Arnold Schwarzenegger on Portraying John Wharton in ‘Sabotage’

WRITER’S NOTE: The following article was written in 2014.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a hard time regaining his status as an action movie star as “The Last Stand” and “Escape Plan” both disappointed at the box office, but this looks to change with “Sabotage,” the latest film from writer/director David Ayer who is best known for his realistic action films “End of Watch” and “Harsh Times,” and for writing the screenplay to “Training Day.” While we have come to expect Schwarzenegger to play the hero, this film has him playing a different kind of role than any he has played previously.

In “Sabotage,” Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharton, the commander of an elite squad of DEA operatives, and the movie starts with them infiltrating a drug cartel safe house to steal $10 million dollars for themselves. But when they try to recover this money, they discover someone has gotten to it before them and soon find themselves being killed off one by one. From there it’s a race to figure out who the assassin is before they all end up dead.

I was in attendance at the “Sabotage” press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills where Schwarzenegger was the biggest star of the day, and he talked at length about how different his role of John “Breacher” Wharton is from the ones he is famous for. Wharton is a morally grey character as he fights crime, but he could easily be a criminal as he has been investigated by his superiors for illegal activities.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: I think that from an acting point of view it was the most challenging because I’ve never played a character like this. The characters I usually play are black and white. I’m the good guy that wipes out the bad guys, and then there’s a little bit of humor throughout the movie and that’s it. But this script and the character were written quite differently, and I think that’s what was appealing to me. And of course, I knew of David Ayer’s writing and his directing, and I thought it would really be great for me to be challenged like that.

For those familiar with Ayer’s “End of Watch,” you know he put Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena through some seriously rigorous training so they could get fully into the mindset of being LAPD officers. With “Sabotage,” he put Schwarzenegger and his co-stars through SWAT training which was very intense and designed to have them get into the mindset of their characters in a similar way. Schwarzenegger described the kind of training he endured before the cameras started rolling.

AS: When we got together, David had a whole list of things that he wanted me to do. I loved that he pushed me because sometimes directors get intimidated when they meet someone like me and they say that I’m looking forward to working with you and let’s just figure out how we are going to get ready for the movie and those kinds of things. But David came in and was very clear with the set of things that needed to be done like the weapons training and I said, “Why do I need weapons training? I’ve shot more guns than anyone in movie history and I’ve killed more people than anyone, so I mean why do we have to go through weapons training?” And then he said we have to go down to the SWAT team and we have to figure this out. But the thing was that all of this built the character and made me perform the way I did. It was the rehearsals that we did and the talking about the character, learning how they think because that was one of things David wanted me to do; to hang out with those guys, learn how they think, why they are the kind of guys that they are that are willing to risk their own lives to save others. What kind of a mentality does this take and the conflicts in the training and the dedication and all of those things? It’s a very complex world.

Schwarzenegger also compared the SWAT training to his early days of bodybuilding, some of which were featured in the documentary “Pumping Iron.”

AS: I come from a world of reps. The more reps you do, the better you get so I believed in what he (Ayer) said. The more you go down there and do this training with the SWAT team, the better you will be on the set and that’s exactly what happened. What we have learned was that they don’t hold the gun the same way as many in the military or when you just play an action hero, and the authenticity of this was really important. How did you hold the gun? How do you shoot? How do you aim? Do you have your head down or do you bring the gun up to your eye? They are all the time making adjustments. This is what made the movie look good because of those kinds of suggestions.

Of course, we all know Schwarzenegger took a number of years off from acting when he was elected the Governor of California. When he returned to making movies, he was not blind to how things have changed. This had us wondering how he dealt with those changes and how he sees filmmaking today.

AS: Today it’s not like in the ’80s and ’90s when a studio throws $100 million dollars to get a great action movie. That was the old days, now we have half of the money and you have to be very frugal and you have to really rehearse and be prepared, so to have all this stuff be second nature I think is very important. I think that the style of shooting is different, the kind of directors that are out there is much more the younger crowd that is being hired, and there are new visions and new ideas and all that. Movies are made a lot of times by committee and go through the studio route. There’s a bunch of young guys now making decisions whereas in the old days there was one guy sitting there making the decisions, so there’s a lot of changes like that. Budgets are half of what they used to be, the rest of the money is being used for the franchise movies and the big sequels and stuff like that, so it’s a different world that you have to adjust that.

