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Billy Bob Thornton and Dwayne Johnson Discuss ‘Faster’

Dwayne Johnson Faster photoDwayne Johnson in ‘Faster.’

© CBS Films


Although Dwayne Johnson’s simply known as ‘Driver’ and Billy Bob Thornton’s only referred to as ‘Cop,’ both actors believe that by the time the action-packed thriller Faster is over, audiences will come to know and understand the motivations behind what drives these characters forward. Faster, directed by George Tillman Jr, finds Johnson playing a prisoner released after 10 years in jail with only one thought on his mind: revenge. Driver is out to avenge the murder of his brother and goes about getting his revenge with a focused intensity. Meanwhile, Cop has problems of his own to deal with. He’s just two weeks away from being able to hang up his badge and gun, has a strained relationship with his estranged wife and young son, and he’s a heroin addict. But before he can retire and work on fixing his personal problems, he has to team up with an up-and-coming detective (Carla Gugino) to try and stop Driver’s murder spree.

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 Conference

You 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.”

Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino Faster PhotoBilly Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino in ‘Faster.’

© CBS Films

Billy Bob, what was it like working with Carla Gugino? How much time did you guys have to build the relationship?

Billy Bob Thornton: “I didn’t know Carla before the movie. She’s such an easy person to work with. She blends into a scene so easily. I was very fortunate in that case, because Carla was cast not too long before we started the movie, so we didn’t have any time, really.”

“I think Carla is one of those actors who sometimes is overlooked as a really terrific actor. Not that people don’t respect her and think she’s great, but sometimes when somebody’s really good in the part and they don’t try to eat the walls off, they can be overlooked because they’re so good you don’t notice it because you buy them in the part. I think Carla is one of those. She was terrific. Couldn’t be a nicer person, and I have to say one of the hardest things on this movie, people said, ‘What was hard about doing this movie?’ and I’m trying to think about it, because there wasn’t really anything hard to me about doing this movie other than reminding myself that I was in this very intense, dark movie and why that character was, because everybody on this movie was so nice I couldn’t believe it.”

“Dwayne’s the nicest guy you’ll ever run into. This guy, George Tillman, you don’t see directors like this ever. At some point during a movie, always, you want to pull the director aside and say, ‘Listen! You didn’t create this thing, you understand me? Those creeps over at that studio hired your old bones to come out here and resurrect your ass, so you know, whatever.’ And this guy, every day I’m like, ‘Would you yell at me or something?’ And the writers are like, ‘Hey, you got any ideas?’ And I’m like, ‘Am I in Disneyland?’ So that was the hardest thing about it, when people like Carla and Dwayne and Moon Bloodgood, by the way, who played my wife and Aedin [Mincks], the little kid, and Oliver [Jackson-Cohen] – just everybody, they were just fantastic. I know a lot of these people don’t get mentioned sometimes.”

“I do have to say this one thing about the little boy that played mine and Moon’s son. He came up to me when we first got there, I didn’t even know the kid yet, and walks at me and he goes, ‘Hey! I loved you in Bad News Bears!’ And I said, ‘Well, thank you.’ I’m getting used to that from kids, and you’re always glad that it’s Bad News Bears and not Bad Santa. But he walks up and he said one of the weirdest and funniest things I ever heard anybody say to me on the set, which was, ‘Hey, do you watch the Capital One commercials with those Vikings?’ and I go, ‘Yeah, I do. I love those things, they’re very funny.’ ‘You know the fat kid?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘That’s me!’ Just a little anecdote.”

How important were those family scenes for you?

Billy Bob Thornton: “First of all, once again the writers actually thought to put something like that in there to give us other aspects of the guy’s life. That was really important to George. That was a big thing for him to get those scenes right. Thing is, there wasn’t much of it, but what there was there, he got the most out of it. If you get a good kid, it’s always kind of amusing and sweet. It was easy just to lay there and talk to the kid about baseball, and you look at him and you can imagine he’s probably not very good, so it was pretty easy to feel something for the kid is all I’m saying. And George really wanted to make sure that even though there’s a brief thing there – I mean, we had a lot of discussions about how to be around the kid and everything – and of course as usual, from the top brasses, ‘You can’t smoke around the kid!’ But I can do heroin around the kid? His mother can puke in the bathtub? But yeah, we went through a lot of stuff with the kid.”

