Luke Goss interview: Your Move, directing, Guillermo del Toro

We chat to Luke Goss about his directorial debut, Your Move, along with his movie plans, and the influence of Guillermo del Toro...

I bet you’ve seen a Luke Goss film.

If you’re like me and you watch a lot of low budget indie action movies, you may have seen him in movies alongside the likes of Danny Trejo, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rouke, Vinnie Jones and Ving Rhames. And if you haven’t seen him in those, perhaps you’ve seen him in the sequels to Death Race. And those aren’t your bag, you must have seen him in Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II and Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

Goss’ latest film funds him stepping behind the camera to direct (and then back in front of it to also star!). His directorial debut is the slow burn, neo noir Your Move, which sees the distraught David (Goss) causing trouble in Mexico as he investigates the disappearance of his wife and daughter, to the great frustration of weary Detective Romero (Robert Davi). Not only is it his first time directing, but Goss also write and produces.

He was kind enough to take some time to talk us about the challenges of being a first time filmmaker on a low budget movie.

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So, you’re a writer, you’re a producer and you’re a director on this one.

It was a big departure for me. I wanted to wait until I felt that I understood film enough and obviously, when you don’t have a budget you’ve got to be driven by something that’s more than just wanting to say I wanna call myself a director or just make a movie and complete it. I’d never had any interest in that, I wanted to take some risks. And I think I did. But people seem to be digging it, so, quietly, I’m bloody relieved.

What was it about this film, because I see some of your movies and I check your IMDB page and you do a few movies a year, and you have music commitments, so presumably you’re having to give up a lot of stuff. What made you want to do that for this particular idea?

Well, you know what it was, it was kind of a multi-faceted evolution of that. One of the reasons, I stopped doing films for about a year and a half because I felt that I was being somewhat used by producers that were trying to get their movies made within a certain budget range and not take care of me. And then I would look at the post result and think ‘I don’t want to contribute to this anymore. I just don’t’.

And I thought, you know what, I’m an artist and I’m a fan of independent films. Even commercial independent films, anything from Leon, In Bruges, Little Miss Sunshine, everything in between. I love filmmakers. After fifty plus movies I just thought ‘You know what? I’m just going to start picking my scripts a bit more’, even if I’m pulling the bloody few hairs I’ve got left out of my head, I’d rather wait for something better. Or at least work with filmmakers that are as excited to work with me as I am with them, rather than this machine that it can so easily turn into.

So I wanted to direct a movie that was my taste and if for some reason people kind of liked it, then I know that all I have to do is make a movie that I like making again and there’d be a couple of people out there that want to watch it. So rather than trying to think what’s hip right now, what’s fashionable, what’s in vogue, I’m like I don’t fucking know and I don’t really think that’s the way to start something off. I just wanted to give it a go. Something a bit more passive and thought provoking, a slower burn.

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There’s lots of reasons. It was personal. I wanted to up the game a bit, I guess, but also just say ‘look, I can direct films that I’m in, and if it means I’ve got to do that to do roles that are interesting then so be it’.

You’ve worked with some interesting directors over the years, so have you been peeking over their shoulders for a while?

I’m not an avid studier in that sense, but I’m more in a place of wonderment when I’m working with a great director.

Say like Guillermo del Toro, who is just such an artist and I love him very much. He showed me a great deal of artistry in film and also tenacity to achieve what he wants to film. I think he learnt lessons early on in certain studios that didn’t understand what they had with him. Watching him stand his ground for his vision was a great lesson and then also watching him kind of consistently have a style, that’s because he’s entertaining himself. I’m guessing here, but knowing him as I do it feels like he’s successful because he makes movies he really enjoys reading, writing, directing and realising, and so that was definitely a lesson. I’m thinking if you’re gonna be a director do something where it might be a great respite from CGI and shit like that. I hope so. But his version, if you wanna escape reality he’ll take you to the best fantasy on film you can achieve.