In the past few years, the action genre has taken a bit of a hit as the superhero and comic book movies have dominated Hollywood. But for Schwarzenegger, he doesn’t see the genre disappearing anytime soon. From his point of view, action movies have always done very well, especially those with great stories.

AS: There are action movies that are multilayered and have really interesting characters, and they always will be popular. The key thing is to entertain people, and I think that people are fascinated about this world that we are dealing with in this movie. So, we hope that this movie is going to be successful and is going to be seen by a lot of people. But I think that what this movie has to offer, unlike most action movies, is realism. It is so realistic in the way it was researched and that is why we had so many experts on the set. We had a director that was insisting on being as real as possible and he was basically a fanatic about that. It all paid off and I think people will really, really enjoy this film.

Other action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis have seen their careers go up and down on a regular basis while Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal seem to be forever trapped in straight to video hell. Schwarzenegger, however, still has a strong presence in movies even if his most recent efforts were not well received. Now that he has been in show business for a few decades, we wonder what direction he would like to see his acting career go from here.

AS: Well, I think I’d like to challenge myself. You think about would this movie be appealing in the United States and also all over the world because sometimes you read a script and you say, well, I think this will play really well in America, but it’s not going to play well overseas. I don’t think I have much interest in that. I like to entertain the world and that was my mission. That was what bodybuilding was all about for me and what acting was all about. So, it’s always about what is the most entertaining project and what is the most challenging project for me, or it could be doing a sequel to” Twins” called “Triplets” with Eddie Murphy. That’s the same type of story, but to me, it’s just a fun project. There is a comedic side just to me that I can play in that role really well. Or we could do a sequel to “Conan (The Barbarian),” “King Conan” or something like that. “Maggie” was the last movie I did which is a very little movie where I just play a farmer whose daughter has this zombie virus. It’s all about having a good time but challenging yourself and always stretching and entertaining the world.

Now it’s no secret Schwarzenegger is not the young action star he used to be. When movie stars reach the age of 40, everyone expects they will not have many of the same opportunities they once had. At one point, the emcee asked Schwarzenegger if it is great to be over 40. He responded he thinks it’s great to be over 60, and his outlook on aging proved to be quite healthy.

AS: I don’t think about when I go to the gym, oh I’m now older or something like that. I just think about how I want to get in shape, and it’s the same when I do a movie. I don’t think about what age I’m in. I just do the movie and I do it as well as I can and go all out. I’m very fortunate that I exercise every day so that I start out already in good shape so that when someone like David Ayer comes along and says, “I want you now to do the martial arts training and I’m going to send over some guys that are cage fighters and then this and then that,” I can also deal with that. To me, I never even think about what is my age.

Schwarzenegger’s performance in “Sabotage” is one of the best he has given so far. Many still see him as not much of an actor even after such memorable turns in “The Terminator” movies and “Total Recall” (the original, not the remake), but he’s always been a better film actor than we give him credit for. Here we get to see him play one of his most complex roles to date, showing just how much range he has. Now he looks more than ready to graduate to the next level of being a grizzled action hero.

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW I DID FOR WE GOT THIS COVERED WITH ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER AND OTHERS ON “SABOTAGE” DOWN BELOW.

Matthew Fox On His Grueling Physical Transformation for ‘Alex Cross’

Matthew Fox in Alex Cross

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.

Audiences may have a hard time recognizing Matthew Fox when they see him as serial killer Picasso in Rob Cohen’s “Alex Cross.” The actor, best known for his roles on “Party of Five” and “Lost,” underwent one of the most visceral transformations any actor has gone through in a 2012 movie as he slimmed down, donned some tattoos and trained very hard to portray one of the scariest psychopaths we have seen in a movie. After watching him in “Alex Cross,” you will be ever so eager to find out how Fox pulled off such a stunning transformation.

