The Infiltrator Director Brad Furman on Bryan Cranston: ‘He’s Unbreakable’

Brad Furman discusses his new drug thriller The Infiltrator, star Bryan Cranston and more...

In the tense new true-life thriller The Infiltrator, Bryan Cranston plays Bob Mazur, a U.S. customs agent whose uncanny ability to go deep undercover led to him being embedded as a money launderer with the Pablo Escobar drug empire – an unbelievably dangerous position that nevertheless enabled Mazur to bring the Escobar operation crashing to the ground while also destroying Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), at the time one of the world’s largest private banks but also a front for drug lords and other illegal activities.

The Infiltrator is based on Mazur’s book and directed by Brad Furman, with the screenplay by his mother, Ellen Brown Furman. Brad Furman’s previous films include the low-budget indie The Take (2007) and the gritty legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), an excellent film widely credited with helping the resurgence of Matthew McConaughey’s career. All Furman’s films focus on guys who aren’t necessarily heroes in the traditional sense – just working men who find some inner strength that enables them to carry on in the face of danger or bureaucracy.

Den of Geek sat down with Furman recently in Los Angeles to discuss the origins of The Infiltrator, working with Bryan Cranston and what it’s like to have your mom write your movie.

Den of Geek: How did you come upon Bob Mazur’s book? Was it given to you by your agent?

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Brad Furman: No. my dear friend from college, Don Sikorski, brought it to me. He said, “I’ve got a background in investigative journalism, a background in documentary filmmaking.” He brought me the book and said, “I think this would be a wonderful movie.” As a result, he’s a producer on the movie and worked on the movie and we made it together.

What cried out “movie” to you after you read it?

Definitively, there’s a story in the opening of the book where they are doing a big bust in San Francisco. We didn’t use it in the movie, but the raid is going to be the next day and the raid happens. There was a scene similar to the movie where everybody is around a table and they are praying. They are holding hands and thanking Bob for being so wonderful. I think that’s happened many times in different versions of things, operations that Bob has had and been a part of, because you get so close to these people and many of them are very religious and all these different kind of things.

But on the day of the raid he called up Evelyn (his wife) from a payphone and he was expressing to her that the raid as was over, and everybody got busted, and he was going to come home. And he broke down in tears. He felt really bad, because even though he knew he was doing his job, he deeply, deeply cared about these people who were the criminals that he was busting. And that hooked me right away. That’s when I knew, I was like, “This is a movie. I gotta make this.”

Your movies tend to be about people who really work on the fringes of something, whether it’s the legal system in Lincoln Lawyer, or these offshore poker games in Runner Runner, or this one-man drug sting operation in this film.

I’m drawn to the humanity or sort of the human spirit, with respect to the fact that I believe so deeply that if you put your mind to something you can absolutely will it to happen. I’m surely attracted to the cracks in the seam and the flaws much more than I am the pristine, clean, you know, everything seems to be working. I remember when photographing LA not only in my first movie, The Take, but also in Lincoln Lawyer, and I consistently in both wanted to show what I called “the other side of LA,” because LA is such a big city, but we’re so typically just used to seeing the palm trees and the Hollywood sign. And that’s surely not all of LA and the people that encompass it.

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I mean I never purposely tried to be anti-establishment or anti-bureaucracy. But I think there’s an independent nature and spirit inside me that allows me to really resonate with these characters, especially when you are trying to break into Hollywood in particular. It’s like a big castle with walls that you are banging on the outside trying to get in.  So I always had a problem with that in some way. I don’t know why. I can’t really articulate for you…just the system is the system. I always felt like if you want to inspire change or do something different, or if you wanted to motivate something that moved people, you had to think outside the system and think outside the box.

And I think that, to me, is thematic of these characters. Not being married and not having children, these movies are like my babies. So you put so much of you into them. Runner Runner was the toughest. It’s a weird thing for me to speak about because I think people would think, “Oh, well he’s acrimonious because it wasn’t successful.” It’s actually quite the antithesis. I never really have that expectation once the movie is made what it will or won’t do. It does what it does. They market it how they market it. So much of that is so out of my control. If I held onto that I’d make myself crazy.

How did this shoot go in terms of logistics compared to your other films? You’re working with a bigger scope on this film.

Every movie has a different set of challenges. The Take, because we were so small, because we were an independent, because we were so underfinanced, we just had some really unique challenges. But I’ve always learned that the best filmmakers are at their most creative when they are pinned against the wall and they have challenges.

You know, to have a chase in an independent movie like that was insane. But every day we went to set, I had a little piece of John Leguizamo running. I had a piece of Tyrese Gibson running. Literally, it was just like, “OK. We’re shooting here in the hotel. Run down the hall!” You know, it was that goofy.

On Lincoln Lawyer, it’s why I want to go back and work at (production company) Lakeshore Entertainment, I have never seen production run so efficiently. It’s unbelievable. It’s incredible. It’s how a movie should be run, and I credit that to Tom Rosenberg and his crew.

