Together for a press conference to discuss the R-rated CBS Films release, Oscar-winner Thornton (Best Screenplay, Sling Blade) and Johnson talked about the appeal of this action film and co-starring in Faster.
Billy Bob Thornton and Dwayne Johnson Faster Press ConferenceYou bulked up again. Is bigger better?
Dwayne Johnson: "Well, bigger is always better. I worked my butt off for this movie and it was a role I was excited about playing. It fit with the character who was incarcerated for 10 years. 9 ½ of those years were in solitary confinement. In the prison population, in that environment, the type of training that they do is very unsophisticated training, moving weight. There’s a density to a lot of prisoners’ muscularity when they train like that over a period of years. Talking with George [Tillman Jr] I was able to train like that and again, worked my butt off for the role."
Can you talk about playing a heroin-addicted detective?
Billy Bob Thornton: "Well, I didn’t work my butt off in terms of being a drug addict. Yeah, I suppose right off the bat you see that the guy has dipped pretty low in his life. I think it makes it a more interesting character than just, 'There’s a cop in the movie.' I think one of the flaws in most commercial action movies is that the characters are usually not very developed. They’re just there to service the job. In other words, a lot of times you’ll have the movie star hero and then some bad guys who are just there to be killed by the hero and they’re nameless, faceless people. As a result, you’re usually not afraid of them because you don’t see them ask somebody to pass the salt, you don’t see them with your kids. In this case, which is a tribute to the screenwriters, they gave each character some type of story. That sort of world weariness of the character, I think, added to the movie, because then he’s not black or white. It puts him in a very gray area."
Do you think of this character as a hero or a cold-blooded killer?
Dwayne Johnson: "Well, when I read the script I didn’t think of him as a hero, nor did I think of him as just a cold-blooded killer. I thought of him as a man who was tortured and there was a lot of turmoil going on. As he discovers things along the way, we as an audience discover things along the way too as well. That which he thought would bring him gratification by killing these men who killed his brother just brings him more pain. He thought he had a 10 year old son, finds out that his son was aborted. Thought that his dad was alive and he was behind the murder, and he went to kill him and his dad was already dead. On top of that, being presented with the opportunity to understand the power of forgiveness by the end of the film with Adewale [Akinnuoye-Agbaje], the evangelist. So I looked at him as a man who I felt connected to in a way where the notion of you took something from me, something that I loved and the only thing that loved me, my family, now you’re going to pay. I would go to the ends of the earth to protect my family. I think we all would. That was something that resonated with me. I read the script and I immediately connected with that man, just again the man who would do anything to protect his family, the only family he had."
Billy Bob Thornton: "Before we go any further I’d like to clear something up. In a day and time when misquotes are used as poison darts on a regular basis, I never said that Dwayne’s character is a hero in this movie. I said that in most commercial action movies there’s a movie star hero with a bunch of nameless faceless bad guys. I was speaking in general, not about this motion picture."
Was it important for you after your collaborations with Disney to kick ass in a film?
Dwayne Johnson: "It wasn’t necessarily important to me to go back and kick ass or I had to make an R-rated movie. It was just a matter of getting good material that really resonated with me that I had been waiting for for some time. I enjoyed the work I’ve done in the past, when it was Disney or some of the other studios I worked with doing comedies or family movies. The philosophy has always been pretty clean and straightforward which is if I see something that I like and I can see its value to the audience, its value to me, then I’m going to take my shot at it, regardless of the genre. This happened to come along at a time that I had been waiting for something like this for a long time, something I could sink my teeth into. It came along, I read it, I loved it and wanted to do it."
Was it easy to shoot the scene with Adewale?
Dwayne Johnson: "It’s my favorite scene in the movie. Was it easy to shoot? It was an emotional day for all of us. George was right there all day. We were fortunate to shoot that at the end of the movie, so me, personally, had already gone through the journey with Billy Bob and with George and with Adewale and with a lot of the other characters. By the time we got to that moment, we were ready and prepared."
"I was pretty moved by the emotion that was conjuring up there. I knew it was an emotional scene because these guys really did such a tremendous job of writing it. To put it on its feet, Adewale is really such a great actor, really a commanding presence. When he got down on his knees and started singing, I was moved so the tears were real. It’s really special when you can have scenes like that."
Do you prefer the GTO or the Chevelle? Was stunt driving school necessary?
Dwayne Johnson: "Well, the stunt driving school was necessary. In talking it over with George, we thought it was a good idea and important for the film, in terms of its authenticity, to tie me into all of these shots and not cut away to a stunt double. If that’s the case, if that’s the goal, then you have to prepare. I went out there and spent a lot of time with Rick Sieman and his guys. I think it paid off and I think it’s going to pay off for the audience because I’m tied into all the shots. I enjoy driving the cars. It reminds me of one of the fun parts of my job. I love the Chevelle. I was in the Chevelle more. The Chevelle became the character’s home, his family. I loved driving it, loved driving it."
How do you perfect the perfect stare and how do you decide which stare to use on which bad guy?
Dwayne Johnson: "Watching a lot of Clint Eastwood. [...]That was one of the great welcome challenges of the movie and the script that these guys wrote was the challenge of trying to hold an audience without saying many words, if any at all."
Do you practice in front of a mirror?
Dwayne Johnson: "Depending on the bad guy, yeah. No, no. It just comes with prep. Again, I give a lot of credit to George who’s one of the most prepared directors I’ve ever been around, doing his diligence and talking about the scene every day and just doing a lot of talking and communicating about it. So by the time you’re ready to shoot, regardless of who the bad guy is, whether it’s Billy, whether it’s Adewale, whoever it is, you’re ready."
With Arnold and Sly getting up there, are you ready to take over the action hero mantle?