Billy Bob, you used the term “real.” You never know what kind of world you’re releasing a film into because it takes a while to put together, but considering the recent Ronni Chasen shooting – and hearing other audience members’ gleeful reactions to the shootings depicted in this film – do you think films have a responsibility to also depict the consequences of violence?

Billy Bob Thornton: “In our current state of affairs, especially in the entertainment business, we’re living in a time when we’re making, in my humble opinion, the worst movies in history because they’re geared toward the video game playing generation. In these video games, which I’m on my son about constantly, are people killing for fun. I think traditionally in movies, there’s always been some kind of lesson in the violent movies. Even Peckinpah’s movies – inadvertently, Sam Peckinpah created this movie and a lot of other movies with slow motion blood and things like that, which we don’t really have in this – those things at their core were morality tales. This movie doesn’t say, ‘Oh, here’s this fun guy and we’re going to do this tongue-in-cheek character right out of a video game who likes to destroy things, and you can laugh about it.’ This movie actually shows what prisons create, what murder creates. It shows this perpetual violent string of events. This thing creates that, which creates that, where does it all end, my guy trying to start over, but at the same time I still gotta get this one last mess over with. This really is about something, because I totally agree with you. If you’re just showing a movie that has violence for violence’s sake, I don’t believe in that either.”

“But, also, we are in a time when we can have the most violent things you’ve ever seen and they’re hugely popular and everything, and at the same time the very people going to see these movies are somehow so hyper-moral and all this kind of thing. There seems to be like, they’re butting their heads, or there’s some hypocrisy going on. That’s all I’m saying. I believe that in this case, nobody here ever intended to just go do a violent movie because it’s fun. These are dark characters who are in trouble and sorry you had to see it right after all that, because that was someone I knew also – and it’s really not a good thing.”

How old is your son?

Billy Bob Thorton: [Deadpan] 52. The one with the video games, he’s 17. He’s not so bad about it, but just every now and then I’ll see one that’s kind of like, ‘What’s this?’ and then I find out that it’s something that some company I worked for in a movie sent him.”

Dwayne, how long did it take you to bulk up for this role? Do you plan on sustaining the weight?

Dwayne Johnson: “I think it was about three and a half months of training, but it was maybe 10 or 12 pounds of training. Again, I think in prison culture, when those guys train and you watch them train, we had the great fortune of sitting down with a couple of individuals who had served a lot of time in maximum security prisons for a variety of crimes including murder, getting into their psyche, their thought process, and their perspective on what it’s like to take another man’s life. But them training itself from prison in a prison yard, it’s a raw type of training. So probably about three and a half months.”

“And really quickly too, I want to mention what Billy was talking about, it’s really so nice to be part of the movie and part of a story that is rooted and grounded in today’s world of dazzling special effects and CGI. I can appreciate those movies – I’ve done them myself – but it was nice as an actor to be part of that type of rooted, grounded reality and have all the action, attention and motivation across the board, whether it’s physical, killing, communicating with a son, whatever it may be, fueled by emotion. Everything was just fueled by emotion, so it was very very nice and refreshing.”

Do you want this to be a one-off character or is there room for a possible sequel? Maybe he can go looking for redemption?

Dwayne Johnson: “I’m so happy with the movie and how it turned out, and the movie that we created and made, that we’re putting out there. I think the material does lend itself possibly coming back a second time. I think audiences will dictate that, and we have great writers and if the story’s right, then I’d never rule anything out, open and flexible to it.”

Any chance The Rock will return to the WWE, even just for a cameo or to guest host?

Dwayne Johnson: “I would love to, it’s just a matter of finding the time. But I’m always communicating with those guys, always communicating with Vince.”

Do you enjoy playing a good guy or a bad guy more?

Dwayne Johnson: “I just enjoy the material, so if the material’s moving, whether it’s a good guy or a bad guy or if it’s ambiguous.”




November 29, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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