Brad Peyton is one happy and enthusiastic man and, has every reason to be. Having worked his way up from making short films and with only two feature length films on his CV (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) he’s now helmed San Andreas, a solid and spectacular slice of disaster movie mayhem and the biggest movie of his career.
San Andreas isn’t just big in terms of effects though, as it stars Mr Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as the heroic rescue pilot on a one man mission to save his family from a disastrous earthquake. Marking the second collaboration between Messrs Johnson and Peyton after the joyously surreal and insane surprise that was Journey 2, the two find themselves on more serious territory, giving audiences a chance to see a much more emotional side to Johnson’s normally stoic persona.
The night before the interview had been the UK premiere, which Peyton confesses he’s “jetlagged” from – “my producer tried to murder me with beer last night!” – but his enthusiasm and passion for his new movie and movies in general still bubbled through. So without further ado, Mr Brad Peyton…
Congratulations on the film, I saw it at half past eight this morning!
That’s a good way to wake up! [in mock announcement voice] “And are you ready to smash California!”
I actually love watching movies first thing in the morning, as I tend to find it makes me more receptive without the day having worn me down.
You know that’s funny, I love movies – I see four or five movies a week. My favourite time to go to the movies is in the day, the earlier the show, the better. I don’t know why, but I also have always, always loved walking out of a theatre and it’s light out – I don’t know it’s just a weird thing, but when I first moved to Toronto I realised that’s how I was, I was like ‘It’s kind of a sickness bruh, but you gotta embrace it’ because it’s the honest thing where you walk out of a theatre and it’s two o’clock in the afternoon and you realise ‘there’s a whole day here’!
It’s a strange thing, but great! Now you’d already worked with Dwayne Johnson back on Journey 2, so was San Andreas mooted back then or did happen later on?
San Andreas started after we premiered Journey, the script came from Beau (Flynn) the producer who I worked with on Journey. The script wasn’t nearly in the shape that it is in the movie, it needed a lot of work, so I worked with Carlton Cuse the writer,and I worked with a couple of other writers called the Hayes brothers to get it in shape.
When we finally got it there, Beau and I talked about it and it was a no brainer because Dwayne is a great guy, obviously very easy to work with and I had a great time on Journey, I mean he’s honestly like a really, really good collaborator for me – we were just talking about this last night – we’re both very literal and the way we communicate is very to the point and it just works for us. And it’s so odd, because you could literally fit inside of him he’s so gigantic and he’s so extrovert and like I want to go sit in the theatre and draw and write and I’m so introverted, but it really works because we’re trying to do the same thing, which is build a great character, build a great movie.
And when the script was done – and I was always batting around in my head thinking about Dwayne, because I’d had such a good time working with him – so finally when the script was in really great shape, that’s when I thought ‘You know what? This is an amazing character for Dwayne, because he’s never done this.’ He’s played heroic, I mean he’s Hercules for fuck’s sake! He’s played heroes his entire life, but this guy’s blue collar, he’s kind of damaged you know, he’s gone through this big traumatic event and I feel like I know Dwayne and I feel like we have a very honest working relationship, so the emotional stuff I felt like I could get out of him. I felt like ‘he’ll want to go here, there’s enough stuff that he can really relate to’ and I feel like I can help get him there and that was really exciting, because – listen – I want him to punch people and have the billion dollar smile and flex and rip doors off of cars!
I want to see all that when I see a Dwayne Johnson movie, I really do, I’m like a fan in a way. But the other thing is I also want to see his acting chops, I also want to see him reveal himself a little bit and I thought this is the type of character that I can get into, but I also think my girlfriend would like this guy, my mom would like this guy – it’s like the full package you know? And that was so exciting, because I would just love to work with a guy I get along with so well, that I’ve had great success with and do something new and elevate it and elevate both of us, so that’s the way it all came together.
And that must have been quite a challenge in itself, because it was quite noticeable how underplayed his character was and the easy path would have been to have Dwayne Johnson playing those kind of heroic characters you mentioned…
Let me just kick this car over!
Exactly – I’m just going to lift this up and push this out of the way…
And by the way he can, that’s why it happens, because you believe it! Because he’s just like “Do you need me to move this car, Mr Peyton?” [both laugh] It’s true, but it just wasn’t the movie I wanted to make though. I didn’t want to do the by the numbers, straight down the middle action film, I really didn’t. It was not why I did the movie – I did the movie because of the heart, I did the movie because of the family dynamic.
It’s curious actually, because I was going to ask why – similar to Journey 2 – you have that broken family dynamic and them trying to find a way back together…
By the way I have a great family, I don’t know where this comes from, because I grew up very happy – my parents are very good! [laughs]
So it’s an accidental theme! But it does add an extra dimension to the characters…
I think, ultimately, it gives you something you can relate to in the sense of – my parents didn’t get a divorce or any of that stuff, but everyone can kind of relate to the moments when someone trips and stumbles, because we’ve all tripped and stumbled, we can all relate to a family that’s strained because I feel like all of our families have moments of strain. I feel like depicting that is saying ‘these are honest people, they’re not perfect’ do you know what I mean?
