Three years after Terminator: Salvation, McG is back. Only this time, there’s no CGI Arnie. Instead, This Means War gives us two staple ingredients from the McG menu: spies and suburbia.
The film sees Chris Pine and Tom Hardy battle it out as two of the most un-covert CIA agents you’re ever likely to see, and Reese Witherspoon doing things that mainstream movie characters don’t usually do – dating more than one guy, and being friends with Chelsea Handler.
In person, McG is probably the most enthusiastic person you’re ever likely to meet amidst the conveyor belt routine of a Hollywood movie junket. The man is like a machine, albeit less Terminator, more Energiser Bunny. Here’s what he had to say on casting Tom Hardy as a romantic lead, his love of the British, and the ending that might have been for Terminator: Salvation.
The film hinges on the two male leads, in their friendship and in their battle against each other. So how did you hit upon Tom Hardy and Chris Pine?
Well, I saw Tom in RocknRolla, I saw him play Handsome Bob and I said, “Hey, that’s a guy who’s interesting”. And of course he went on to Bronson and Inception and I acquainted myself with the body of his work. When I met him I knew that he was a very interesting human being. He had always been on screen as tough characters, interesting screen personas, and I thought, What if I could bring a lot of who he is as an individual in this performance? That would be compelling.
And then the same thing with Pine. Pine never gets the credit he deserves as far as his command of acting. I got turned on to Pine primarily from a play, a Martin McDonagh play, The Lieutenant Of Inishmore. It was a terribly demanding performance where it showed off just how skilled he could be. And who else could fill the boots of Captain Kirk so proficiently and in such a satisfying way? The two seemed like the best choices possible. So we were lucky enough to land them and this film spins round and round as a function of their proficiency.
And did you have any battles with the studio over Tom Hardy? Because he’s perhaps not the obvious choice for a romantic lead.
Yeah, I have casting directors that I trust completely. They turn me on to everybody early and they said you have got to look at this guy, Tom Hardy, and I did. And then once I met him I fought for him. And there wasn’t too much blowback from the studio, but there was a little bit where they said, “Why this guy?” And I said, “Because he’s special. And it’s going to blow up. And he’s going to be exciting. And people are going to be talking about him”. So I’m very, very pleased we’ve got Tom. And he and Chris would jockey for the alpha lead position and I think that’s what makes the film special.
And the film feels like it could have, in an earlier incarnation, gone a different way, where it could have been two friends competing against each other without the spy thing. Did that come in when you came in?
Well, I think that the fundamental conceit of the picture is Bond and Bourne are best friends, until they meet the same woman. And who wins that fight? Bourne’s pretty capable, isn’t he? And so is Bond. So it’s just fun to see what’s going to happen, in sort of the old Mad magazine’s spy versus spy construct, and away we go.
And I really subscribe to populating your film with talented actors who can make you look good, day in and day out. We just go out there and we get the page every day and I turn it over to the actors and say, “Look, we clearly know what this scene is trying to achieve, let’s do it in a different voicing and see where we are”. And if they feel safe to own the character to that degree often it gives rise to great performances.
The spy thing seems to come up a bit in your work – the likes of Chuck, Charlie’s Angels – that mix of suburban drama and outlandish action. Did you harbour dreams of becoming a spy when you were young?
Yeah, I’m just a tiny person from a humdrum neighbourhood, so I grew up worshipping Bond pictures and dreaming of a life bigger than my own. So it just seemed natural to gravitate towards these stories that I think are the most fun to tell and I find most satisfying.
I strive to make movies I would enjoy. And that little child that’s in the movie theatre watching everything from Forrest Gump to The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner to Star Wars, I always channel that sentiment into every choice I make on a film set.
And, you know, it’s the business of dreaming and immersion and letting go of the world we came from to lose yourself completely in the film experience. I think that’s what Scorsese would tell you, and the people that I look up to aspire to achieve: Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg.You mention your influences there. There’s a scene in This Means War – the over-the-top paintballing scene – that reminded me of a scene from Spaced, the UK series. And you were behind the US remake of that. Is that where it came from?
Well, the US version never really took flight. It was too good, what Simon [Pegg] got up to, and those guys. But yeah, that’s a huge influence and I love that voice. I love British voicing and British humour in general. I’m a huge Ricky Gervais fan. It’s fun to watch Simon and those guys, you see what’s going on with Attack The Block. Everything that has the originality of the UK I find reverberating in my aesthetic. So yeah, there’s a lot of Spaced there.
Another film which felt like there could have been another version earlier was Terminator: Salvation. I wonder, when you came on board or when other people came on board, whether there was much that changed there. Because there’s a great story to be told about the Kyle Reese character. His scenes in Salvation were great.
That was always a bit of a genesis story of how Reese came to be who he is and, you know, Anton was game for. And obviously Bale, you’re delighted to be working with him at any time and I loved working with Sam, especially so early on in his career.
So… no, we didn’t change that too much. I kind of wished I would have ended the picture with a darker ending that I originally conceived that just put an end to it where effectively Skynet wins and it was jet black. I think the fans would have got a kick out of it and in retrospect that was the one change I would have made, and it would have been fun to see that.