With the Denzel Washington / Mark Wahlberg action thriller 2 Guns just released in the UK, here’s the transcript of an interview I conducted with the director Baltasar Kormákur earlier in the year. Parts of it were used in the feature in Empire #291 but this is the whole thing, and took place before anyone had seen the film. I was looking forward to it, hoping for just the throwback actioner that Kormákur describes. I’ve seen it now and I wasn’t disappointed.
OW: What’s the reaction been so far?
BK: Nobody has seen it yet. We’ve had a couple of previews, but no press screenings or anything like that. It’s going over pretty strong with the people who’ve seen it though. We’re getting very good feedback from the producers and Universal and EOne.
I enjoyed the trailer!
The trailer’s great. It really gets across the tone of the movie. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. I really like that style of movie [action films that aren’t exactly serious but aren’t comedies either]. I love 48hrs, and even films going back much earlier like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They kind of have a little more masculine feel to them: it’s not just the comedian and the straight guy. Midnight Run has that feel too. I really like those kinds of movies. There haven’t been too many of them lately.
What was the dynamic between Mark and Denzel?
Mark is a little bit the lighter of the two of them. It was interesting to try to get Denzel to lighten up a little bit, because that hasn’t been what he’s recognised for. He’s never done it before, really. So, again going back to Midnight Run, when I first saw that film I thought it was amazing to see De Niro being funny. It was really rewarding to see a serious actor that you appreciate just lighten it up a little bit. I think we succeeded with Denzel. I enjoyed him a lot and I think he’s actually quite funny: not in a broad way but in a Denzel way!
I met Denzel on the set of Safe House, and he was very intense because he’s quite method and he was playing a sociopath. Did he have more fun on this?
Denzel is very intense, but because this character is a little lighter, that meant he was a little lighter on set as well. It was very enjoyable working with him. I’d heard all kinds of stories and come prepared for the worst, but it was really very enjoyable. People on set that had worked with him on other projects like Tony Scott’s movies said he was in an unusually good place! That might be the role or it might be Mark. Mark was very generous in his approach. But Denzel was just very amusing, even afterwards doing the ADR. He was very light about it. I think he liked it.
When did you and Mark start planning this? Were you both involved from the start, or did one of you bring in the other following Contraband?
Mark approached me with this film when we were doing the ADR on Contraband. He asked me to read it, and I thought it was interesting. He was thinking he was going to play Denzel’s role, but I suggested that it was better if he played the other role and we should get somebody like Denzel. We didn’t have Denzel at that point, but he was my first choice. I thought it would make it really unpredictable: something you hadn’t seen before. Luckily Denzel accepted and came aboard.
What interested you about it?
I liked that it was a little different. It had twists and turns and lightness and I could have some fun with it: it wasn’t just straight down the middle hardcore action. If you look at my filmography, things like 101 Reykjavik have a bit of lightness and black comedy, so it wasn’t that far-fetched that we could do 2 Guns that way. It’s actually not common that foreign directors are offered to do something with a lighter touch. Usually it’s all thrillers and hardcore action, so this was interesting for me. I hadn’t seen it coming, and I thought we could have some fun and make it a little different.
In the past it had been developed as a potential vehicle for Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. That sounds a much more outright comedic take on the material.
Yes, and that’s exactly where I didn’t want to take it. I wanted a way more masculine version of it: I didn’t think it should go straight down the comic lane. Those guys are good actors, but that wasn’t the version I wanted to do. As I said, I didn’t want it all action or all comedy, but more that 48hrs mix. Once you make a decision like that, a lot of other decisions stem from it. It’s more rewarding when it’s unpredictable.
The film is based on a comic. How closely have you stuck to the source?
We worked a lot on the script, but what I also did was… I didn’t know the comic and I’m not a big comic book guy. I had my Tintin when I was a kid. But I read the comic again after I read the script, and there were actually things I wanted to bring back. I always feel like you go on a journey when you adapt things. You go away from the material and find your own freedom, and then I often find – I did the same with Jar City – there’s a reason why I started this journey, which is the underlying material. You’ve found your freedom, and now you can start to bring stuff back that you can’t find room for in the beginning. 2 Guns is quite different from the comic though. It’s the same with Jar City: you change the story but maybe there’s a mood or something you go back to. I was looking for that feeling. But the book is not that well-known, so we had quite a free hand.
Aside from Denzel and Mark you’ve also got some great character actors like Edward James Olmos and Bill Paxton in the film. Does that make it more of an ensemble piece?
The two main guys own the movie, so it’s not an ensemble in that sense, but unusually there is not one main baddie, one enemy. There are three of them, so it’s unusual in that way. What I like to do… I come from the indie world more than the big commercial world, so I like to bring guys that have a little bit of an edge, like Bill Paxton and Eddie Olmos. We haven’t seen either of them doing this recently, playing terrible, nasty guys. That’s not what we usually see Paxton do, certainly. Maybe it’s not so unusual for Eddie, but he’s been a good guy on TV for a few years [in Battlestar Galactica]. I think he relished playing a villain. You tend to see some actors playing the same guy again and again. I try to avoid that, and Paxton hadn’t been in a big movie for a while.
So are you a big-time Hollywood director now? Have you left Iceland behind?
[Laughs] I haven’t settled in Hollywood. I did a movie in between Contraband and this: The Deep. I’m producing another movie called The Rocket Man, so I’m working and resting in Iceland and building a producing company there and doing some television stuff. I haven’t left Iceland at all! But it’s an interesting time, obviously, with lots of opportunities. My next project, you can call it Hollywood but it’s actually English. Hollywood is just a state of mind! You work for an English company and it’s called Hollywood, right? We’re doing the next one, Everest, in Iceland, Italy and Nepal, for Working Title, but it’s Hollywood! We’re thinking about starting that one in the fall. I’m working on a TV movie called The Missionary at the moment, which we shot in Budapest. We don’t have Christian Bale in Everest anymore. He went to do Moses [Ridley Scott’s Exodus], which really sucked. But we have a great cast that hasn’t been announced yet. I decided to go for a more ensemble version of it!