'Close' Writer/Director Vicky Jewson Found Real-Life Badasses For Her New Netflix Action Movie [Interview]

We already knew Noomi Rapace was badass from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Prometheus and her Netflix films Bright and What Happened to Monday. Now she has to measure up to real life bodyguard Jacquie Davis, the inspiration for her fictional character in Close from writer/director Vicky Jewson.

Sam (Rapace) is a prominent bodyguard hired to protect Zoe (Sophie Nelisse), the daughter of a mining company executive. When a kidnapping attempt is made, Sam takes Zoe on the run, taking on all attackers while trying to uncover what Zoe's parents are involved in.

Jewson's previous feature was another female led action film, Born of War, but before that she made the romance Lady Godiva. Jewson spoke with /Film by phone this week about her approach to action and the next step in female-led action movies. Close is on Netflix Friday, January 18.

Sam is based on Jacquie. Was there a case where she was protecting a young girl? To what extent was that based on her life?

No, that part, the thrust of the story was very much from our imagination, but the details in terms of why a young girl would be taken or a corporate ransom would happen and how it would be done and what you would do in order to keep someone safe, all of that detail was through Jacquie as a consultant on the project. Very much the character as well was very much based on her as a person. The thrust of the story was more inspired by films like Thelma and Louise really.

How did you turn Jacquie into Sam?

We spent a lot of time with Jacquie getting to know her. The nature of her profession is to be detached and to keep everything back and to be impersonal. So we had to build and grow the trust between us and really get to know each other. Then when we did that, I was able to get a look under the bonnet of someone that lives this high octane life and how that impacts on her personal life. Jacquie led quite a tragic life and it felt important to me that Sam had layers and needed to be dealing with some difficulties in her personal life. I think the world of close protection, because it is so controlled and focused, it is quite a good bandage for someone who doesn't necessarily want to spend too much time thinking about themselves because they're constantly thinking about other people. So it felt quite organic that Sam would have this past that was haunting her and that Zoe would be the person to unlock that

Was the mining company plot inspired by any real incident?

Yeah, that was very much inspired by Jacquie's experiences. We asked her, what would be the key reasons for people being kidnapped for ransom? She gave us a few examples of the corporate world when that happened to leverage deals. I just thought that was fascinating because it's something that you never hear about or would know about. It's all covered up instantly and done underground. So I found that very interesting to explore.

So many of our movie plots are about saving the world, but in real life it's about deals and money.

Exactly, exactly. I feel like we've seen a lot of save the world movies. It puts it then in a place which doesn't feel necessarily realistic. I wanted to create something that felt a little bit more grounded in reality. This is certainly something that happens.

Was it important to create situations for Sam and Zoe where they could improvise, like using a chain or landing on an opponent with her knees?

Yes, my approach to the action was to make it feel realistic and to make sure that what we were experiencing could actually happen. I think it would have been very unrealistic for them to have been armed throughout what happens to them. They are on the run and they're fugitives, so we had to think about what was available to them. And I think also we were constantly searching to create something that we haven't seen before,that feels original, more dynamic and fresh. Also, I'm a big believer if someone gets punched, they need to bleed and it needs to feel brutal and raw. I think all of that added to it.

Even though it looks improvised, is it all very carefully choreographed on the set?

To an extent. The stunt coordinator worked with is called Julian Spencer. He did the fight scene in Eastern Promises, the naked one. He has this approach which is to give the actors a certain number of tools in their tool kid, but then allow them the freedom to decide which one they're going to use when. He'll sketch out the base notes of the scene and then we do allow a little bit of space for improvisation so that it doesn't feel over choreographed and so that the actors can go into it within character and not be distracted by having to memorize a complicated routine.

You make it look realistic but we can still follow everything. It's not obscured or shaky. Was that an important balance too?

Yeah, I find it really frustrating when you don't know who's doing what to whom. I feel like it makes you disengage and you can't feel the peril. For me, good action is all about tension and suspense. I need to be connected to my character and so then I need to know who's hitting who. I need to feel connected with what's happening to my character in that moment. So I wanted it to be claustrophobic and intimate and intense, but not so much so that we couldn't see the geography of the situation and what was actually happening when.

Are you a director who storyboards a lot and previsualizes?

I'm not a great artist, so I do storyboards but they're stick figures. I do do them, but for me, the most useful tool is previs. Even if it's just on my iPhone, we did a lot of it in advance of shooting, particularly with those intense fight sequences, so we could work out the ideal coverage and cut it together and see what fit best. I also love overhead diagrams, so I'll do an overhead diagram for the whole attack sequence. I drew up floor plans where all the characters would be and where I would place the cameras and how one would float in order to navigate all those movements because it was all about catching all the different things that were going on at the same time. So I quite like to use overhead arial diagrams. Then I can picture exactly how it's going to flow together. It's sort of a combination of all elements.