Fox ended up losing 40 pounds to get Picasso’s toned physique down just right, and it forced him to give up eating all the things he likes to eat. This was especially hard on Fox’s mom whom he described as Italian and a fantastic cook to boot. Her favorite thing to do is feed her son great food, and unfortunately she couldn’t do so for several months when he signed up to play Picasso. According to Fox, his mom could not stand the fact he had to lose all this weight and that it really upset her. I imagine, however, now that the movie is being released, she can feed her son everything he could ever want to eat.

Fox worked with Simon Waterson, a personal trailer whose credits include helping Daniel Craig achieve the ripped body he needed to play James Bond, working with Jake Gyllenhaal on “Prince of Persia,” and in assisting Chris Evans to become the best Captain America he could ever hope to be. Fox went about describing the training he endured under Waterson’s tutelage.

“We worked really hard on this for five months,” Fox said. “The training sessions were mostly circuit training. You’re going non-stop from exercise to exercise, never taking any breaks for about an hour and a half. I was burning a lot of calories and working on certain muscle groups. It was very strategic on his part and very gradual.”

The role of Picasso forced Fox to travel to some dark places in order to better understand this particular serial killer. As a result, it challenged the actor to adopt a mindset no sane person would ever dare explore. However, it also allowed Fox to play a character which strongly differed from the ones he previously portrayed.

“It was very liberating to some degree to be able to play a guy that has no moral compass and is sort of supremely arrogant about the notion that he doesn’t have a moral compass and is out to prove to the world that a moral compass is weakness and is false actually,” Fox said.

“It was also interesting to think about what it would be like to really truly believe that and to really hold yourself that arrogantly above the rest because you can do the things that nobody else can or thinks that they can’t,” Fox continued. “A sense of power comes along with that when a guy like that feels like he has the ultimate trump card, like he cannot be trumped and he goes into every human interaction that usually ends up with him slowly snuffing out a life. He would look at that as giving a gift so it’s a very powerful place to exist, sort of invincibility.”

The lengths Fox went to in portraying Picasso greatly impressed his “Alex Cross” co-stars, especially Tyler Perry who plays the title role.

“He is brilliant,” Perry said. “The amount of dedication and the weight loss is this much of where he went. He really went to where ever he had to go. I don’t even want to know what dark places he went to to get that character, but he was amazing.”

After watching Matthew Fox in “Alex Cross,” you will find yourself in complete agreement with what Perry said. Actors revel at the chance to reinvent themselves when playing a character, and Fox got the chance to do just that with this role. Movies are full of crazy characters who haunt our dreams, and Fox’s Picasso is just the latest.

SOURCES:

Marc Malkin, “Matthew Fox Explains Shocking Weight Loss for ‘Alex Cross,’” E! Online, September 18, 2012.

Fred Topel, “Freaking Me Out: Matthew Fox on ‘Alex Cross,’ ‘World War Z’ and ‘Lost,‘” Crave Online, October 15, 2012.

Kevin P. Sullivan, “Matthew Fox Went To ‘Dark Places’ For ‘Alex Cross,’ Tyler Perry Says,” MTV Movies Blog, June 27, 2012.

James Patterson on Alex Cross and Bringing Him to the Silver Screen

Alex Cross movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is in regards to a press day which took place in 2012.

It has been over ten years since the last Alex Cross movie, “Along Came a Spider,” made it to the big screen. But now director Rob Cohen, who directed “The Fast and The Furious,” has brought the heroic detective and psychologist back in a reboot which is simply entitled “Alex Cross.” No one appears to be happier about Cross’ return to the world of film than the man who created him, James Patterson. The writer was recently at a press junket for “Alex Cross” at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, and he shared his thoughts on the new movie and the character he created.

James Patterson: I think it turned out great. Summit Entertainment (which is distributing it) has been fabulous to work with and they didn’t get in the way. They were helpful and supportive in every aspect. I think Rob did a terrific job especially given the budget ($24 million) which was not enormous and about a quarter of what he’s used to.

There was also the talk of Tyler Perry taking over the role of Alex Cross from Morgan Freeman who portrayed the character in both “Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider.” Many were baffled as to why Perry was cast, and they were also intrigued as to what Patterson thought about him in the role instead of Freeman.

