This is your third time out with Dwayne Johnson (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, San Andreas). Can you describe your relationship? Did you know each other before the first time you worked on Journey 2?
No, the first time I met him was going in and pitching him Journey 2. I’ve described it as a harrowing experience because he had this giant goatee, he was in a muscle suit, in workout gear and he was gigantic, he was bigger than he normally is. And so, when I walked in to meet him for the very first time I was like ‘Oh my god!’ He was legitimately scary looking. But then after talking to him for 5 minutes you realise he’s a really nice guy, he’s a really sweet dude. And then we started talking about Journey.
Our relationship has just evolved since then because I think we’ve both evolved as filmmakers and story-tellers. At first when you are a young filmmaker you’re just kind of out to prove that you’re a good filmmaker, you can do something good, you actually have talent. ‘Let me prove to the world that I can tell a story and I know how to direct 400 people and a bunch of stars and all that’. Both Dwayne and I now approach things in a different way which is: What can we do that we haven’t done before? I always, for whatever reason, think Dwayne has done everything because he works, obviously, like 10 times more than any other actor and 100 times more than me. Because I’m on everything for 2 years and he’s on it for 20 minutes and on to the next thing. But that’s the goal now – what can we do that we’ve never done and what can we deliver to the audience that they’re never experienced?
We have unique skillsets and when we put ourselves into a room – we really get on the same page. You can get something better than I would have come up with on my own and probably better than he would have come up with on his own. And it culminates into something that has the potential to be really unique and fun. It’s evolved a lot and I also would say we’re much more willing to take risks now than before.
Do you see him when you’re not working? Is this a friendship beyond the films now?
The problem with both Dwayne and I is that we work a lot. He works more than me and he’s everywhere, and also, he’s got a really young family and he’s so dedicated to what he does. The short answer is no. But the reality is, not that we wouldn’t, but I’m a complete homebody and introvert and shy, and he doesn’t stop working. When I do go out and leave my house it’s to work. I’m either at my desk; story-boarding; drawing; writing, or I’m on a set or in a production office. And he is on a set, to home with his babies, on a set – so it’s very difficult. I was just talking to Geoffrey Morgan outside and he was like ‘Dude, 6 months ago we tried to have a beer together!’ and I’m like ‘I know, and we still haven’t done that’. And I love Geoff and would drink with him all the time if I could, but everyone’s pulled in a million different directions. The thing for me is that I do create actual friendships with these people as I’m working with them because they know I love them, respect them, have their backs. I’m there to fully support them and it’s not a business contract as far as I’m concerned, it’s a creative contract. And I think they get that and I make friends with a lot of them but I’m so introverted and shy, and wanna be home with my dogs and girlfriend.
You’d never guess.
Well, I’ve had a lot of caffeine. And, you know, it’s part of the gig. I have no problem talking about what I make but I’d rather just be at home watching Survivor or basketball.
I understand what you’re saying that you’re looking for a new approach and looking to do something new, but this is a giant ape fighting a giant crocodile, it’s reminiscent of the best of Kaiju, of giant monster films. So, how did the idea come about? What was new to you? How did you see this as something new?
I saw this as an opportunity to do a monster movie in broad daylight, which isn’t something you see a lot. I think right now there’s a lot of larger-than-life spectacle films that you can go see. I looked at this as an opportunity to not only do that but do something unique with the relationship between Davis (Johnson) and George (the giant ape). That is something which I felt like I haven’t seen before. I have three dogs and a cat, and I love and would protect them with my life, and we have had issues with coyotes in Los Angeles a couple times. So, there was an emotional connection there – that was the big thing that drew me to this. This will sound ridiculous but it’s the truth, the spectacle aspect of the movies I do come second. The main thing is what is the heart? What is this movie about? This movie is about trust and friendship. That’s the anchor that I use in that relationship. That’s the engine that drives it, that’s what it’s thematically about. Of course, because I have ADHD, I’m not going to do two people talking in the kitchen because that would bore the shit out of me and it’s not exciting to shoot. Because of that ADHD I want to see adventure films. I love action, I love shooting action, I’m comfortable doing that. So those are the reasons why you sign up and spend two years of your life on it.