So, absolutely. Just by being around him, you kind of subconsciously absorb a standard and I realise that people like him are just inspiring, and I think, you know what, I’d better wait a bit.

One of the things that really struck me about your film is that it’s a great looking movie. I wonder if you could tell me about the process yourself and cinematographer Jorge Roman, is it Jorge (like George) or Jorge (like Hor-hay)?

Jorge (Hor-hay) Roman. I love the guy. We’d been working together on some action stuff and we just hit it off. He understands that I like to shoot my frames like I would a photograph, if I was setting up the frame for a snapshot. I know the composition I want, I’m a little picky, I guess in a good way. I’m not bullish about it, I just say can I have that over here. I pick up the camera. I say this is the world, keep it dirty. I like foreground a lot, I like long lenses, because I think it adds, on a slowburn, when somebody has had a drink or two or whatever they’re doing to chill out, sometimes the slowburn is a nice escape.

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I have a rapport with Jorge. You know, rack focus, certain things that I like to do and sometimes I like to dictate where the frame leaves the eye. For example, the mirror shot. Jorge doesn’t fight me on it. He’s like “Fuck, man. I love it!” He’s like an excited adventurer.

My relationship with him and I’d say Carmleina (Vuelvas), my production designer, was a life saver for me, because they so passionately supported me. I had plenty of people that would give me the usual first time director bullshit, and I’m like ‘This would be a valid argument if I hadn’t made over fifty fucking movies. So let me do my thing!’ I had to fight and I had a DP who was a great ally.

I like to fit my compositions, and Jorge, the way he floats around those compositions, I’m blessed to have him. I also wanted to do a real push in the colour side of things because a lot of independent movies desaturate just to make it look somewhat stylistic. Because when you push the colour you really see if you’ve got any decent light going on, you know?

I’m a big fan of shadows and reflections and things like that, so I was always saying “We can play with light. We don’t have a huge budget, but let’s flood the frame and then shoot within that frame.” So colours were important for me because I wanted it to be visually beautiful.

And I won’t always saturate like that in films I direct, but I just thought there’s something richer about it for such a modest story. And everybody who sees it actually has given their budget guesses and everybody’s considerably off, in a good way. So I guess it worked.

One of the things that comes up whenever I talk to someone who’s made a low budget film like this is, they’re always incredibly pressed for time, and when you’re taking a more thoughtful approach to cinematography are there compromises, or things you’re having to give up down the road to make sure it looks right?

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Yeah. I guess the thing I sacrificed was giving myself time as David. Because I wrote the character I knew him, and I was living him all the time, and living through the situations as a director when I wasn’t in scenes. I was really staying somewhat enraged or desperate or riddled with pain, or whatever it was. I told my crew “Sometimes you’re gonna be directed by me and sometimes by David, but they both love you so go with them.”

I was like ‘hey, I have to sacrifice something’. That would be the time I give myself for my performances. I’d have to step in front of the lens, shoot it, check a couple of points if I’m concerned, adjust it maybe once and then move on.

For example, I’d get a lot of grief about some of the establishing shots. I said “This film has to open up occasionally, it has to establish.” I had people saying things like “Fucking tighten up man!” And I’m like, with respect, I’m the producer, dude. I appreciate you trying to push me along, but there’s ways to do it and I’m not sacrificing the idea.

For example, there’s a shot of Detective Romero, it’s behind the bottles, it’s on a drift in, just a little drifting shot for two and a half seconds. It takes twenty minutes to shoot that, but I’m like, I don’t care. I wanna be on the other side for a second, and I want the shot moving, because we’re on handheld the other side, I wanna bring some grace back to it. So, for the first three weeks of the shoot, I had to convince certain people that I had a vision. Which was frustrating. But I’m the boss on the shoot, so I endured it for a period of time and then I made my ground clear. You’ve got to stand up for it, and I learned that lesson from people like Guillermo del Toro. You have to stand up for your idea. Your vision, I guess, in a pretentious way or not. You have to. You have to fight for it.