JP: Morgan is Morgan, but Tyler is much closer to the character in the books. The character in the books is bigger, he’s physical and he’s bright and I think Tyler did a great job. I think he’s going to blow people’s minds with this. When I went to Atlanta to meet with him, he said to me “James, I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t sure that I could pull it off. And I’m going to give myself over to Rob. I’m not going to be the director.” And I think that’s what he did, and he took off some weight and bulked up as well.

As for Freeman, Patterson said the actor was never contacted about this movie. Like everyone else, he thinks Freeman is a wonderful actor but remarked how he is now 77 years old, and having him play a detective at that age was not going to work this time as Cross is around the age of 40 in the books.

Patterson was actually involved in the production of “Alex Cross” and even wrote the first draft of the screenplay. He had a lot of input as he owns 40% of the movie, but he was also able to step back and stay out of the way which he said is “the most useful thing that you can do sometimes.” The script did change a lot from what he originally wrote, and Patterson said he was perfectly alright with that.

When asked how he created Alex Cross, Patterson said he grew up in a town which eventually became known as “the murder capital of New York State,” and it was half black and half white. His experiences in this town enforced his reaction to the way blacks were treated in the media.

JP: I felt for a long time that the way movies were portraying African Americans was kind of stupid. I wanted to create a hero who really was a hero; an African American guy who is bright and anti all the stereotypes. Here’s a guy who’s taking care of his family, and this movie gets more into family than the first two did. He’s taking care of his kids, he’s cool with their grandmother, he’s well educated and a graduate of John Hopkins University, etc. So, I just wanted to go against the stereotypes, and I think that has worked and that’s what I’m happy about.

Returning to the movie, Patterson said one of the things which makes “Alex Cross” especially good is it has moments that are “really emotional,” and you don’t always have those moments in a film like this.

JP: Film crews can sort of not really be into the movie they’re working on that much, but there were times where they were watching the monitor and they were crying. It was very very emotional stuff and I think that’s unusual in a movie like this.

In talking about Matthew Fox who plays Michael “Picasso” Sullivan, Patterson described him as terrific and that his performance is one of the best and most original things about the movie.

JP: I think Matthew wanted to show everyone that he had this tremendous range which he does, and he wanted to be a bad guy. Once he got the part, he really pushed it. He took off a lot of weight because he wanted to have a certain look, and he was the madman.

Patterson believes what makes “Alex Cross” work so well as a movie was everyone went into it with a real hunger to do it. Cohen wanted a hit, Perry wanted to do something different and to show he had different skills than people thought he had, QED International (one of companies producing the movie) wanted to do something which would be a break out hit, and Patterson himself wanted another movie made about this character.

JP: Everyone was hungry and I always think that’s great. That does tend to produce a pretty good product.”

This was certainly the case here as “Alex Cross” proved to be a riveting action thriller with great performances from the entire cast and a lot of real emotion which never feels faked. Here’s hoping it finds the audience it deserves when it is released on October 19, 2012.

Click on the links below to check out the exclusive interviews I did with two people involved with the making of “Alex Cross.” These are interviews I conducted on behalf of the website We Got This Covered.

Rob Cohen

Ed Burns

Oliver Stone’s ‘W.’ Gives Empathy to an Unfortunate President of the United States

W movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008.

You really have to admire what Oliver Stone pulled off here as he himself has been a big critic of the Bush Administration (and who isn’t these days?). Like “Nixon,” Stone has given us an empathetic portrait of an infamous President and tears down the stereotypes we have about this particular person so we can see him up close for who he really is. It is not a Bush bashing piece, but that would have been pointless anyway because we bash George W. Bush on a regular basis. With “W.,” Stone has given us what is essentially a father-son story as George W. is a man who spent the majority of his life trying to get his father’s, President George H.W. Bush, respect. It is clear from the start Bush Sr. respects Jeb more than he who bears his first and last name, and this leads George W. to do things he would never have done otherwise, such as run for political office.

“W.” covers George W. Bush from his days at a Yale fraternity hazing to the end of his first term as President. His second term is not covered here which is just as well as we are deep in the muck when it comes to political and financial affairs. It flashes back and forth in time from when he is President to his days as a rootless young man who is unsure of what he wants to do with his life other than party and get drunk. The movie does have the feel of a comedy, but it gets more serious in other moments. The tone Stone sets here is not always clear, and it does take away from the movie a bit. Still. it kept me engrossed as it covered the life of a man I can’t wait to see leave the White House.

