Interview: Rupert Wyatt On Why He Didn't Set Out To Remake 'The Gambler'

Following the commercial and critical success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, Rupert Wyatt was hired back to helm the sequel. However, when creative differences caused him to split, he wound up settling on an entirely different kind of movie as his follow-up.

Wyatt's new film The Gambler is technically a remake of the 1974 drama starring James Caan, but it feels like a totally different beast. Wyatt agreed as much during my interview with him, stressing that he "didn't set out to remake the original film." We spoke about the messages of the movie and its surprising ending, but also about his other upcoming projects including the sci-fi series Echo Chamber and the World War I drama Birdsong. Read the /Film interview with Rupert Wyatt after the jump. 

I'm sorry to hear about your cold, but congratulations on the movie.

That's all right, thank you.

What did you see in the original Gambler that made you decide that you wanted to remake it?



I didn't set out to remake the original film. I read Bill [Monahan]'s script and saw immediately that he had done something very different. And actually as he said in the press conference for him the intention was the antithesis of the original. So I found that interesting. I have no problem with remakes per se, but I don't believe in emulating, so.

Yeah, it felt very different from the original. It really felt like a different film, even though the basic premise is the same.

Well, of course it deals with gambling, of course our main character is a college professor who comes from a wealthy family. Those tropes are definitely there, so the similarities are obvious. But the character's journey and who he is and what he's actually intending to do is so radically different. The original is a guy who's addicted, he's filling the hole. Whatever has created the hole — and I'm trying to remember back to the original, I don't think you even get a clear idea of why, and I guess you can never find out why an addict's an addict, particularly. But that was all about the notion of addiction and how gambling in a way is just one part of that, and for me this story was much more about a guy who's using gambling as a means of escape, an escape from his life. Not an escape from reality, but an escape from his life.

This guy's life — there's this gambling problem, but other than that, he's Mark Wahlberg, he comes from a rich family, he's very smart and educated and everything. But it seems like one of the themes in the movie is that money isn't making him happy. Can you talk a little bit about having a movie with that kind of message at a time when the economy is a little bit rocky?

It's tough, of course, it's a challenge to convince people that — well not convince people, because that's not my job, but to set up this idea that blowing it all up and being poverty stricken is actually what we should all be about. It's a very anti-materialistic agenda to be setting out, and not necessarily a popular one. I don't think it would be correct for me sitting in my five-star hotel interview room [gestures around room] and living quite frankly a wonderful life, getting to do what I love to do — it's not my place to sort of say, hey we should stick two fingers up at the material world and go back to scratch. But I think what is important though, is to explore and just to remind ourselves is that the spiritual wealth within all of us is what's worth fighting for. And we all know that has nothing to do with money or success or one's career. But we all know that you can actually think going down a certain road is what's the right thing for you, and you can actually get to the end of that road and realize it's not. And that's what the movie's about. The notion of gambling with our lives, the choices that we make. In my case, the movies that I try to make, or in my personal life, the girl that I married — all of those things are the kind of, you know, some you win, some you lose. I loved the idea of exploring that.

Can we talk about the ending? It's really different from the ending of the original. What made you decide to end it the way you did?

Again, going back to the idea that with addiction, you can obviously never escape your demons, you just learn how to control them. So I think our ending is radically different. If you would have perceived our film to be about addiction, I think you would look at the end of our film and think, well that's ridiculous, because no one can escape their demons in such a free and clear way. Which is, again, clear to me why this film is not about that. It's about a guy who's actually trying to redeem himself, trying to find a way out, and he knows he needs to put his life on the line to do that, and he may not survive in the process of doing that. But if he does, then he's a clean slate. He gets to start his life again. And it's through one specific character that he has the opportunity to do that. So it's why I put the title of the film right at the end of the movie.

When you say one specific character do you mean Brie Larson's character?

Yeah, yeah. That knock on the door is the greatest gamble he'll ever take. So that to me was why he's running to something rather than running from something at the end.

