THE GUARDIAN - Q&A with director Andrew Davis
Movie Review by Clyde Baehr
In 1993 Davis' film THE FUGITIVE was nominated for seven Oscars, winning best supporting actor for Tommy Lee Jones. After such success many directors become household names but strangely not Davis. The following films were unfortunately poor and terrorist actioner COLLATERAL DAMAGE poorly timed. In 2003 children's film HOLES showed us another side of Davis and was a critical success. His new film THE GUARDIAN sees a return to the action genre and a return to form.
Andrew Davis is balding and has a neatly trimmed white beard that makes him look like a cross between Rob Reiner and Brian De Palma. He is cheerful, polite, confident, dislikes TOP GUN and loves Ashton Kutcher.
Your leading man Kevin Costner is himself an accomplished director. Did you have to set ground rules or did it work in your favour?
In this situation it worked for me. Kevin said to me early on, "You have visual skills I don't have. I wouldn't even know how to begin to make this movie." I think he respected my work. This movie was not a fat schedule, it was 62 days it took someone who understood what I was going to have to go through to try and work out our schedule and budget. He was very supportive. He's a filmmaker and they know what it takes to get the days work done. And he has been in the water before. So he was very supportive of the process, as an actor he was very supportive of the other actors.
Was Ashton Kutcher a hard sell to the studio, given his romantic comedy background?
When I got the script I immediately met with Ashton because he had been interested in the project and the studio had not committed to him yet. I met with him and immediately knew that he was the right kid. He's smart, charismatic, has a great following and he's good looking. He's very devoted; he is one of the hardest working young men in Hollywood. He's a huge television producer. I knew he was going to get himself into the kind of condition and work to become this character. The manual for the Coast Guard training program is about this thick (he gestures the size of a Yellow Pages,) and he studied it backwards.
He's an athlete, he plays football, and was so committed to doing this that he hired a trainer and started swimming even before he had the part. I've worked with first timers before, you have a sense of whether they're going to be comfortable doing the part and I knew that Ashton was going to work very hard. I couldn't think of anybody better.
There must be tremendous pressure with a movie like this when your leading men are regularly in dangerous conditions. How do you feel being responsible for their safety?
You start by saying "We don't want to hurt anybody." I've been very lucky to be supported by very responsible people. As Robert Altman says "It's only a movie."
We studied the Bering Sea, we saw how violent it is and we knew that we needed to create a little postage stamp size piece of it. There are always stunt people, doubles, safety people within grasp of them if something were to happen. It was a controlled environment that we made look very chaotic. That's not to say something couldn't have gone wrong. If you have someone hanging on a wire, going through the rigging of a moving boat on a gimble with eighty mile an hour winds and spray and lights in their faces. We could hardly talk to each other it was so noisy and violent.
As special effects become more advanced do you find yourself more inspired on set or are you more inclined to leave something to post production?
It's a double-edged sword. For THE FUGITIVE we crashed a real train. Today we wouldn't even think of doing that - well I would. The studio wouldn't. You become someone who is not in touch with the movie, its layer upon layer of special effects. Special effects teams and visual effects supervisors are actually creating the movie.
In this situation I felt that I could try to achieve a documentary reality with the special effects. There was no other way to do it. We couldn't go into the Bering Sea at night and put our crew and actors in this environment. Bill Mesa our visual effects supervisor did an amazing job duplicating what those storms were like. There was always wind, there was always cable pulling somebody up, there were always reality of that storm even though we were on set.
How do you feel about comparisons to TOP GUN?
TOP GUN was not a movie that I liked that much, I said right up front "I don't want to make TOP GUN out of this. Whenever you have a military environment where people are trained and pushed to their limits, and need to get away on the weekend to a bar, and have someone grinding them who winds up ultimately respecting them you are going to have similar relationships. What the big difference is that this is a film about people whose sole purpose is saving lives. They are not trained to bomb villages or kill people.
It's inevitable with a film like this to have a training montage. What made you film it in a documentary style?
That's interesting how it came about. We started boot camp. It was 102 degrees; kids were peeling off to the side with exhaustion. I asked my assistant and a couple of young videographers to document what was going on. There was a certain grittiness and reality of these kids being pushed as hard as they were that it was going to be hard to duplicate with 200 people standing round. It was documentary footage, video footage and because of the ability to integrate that with the film we felt; why not use it? That was real Coast Guard training from Elizabeth City.
It's the story of a man that is so committed to his work that he's abandoned his relationship to his wife. Sela (Ward), Kevin (Costner) and I talked about the back-story being he promised her ten years of being healthy, being out of the coast guard and do something, and he has never given that to her. I think one of the lessons he passes on to Ashton's character is that you have to find some balance in your life.
Is movie-making tougher in an age when a film's future is dependent on the opening weekend?
It is. It's much tougher. When I first started in this business Roger Corman would design a poster and say make that movie. We could make little movies and they would play in a few drive-ins and a few theatres. Today you want to make a small movie and the reality is to get it out to the world you have to spend five or six times the budget of the movie to tell people it exists. It is a lot of pressure. THE FUGITIVE opened in August and played through December. Unheard of today. You have five or six weeks to make your money back and there are three movies opening with you that weekend. I think the movies have become advertisements for the DVDs and television sales.
What projects do have planed for the future?
I'm very inspired now to do period movies. There is a project involving a blend of 'Tom Jones' and 'Don Quixote' that I'm involved in. We'll have to create Barcelona in 1604. TOM JONES was one of my favourite movies as a young man, I don't know how it holds up today but when I saw it I thought this is why I should be in the movies.