Something I’ve always appreciated about your body of work is that, even in your most commercial movies, the violence is brutal and visceral. Do you ever get pushback about that from studios? 

I haven’t really, no. I mean, I’ve had questions, people ask me. I’m a director, I’m an entertainer, as far as you know what I mean, I’m not advocating anything. I just want people to have fun and enjoy them. I mean, I grew up watching those types of movies. I watched gangster movies, and westerns, and action movies and stuff. The kid in me still has fun watching the stuff, and you have to always remember to keep that alive in yourself and knowing the difference between real life and movies. But also, the filmmaker in me, my thing is I don’t want to do action and brutality in a movie this, that doesn’t feel as real as I can get to it. If it was just a Marvel, big superhero movie like that… Even that stuff is brutal sometimes. I understand that’s more cartoonish, people get hit and fly through buildings, and getting up and walking.

This appeals more to me. I think if you can do this right, in the right story first, it has more impact because it feels more real for people. So it has more of an emotional connection. The audience, there’s spectacle, and then there’s emotional experience of violence. Two different things.

Completely. Before I walked into the movie, I was in the mood to watch Denzel Washington kick ass.

[Laughs] Right, right.

And there’s fun in that, but it’s still authentic and sometimes dramatic. 

Yeah, that’s the idea. That’s what I tell everybody. Get it as authentic as you can, but still so the audience is having a good time with it. You know what I mean? Because you can always go further with it, but it’s like, I just want authenticity. It has feel like something that, yeah, Denzel Washington can do at his age, if he were trained to do that, that’s what that guy could do. It’s not like he’s running and diving over one building to another building, and grabbing on the other side and all that. You know, there’s a certain age you can do certain things, but doesn’t mean you can’t be just a brutal, or vicious. You just have to know how.

[Spoiler Alert]

I imagine it’s hard finding actors who can convincingly go toe-to-toe with Denzel Washington in a fight, but Pedro Pascal has a big enough presence to do that. 

Great.

The scene where Pascal’s character lays it all out on the table with his family home is a good face off. What do you recall from shooting those scenes with the both of them and crafting that turn?

Because you can only get away with that when you’ve got great actors like that because that scene was written, and rewritten, and rewritten. Then one day I was talking to the writer and I said, “You know this is a personal story, and you’ve got a family,” the guy has a family. The character told us that on the bench. McCall’s going to go to him there because one, it’s the safe zone in a weird way because he’s got kids and his wife there. So he’s not going to do anything stupid to jeopardize that. On the other hand, for the audience, it’s like a ticking bomb because what if something does go wrong and you’ve got the kids and the wife here?

As a director you’re trying to play with the suspense of that idea of keeping them alive, and the sound mix when they went upstairs, you could hear them movie around so I kept that alive too. The whole idea there was just so the audience go to a place that’s familiar. Not they’re gonna meet in the parking lot, and the choir plays, and that kind of thing. I was like, no.

[Laughs] Not interested in a late night knife fight at the beach?

Yeah, no night time at the beach, or like all of a sudden now you’re at a warehouse. I was like no, it’s at his home. In the cul-de-sac, I wanted it in the cul-de-sac. I really wanted it to be like that’s home, and we all can relate to that.

[Spoiler Over]

You have a lot of moving players and pieces in that final fight in Robert’s hometown, plus the weather conditions.

Oh, man.

How difficult was it getting the geography of that action scene right and filming those days? 

All I can tell you is that there’s some days when I’m shooting that it’s so cold, over by the ocean, the wind and the storm, and you know we’ve got stuff flying everywhere, and goggles on, and we’re doing the stuff, and I’m sitting here going, man I just need a small little drama [Laughs]. I was like, I miss that scene in the house with just them talking, because it’s hard. It’s exhausting, man. Because every morning you got to get up super early because you’re trying to beat the sun, you don’t want the high noon because that doesn’t really work for the scene. You need it to be no sun in the sky, like a storm. We had to put that into the back of the schedule for the colder weather, and over by the ocean so it’s really cold. Then you got actors that are getting wet and soaked, and we created those huge waves we had like tons all the way down the beach, of these giant cannons with water tanks and machines. So it would hit and fly over, and get like 25 foot waves and stuff. It was one of things where, man, I was like from Mag Seven with horses today. I don’t make it easy for myself.

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