That makes so much sense. I've never heard of directors doing overhead diagrams before.

It's really useful. I feel like I might have seen Greengrass do it before in some kind of making of book where they did that scene in Green Zone where he's running through the market. I think I saw once they did an overhead diagram where all the cameras would be placed. He shoots with a lot of cameras at the same time. It's just a very useful way of being able to work out what you'll be able to capture and how you're going to cover that, so I like to run action in large pieces as much as possible. I think then you really get the actor engaged with what's happening and connect them to it. If you cut it up too much, it all becomes difficult to feel.

Is your previs with doubles or animation?

Doubles or friends. We didn't have any budget to do it beyond that, but also with my stunt coordinators. We just get a few people together and we even got a car and put it upside down on my parents' lawn at one stage. Originally in the opening sequence, the car was going to be flipped on its roof. We were going to have this dramatic roll so we wanted to see what we could do, how you would get out of that situation. So I was like well, let's just get a car and flip it on its roof and see. Sadly, it didn't end up in the film in that way, but we tried to pull it all together in a DIY sense at home.

Is the hope that Sam could be a franchise character who has more adventures?

I definitely think there's a lot more to explore, yeah. We've bought the rights to Jacquie's book, The Circuit, which is an amazing autobiography of her life, and has so many films in. So it is our intention to develop some more stories in that world.

Your previous movie was an action movie but before that were dramas. Were you always hoping to direct action movies?

Yeah, I absolutely loved action films growing up. I was making movies since I was six years old and they were always spy movies or James Bond movies. The first movie I made was a romance. I was 18 and I was on a quest for romance. On that movie, I met my husband. I joke that I was on my quest for love and then I found it and then I went back to my roots and went back into the action genre where I feel most comfortable. I used to write a lot of comic books when I was a kid and I think it's just a very visual medium. It's a genre I've always loved.

Did you write comics professionally?

Oh no, I just would make lots of them for my friends and photocopy them and distribute them.

What were the influential action movies you grew up with?

Such a range, from Aliens to Die Hard to La Femme Nikita, The Professional. There were so many of these big, tentpole '80s action films that primarily starred men. So I would spend my life pretending to fit in those worlds and those were my icons. Then I suddenly went, "Well, I want to see women in these roles." I loved the Bond movies growing up as well. I just really did enjoy them.

I just read the Die Hard Complete Visual History and it talked about how McTiernan would keep the camera moving. I took that for granted because I was 10 years old, but ever since all movies have done that. Did you ever notice that about iconic films like Die Hard?

Yeah, probably not at the time because I was also a kid, but it's something I've obviously become aware of as I've been working. All the different styles, like Michael Bay's style of how he moves the camera is completely unique in its own way too. It's a bit like those one take shots as well that Bourne brought in a very fresh way that we hadn't seen before. I always remember that scene where he jumps across the building and through the window and the camera follows. There's just no break in it so you kind of gasp because you can't quite believe that that's actually just happened for real. I'm definitely aware of how the camera can really influence how you view action. I absolutely love one take stuff. I love the sequence in Three Billboards when he goes across the road and upstairs and beats him up and throws him through the window and comes down stairs. The whole thing just doesn't break and I think that's very intense. It's a really intense way of involving an audience in a sequence like that.

Your next film, whether it's another Sam movie or something different, will it be action?

Yeah, as long as it's character driven, yes, I'll be there. I'm writing at the moment a project which is about Sylvia Raffaele who was a Mossad spy in the '70s, one of the most prolific female spies that they had. That's a really interesting project that's currently at the writing stage.

Was there something that drew you to finding real women in this lifestyle rather than inventing fictional ones?

Yeah, I think I get frustrated with seeing women in action from a fictionalized perspective, like superheroes or high heels or leotards. I really have this hunger to see women I felt like could really exist. They're just the stories that really interest me.

Ripley was in the '70s and '80s and Thelma and Louise was 1991, but we're still just now developing our idea of what a female hero could be. Isn't it such a slow process?

We really are, yes. It's been a long journey. Even putting this movie together was a fight to get it financed. I was in a lot of rooms where I was told this is particularly difficult because female driven action is much harder to sell. Gladly, I think that's really changing now. There's been some huge commercial successes which people can't now really make that statement. There's definitely an appetite for those kinds of movies but yeah, there just needs to be more of them. People like Ridley really did start to pave the way, but we just need more.

Was Netflix helpful because they could say, "Actually, we have an algorithm that says people ARE watching female driven action?"

Yeah, definitely. They definitely have said that .From the moment they jumped on the project they really saw it's potential and been very supportive of our vision for it. And in identifying that it's quite a unique offering for the market. There's not many films about two women, and also the drama led action thriller rather than a comedy. So they were very much behind that and very supportive throughout.