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Set Visit Report: "Faster"

By James White Wednesday November 24th 2010 08:46AM

Dwayne Johnson is back in action for ‘70s-style revenge thriller Faster. We visited the set and talked to the cast and crew, finding out what it’s taken to get it made and why it’s different from your average action movie…

It’s 1:00pm on a slightly overcast California day and Dwayne Johnson is stabbing someone to death in the bathroom of a strip club. Just an ordinary occurrence in the making of Faster, his latest film. After a few years spent working on family comedy and adventure movies, Johnson is firmly back in the action thriller genre for what its producer Bob Teitel describes as “a throwback to 1970s movies like Bullit and Point Blank.”

We’re on the CBS Radford lot, where Faster’s director George Tillman Jr. and his crew are shooting a clash between Johnson’s Driver and a man known only as Baphomet. But this is not a random attack. The victim is on a list of several men that he blames for a botched robbery a decade ago, that left his brother murdered and Driver himself locked in solitary confinement. Finally released, Driver is looking for a little payback by any means necessary…

For Johnson, it was a seemingly easy choice to make Faster his return to what he describes as “more intense filmmaking.” And since he’s been wanting to make it for some time now, it was ready when he was. “Because the script has been with me for a couple of years, I've really had a lot of time to embrace it and embrace the character,” he says. I spent a lot of time with George Tillman and Bob Teitel and went over all the emotional beats so by the time we got into it, it was shift-click and 100 miles an hour.”

Faster is unusual in that it features three main characters – Johnson’s Driver, Billy Bob Thornton’s Cop and British newcomer Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s Killer – who are known in the film by those signifiers, never by their real names. It’s an unusual style choice, and part of the film’s appeal for Teitel and everyone involved. “We realised that you don't find a lot of studios out there today trying to make that kind of film. We gravitated towards that,” he admits. So how did it all get moving? “I loved the character, and all the others. It's such a well-written script, and the characters are layered with great depth and complexity but it's against a very simple backdrop.” It was lucky, then, that Johnson had a prior connection to Teitel and director Tillman Jr. “George and I met Dwayne when we almost did a movie with him about four, five years ago, which never got off the ground,” says Teitel. But there was another big reason for them getting involved. “We also said, ‘can you imagine the cars?’ Here's a 1970s Chevelle going against a 2009/2010 Ferrari. That image alone made us smile. I'm in love with the old car. I want the old car. But it is cool.”

Johnson was equally enamoured of his ride “It's a classic. It drives like a dream! I've always been a pick-up truck guy and love them. But with a car like this, it was awesome. It's fast, there are nitro boosters in it. It's boys with toys time.” While we sadly didn’t get to see the match up between powerhouse classic Chevelle and shiny new Ferrari, Teitel promises plenty of car chaos in the final cut. “It's funny, because what we wanted to do with this film was ground it in reality in a lot of ways. Even though it's got this hyper-reality feel to it, we wanted to ground the action in reality, by doing stuff in the car where you're inside the car and feel how it feels. So we do a lot of cutaways to the stick shift, a lot of cutaways to different things in the vehicles.”

While the final product is full of guns as well as gas-guzzlers, the filmmakers are aiming to keep to that realism mantra, and to avoid some of the common pitfalls films such as this tend to stumble into. “What we always talked about with the gun shooting is that today in movies you see these movies where guns have endless bullets,” laughs Teitel. “We count the bullets, we're conscious of how many bullets are in this round and we show guys reloading their guns. There are movies today where they never reload a gun and shoot forever! So we thought we'd ground it. Part of the training for these actors was learning how to reload and shoot. It was interesting as we sent all three actors to boot camp and Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who plays Killer, went through the most. He went to physical training, he went to yoga, he went to gun and then driving school, just constantly staying up on him and watching him transform.” One of the ways he and co-star Maggie Grace, who plays Killer’s equally eccentric partner in crime/wife, Lily, transformed was through the training. “They pushed us to the point of vomiting with the training,” laughs Grace. “And the DVD extras filming team was following us around!”

Alongside the drive for reality was the intent to keep the movie from looking like so many other California-set productions. And so Faster’s crew scoured areas outside the city to give it a distinctive look. No easy job when your sprawling story takes you all over the area. “The hardest things, believe it or not, were the locations,” says Teitel. “We're driving all over the place constantly because the area is vast. I've been in California for 14 years and there are places I haven't even been to. I realised that, making this movie. We didn't want to see the typical LA movie. We use LA as a character in this movie, but the desolate places, the deserts, the seedy places. Very rarely do you see palm trees. We were conscious of that- not really seeing downtown LA, or Beverly Hills, we're really on the outskirts. We were working with the Film Commission. A lot of the crew have been saying, "This is the first film we've shot at home in years”. But it really worked out, and we got some amazing places. One day we were in the Lancaster area and we shot a house that was worth about $40-50,000 dollars. The next day we were in a house on Lake Hollywood that cost $14 million dollars. So the contrast of that was wild.”

While Johnson’s Driver is a supremely tough guy, he also faces a dangerous challenge in Killer, with Jackson-Cohen playing a very different character from his role in BBC costume drama Lark Rise To Candleford. “There's just something quite unpredictable...,” says the actor. “And I think Maggie Grace, when we first got together to talk about it, said, ‘it's like looking after a child, but a child who could do anything.’ You have to face the fact that he's so erratic, and a loose cannon waiting to explode. And that's what it is. There's so much contained and so much that he's trying to overcome, all of his feelings of inadequacy and everything that's ever happened to him. He’s trying to beat it, to be better, faster and it drives him crazy.”

And though the film features plenty of adrenaline-fuelled action, there’s still room for drama as Moon Bloodgood, playing Thornton’s ex-junkie former lover Marina will attest: “I do think all the characters have depth and it's not just these little roles. I'd be so happy if people came out and said, ‘I thought I was going in for an action movie and was entertained, but I also really liked these people...’ For me as an actor, when I love a movie it’s when I can identify with something and learn or feel something.” There is still room for one action beat, though… “I get to slap Billy Bob Thornton!” she laughs. Faster: equal opportunity violence, folks…

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