When you say you have ADHD are you being ironic there or do you really have it?
I have not been diagnosed with it but I can’t sit still very long and literally have anxiety when it’s just two people talking in a room.
Video games-based films have sometimes struggled on the big screen to be successful…
You’re being very nice.
What do you think separates Rampage from what has come before?
I am an avid gamer. I play a lot of the best games, I’ve devoted months of my life to. I knew about the video-game-curse, but I put it out of my mind when I went to shoot the movie, thank God, and then was reminded of it by the press in the last week of shooting and almost crapped myself because I was like ‘Oh my god, of course they don’t work’. Well, here’s the thing, those games are by nature fully immersive. You play the star. When you’re building a narrative that you’re the star of, there’s an inherent challenge to making this its own thing and as good as that thing. It’s sort of the same thing people would deal with when they do a novel. How do you show someone an image that’s better than what they picture in their mind, when everyone has control of what they picture in their mind?
With Rampage, I instantly looked at what I would have to do to appease fans of this. I thought that was the three creatures, you have to do that, and then I put in little Easter eggs like the woman in the red dress and George eating the guy in the building. I feel like that can give the audience what they want. Also, there’s a nostalgic feel about Rampage. I played it, it’s a stand-up video game. There wasn’t a lot of mythology, there wasn’t a lot of story. So, I was like ‘I can do that’ but really what attracted me to doing it, was the creative freedom. So, I’m like okay, I can base it on this, it’s a great title, I love these creatures, I can do all those Easter eggs. But there’s all these sequences that I want to do, there’s all these characters I want to develop, there’s all these ideas I want to play with. What was different for us than a lot of those games is those games that have tried to turn into movies and have failed, have had really complex mythologies with really famous characters that you’re used to playing. And how do you deliver that in a better way, or better and different way, than the game does? Making Call of Duty into a movie would be a frightening challenge because of just those reasons. This movie presented a lot of creative freedom.
Rampage has a great tone, it’s not terribly serious, and has a light-heartedness. How difficult is it to capture the right lightness amidst so much destruction and effects?
On some level, you have to take it seriously just to ground it. The interesting thing for me that’s changed as a filmmaker is that, when I started in movies initially, or tv, when I was younger, I had a plan and I stuck to that plan. It was just like, hell or high water, these are the shots that I’m doing, this is what it is. And I had a slight advantage, like Cats and Dogs 2 and Journey 2, they were sequels; so I could look over here and go, ‘Well that’s what they did on the first one and I like this, and I don’t like this and I can evolve it’. Then when you go to do San Andreas and Rampage; I pay attention to it as it evolves, and I’m like ‘This could be lighter, this could be more fun, this could be more self-aware, this could be more irreverent here’. And so, I’m a completely-gut filmmaker; I trust my instincts, I use that as my compass and go ‘This should not be this silly, this should be serious here, it would be insensitive if we were silly in this moment’, and I use that as my guide. I would say the biggest influence for me was growing up, as a teenager in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s, I grew up on Spielberg, I grew up on Cameron. Terminator 2 to me is the ultimate tone for a movie. And if you actually broke down Terminator 2 as a filmmaker and said what are the elements, you would go ‘that sounds ridiculous’. Austrian robot from the future comes back naked, goes into a biker bar, takes some dude’s leather chaps and sunglasses, puts them on at night, to ‘Bad To The Bone’, on the steps of that place, then gets on a bike and rides off. His co-star is a kid who doesn’t act, and at the end of this he gives you the thumbs up as he’s dying and you find yourself weeping. Figure that out, how ridiculous does that sound, Mr Cameron? I was one of those kids going ‘Oh my god, this is the best movie ever!’ So, people are like ‘Rampage – that’s ridiculous’, and I’m like Terminator 2 probably sounded ridiculous too. By the way, Transformers probably sounded ridiculous and how much money did that go and make? You have to have this internal compass that inspires you, that guides what you are passionate about, what do you believe in, and as a filmmaker that’s where I feel like I now deserve film-by-credit because I did that. Because I did that – I made that not-so-ridiculous, or the right amount of ridiculous. But it’s because I grew up in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s.
Rampage is in cinemas from April 12, 2018