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Exclusive Interview: Andrew Davis for "The Guardian"

By Paul Fischer Wednesday August 30th 2006 03:17AM
Andrew Davis for "The Guardian"

Andrew Davis won international acclaim for his Oscar winning thriller The Fugitive. Now he returns to a genre with which he is comfortable, The Guardian. After losing his crew in a fatal crash, Kevin Costner's legendary Rescue Swimmer, Ben Randall, is sent to teach at "A" School, an elite training program for Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers.

Wrestling with the loss of his crew members, he throws himself into teaching, turning the program upside down with his unorthodox training methods. While there, he encounters a young, cocky swim champ, Jake Fischer, [Ashton Kutcher] who is driven to be the best. During training, Randall helps mould Jake's character, combining his raw talent with the heart and dedication required of a Rescue Swimmer.

Upon graduation, Jake follows Randall to Kodiak, Alaska, where they face the inherent dangers of the Bering Sea. In his initial solo rescue, Jake learns firsthand from Randall, the true meaning of heroism and sacrifice, echoing the Swimmer's motto--"So Others May Live!". Davis talked exclusively to Paul Fischer.

Question: Now this is another genre movie and obviously you're familiar with the genre movies. But are the good ones hard to come by?

Davis: Well what is a genre movie? Describe that for me because I'm a little confused about what that means.

Question: A movie that falls within a specific genre, an action film, or an adventure film or a thriller. Something that you know is marketed towards a particular sensibility, a particular type of audience.

Davis: You see that's the funny thing I guess the perception is because people are running around and saving lives and helicopters and dangers is a genre movie right? Question: Right.

Davis: But the reality is from the testing we've had women love this movie and older woman really love this movie.

Question: Is that because of Costner?

Davis: No because it is about guys saving lives number 1, it's about the reality of coming to terms with your age and having to give up your career because your too old to do it anymore, it's having realities of if you give too much of time to your work, your marriage is going to fall apart, its about teaching a kid your protégé about the mistakes of your life and this doesn't fall to me in the category of genre movie. I mean yes it's got a first and second and a third act and it's got a hero and it's got a protégé. But there are subtleties in this movie that I think that are surprising people.

Question: So is that what you look for when you look for a project to direct?

Davis: Yeah it's got to be about something more than just entertaining people to me. I think.

Question: What was the attraction of this particular piece?

Davis: I wanted to do a film that was about showing what the US Government does in terms of helping people and saving lives. I didn't want to do a film about killing people, or about how great our military is in terms of doing that stuff. This is about how if the whole world spent their money that they're spending on weapons on doing things like what the Coast Guard is doing, in terms of aiding an assisting and rebuilding and helping. That's what I wanted to support.

Question: It is interesting because you've made films where you've had characters that are not black or white, that are always shades of grey in many of the characters of your films. Is that important to you?

Davis: Yeah because basically stereotypes keep getting perpetuated. When I did Collateral Damage I wanted to show what's really going on in Colombia, that there are 2 sides to it and wouldn't it be great to have a guy like Schwarzenegger who's considered the biggest macho guy in the world go down there, realise that the guy is going to kill because his son got killed, and lost his own son because of our foreign policy. And so the reality is that life is not so black and white and we need to be able to see the subtleties of why people are motivated to do what they do.

Question: So when you cast a movie like this...I go back to Fugitive, which in a way kind of almost revitalised Harrison's career at the time, do you look for someone who is a movie star or an actor or do you look for somebody with a combination of the 2.

Davis: Well I think I started doing Chuck Norris and Steven Segal and I tried to take those action tough guy characters and turn them into stories about police cover ups, about drugs in a connection to foreign policy and elevate those movies with some stories that had some reality and substance rather than just how good are you at kicking ass. Then as I went from that to Gene Hackman and working with one of the great actors of the world and I was able to say, 'okay I'm wanted to work with the best talent I can work with' and so I don't intend to work with stars that can't act anymore [laughs] and I've been lucky on this one especially to find a young and an older star who I think did some of their greatest work in of their careers in this film. I was very lucky to have Kevin and Ashton in this movie because Ashton is going to surprise a lot of people with what he does in this film and Kevin I think is at the top of his game. So to answer your question it is more important to me to have a great actor than a movie star.

Question: Well Harrison, Gene and Kevin are all actors who like to get their hands dirty in terms of wanting to get complete involvement in the movies that they're working on. How much leeway do you give these guys?

Davis: A lot. Wait when you say leeway I mean basically my job is to create an environment for them to do their best work and to use their instincts and their knowledge and their ability as story tellers and actors to bring it...its like I'm the coach on the sidelines trying to work with a great quarterback and saying, 'okay this is what I think you should do, what do you think?'

Question: What do you think sets The Guardian apart from a lot of your other work?

Davis: Well first of all the relationship between these 2 guys is very powerful and I think that the 2 of them coming together. It's a different story and a different dynamic but it's sort of like what happened with Gene Hackman and Denzel in Crimson Tide...It made like a really strong kind of environment, now these aren't such antagonists but so they never really made a mentor movie before and that's what this is. This is a story about a man coming to grips with his ageing and passing on what he's learnt to the next generation.