Dwayne Johnson: "Absolutely. [Laughing] Sure. Action for me, the genre has always been my home. I’m a physical guy. I love that and I enjoy it but it was also important for me to have a diverse career. I didn’t want to be defined 10 years ago. This is my 10th year now. 10 years ago I didn’t want to be defined or pigeonholed, 'So you’re the action guy or the comedy guy or the family guy.' I wanted to do everything, take my shot at it and hopefully give good, solid performances and hopefully get better over time. Working with actors like Billy Bob helped me elevate my game and working with directors and great material, if I could come in and find material like this and step back into the action genre and do well and always remember that the goal is to dominate."
Any chance you’ll team up with Jason Statham?
Dwayne Johnson: "Oh sure, there’s always a chance of that down the line. I love Jason. We’re buddies."
How do you avoid coming to the set with preconceived notions of each other?
Billy Bob Thornton: "No, that’s easy. You never look at another actor as... In other words, I think actors are pigeonholed sometimes or they’re portrayed that way by other people. I don't think we think of each other that way as much. With Dwayne, I’d seen him do several movies already and I was interested in him as a human being. We didn’t really know each other until shortly before the movie. We had mutual friends and we were always sending messages back and forth, 'Hey, we’ve got to do something together,' that kind of thing."
"I was aware of him as an actor but more importantly, you can kind of tell. That’s one of the reasons that I don’t always audition people for movies when I’m directing. I’d rather sit and talk to them for a few minutes. So if you look at a person that way as opposed to, 'Oh, that’s the guy who played The Scorpion King but then he was also the Tooth Fairy.' I don’t really think of it that way. I just think of that guy and whatever their specific vibe is. You also try to stay enough in your own character where you’re kind of surprised by people every day. In this case, not being around each other in the movie that much in that many scenes really worked for us. We weren’t supposed to know each other. It’s pretty nice."
Dwayne Johnson: "Not only not knowing each other that much before we worked together really helped, but also he and I agree. With Billy Bob, I had been a fan for such a long time. I can always admire careers and especially diverse careers and someone who locks onto something, whether it’s a comedy or a drama or the variety of things that he’s done and really wanted to knock it out of the park and give solid performances. I had been a fan of his music. I remember buying his first CD and we talked about that years and years ago. We have a love for very traditional country music so it made it very easy for me."
"I was always intrigued with Billy Bob as an individual and as a person and how forthcoming he’s been throughout the years with a lot of things he’s done, especially in our industry. That made it very easy."
Speaking of misquotes, how do you know how much to reveal in a press setting and do you enjoy this?
Billy Bob Thornton: "Wow, do you want your head cut off first?"
Dwayne Johnson: "I have a pretty big neck. It’s going to take a lot to get through it. Me first, here we go. Do I enjoy this? Yeah, sure. I’ve gotten to know you guys over the years and I’ve enjoyed my time. For me it’s always come down to I’ve enjoyed the movies that I’ve done and I enjoy talking about them. They may not be for everyone. Some may like them or may not like them, whatever the case may be. I genuinely enjoy the things that I’ve done and enjoy talking about it. And by the way, and sharing criticisms too back and forth. I’m open to that. For me, it’s always been important to have a private life and keep things pretty simple core at home. But I’ve always been pretty open too about answering any questions."
Billy Bob Thornton: "I actually think it’s cool of you to ask that question because normally we don’t get the opportunity to talk about that much. I’ll put it this way: we’re living in a time in the entertainment business when if you have the opportunity to do something real – and that’s one of the reasons that this particular movie, maybe in a different time might be just considered an action movie - but this movie did not rely on computers and things like that. People are saying that it was like a '70s movie. It kind of is. It does have a contemporary feel because the editing and all this kind of stuff, the sound design. But at the same time, it is a real movie. In other words, if we’re chasing each other down the hallway, it’s a hallway. I’m getting your point. I know it sounds like I’m rambling. [Laughing] We’ve done something real here, and it is nice to be able to talk about it in this day and time because most movies are about vampires in 3D or fantasy movies and war eagles and all these kind of things, or whatever they are."
"When you’re an actual actor and you like to do real movies and you want to stay grounded, over the years we do get to know a lot of you guys. I look out here and I see - we know each other! It’s real nice to be able to do good work and work with guys like these and come in and talk to you guys about it. I haven’t always been tightlipped, so as a result I would get in a sticky situation every now and then. But right now, we rely on you guys when we actually do a good movie or a real movie, or at least we’re trying to, whatever it is, to come in and be able to say, 'Hey, good to see you,' without getting stuck in the ass. I suppose that there are guys who will not do a movie for three years, and they won’t talk to anybody and they pass you by, and they won’t sign your kid’s thing, and yet still you just love them. And then a guy like me who might say a few too many things but I’m trying, and I will sign your kid’s thing, and I will tell you everything about what I thought about that chick or whatever it is. And by 'that chick' I mean any chick. When you do that, what I expect from you guys is, because I will be your friend and because I will talk to you instead of the guy who won’t talk to you, then I expect to not get stuck in the ass. And for the most part, you guys have been really good to me."
"It is a nice thing to be able to talk and everything, and the way I look at it is this: when people say, 'I don’t like the press,' and 'I don’t like the fans,' and 'I don’t like this and that or the other,' the fans are the people who allow my kids to go to school, and to keep us going and I can pay for the house. You guys are the people who get it out there to people so they even know what the hell’s going on. So yes, we owe you guys, and in return, if we’re going to be forthcoming and honest with you, you owe us to not just twist it in just because whatever, I don’t know, I said something bad about cats and you like cats, or whatever. You know what I mean? I don’t know. All I’m saying, this is real easy, and I can speak for this panel of people up here: we’re actually trying, so we’ll be good to you, you be good to us, and that’s what I feel about it."