In the action thriller From Paris with Love, directed by Pierre Morel and produced by Luc Besson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as James Reece, an assistant to the US Embassador who travels to Paris and teams with a U.S. special agent, Charlie Wax (John Travolta), to halt an imminent terrorist attack. Kasia Smutniak plays James' girlfriend, Caroline. Jonathan Rhys Meyers has recently starred in The Children of Huang Shi, August Rush, the Showtime series "The Tudors," and, briefly, in the dark comedy A Film with Me in It. John Travolta can be seen in Old Dogs, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Wild Hogs, The Punisher, Swordfish, Get Shorty, Pulp Fiction, Face/Off and the film that catapulted him into stardom, Saturday Night Fever. Kasia Smutniak has previously starred in foreign films such as Quiet Chaos while Pierre Morel had directed the smash hit Taken and District B13. It was a real privilege to interview all of them together at the From Paris with Love press conference.
Lionsgate releases From Paris with Love nationwide on February 5th, 2010.
NYC MOVIE GURU: John, what did you do to prepare for the role of Charlie Wax?
JT: It was beautifully written, so he was easy to fill because the verbiage was so ideal for me to attack. The look was very important in this movie. We saw Soldier of Fortune covers where these guys are suddenly, I don’t know why, but very glamorous looking with scarves, shaved heads and goatees. It was brave to take it all off and all that, but I think we decided that that the only way it would work is to be bold with it and go all the way. I hung out with some undercover guys in my hometown, so I would spend the night driving the streets of Ocala, [Florida], going into these areas that were in trouble and seeing what these guys do.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was it like to look in the mirror after you shaved your hair off for the role?
JT: Pierre and I did a superimposed-type---what do you call it? PM: We did a Photoshop thing. We tried to erase John’s hair, we did different types of goatees. We did a little chemistry before.
JT: Then we had to get approval from Luc, of course.
PM: Did we? [Laughs]
JT: And Luc loved it right away. You see, film is a visual medium and I remember with Pulp Fiction it was my idea to do that kind of Dutch boy thing because you’d spent time in Holland and I thought this would be this Euro-trash look. I remember Quentin [Tarantino] and the producer just thinking it was not a good idea and I said, “Well, can we just test it?” And then the next day when they did a screen test on it, I made sure it worked and then they loved it. But it was iconic, meaning it was a signature of the character. So when you design these things for the screening, they’re very important and not to be looked at as superficial at all.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What’s the difference between being bad like Charlie Wax and bad like the villains you played in Pulp Fiction and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3?
JT: I would define it in three different ways. The villain in Pulp Fictio is misguided. The villain in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is just out and out criminal. And then the villain in this is not really a villain. He’s a good guy who has unorthodox methods. He is a rogue and so, even though he does things that we don’t agree with, he solves the problem. And he’s so good at what he does that he gets away with being a little naughty. You can take that liberty when you’re that good.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Jonathan, how could James Reece not possibly know the truth about his wife’s real profession?
JRM: Well, you know, love is blind. Really, how much do you know about your partner? He knows that she makes dresses, he knows that she’s into fabric, but he’s a naive guy anyway. It’s not like he’s being specifically naive because she’s so fantastically beautiful, yet it’s jarring and that’s the reason why she’s there. These guys know what they’re doing, so for us to have a challenge in the movie, these other guys have to be smart and they’re smart enough to know that this guy will go for this girl and he’ll go for her blindly because the beauty, the charm, the elegance, he’s living in Paris--this is the dream. This will all sort of divert him from what’s actually happening and I think it’s a great rouse. If you want to hide something, hide it in plain sight and they do.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think you’d fall for someone like her in real life?
KRM: Absolutely! 100%! Hook, line and sinker!
JT: We all fell for her! [Laughs]
KS: It shows how the guys are. They can play cool, but in the end they’re like this. They get lost in their love.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the most difficult sequence to shoot?
PM: Shooting the Eiffel Tower [sequence] was the most challenging thing for us because the Eiffel Tower is a nightmare to shoot in actually. It’s a beautiful place. I love it, but it’s the most visited monument anywhere in the world. There’s millions of people coming every year to visit and there is no way to shut it down. Nobody’s privatized that, so you have to deal with like thousands of people peeping and trying to look at what you’re doing.
