Rupert Friend is stepping into the shoes once trodden by Timothy Olyphant in Hitman: Agent 47, the second attempt to adapt the beloved assassin series.
To play Agent 47 is to become one of the most iconic characters in video game history. Even if you’ve never snuck into a mansion in a chicken suit to assassinate a target, you know this series and what it’s all about (chicken suit included). Needless to say, Friend has big shoes to fill in the film. He took some time out from plotting our downfall to chat to us about the movie…
I’ve wanted to talk to you for quite a long time because I saw a short film that you wrote and thought it was fantastic, and wondered why you haven’t made more of them.
Oh thank you, which one was it?
The Continuing and Lamentable Saga of the Suicide Brothers.
I did make one after that, called Steve.
After seeing Suicide Brothers, I wondered why you don’t write features.
I have. After the Suicide Brothers, I wrote and directed a short called Steve starring Colin Firth. I then wrote a feature called Martin and Charlie and Jeff and Bill, which I will be directing at the top of next year, so thank you for noticing and sorry it’s taken so long.
I’m really looking forward to it. So, you’re directing, and now you’ve just done Hitman. You seem to be diversifying a little. I never pictured, don’t take this the wrong way, from your previous work, you being in a grandiose action movie with gunplay and explosions and things like that. Is there something deliberate here or is that just the way the dice are rolling?
I’d love to be able to tell you that there was some intricate plan that I had when I was 22, and this has all been sketched out accordingly, but the truth of the matter is [it’s] completely random. When I realized that was the case, with this life and this line of work, I became a lot happier and that was some years ago. In the beginning of my career, I didn’t know that. I thought it was all forced or somehow squeezed out like a very hard goo, and in fact it’s more about relaxing.
I read somewhere that you were actually considering giving up the profession at one point.
That seems to be the misnomer of today. Somebody’s printed that, but I never said that. I did say that I was out of work very decisively. I didn’t work for a long time. I was in a play and then basically working on my house, but I didn’t have any film work. I guess I’ve always been interested in more than just acting. I don’t know if you know, but I wrote the lyrics for a very cool UK jazz outfit called Kairos 4Tet. I did that with them, and I learned construction stuff. I did some horse whispering. There was stuff that I wanted to do myself outside of acting, and I guess that diversification that you’re talking about is part of that.
You say you learned horse whispering. Do you think those sorts of experiences play into your ability to perform roles now? Have they improved your skillset?
I would say that being open to new things is kind of vital in this line of work, if not all lines of work, and being prepared to embrace the challenge of the new thing is something I want in my life until the day it’s over.
I’m curious if you can think of a concrete point in, say, Hitman, though I know it’s a while since you shot it, if you can think of something there when it was useful to have some outside experience that played into the role?
Specific is hard, but in a more general way, literally throwing yourself into something, whether it’s “Okay, I can’t afford to pay the plumber, so I’m going to figure it out myself” and then you’re standing on the top of a 12 storey building, attached to a wire, and someone says “throw yourself off it.” There’s a parallel from one being a metaphorical throwing yourself into something and the other being a literal one. I find it easier to approach things from a critical angle that otherwise may seem daunting because I’m used to being scared.
It’s useful you brought up the stunt side because that’s something I wanted to ask about. How much bearing does the physicality of a role like this have on your role as an actor?
Huge. Physicality is hugely important for me. I studied the games quite a bit to understand how this guy moved. For me, there was a deadly ballet in the way this guy moved, he was stylish and graceful, elegant and stealthy, he was quiet and he was subtle, yet what he was doing was deadly accurate, precise, efficient. I was interested in trying to embody that.
You say you’ve studied the games. I’ve not spent a lot of time playing Hitman games, although I was talking to a friend of mine who has, and she was saying it was a bit of a blank slate. Did you find that that gave you more freedom, or did you find that there’s something deeper there that some players wouldn’t have noticed?
I’m not trying to be mystical or deep about my understanding of the psychology of Hitman. You just have to accept that your job is to take out the target. I’m literally talking practicalities. How did he put one foot in front of the other, what did his shoulders do when he did that, when he crouched, when he ran, when he scaled a wall, when he was hit, when he was wounded? I’m talking about, literally, how did he move.
Did you, then, look into the psychology of the people like the character you’re playing in the film, the anti-social personality-type people, sociopaths, or was that something that you were going straight off the page and creating something slightly different, slightly fantastical, for the purposes of the movie?
I’m a big fan of imagination. I think it’s the strongest tool we have, and there are some things that you just can’t practice. You can’t practice killing people, so really it needs imagination. The more you trust in that, the more powerful it becomes, I think.
When I spoke to Aleksander and Zachary, I asked them the same question. I’d love your thoughts on it. Why do you think audiences find characters like Agent 47 so compelling? If I met someone like that in the pub, I’d run.
I think it’s because cinema, or any storytelling, video games, novels, music to a certain extent, we’re allowed to explore the forbidden. That’s why we have heroes and anti-heroes, it’s why we have sex and violence and fantasy, it’s why we have other worlds, space travel, time travel, teleportation. All of those things we don’t get in the pub, so we go to the movies for them, and then we get to enjoy them vicariously. If they are well done, then we get to have a little bit of everything as well.
Do you play games yourself?
Not really. I’ve had one or two phases in my life where I’ve done it. When I was very young, I played them a little bit, but they’ve become so amazing now that my fear is if I got into it, I wouldn’t do much else, which would be a shame.
One of the things I talked to Zachary about it is how storytelling elements work in a computer game. It seems that a lot of film actors are working on computer games at the moment. Have you given any thought to how the mechanics of gameplay, the fact that a player may see you perform the same few lines of dialogue over-and-over again in a short space of time, might affect the way you perform a role?
I don’t consider the viewer or anything objective at all when I’m doing these things. I try to consider it subjectively. I think it would be a mistake to go outside yourself and look back in and go “Ooh, that looks good.” I think that’s folly. But I am very interested in where computer games and movies can, and almost certainly will, converge.
With virtual reality and motion capture, those systems know where you move around inside of a console, and it registers what you are doing. We’re effectively stepping inside computer games, which is what I’m doing when I’m playing Agent 47. I’m stepping inside a world that has been built, and we’re telling a story as opposed to a computer game, where you interact with one.
Finally: what’s your favorite Jason Statham film?
Wow. I’m racking my brain, what’s the one, it may be the only one I’ve seen…He fights people despite them trying to take his shirt off? They all go round him in a circle, and it’s the most homoerotic fight scene ever. They go around in a circle, and they all take turns running in instead of just rushing him, which always makes me laugh.
They take his shirt off and his hands are strung into the shirt behind him, and he manages to use the shirt and the tie. I have no idea why they’re taking his shirt off, but it’s probably just to show off his amazing physique. I’d have to say that one, but that’s probably because I don’t think I’ve seen more than one, and in fact it sounds like I’ve only seen one scene from that.
Although I haven’t seen the one where he plays a Texan with Jennifer Lopez [Parker], and I think that’s got to be high on anybody’s list.
Rupert Friend, thank you very much!
Hitman: Agent 47 is out in cinemas now.