'Sicario: Day Of The Soldado' Director Stefano Sollima On Moral Complexity And His 'Call Of Duty' Movie [Interview]

Sicario: Day of the Soldado began its life as a spin-off of the acclaimed hit Sicario. With only Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin returning from the first movie, it didn't seem like a sequel without Emily Blunt. But the Sicario name is strong enough that the film is being positioned as a proper sequel.

Alejandro (del Toro) gets called back into action to help Graver (Brolin) go after the Mexican drug cartels. They kidnap Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a kingpin, but things don't go exactly as planned south of the border.

Italian director Stefano Sollima makes his Hollywood debut with Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Sollima is also attached to the feature film adaptation of the Call of Duty video game series. He spoke with /Film in Los Angeles about the Sicario sequel and his upcoming projects. Sicario: Day of the Soldado opens today.

When this project started, they had talked about doing a spinoff to Sicario. Did it change at all when it became more of a straightforward sequel?

I don't know anything about the project before I was involved, but I read a script. It was a smart, slightly different take on the franchise. I don't think Soldado is a sequel. It has just some of the characters who were in the first one. It's a completely different point of view because it's not through Emily Blunt's character who was the sort of audience surrogate and also more of a point of view. This is just about the two guys so I never felt this was a straight sequel. It could take place before or after. The timeline is not so connected. You don't have any big connection between the two except for Alejandro's backstory. So I don't think it's a spinoff or a sequel. The idea of the producers that sounded interesting was to create a trilogy of movies based on the same world with some of the same characters.

Did you intentionally make Day of the Soldado so that it could be seen as coming before Sicario?

It was written that way. Of course it was written by Taylor Sheridan. I just made sure it was a standalone movie, especially for everything related to Alejandro. To explain exactly the backstory of Alejandro in order to be sure that eventually you can enjoy this movie without having seen the first one.

Are there already plans for a third Sicario film?

I think this was what they pitched me two years ago.

Would Alejandro be in the third one too?

I don't know anything about it but it's a good question for Taylor.

How did you make sure this film would fit in the Sicario world but still be your style?

The script, and also Sicario, is the kind of movie that I like. It's pretty close to what I do. It's slightly different because each director is completely different like a fingerprint, but let's say my job is exactly in the same area of both Sicario and Soldado. And Soldado probably a little bit more close to mine because a lot of my projects are on the idea of antiheroes. Soldado more than Sicario because in Sicario you have the Emily Blunt character who is sort of the moral compass. She constantly judges the other characters. In Soldado, you don't have this. You have just a world with some characters and there is no moral judgement on them. This makes Soldado even closer to my style. I think it's more that they are smart as producers to have chosen a director that, without losing any of his own specificity, made a movie that is really respectful of the previous one. I didn't struggle with it. I just did my job and I know my style is pretty close to what they were looking for.

Do the politicians offer some kind of judgement, because they're more concerned with what looks good than what's successful?

I think the moral judgment I was talking about was your own moral judgement, that is something that I hate in a movie. To watch a movie when I feel there is someone else who's trying to give me a code to read the story, or to read the moral of the story. I think my style is completely different because I think the audience is smart enough to get the message of the film even if you don't show it so clearly. This way, I think that Soldado is close to me and also the politicians' take you are referring to, this is based on reality. It's what's happening. We fought an incredible amount of wars and discovered that the reason why we started the war was basically a mistake. Even this part of our story is based on reality. We started a war with 1000s of casualties and discovered later on the reason why we started wasn't really the truth.

Does Isabel offer any moral judgment?

Not at all. We never judge Isabela. In fact, she is unsympathetic because she knows exactly what her father is doing and she uses it. She uses the power that comes from being the daughter of a narco kingpin. She never judged the character. She just put our character in front of a fork of a moral dilemma, but without judging them. This, I think, was the beauty of the script because no one judged anyone else. They're just real people interacting and they change on the basis of their interaction.

How did you film the supermarket bombing in a single take when obviously actors aren't really detonating themselves?

I like action but just when it gives you the chance to illuminate, to shed light on a character or something. I feel that way, by using a long tracking shot, you feel and you experience the action like you are part of it. Of course, this was pretty tricky because we did it four times. We repeated the scene four times and one was with the real actors. One was with part of the explosion, with stunts. The other one was with just the explosion and the fourth one was just empty space. So basically with the motion control, we repeated. By giving the camera movement, because of the talented Dariusz Wolski, a feeling of handled so it makes everything look like it's filmed handheld, but we did it in postproduction. It seems super simple but was really complex to get there.

How does Benicio do that rapid fire with the pistol?

He created that. He said, "I've never seen this in a movie. Let's do it." When he did it, I said, "This is going to be for sure in the trailer." I remember, we were in Mexico City shooting this scene.

How long did you shoot the caravan assault?

I think it was a week. In the script was a super complex sequence with a lot of characters and moving parts. Then I chose again to announce a character through the action, to use just Isobel's point of view. For this, we created a super complex rig inside the humvee to be able to shoot almost 300 degrees inside the humvee during the battle. This was a super complex scene but fun.

How small did that rig have to be to not get in its own way?

Again, this was something Dariusz Wolski created. It was pretty simple because we did it from the inside of the humvee. So we covered all these angles without ever going exactly on our back. It was absolutely enough to give the idea of going back and forth from Isobel's point of view to the war around her.

When there was an opening to direct Day of the Soldado, did you campaign for the job?

No, I didn't know anything about the movie. I was developing another project with the same producer, Black Label Media, Molly Smith and Trent [Luckinbill]. They just gave me the script. I remember, I was going back to Rome and they gave me this script. I read it and said, "This is amazing. It's an amazing script." So I started working on it right after this without knowing almost anything about the open assignment. Also, I've been represented here in the U.S. for many years. It was a bit difficult for me to find the right project to start my career here because I feel that it's too easy to lose your own specificity here. I think that as a filmmaker, to have specificity is a sort of gift. You have to try not to betray it, so to find a job where you can keep your own specificity, it's a value. It's something you don't want to lose.

Is there something about Call of Duty that makes that specifically the video game and not just a war movie?

I think it's more the idea, the concept to tell a story of a soldier. It's something you haven't seen a lot. There've been a lot of war movies but not soldier movies. I feel that a movie must be completely different as an experience from any video games. So meaning that in order to make a good movie based on a video game, you have to betray the structure. You must ignore the idea that they did a video game. You need to create something that is completely new and a great movie.

Are those soldiers going to be new characters that weren't in the game?

I cannot tell you.

Are you close to any casting for Call of Duty?


Are you developing any other films in the States or Italy?

No, I'm doing a TV show I created. I'm directing the first two episodes and show running the rest. It's ZeroZeroZero for Sky, StudioCanal and Amazon. We are shooting now.

What is ZeroZeroZero about?

It's on drug trafficking but it's complex because it takes place in New Orleans, in Mexico and Calabria, a region in south of Italy. Let's say it is a sort of take on globalization by telling a story of one of the most economically valuable merchandise ever, cocaine. It's a trip all around the world and trying to understand and to see how does the drug trafficking affect our real economy. So let's say it's a TV show about cocaine never showing cocaine. It's more the effect that drug trafficking produces all over the world.

That's the specificity you were talking about again.

Yes, I like to create something, either TV or a movie, that can equally entertain you and make you think a little bit about the world around you. But the real world.