JRM: Actually, I think it’s become one of the most difficult monuments to shoot in the world because now they charge you for shooting it because there’s blue lights on it and it’s privatized. So, if you want the blue lights on the Eiffel Tower in the background of your shot, it’s like 20 grand or something. It’s really expensive so you kind of got to do this and make sure that you pan off before you reach the Eiffel Tower.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What scenes were the most physically challenging for you?
JT: Well, for me the whole thing was challenging because I said to Pierre, “You really want me to do all of these stunts?” I mean, I’m going upside down on a pole and shooting with two guns and rolling down buildings and jumping off and I said, “I’m an old man!”
PM: I said, “So what?”
JT: And the odd thing was there was such a confidence in that I could do it that I decided that, well hell, I’m going to live up to their expectation and I went and did it and I really was proud that I attacked it in that full-bodied way. I’ve never done this much action in a movie. Even though I’ve been in two John Woo movies, this was the most running and jumping and fighting and flipping and the body’s still able to do it! Now [Jonathan’s] a young whippersnapper, so his body is made to do this kind of thing.
JRM: Physically [it was] okay. Except I don’t like heights and I have to go up these steel stairs and I’m not a good height guy and I dropped the vase of cocaine, going up the stairs. And I could hear Pierre laughing from like three floors below and John’s still running. He’s like three floors ahead of me. And then we’re like “cut”’ and it’s like I got to go all the way back down and I’m scraping the coke in and it was just awful. And this vase, of course, the physicality with me is I’ve got to hold this vase, which became a teddy bear. It’s like his blankie at one point. And I kind of felt sad when I had to drop it. It was my buddy for the movie. It was kind of like this is what protects me from the whole world is this vase of washing up powder.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between action, drama and comic relief?
PM: I think that was the whole point. It had to be. That’s what I was looking for when I read the script the first time, when Luc gave me the script. I had fun because the characters were written like that.
JT: In all fairness, I think Pierre was the balancing act. He knew when something was too funny or too serious and I think Pierre could modulate this beautifully for us because sometimes, you know, my instinct, I’m a comedian too, so my instinct is to go really funny and he’d sometimes pull me back and then sometimes he’d say you’re free now, you can make it funny and I’d go all the way so I think Pierre orchestrated that as well as a beautiful script.
PM: Every single scene we did, we call it Chinese menu.
JT: We call it Chinese menu. I actually got that from Meryl Streep and she gives tons of choices and I decided that I had always done that but now there’s a name to it. Chinese menu is you give the director as many choices as he can handle and then in the editing room they pick the choice they like---if you trust the editor and the director. So I said to Pierre, “We’re going to do Chinese menu. I’m going to give you funny, straight, dramatic and as many styles as you want.” And it works!
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think are the basic elements that turn an action thriller into a classic?
LB: Oh my god, if we knew that we’d be like [sighs].
PM: Is there a recipe for that?
JRM: Can I jump in for a sec? I think it’s chemistry. I think what separates an action movie from a classic movie is the chemistry between the actors doing it and if they’re liking each other and the story they’re working on. Why does Lethal Weapon work? Because Danny Glover and Mel Gibson work with each other and you can see the energy. They play off each other very well, so you’ll get some partnerships in life that will just mean more. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid---if that had been Robert Redford and Warren Beatty, would it have been the same movie? Who knows? But it’s their energy that carries it. If you can get that one little moment where two people understand and they share a joke on screen or share a nice emotional moment, that makes the movie. That makes a classic action movie to me. However, I may be wrong.
JT: I’m not going to disagree with him. [Laughs]
LB: It’s also the amount of risk that you can take in the story. Sometimes, you know, if you say, “Okay, you know what, let’s shoot the girl at the table.” And most of the people will say, “No, no, no. You can’t do that.” “Fuck yeah I can, I just did.” You also have to take some risk in the directing, in the script, when you talk about the movement. When you say, “checkmate motherfucker,” you take the risk. You need to have to take risks otherwise you stay at the good level, you make a nice film, but you don’t have a chance to stay.