Netflix’s Close director on ‘bringing authentic women to action movies’

Director Vicky Jewson on how one of the world's top female bodyguards helped keep her Noomi Rapace-starring Netflix thriller true to life

Noomi Rapace is no stranger to onscreen action. But in Close, her third Netflix collaboration (after Bright and What Happened To Monday), she really ups the ante – and the authenticity.

Rapace plays Sam, a bodyguard – or close protection officer – who’s assigned to protect the young daughter of an oil magnate from the mysterious forces out to get her. The interesting thing is, Rapace’s character is actually based on a real-life protector: Jacquie Davis, the UK’s first female bodyguard, whose clients over the years have included Hollywood stars, royalty and even JK Rowling.

“We made up the story, but Jacquie was the inspiration for Sam,” confirms Brit director/co-writer Vicky Jewson when Den of Geek catches up with her to chat about the film. “I thought it would be great fun to take a hardened bodyguard with a lot of personal issues and chuck her in with a VIP heiress who’s the complete opposite. As a director, I really want to bring layered, authentic women to the action genre.”

The story might be made up, but the action isn’t. Davis served as a consultant on the film and even trained Rapace herself (“She was so good, I’d give her a job!” the bodyguard told Sky News). The actress grabbed the role with both hands, even going so far as to do all her own stunts… “There was no double,” says Rapace. “It was very intense and I hurt myself.”

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“She is very, very committed,” says Jewson. “She did a lot of physical training and fitness training – that was her way of getting into the role. Her sister is her personal trainer. We’d be shooting action all day in the heat, and then she’d text me from the gym afterwards doing a two-hour workout. I thought, ‘You’re mad!'”

Here, Jewson tells DoG about the challenges Rapace faced on set, how Davis kept the film authentic and why she loves making action movies, as well as the potential for a possible sequel…

The film takes a lot of inspiration from Jacquie Davis. How did you first get the idea of doing a film based on her experiences?

I was researching women who have jobs that are dangerous or a bit extraordinary, and I came across an article in The Telegraph about Jacquie. So I arranged to meet her in a pub in East London; we chatted and I felt like I was getting an insight into this underground world. She travelled all over the world to protect people: close protection, hostage rescue, undercover surveillance… I felt like there were 15 movies to be made from her life experiences! So that really was the jumping-off point.

And she was involved all the way through filming, right?

She was really hands-on. She was a consultant on the script, so we got the authenticity into each scene – things like how someone would get taken, how you would defend yourself… She took Noomi on a very intensive close protection course, so she could learn how to walk with the principal, how to do evasive drivng, weapons training…all of it. Jacquie was on set a lot of the time, making sure we kept it authentic. Occasionally, she’d say, “That would never happen.” So we’d scrap what we were doing and start again! For me, it was really important to make it feel real.

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It seems like Noomi threw herself into the project – how hard did you have to pitch it to her?

She was my first choice. We both just immediately clicked; we shared the same vision for what we wanted this film to be. And we have this great chemistry and trust in each other – we’ve become a real partnership, which has been great. I think the reason I was drawn to her is she has this emotional honesty in all of her work, so you get this deep credibility that she brings to characters.

The action sequences in the film feel very natural, even improvised – how much did you have to choreograph them?

Well I’m a big believer in pre-vis[ualisation], and not in a fancy computer animated way; in a shoot on my iPhone with the stunt coordinator and play with various ideas kind of way. We wanted that improvised feeling so that the action felt real and that’s something that Julian Spencer, the stunt coordinator, and I really clicked over. He loves that raw, brutal feeling. But obviously, the reality is you plan out those scenes because, particularly on a film like this, we didn’t have a long shooting schedule.

So, for example, the scene where Sam takes down a guy with her hands tied behind her back – we had one day to shoot that entire sequence. We’d mapped all out and rehearsed it, but I think the spontaneity came in the rehearsal process. I’d talk to Julian about what I wanted, and then often he’d start from a place where he’d say, “OK, Noomi, I’ve got two guys outside who are ex-SAS, they’re going to come in here and attack you, show me what you can do.” And she’d be like, “What the hell is this guy on about?” [Laughs] He likes to bring that reality to the screen, so he likes to give the actors a toolkit of moves and then leave a bit of space for some unexpected surprises.

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It seems like, with the success of Bodyguard, there’s an appetite for stories like this. Were you aware of that when you were in production?

I actually had no idea about the Bodyguard TV show until it came on the telly. This film has been four years in the making. But I think what Bodyguard did was to stir up people’s interest in that world of close protection. It’s a very untapped world in terms of film and TV stories. There’s so much material there and I think a female bodyguard is quite a unique perspective on that, which is I suppose another thing in the zeitgeist at the moment – that huge movement, which I do think is really helping.

It’s a very female-focused movie, both in front of and behind the camera. It seems like a perfect time to get more of these stories out there…

Exactly. I mean I feel like hopefully, we’ll reach a point where there are as many of these films as there are male-focused action thrillers. I grew up watching all the action movies of the 80s and 90s, which I loved, but there weren’t really any women in those roles, so I just wanted to make films that I wanted to see. That’s where I come from with it. I feel like there is something very empowering to be able to watch a woman in that role. You know, they fail and it’s ugly to watch sometimes, but they persevere. For me, it was important that they felt like real people because I think sometimes with the girl with the gun, you can end up relying on sexuality. I wanted to do something more authentic.

There’s a sense of defiance to the film, especially when Noomi’s character is telling her young principal to “fight back”. Would that really happen?

That’s actually something that Jacquie told us when we were doing the research: you always tell your principal that the moment they get you in a car or a vehicle, your opportunity to survive drops by 60 per cent – so you have to do absolutely everything you can before that happens. I thought that was really interesting, that will to survive and that window that you have.

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Is action a genre that you’d like to explore more as a director?

I would love to keep making action films, as long as they have a strong character at the heart of them. That’s the key for me, so you can really connect with the story. I like making emotional action films. I grew up making action films with my mates – it’s a great genre.

With that in mind, what’s next? Another action film?

I’m writing at the moment with my writing partner, Rupert [Whitaker]. We’re writing a script about Sylvia Raphael, who was one of the best female Mossad spies in the 70s. Her life story is amazing. We’re currently on draft one of that. Noomi would play Sylvia, so we’re both quite excited about it.

You mentioned that Jacquie has lots of stories – could any of them spin out into a sequel for this character?

Yeah, I mean I would love that. Jackie wrote a book called The Circuit, which is a really great book about how she became a bodyguard, her day-to-day life in the job and all the missions she’s been on, and we’ve literally just acquired the rights to that. The goal is that it’s there, so we can make more stories in this world. How we’re going to do that, we haven’t decided at the moment – whether it will be a TV route or another film… But it’s definitely something that we’re interested in.

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Close is streaming on Netflix now