THE GAMBLERDo you have any thoughts on what happens to him, and her, after the end of the movie? Do you think he actually is able to turn his life around and become a happy person?

I'd like to to think that if I had the opportunity it would have been like the end of The Graduate. You know, the elation of escape and freedom turns to humdrum normality, them sitting on the bus in that great moment at the end of The Graduate. The shot out of the wedding and then them just sitting there, and Mike Nichols doesn't call cut. [Laughs.] I think to me, that's where it goes, because that's the beauty of life. It's the shades of gray, and it's not all about perfection or zero, which is what he believes at the beginning of the movie. It's not all about that. A genius or nothing. Those are the rules he lives his life by, and it's what's got him into so much unhappiness. I think the fact that he begins to realize that the spaces in between, where Amy inhabits, in a way, are actually what make us truly fully rounded people. This movie can come out, doesn't have to be the greatest success for it to have been worthwhile, you know. Maybe the studio would think differently. I don't know.

It's kind of unusual in that it's a mid-range, like a mid-budget studio film at a time when people keep saying they don't make those anymore. Can you talk about how that came together?

Yeah, Mark. Mark. Mark as a movie star has a lot of wealth — or value, rather — so he's one of those movie stars that uses it in a really good way, which is he seeks out challenging roles. He seeks out projects that aren't necessarily the most commercial on paper, and he'll do a bigger budget film and then he'll translate that value into something like this. So this is a film that was made on a studio budget that was actually, relative to most studio budgets, pretty small. But it was still made with me as a filmmaker, enough money to really be able to do things that — if I'd done this for under $10 million, which is more often than not the case when you're working independent film — would have been much more challenging. So I had the opportunity to cast the very best actors, I had the very best crew, I had 45 days to shoot a character drama. I mean, I had 52 to shoot Planet of the Apes, so it's not that different in a way. So it was a luxurious experience in that sense.

It seems like — well, you were just saying that Mark, he did a big film and then he did a smaller, riskier film. But it seems like you did a similar thing, you did Rise of the Planet of the Apes and then you came to this.

With actors it's slightly different because they turn around things so much quicker. He's already shot one film since this and now he's on the next one. I'm just coming from the end of this. So it's slightly different in the sense of how they can convert whatever value they have and the choices that they get to make. They get to do that 3, 4, 5 times a year. Their careers therefore play out in a much faster way. With filmmaking, you know, you're committing to a year and a half, two years of your life. So I never saw it as I'm going to take whatever success I got from Apes and kind of put it all into The Gambler. I just want to tell interesting stories and this was something that came my way and I knew it was going to happen, I knew it was greenlit, and that counts for a great deal.

The soundtrack is really unusual, and from what I understand you helped put it together. Is that right?

Yeah, I do that with all of the films I've made, I'm very closely involved in the score and in this case the source music. Yeah, it's just another character in the movie as far as I'm concerned. But all of those artists represent the notion of genius as far as I'm concerned, so that's why I chaptered the movie with them.

That's a great compliment to them.

Yeah, well, it's easy to compliment Dinah Washington and Sixto Rodriguez. They're pretty great.

The GamblerSo the setting was really unusual, because it's Los Angeles but it's a part of Los Angeles that we don't see very often. Can you talk about finding the right places to shoot, can you talk about research into the underground Korean casino scene?

We didn't have much access to them. But we did talk to some vice cops that were able to get into them and shoot undercover, and just give us a sense of their layout, how populated they are. The more high-stakes poker gaming that's going on up in the Hollywood Hills, that was more accessible. You have to find a way to get invited, but Mark actually had a few contacts that got us into these very opulent private homes and in the basements of these guys just gambling millions of dollars. It's crazy. So we spent time researching that. The locations themselves, Chris Baugh, our location manager, he is best in the business. He thinks in terms of story. So for example, Jim's house — it's built on stilts, it's this treehouse — had never been shot in before because it's not an easy place to film. It's way up, I think Benedict Canyon in the hills, so it's hard to get any sense of flat level for all the trucks and things like that. But it was such a perfect place for Jim because his life is about to collapse in some way or another. So for him to live in a treehouse seemed perfect for who he was. And Chris had the intelligence to realize that so he showed it to me as an idea.