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Runner Runner, sadly, it was new at the studio. The movie was a mess in production. Everything on the movie sadly was just a mess. This one, I think, in many ways, ran really smoothly and many ways where it didn’t run smoothly was due to the fact that I was actually set to make another movie with Stallone that ended up getting put on hold. And this thing came together so fast. But staring down the barrel of that gun with the actors and the opportunity that presented itself in front of me, I wasn’t going to shy away from that. But I recognized that we, all of a sudden, had limited time to mount something that we needed double that time for. So that made production challenging.

It was so ambitious with what I wanted to do and say in the fabric of this movie that I was pushing the envelope so hard every day, which, you know, that just creates pressure and challenges, not only on myself, but on the crew and everyone. But I thought it was necessary.

This is your second time working with Bryan (after Lincoln Lawyer) and he’s in the lead this time. Can you talk about that relationship and having him just completely get absorbed into this role?

I’m so inspired by Bryan, because with the success he’s had, the support that he’s offered me as a friend and filmmaker, the partnership he’s offered me, the strength of his moral and ethical core as a human being, and then that encompassed with all his talents, I feel really blessed. I really do. He’s a leader. He carried the movie on his back. Not to say that Benjamin (Bratt) and Leguizamo, and Diane (Kruger) and Yul Vazquez didn’t. But you are taking your cue from the guy who is there every day on set 16 hours tirelessly. He’s just a leader at heart. It’s a tremendous thing.

And he’s unbreakable. He doesn’t really lose his way. He doesn’t lose his sense of self. He’s very grounded. He’s a really special man, truthfully. He’s just a really special human being.

Did you spend time with Bob Mazur?

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I spent years with Bob, actually. And then Bryan spent a ton of time with Bob as well. But prior to Cranston getting on board, I spent years with Bob. Yeah, my mom and I both did. Every step of the way. I wouldn’t make a decision without Bob Mazur. I didn’t grow up as an undercover customs agent. That was not my history. I don’t want to just fictionalize it based off what I read. I want to get dirty. The access to Bob Mazur, and the friendship, and the trust we built, it allowed me to get dirty in this. Anytime I had a question on a line or anything, he had an answer because this was his story.

You mentioned your mom. She wrote the screenplay. How do you tell your mom, “Mom, this scene is not working…”?

I guess other people’s moms, they probably would have been like, “OK.” My mom, we’re built from the same mentality. We’re cut from the same cloth as far as how we operate in a lot of ways. So telling her that early on was mighty, mighty difficult. But I think it was just a matter of being relentless. And then you get through those negative experiences and you get through those hardships and you get through the hurt of being a mother and son team in that environment, and then, ultimately, you traverse through it. Real relationships are built on getting through good and bad, and where are you at the end of that? Hopefully those hardships made it worth it. Our bond as professionals and mother and son is so much greater. And we’ve experienced something that is just so rare. So I’m really proud of being a product of my parents’ development.

I read that the producer liked her pitch the best.

Ironically, it was not her pitch – they liked her screenwriting the best. My mom actually had never pitched before, so putting her in that position was not fair. I don’t want to say she bombed because she’s quite presentable and articulate. But she was not great in the pitch. And then the producer, after the fact, went back and read everything and came back to me and said, “You’re right. Your mom is the best writer in the bunch, and that’s who we should hire, the best writer.”

And that was the very un-Hollywood thing to do. The spirit of this movie was uniquely independent. I remember I ran into headaches, just even from the agency level, in casting Benjamin Bratt. They were saying, “He’s a TV guy.” It’s like, “No. Benjamin Bratt is the guy. He’s playing Roberto Alcaino. He’s the best person…It’s not Javier Bardem.”

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It’s a credit to him and to the script that there’s a scene where Alcaino is walking into a sting and as an audience member, you’re like, “Don’t go in!” And he’s a drug distributor!

Right, right. I think it was important to attempt to evoke the human truth within each of us that everybody has a different way of making a living or what they do or don’t do. You see that he’s a family man with a daughter and a wife. There’s just choices. And if we’re not in judgment of them and we see who they are, the humanity in them, then you do fall for them and you fall in love with them. And that’s exactly what happens to the real Bob Mazur. So if you are rooting and feeling those feelings, then I guess I would feel like the movie is working. So that’s a good thing.

What’s the next rock you are going to try and roll up the hill and get made?

I definitely have some things in my back pocket that for years I’ve been trying to get made. But, as I said, I think so much is predicated upon the critical and commercial success of this film. So we’ll see. I love my script Scarpa. I have to figure out when and where. I’m really proud of the script Bigger that we have. I’m really proud of my script Dysfunction. I’m really proud of my script Intricate.

I hate having to play all these sides against the middle. But in the space we’re in, getting these type of dramas and these type of elevated movies made that aren’t Marvel is really rough. I love the Marvel movies. I love the comic movies. But in the space within I’m trying to carve myself out, these are real, real challenges. I could definitely use a boost from the positivity of hopefully what transpires from this movie. But I don’t rely on it. As I said, I’m really resilient. So if for some reason this movie didn’t work, then I’ll hit the ground running on the next one and figure out how we grind it out just like we did on this one.

The Infiltrator opens in theaters on Wednesday (July 13).

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