On the subject of Detective Romero and the look of the film, his character looks straight out of a film noir. Was that an influence you had for Your Move?

I love Robert. We have such a great rapport.

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But Robert was at first, I think, a little concerned. He said (impersonating) “Man, you’re gonna step on my balls on this.” And I was like, er, I am. But we discussed things like influences, certain characters from other films I really liked. The noir element was super, super important for me.

Think of a detective, I don’t know about you but I think of Columbo or these guys that are quintessentially the private eye, the unsung hero characters that I love, not only to write but to play, the guy who’s not particularly celebrated in doing a good thing. I like those characters. Robert embraced it. The most important word is he trusted me with all his experience. I said “You know, there’s a lot of people who are just gonna use your swagger that you just have dude, they’re gonna use it. But I don’t want it. I want you to be tired. Trust me, you do evolve, you do get somewhat reborn by the energy of this story.”

But a couple of times he said “Man, you’re stepping on my fucking balls again, dude.” And I’d be like “I know, but you’ll like it, I think.” And he loves his character in this film and he loved the movie. He said some wonderful things about it. So, yeah, absolutely film noir.

I tried to make it misplaced within time, he’s misplaced in the time. He’s, I don’t know, maybe a year or two left on the force. At least he’ll go out with a little energy now. He’s from another era and I wanted that to be really evident.

Something I found interesting when I was researching this film prior to seeing it was that it was announced four years ago. So what was the journey from it being announced in the trades to finally coming out now?

Right, I mean, you know and I know that there’s movies that have had money behind them to give them a chance at nominations and things, and they’ve taken, six, seven, eight years to make. You know, independent film, even with big, big names, I’m doing ok, but guys that are doing super ok, much better than I am, are having trouble getting their own visions and their passion projects made. We had our fair share of people taking what wasn’t theirs. Huge amounts in relation to our budget.

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For example, I couldn’t even get my UK distributor on the phone to discuss, we had the guy who did The Hunger Games artwork on my movie, couldn’t even get it… when you’re dealing with people that, they’re almost pissed that I didn’t make a disposable action flick so All the people that I inherited from somebody that was involved in the project at the beginning, just didn’t believe in the film because they wanted action. I had questions from one of, it was either sales or distribution – I won’t say which, but it was basically ‘Why did I have to wait over twenty minutes for some action?’ And I’m like ‘Is that the first question you’re gonna ask the director? The person who is gonna contribute to it’s success?’ And I made my feelings real clear.

The problem is, when people are taking, I’m deferred on all this, this is a passion project for me, 100% across the board. I’ve given my time, my sweat and my blood and my bloody tears, literally, over this film for three years. Not because, I didn’t have the toys I needed, or the budget, but because I had an idea and I really fucking enjoyed fighting tooth and nail to bring it to life. And a couple of times, I wanted to call it quits. But I have a couple of great producers, one of which is my wife (Shirley Lewis), who’s a producer on the film, and she definitely in bloody cool way, gave my a kick up the arse and said “Let’s just get this done. You’ve started something too good to walk away from.”

So long story short, we raised some more money and we went back did 10 more shoot days. Even though people said “Well, wrap it up as it is”, I said “We are far from having the material.” So 10 more days and we got it made. It was really just, staying the course, man, even when, independent film, the smaller you get the more sharks that swim the tank.

We had to just have some tenacity and get the film wrapped up. I think, creating a film now with all the different avenues to watch it, it will ripple and people will see it. And with a little bit of support now, which we’re getting, people liking it, it’s like ‘Hey, don’t bet on us to lose, because even if it creates a bit of ripple with independent film lovers then something fucking cool happens.’

Ah, I’m so pleased for you that you managed to come through it, then.

