By Danny Peary

In Gavin Hood’s tightly wound political thriller, Eye In The Sky, an imminent (and long distance) strike on a group of terrorists in Nairobi, Kenya is compromised when a young girl walks innocently into the frame of action. As Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) – who is spearheading the mission – and Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman in his last on-screen performance) remain resolute in their commitment to following through with their strategy, everyone around them hits an emotional freefall. Key among the doubters is US drone pilot, Steve Watts, who is charged with pulling the trigger from the safety of a bunker in faraway Nevada. As he frets and melts down, Steve Watts is hobbled in the knowledge that you can still get blood on your hands, no matter how far from the action you might be.

In a fine piece of casting, Steve Watts is played by Aaron Paul, famed and loved for his indelible work as the horribly flawed but utterly relatable Jesse Pinkman on TV’s Breaking Bad. “The first time that I talked to Gavin Hood, he had such a specific vision of the story that he wanted to tell,” Aaron Paul says at the press conference for Eye In The Sky at The Waldorf Astoria in New York City. “He wanted to make it a very honest, human story, and that’s what this film is. It takes you to the front line of terrorism and drone warfare, but it gives you an inside look at these characters, and it really humanises them. I wasn’t very familiar with the world of drone warfare. But when doing this film, I talked to a drone expert. I spent a lot of time with him from the moment that the film’s Nevada bunker was built on the sound stage in Cape Town. Before we started shooting, we would go there and spend hours a day in that bunker, and I really learned how to fly these drones. He would call out orders from behind Phoebe Fox [who plays Watts’ sympathetic assistant pilot], and he would say to do this and do that. The pressure was on, because I didn’t want to look like an idiot. I wanted to feel like I was actually flying these things, and you really put yourself in that position. It’s a crazy idea that you’re in the safety of a bunker in Nevada, while flying something very dangerous in another country. He told me about how these guys can fly four drones at once. I had no idea that they can control more than one at once. At times he could have a drone in Kenya or a drone in Australia. I didn’t realise that part of it. He has seen the film and he is very proud of it.”

Despite his extensive hands-on research, Paul is quick to praise the film’s script by Guy Hibbert, “If it’s on the page, then you have something great to work with,” the actor says.  “When you read this script, your heart starts to beat a little bit faster and you’re really just inside this world. The moment that you start watching this movie, your hands start to clam up and you’re into it. And as I said, it just humanises everything. For instance, with Alan Rickman’s character, before he goes to work, he’s buying a toy for his grandkid. And after doing his work, he completely forgets about work and he thinks of the kid. This is just their day-to-day, and that’s what really drew me to this film. When I eventually watched the film, I saw it as a very human story, and it puts the audience in these characters’ shoes. I’m not surprised by that…I always knew that was going to be the case. And the simple fact that I’m sharing a screen with Helen Mirren? That’s out of control…it’s such a beautiful dream of mine.”

Could Aaron Paul sleep at night doing the work that his character, Steve Watts does? Could he make those decisions? “Putting myself in that situation, I don’t know if I could sleep at night,” the actor replies. “That is the price that you have to pay. I mean, you’re serving your country, and you’re doing your duty, but for me, I just don’t know. I don’t know if I could do what he does.”

Eye In The Sky is released in cinemas on March 24.


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