Harry has seen THE EXPENDABLES in Action, Joking and making their film!
Holy Shit That Was Way Fucking Cool!
Ok. I’ve been doing this for 13-14 years now. Been on a lot of big sets, met a lot of big stars. But you know what? Going into THE EXPENDABLES stage in New Orleans and seeing chairs for Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture. It kinda melts your brain.
But then, when they all file in, one after another. Shaking your hand and greeting you. Your brain does a wicked freak out.
We have all collectively been panting like dogs in heat for this film. Everything we’ve heard has been golden. The photos of real men doing real crazy shit… it has made us giddy. And the rumors of folks in, maybe in, wished were in – well it has lit our imaginations – but the real question is… Will it really rock?
So – today – without a very strong sleep history recently, I boarded a plane with Father Geek bound for New Orleans. The plane seemed to know how much I wanted to get there, as it arrived 28 minutes early!?!?! When the hell does that ever happen?
Ok, so then I found out that my call time for the set got moved up an hour and a half. So not only do I get to New Orleans early, but I find out I get to set earlier. Then, once I get to set I find out that all the Expendables will be there! Sly, Jason, Jet, Dolph, Terry & Randy!
Now – for all the film that has shot in Louisiana – I haven’t been to a single set there. No, it wasn’t some protest against the Louisiana Film Industry stealing Texas Films. No. For some reason it has just never worked out yet. I have to admit that I was a little surprised by just how rough the facilities were. It kinda looked like an abandoned warehouse, a bit dilapidated. The big building which held all the magic of THE EXPENDABLES, had mosquitoes and incredibly humid and uncomfortable sweaty conditions – which had a lot of ladies griping, but given it was actually about 15 degrees cooler than Austin – but with 90% humidity – it wasn’t so bad. BESIDES – would this be THE EXPENDABLES if everyone on set wasn’t sweating like they were in a sauna?
I didn’t think so either.
Ok – so what did I see on set?
When we entered the big stage area, I instantly noticed all the gear for The Expendables – along with several machete and large scary knives. All the equipment looked well used and brutalized. Then there was a large plane with that Expendables Raven perched upon a globe.
Past that was a stage with the interior of a Somali Pirate ship, where much death and mayhem was conveyed to me as happening there! But not today.
The next staging area had the top of the ship – which is where all the shooting today was taking place. When I arrived, they were resetting and Sly was rehearsing and blocking what he was shooting tonight. I was thirsty so we went to Craft Services – which is where I met Chad Stahelski, he’s the Stunt Coordinator on THE EXPENDABLES, as well as being the martial arts choreographer and 2nd Unit Director on NINJA ASSASSIN! We didn’t talk very long, but he’s been building up quite a resume of impressive films, and is also sometimes Keanu’s double in the MATRIX films.
The next person I met on set was Dolph Lundgren. I have to say… I was really giddy to meet Dolph. He was all dressed in his gear, various weapons hanging off of him, all black – but with his arms fully exposed. On his right arm was a tattoo of a traditional Dia De Los Muertos sugar skull, complete with all the bright colors. On the other arm was the “Expendables” tattoo of the Raven perched on a Skull. All the members of Stallone’s team has the tattoo. Not necessarily in the same place or size. Dolph struck me as being a bit shy. When I brought up that I liked DIRECT CONTACT, his latest Straight to DVD film, I think he thought I was kidding, till I started describing the scenes that I liked. And he became genuinely enthused that I had actually watched it and retained what happened.
I get the impression that Dolph doesn’t get much praise for his more recent work, but while these films he’s been a part of haven’t had the budgets or casts that would take them out of the DVD realm – they are straight action films shot in the old school manner. Something that folks like myself and Vern appreciate.
Next, I get loaded up in this motorized cart that steered like a rusty Model T. We were being shown the site of many recent explosions. The “Palace” set. And folks, it got blown up but good. Guard towers leveled. Craters. Blown up aircraft and vehicles. And by no means are they through blowing this shit up! They’ve got two more weeks of shooting and a lot of what they’re shooting is the hard core action stuff.
It was at this point that I learned what would be being shot today.