Question: Does it reflect in some way whom you are as a filmmaker and as a person after all these years of working in the industry?

Davis: Well I guess so. You know I'm feeling more relaxed with what I know and what I don't know about life I am going to turn 60 this November and I think that having a son and a daughter who are in their early 20's and sort of having my parents luckily enough who are still alive, to have a full cord of life in front of me now.

Question: How much easier does it become or more difficult does it become to work as a filmmaker the older you get. I mean 60 is a great age but you know this is a tough business and it's often been defined as a young man's business. How do you change with the times?

Davis: Well it's interesting cause this movie is both old and new. They don't make many movies anymore with older stars in it like Kevin is and with this size budget in an action environment. When we originally started this project the budget was higher, there were other actors being discussed and then I said to myself you know I really want to make this movie, I'm going to figure out how to do it for the price that makes sense and go in there and figure out how to put it all together. Then we revisited it and we said there has got to be a way to spend this kind of money on a Coast Guard rescue movie and tell a good story. And so the challenge was how to make the water totally believable that was the biggest challenge in terms of the making of this movie to me and we did a lot research and came up with a solution that I think is pretty compelling, I think it is some of the best water work that's ever been in a movie.

Question: Was it a tough film to make and was it tough on Kevin?

Davis: Very tough on Kevin, tough on Ashton everybody. We shot it in 62 days. They were in the water for many nights getting their brains beat out with 7-foot waves and wind machines and actually having to do that stuff. They had to train, Ashton went through a Boot Camp with the rest of the kids in the cast run bye real Coast Guard Rescue swimmers and was in good enough shape to become on of those swimmers at the end of the movie. So your question is, is it harder to make a film, as you get older? I think it is easier for me now because I understand more about what it takes to do it. You know it is very intimidating to walk onto a set if you've done a music video or a commercial and then have to deal with 200 people for 65 days straight. And having been a camera man and made a lot of different kinds of movies with different actors and understanding egos and all the politics and all the games it is easier for me to cut through the bullshit and just sort of say, 'fellas lets not kid ourselves this is what its going to take, this is what we have to do', and people who are pros understand that.

Question: You studied journalism didn't you when you were at university?

Davis: Right.

Question: Why did you decide that you wanted to make the transition from journalism to film making?

Davis: Well it was sort of like the environment we're in today they weren't telling the truth in the press [laughs].

Question: Well nothings changed then right?

Davis: It was the height of the Vietnam War and I knew they were lies and it turned out they were lies and so I said you know I don't think I want to be repeating what it is that this government wants to put out today because I'd rather be more independent than that. So I was involved in photography and journalism and theatre and so I just pursued becoming an assistant cameraman. I became a director of photography a protégé of Wexler and that sort of lead me into directing.

Question: Do you think that the media is as skewed and as twisted now then it ever was?

Davis: Well it's hard to say. When I think about what I went through to make my first film I shot like 13, 14 movies as a young camera man and I couldn't get in the union and so I said its easier to be a director and so I went off and tried to make my first film, which took 2 or 3 years of trying to raise money and there weren't that many independent young film makers in those days trying to make movies. Today everybody and their brother has a film at Sundance...I mean at Sundance there is 4,000 submissions a year or something like that...So anybody can make a movie the technology is much more accessible. I think the opportunity to get a film realised is much harder these days cause you have to spend so much money on advertising, the Internet is allowing people to have a voice they never had before.

Question: Having made so many of these big films now do you yearn for something smaller?

Davis: Yes, yes I do and as a matter of fact we used some footage in The Guardian we shot our Boot Camp on video just to document it and we actually transferred some of that stuff to film and its hard to tell in some cases, which is the $700 camera and which is the $150,000 camera. we also did some tests for Super 16 that were incredible, so the technology has gotten to the point I think for $100,000 you can buy everything you need to shoot, edit and mix a movie.

Question: Are those are your immediate plans?

Davis: Well there's some interesting projects that require a kind of gorilla unencumbered film unit to do that I am interested in and I like the idea of doing a movie that has a small core of people that's able to move fast and sort of invisibly around the world and document certain things and then apply that to very interesting visual effects and large scale sort of stuff that's in a much more controlled environment. So I think we're getting the point now where a movie can become almost anything as long as it's entertaining. I'm very inspired by the fact that there have been some very successful documentaries made over the last few years that have gotten theatrical releases and I think that we're at the point almost like with the Impressionists were with painting where you start breaking the rules and people say that's okay you can do that as long as its entertaining for 90 minutes. So I think that the form of filmmaking can change. Now a good story isn't going to go away, but the definition of what can be quantified as entertainment in something that can play in a community environment at the theatre or in some one's house as a DVD is going to change.

Question: Do you have a next project?

Davis: I have several that I'm interested in doing that I've developed over the last few years and somewhere family orientated films involving younger audiences or their whole families can come to and other very serious kind of political films. So II need a break I need to take a deep breath, spend some time with my family and when that's over probably go back to work early next year.

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