It was really, really arduous. One day, when I write my next book, I will definitely elaborate, and I’ll make sure it’s legally acceptable, but it will be as detailed as I want it to be. It’s a warning to independent filmmakers. And thankfully I can offer some advice to them if they ask me because there are certain things you don’t do. I think that any first time director out there, fuck me dude, but do this; get people around you that believe in you. It’s essential.

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Do you have any plans yet to direct again?

Oh mate, I’m here to stay, if the investors will have me. I love directing, and I will direct myself a few times. I guess I’m pulling inspiration from people like Eastwood, and I say that humbly and with no reference to myself as far as his success or capabilities but I’m a fan of his, and I think he was like ‘Look, you’re writing me off’.

You know, I had my Bros story and now people love the band again and we made it edgier again and it’s fucking great live and we’ve just had some success, and so people are over that, I guess, more than they used to be. It took me a while to do some performances where now, I’ve got more male fans than female fans, I guess. I think most guys, in fact every guy I’ve played this movie to, friends and otherwise, have really enjoyed it and felt satisfied at the end. So with a budget and a team that are there to assist me, we’re gonna do a fucking great second movie, I know that.

We’ve discussed almost every role you had on the movie except for writing the script.

And acting too.

And acting too, excuse me. How long did it take to write?

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Well I came up with the story and I had the story from left to right, in verbal form. Then I got my assistant writer to help me put it together in regards to just dictating. I had my story down. Ironically the movie I put together was quite a departure from the screenplay, it really was for the crew to get an idea of what we were making, but in reality the way I wanted to put the film together was always very much in my head. So, yeah, it was about, six weeks to eight weeks. It was like seven years ago. And then I wrote another movie called The Offer that I want to direct next. It’s like a complete departure from that, but I’d like to do that next.

I’d say six to eight weeks to write a script. But I just wrote my book that’s coming out this month in four days, but it’s only eighty-eight pages. Sometimes I write quickly depending on what it is I’m writing. I think screenplays are bloody hard to write.

There’s a couple of things I wanted to ask you about that aren’t Your Move. Looking through your IMDB page, I notice you have a film called Mob Priest coming out, which is one of the best titles I’ve ever heard in my life. Can you tell me anything about that one?

Yeah, it’s a really cool. It’s about a priest that, I can’t go into too much, but primarily the priest is really challenged in his faith, based upon situations that happen to his family. He’s a priest in a tough world. The question would be, what would a man in that position, with that responsibility to not only himself but his community and to god, do to protect the people he loves. It’s a dilemma that goes far beyond most men. I play the principal character in that, which I’m excited about. You’re right, it’s a great title. It’s an oxymoron, it’s a complete contradiction. It’s just something I’m really excited to do. And Robert’s in that as well, Robert Davi is gonna be in that as well.

Another thing I wanted to ask you about, you’ve made two films with someone I’m absolutely obsessed with. Can you tell me about working with Steven Seagal?

Haha. Well, where do you wanna start, man?

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I’ve asked everyone I’ve ever interviewed that’s worked with him what he’s like, so I feel like I have a pretty, what’s the word, realistic idea of what he’s like.

Yes, we’ve all heard the stories, but the truth is, the last time I worked with him we had lunch together for two hours, just the two of us. It was the second time we’ve worked together, he’s always been super cool with me. I have to be honest. I don’t know what goes on truly behind the scenes. Listen, he’s definitely got his own way of working, but he’s always been real cool with me. Last time I worked with him it was actually kind of nice to see him. He’s worked hard, he’s a hard working man. He’s out there doing it. But yeah, it’s always a fun story on a Steven movie, for sure.

(I felt like I’d taken up enough of his time at this point, but he was happy to take another question, so I thought I’d jump back to Your Move)

In writing this role for yourself, here’s a chance to do anything you’ve ever wanted to do on screen. So, how do you find that balance between what you’d like to do and it being in character? I imagine there must be some temptation.