At the beginning of THE EXPENDABLES there will be a rescue mission, where some Somali Pirates have kidnapped and are ransoming some folks – and Sly and his team come in to pay them… and / or KILL THEM ALL. I’m not entirely sure.
What I saw seemed like the beginning of the scene. How it becomes action packed.
Now the day I was there wasn’t a very smooth day for Sly and crew. The scene involved the EXPENDABLES having an elevated position above the pirates, which are in the hold below. Our guys have the drop on them – and first Randy Couture’s TOLL ROAD tosses a bag with allegedly $3 million in it to the Pirates, but these pirates want more. And you can feel the tension ramp up. Everyone grips their guns a bit tighter. Lasers finding their targets – when Dolph’s Gunnar Jensen bursts into the scene – coming completely out of left field with a Pirate joke. Which basically ends in a grenade gun making a big boom.
The night was basically about making this scene work. Honestly, it wasn’t working at the beginning or during the first 4 hours of shooting it. Lundgren’s tone was flat or loud – and Sly knew that Dolph could bring more to it, if he pushed him. To Stallone – this scene was a gateway to Lundgren’s character here. He’s a bit druggy, the rest of the team kind of doesn’t want him there anymore. He’s a bit burnt out and flakey as all fuck. Obviously – In a Somali Pirate HOSTAGE situation, telling a Pirate joke… not the right move.
I think Dolph was having trouble with where the character was coming from, Dolph seems like a very bright guy, we all know about his history at MIT – but Sly was wanting the character to be the exact opposite of Dolph. Someone that was instinctually irrational – a loose cannon that seemed to not care about the process. Someone with drug issues, that the rest of the team doesn’t trust – and right from the first scene, he wants the character to sell it.
But at the beginning of the day, Dolph had a long way to go to get there with the character. I also felt that Dolph isn’t a jokey kind of guy. His rhythm wasn’t natural for telling the joke, until much later in the process.
It is at a moment like this on a film, where you really get a glimpse at a director and how he handles situations like this. How he helps an actor to tap into something that they may not know they have in them. Because make no mistake about it, Sly absolutely believed in Dolph for making the scene work.
The scene in question had the whole team there. Sly, Jason, Jet, Terry, Randy and Dolph. The scene was basically between 3 characters – Stallone’s Barney Ross, Dolph’s Gunnar Jensen and the lead Somali Pirate Amin Joseph, I think… though I know THE REVENANT’s Senyo Amoaku was also on set doing his part! But the toughest part came to Dolph.
After the first series of takes, it became evident that this scene was going to take some work. Sly used the break to change his angles for the 5 or so cameras that were shooting the scene. As Dolph continued to wrestle with the scene, Stallone decided before the midnight lunch break – to offer up a series of quick improv’d lines for the rest of the team.
Almost without exception they were derogatory towards Dolph’s Gunnar. Sly told Dolph to mime his scene, while a series of close-ups of each character was busting on Gunnar’s gonads. I really liked this, as it gave Sly an out if Dolph couldn’t fully pull the scene off, but more than that – it showed Dolph that it was possible that if he didn’t nail this scene – it would be divvied up amongst his co-stars… and no actor likes to see a big scene move away from them.
At lunch, Dolph became pretty sullen. Having quiet talks with his associate. Not looking very happy, but mainly I feel he was beating himself up. You could tell that it meant a lot to him to nail the scene. But it was tough for him.
When we came back from lunch, we went right back into it. And for a brief period – Dolph was on the right track – but as the scene further developed to the Grenade Launcher’s inclusion – Dolph shifted his focus on that a bit and kinda went fast and loose with the lines. Not enunciating things the way Stallone wanted and losing some intensity. Sly began to show his aggravation not at Dolph directly, but in further improving his own dialogue – throwing in Captain Crunch and other more violent phrasing towards the Somali Pirate leader.
But he began cutting the second he heard something wrong, he’d cut Dolph off and take it from the top. You could feel Dolph getting frustrated, but what came through the camera wasn’t frustration, but something growing more and more unhinged. It was what Sly was looking for. And after two successful takes they moved on to the live grenade gun firing. Which was loud and glorious!