George W. Bush is played here by Josh Brolin, and he had a great streak last year with “Grindhouse,” “American Gangster” and of course “No Country for Old Men.” Christian Bale was originally cast in this role, but he dropped out at the last minute due to the makeup effects not working to his liking. It’s just as well because Brolin looks like a much better fit being from Texas and all. Playing Bush to a serious degree is a difficult challenge to say the least because we have long since gotten used to seeing him being lampooned on “Saturday Night Live,” and as a result, we cannot help but look at Brolin’s performance as a caricature of George W. But in the large scheme of things, Brolin manages to make the role his own, and it becomes more than a simple impersonation which was obviously not what he was going for in the first place.

In fact, Stone did a great job of casting as he got actors who don’t simply impersonate the people we know so well, but who instead embody and inhabit them. In the process, the actors force you to look at some of these personalities a bit differently than we have in the past. Getting past the preconceptions we have of people is always tough, but it is at times necessary in order for us to better understand how certain individuals, particularly those with the most power, tick.

One actor I was most impressed with here was Richard Dreyfuss who plays Vice President Dick Cheney. Dreyfuss has a great and frightening scene where, in a private conference with all the heads of state, he makes a case for attacking Iraq and Iran in order to get control over their vast oil supplies and keep dictators like Saddam Hussein from coming down on us ever again. The one moment which sent a chill down everyone’s spine is when someone asks Cheney what the exit strategy out of Iraq is, and he replies, “There is no exit strategy. We stay there forever.”

Everyone in the theater was frozen in silence as this is the one thing we keep begging future politicians to do, provide an exit strategy. Dreyfuss plays the scene not at all as a villain, but as a man who convinces the Commander in Chief of why he sees this path of action is the right one for the administration to take.

Another really good performance comes from Toby Jones (“The Mist”) who plays the master of smear campaigns, Karl Rove. Jones ends up making Rove seem both charismatic and likable, and he also subtly brings out the emotional manipulator in the man who succeeds in getting under George W.’s skin to make him the puppet he is today. I hate Rove for everything he has done, but Jones succeeds in making us admire him, begrudgingly so, for being so fiendishly clever. Rove’s powers of manipulation are ever so subtle to the point where we barely notice them, and Jones gets this across perfectly and with amazing subtlety.

As Bush Sr., James Cromwell makes us see that this particular U.S. President is fully aware of how his children are at a huge disadvantage. While he had to work hard to get to where he ended up at, his offspring had everything handed to them on a silver platter. Bush Sr. obviously wants the best for his children, but in seeing to his black sheep of a son’s needs and troubles, he comes to see he has done more harm than good.

As the movie goes on, Cromwell goes from presenting the elder Bush as being terribly disappointed in George W. to being deeply concerned over his son’s decisions about Iraq. We see Bush Sr. the end of the first Gulf War discussing his reasoning as to why they shouldn’t go after Saddam as it might make the dictator a hero in the eyes of many. Indeed, Stone makes us sympathize with the senior Bush in ways I never expected to. The moment where we see Bush lose the Presidential election to Bill Clinton, I actually found myself saddened as it comes across how there were many opportunities which would never be realized. This was shocking to me because I really wanted to see Clinton beat Bush, and I was thrilled he did.

In the end, however, the movie really belongs to Brolin who gives us a George W. Bush that is seemingly well intentioned and yet hopelessly naïve. You may not completely blame him for all the troubles going on in the world right now, but you can never excuse him for not taking more responsibility for his actions. We see Bush embrace God and become a born-again Christian, and while this helps him with his drinking problem, it also gives him blind faith which will prove to be his flaw as a person which will eventually undo him. Brolin makes Bush goofy yet well intentioned, and he makes clear the heartache he feels as he cannot escape the shadow of his famous father.

Stone’s “W.” is not the classic political movie “JFK” was, but it is effectively made and shows how we need to understand the human side of those we brand as criminals in order to get at what makes them act the way they do. This is an important lesson to remember as we go on in life.

* * * ½ out of * * * *