Even if the house looks perfect and they look perfect, they’re not perfect and so it’s a way to say ‘Look, we’re doing a real movie, these are real people and this is a real story here and they’re not perfect and they’re interesting and all of that stuff makes up the kind of people you want to make movies about, because they’re interesting, there’s some dynamics there.
I think audiences now are used to seeing spectacular visual effects and in San Andreas I really got the sense you were pushing that grand scale destruction to a new level in terms of CG, but what was the hardest physical challenge you faced when filming?
I mean… everything was super hard [laughs]! People ask ‘What was the hardest day?’ and I’m like ‘They were all really hard!’ [both laugh] But they were all really hard, because there’s a lot of movie crammed into the shooting schedule that I had – I shot the movie in 72 days – it’s fast. It’s really, really, really fast and every day presented this new challenge, because I was coming up with shots I’d never done before and we couldn’t find references for how to do them, so we were literally going ‘Well how do you do this shot?’ and we had to figure it out. We had to build so many rigs just to do specific shots and I didn’t want to move on, I didn’t want to say ‘Ok, don’t worry about it, we’ll cut it’ we were going to do the shots and figure it out.
So we were presenting challenges to ourselves every day on how to tell the story the way I wanted to tell it, like the idea of Carla running through the restaurant in a single shot – that took two months to prepare, it took two days to shoot the shot! What a shot, it took two days to get this thing! I think it was like eighty stunt people on that set, so it was a crazy endeavour.
[We get given the sign that time is running short] But very quickly the most challenging thing from the production was the building sinking, because not only was it a feat of filmmaking, but a feat of engineering in the sense that there’s twelve thousand tons of steel just holding the set – the set could actually tip thirty degrees in any direction and it had to sink and rise and sink and rise and there were four gigantic dump tanks. It was one of the biggest water tanks in the world and then we built a skyscraper and then sunk a skyscraper in it and it was not easy how to figure out how to do that.
For my last question if I may, I’d like to combine our standard question with asking what’s next for you, so… do you have a favourite Jason Statham film?
A favourite Jason Statham film… oh my god I have to think about really all of his movies… probably… The Transporter? The first Transporter, because that’s like a quality… like for example I think Die Hard is the best action film ever made, straight up action film.
I can’t argue with that.
First of all it’s called fucking Die Hard! What a killer title! I don’t even know what that means, right? Die Hard – you just go ‘Ok, sounds bad ass – alright, Die Hard.’ [nods his head up and down] Transporter is like Die Hard to me, it’s the same category where it’s just a really good movie, but it happens to be an action film. So I remember really, really digging that and he kind of is a little bit like the European Bruce Willis right?
Yeah he’s very old school in his attitude towards making action movies and when he made The Transporter no one else was really making that style of mainstream action film at that point – he was holding the genre up on his shoulders.
Right! And I think that’s what comes through. At least for me what I remember of it was this feels legit, this is like a legit, old school action film and I’ve heard from Dwayne that he’s great, he’s a solid guy, he’s the real deal – like he’s real tough and can hold his own and it makes sense and in a way in an action film you want that authenticity, so I felt that came through.
In terms of what’s next I will have a nap probably! [both laugh] You know it’s just unreal to me that the movie’s out there now, because I worked so hard for so long and like you were saying with the visual effects, that they were so good that I couldn’t take my foot off the gas – I said this to the producers at every stage, whether it was working with Sia and her group on the song and giving notes, or working on the score with my composer, or working on the visual effects – I was just inside the movie so far, because I just wanted it to be great, as great as I could do. So I didn’t even really take a breath you know?
And now that the movie’s coming out I’ll start to look around a little bit, but I was in my little creative laboratory and it was dark and it was me and the movie and that was all that was there and then obviously my girlfriend and dogs and cat came to visit every once in a while, but it was like an all encompassing thing, so I have really popped out to look.
Right now it’s very exciting, because there’s this little movie that’s doing a lot of versions of itself called Star Wars, that’s popped up…
Yeah I’ve heard of it…
[Laughing] It’s small, it’s a little film but y’know it’s around! But it’s really exciting as a director because there are things like that that are out there, that’s like a universe that’s opening up so…
And they’re doing all the spin-offs…
They’re doing all the spin-offs, so it’s things like that where you’re just, as a filmmaker, like [adopts high curious voice] “Can I? Could I maybe? I wanna put my hand up!” I don’t know what’s next but it’s exciting to look around now, having made this film, because I think I’ve shown people that okay I can do a big, big movie and give it some real heart and there’s a lot of really exciting, genuinely cool, big, big movies being made right now.
Brad Peyton, thank you very much!
San Andreas is out now at cinemas.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.