I want to ask you about a couple of other projects that I've heard you have coming up. This HBO miniseries Echo Chamber...

Mm, mm. It's not necessarily HBO, but yeah.

Oh, I'd read that it was HBO but I guess that was premature?

Yeah, it was originally developed based on a true story, which HBO and I were going to do, but we've evolved it into more of a science fiction temper, so yeah.

Where is that right now? Have you started shooting?

No, no, it'll either go next year or the year after. And I'm going to direct all 10 episodes.

Oh, that's exciting.

Yeah, I'm thrilled by the whole notion of making a long-form film and the idea is set into ten parts. It's why Netflix might be a better place for it, because we're mounting it as one huge film.

It seems like more and more directors are going in that direction. It used to be unusual for movie directors to do TV at all...

Yeah, it's a really wonderful platform. I still love cinema. I've always loved cinema as the holy grail. Being able to go see a film with other people is so important in so many ways. But that said, I think with the increasing budgets in TV, you're getting the best of both worlds. You can tell stories — it may sound boring or whatever but it's so key to filmmaking — it's like you have enough days to actually shoot something properly with TV these days, and you're not rushed. You can shoot a 60-minute episode over 13 days, 14 days, whereas more often than not in the old days it was more like 7 or 8 if you're lucky. So that is transforming the medium in terms of the output, the quality of it. So I love the notion of being able to tell really interesting character developed, in this case science fiction, as a very ambitious movie but actually that happens to be 10 hours long.

Do you think that TV projects like that are sort of filling the hole of — you know, since we were talking about how there aren't as many mid-budget movies?

Yeah, I think they probably are. I think people are beginning to sort of — whether it be by design from the studio perspective or whether it just be because that's how people are seeing things now, with the fact that you can have media anywhere, you can have media in your home or the streets. It's very easy to have a TV experience but have it on a cinematic level, so why go out to the cinema. And so therefore there is this perception, certainly in the multiplex system, of cinema needing to be event movies, and obviously character-driven pieces don't necessarily fit into that. That said, I went to see quite possibly my favorite film of the year, Force Majeure?

Oh, I haven't seen that yet! I feel bad about that because I think that I would like it.

Oh, it's so good. Yeah, it's a Scandinavian film made on a small budget, a character drama about a family on a ski trip. I went to see that at the Laemmle in LA, and it was the best film experience I've had all year. I think people need to remind themselves that going to the cinema to see really good quality storytelling is what it's all about.

That was going to be one of my questions, what was your favorite movie this year. But you stole my question.

There you go.

Are you still attached to direct Birdsong?


Where is that?

It's nowhere, sadly. We're kind of between a rock and a hard place. We don't need a great deal of money, it's $30 million budget. When I say we don't need a great deal of money, it's $30 million which obviously is a lot of money, but for the ambitions of that film it's not a great deal. But it's hard to raise that money in Europe, and it's such a European centric story that it's hard to raise the money through Hollywood. So we're kind of between a rock and a hard place with it. We came close. I had Michael Fassbender back in the day, he was gonna star in it and this was right after Hunger and I'd just done The Escapist. And we just sadly couldn't get it off the ground. But if someone comes to me and says okay, I'm going to finance it, it's ready to go. But I think it's beginning to get to a place now where, because it's so perfectly timed for the centenary of the First World War. The outbreak of World War I was 1914 and the end was 1918. So the Battle of the Somme, which is the centerpiece of our story, is 1916. So really I'd have to be making it next year to actually hit the centenary. Which I think would be a good thing, but I don't think that's going to happen.

So the script for that is already done.

Oh, yeah.

Do you have casting already? I had heard a while ago that Nicholas Hoult was gonna star, but is that still true?

He was attached and that was when we made an effort last go-round to get it going but it subsequently kind of foundered. Yeah.