I think the answer to that is it always comes down to, I want the audience to like him, I want them to almost give up hope in him for a minute, like he’s just doesn’t have the backbone to do it, but he does. For me, the audience is always the most important thing of the whole project.

It has to be commercial in the sense that, you can be artistic but it’s got to have certain things that you know after watching hundreds or thousands of movies that the audience kind of like or dig.

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For example, the CGI massive explosion crowd, I don’t know, might like this film is they actually sat and watched it, but if they heard of it might be like ‘Fuck no’. But I think I have a sensibility of an audience member and that’s one of the reasons I think maybe I get it sort of towards the direction of right, at least. Because they’re important. It’s a narrative issue and an audience issue. I know the script, if I watched this and didn’t know the script, would they know what the fuck is going on? And so they’re very important to me.

I’m somewhat of a method actor, so I’m kind of him and I’m gonna just be him. I don’t even really think about it. I’m in the zone and I play it is as if it’s genuinely truthful to me. I don’t substitute, I don’t do any of that stuff. I believe it’s fucking real and that’s the end of it. So I do one or two takes and I know I’ll choose moments of truth. Because that’s all I’ve got, is the truth. If I play it truthfully and I believe it honestly, I’m not trying to get attached to things. Unless it’s really meant to be a money shot like in a big Marvel picture or whatever, sometimes it’s a technical shot, as I did with stuff I was doing.

But most of the driving force is commercial, it’s narrative and it’s the audience. And then your truth has to be within that, you can’t take three minutes to do a scene that should really be sixty second scene, you’re gonna be like ‘Hey, we’ve got to get this moving’.

So, you’ve mentioned how things can be different for big effects films. I know it’s not generally what you do but is that something you’d be interested in?

Well, Blade is and so is Hellboy, I mean they’re $100m movies and they’re definitely studios, and Death Race too. Death Race 2 & 3, they’re a pretty decent budget, very much action and a lot of technical stuff in those. So, I do them and I enjoy them, but I couldn’t eat upon them every day. It’s nice to do films like with my friend called Perry Bhandal, a movie we’ve produced together which is coming out this year called The Last Boy. We did a movie you might have seen called Interview With A Hitman, have you seen that?

I haven’t, but I am aware of it. It’s on my Amazon list.

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You’d really dig it, man. For sure you’d dig it. It’s super cool. And Perry Bhandal, the director, did a great job.

There’s two different ways of doing it. You’ve got to be a guerrilla or you’ve got to be on a studio, but both have their appeal. You need to do those little independent movies to nourish your soul sometimes. Then again, you do a movie with del Toro and your soul is nourished every day. You’re exhausted because being in make-up is tough.

It’s all part of the cuisine. I couldn’t live on it, though. I understand why actors look for those charming little movies between those films, because you need to feed your soul. You really do.

And could you see directing at a studio?

I’d love to. Hopefully it will be something that will happen in my career but it will be because I’ve got a certain flavour. I definitely would wanna bring an expectation with me. If people expect something of you then you’ve obviously left an impression, so I would like to be hired because I have a certain style rather than just because I get it done. I wouldn’t want to do that. I’d want to be there for artistic reasons.

But I’d love to do a huge movie. You know I always wanted to do, as a director, that’s why I’ve written The Offer. It’s an action movie and a heist movie and I want to shoot it artistically. I guess like Leon, the way Leon was shot was very cool. It’s still paced, but it could breathe. You know when you get those artistic frames, those more independent frames like Leon, your body kind of expects a different pace, doesn’t it? Like it expects a different rhythm. Then it gives you that little play area to make it different. But I’d love to do a big film like that. One day, I hope so.

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Thanks for taking time with us. Before you go, we ask everyone their favourite Jason Statham film. I do appreciate you have the Death Race series in common…

I’d say Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels for sure. That was my favourite one he did.

Luke Goss, thank you very much!

Your Move is available on DVD and in digital formats right now.