This took a long time. During nearly every break – Jason Statham came over to chat. I’ve never met him before, though I have been a fan of his work. Jason’s career has spanned AICN’s history. From LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS to SNATCH to THE TRANSPORTER, THE ITALIAN JOB, COLLATERAL, CELLULAR, CRANK and CRANK 2. Those are my faves. But he’s also been in some pretty shit films, films that he himself has misgivings for – as they did not turn out as he imagined when looking at the page. He’s really hoping that this film with Jet Li will mark the saying, “Third Time’s The Charm,” as being a truism.
Jason asked about my thoughts on 3D, CG vs. Practical and a whole host of subjects. Sometimes a cigar toking Stallone would join our conversations – and it was all rather informal. I honestly don’t really like the “interview” process. It gets factoids about people, but rarely offers insight into who they are, or what they care about. Much of what was on Jason’s mind was my thoughts on future film technology that he didn’t have experience with yet… like 3D, Motion Capture, Piracy and so forth.
We talked about his experience on the film – and how for him it isn’t about a spectacular stunt he did, but really being a part of the team of remarkable slabs of man meat that were shooting this film. From most everyone that I talked to, it seemed that Jason and Sly have gotten along famously. Essentially stating that their character interaction has basically become a “Buddy pic” relationship. Everyone felt this film is gonna bring out a lighter side to Jason, though Statham never stated that himself.
I brought up how upset I was when the “geniuses” at Screen Gems veto’d John Carpenter’s casting of Jason Statham as Desolation Williams in GHOSTS OF MARS. Which sent Jason into expressing a great deal of love for John Carpenter. He really wanted that role, as it would have been his first big starring role in the U.S. Sadly, the suited monkeys didn’t think he could carry a film. Something that over the next subsequent years was proven dead wrong.
At one point in our conversation, Jason began worshipping at the altar of Rick Baker’s brilliant transformation sequence in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and longed to see a return to that sort of work, versus CG. We discussed a lot. He really came across as a great guy. Especially when he attempted to kill me in an elaborate series of moves that he was recently trained in. So basically folks. Jason could’ve killed me had he wanted to win all you talkbackers over.
For those of you wanting to know about Arnie’s involvement – I can only tell you that Arnold’s character has an incredibly badass truck, that has been so customized that I dare not guess at a make or model, but it looked as though it probably sprung from a late 40s model truck. But that’s a wild guess.
Arnold will be shooting his scene at some point in Los Angeles, I hear, but he hasn’t shot his part yet. But I know a truck will be involved and the truck is badass!
The main thing is – it seems that Sly is being very dedicated to making this film kick a lot of ass. He has been working to build each of the characters as their own unique beings. Giving them enough to work with so that they’re not just a bunch of muscles. And there are a BUNCH of muscles on that set.
Randy Couture’s forearm is one of the scariest forearms I’ve seen. Rippling like a harp of pain. Then there’s the giant, Terry Crews… That guy looks like the embodiment of John Henry! Inhumanly large shoulders and arms, but man – watching the costume people strapping on all his gear – he just got meaner and meaner looking. But then he’d flash a crazy charming smile. Jet Li, is probably my greatest regret of the trip. I shook his hand, he smiled that awesome Jet Li smile, but he pretty much hung out with his group of associates and friends. Dolph looked awesome! His face has just so much character in it now and physically he seems to be in excellent shape contrary to that beach vacation shots that were all the rage a few months back.
Now for the one piece of BAD NEWS. Danny Trejo is not in the film. Sly met with him. Loved him. But just couldn’t really place him in the film where he felt Danny fit – that would do the film service as well as Danny. But I get the idea that at a point in the future we’ll see them work together.
Things that are still up in the air: No confirmed release date yet, just some time in 2010. There’s also no ETA on a teaser trailer or full trailer. I’m very curious to see how this film plays out. As we all know – this group of actors – individually have not always made the best of films each time out of the gate, but they are very intent on making this one count. And I don’t think there’s a single one of us that are rooting against them. Because to us, they are certainly NOT expendable.