, is that it’s become distilled: You’ve got your tent pole movies, right? Superheroes or what they call “Preawareness IP.” It’s a fancy word for stuff people have heard of already. It’s easy to market. Then you have your small movies, your comedies, or horror movies or whatever. With a small budget, you kind of have to set the movie in maybe one or two – maybe three – locations at the most. So, all my movies, in fact, have been road pictures. They have a journey in the center of them. They start in one place and then travel to another place. By definition, a road picture requires different locations. If you look at the movies being made in Hollywood outside of the tent pole movies, in the independent space, people aren’t really making those kinds of movies anymore. This film is sort of a journey through Europe. There’re different countries, cars, and boats, and trains, so the idea of doing a tight little “B” movie wrapped in a journey, there was appeal to that. It’s kind of hard to find a movie like that now. When I’m in a mood to watch a film, I want to see something that is kind of fun to watch, a little escapism, and something that takes me to a part of the world that I haven’t seen before.
Talk about working with Sam Worthington. He’s a bona fide movie star. Hey, he was even in a Terminator movie.
Yeah, that’s right. Sam is a sensational actor. Audiences in America discovered him in Avatar, and in the wake of that, Hollywood was so desperate for rugged, male leading men that he was quickly drafted into a bunch of big movies. Before he came to the US from Australia, he’d already done about 25 movies in Australia. He won the equivalent of an Australian Academy Award. He started his career at the Royal Academy of dramatic arts in Australia. He’s a very serious, super well-trained actor. What was fun about this role is that yeah, we’ve seen it done in other movies, but he’s a character who’s really struggling with a unique set of problems. His talents as an actor really brought pathos to the role. That helps distinguish the film from others that are sort of like it. At the end of it, you go, “Huh. That was a little better and more interesting than I thought it was going to be.” It’s a tight, “B” movie ride, but it has a little extra, and that was sort of our goal going into it. It takes an actor with Sam’s talent to pull it off.
My last question is in regards to the final scene in the film where the camera pans out in a really long shot, and it goes on and on. It’s a gorgeous location. Where was that place and how did you find it?
That was the coast of England. It was about an hour and a half, two hours from … we shot a chunk of the movie in Leeds, Yorkshire province of England. It’s their Midwest, so to speak. Their Ohio of England, so to speak. My production designer found it, and it was spectacular. That shot we did from a helicopter. I’ve been in helicopters before, but I’ve never gone up so fast and so high as I think we did for that shot. It was fun to shoot.
The Hunter’s Prayer is opening in Select Theaters Nationwide on Friday, June 9th, 2017.
david j. moore