Rebecca Murray of About.com: I'm wondering, was there ever a point where they almost gave you an NC-17 on this?
Wayne Kramer: Uh, yeah
RM: How did you keep them from doing that?
WK: You know, you can negotiate with them and say, 'Look, you're being too harsh. The film's going to be darker than what you're seeing.' What tends to happen is you become so cynical of the MPAA that you over-shoot your movie to some degree. And you kind of like throw your first cut out there and see what sticks and what pisses them off. And you know the one thing I can say is that I ended up with the cut I wanted of the film. It's an R-rated film—that's great. On any given day, because they're so arbitrary, they could have decided to be NC-17. I think I just caught them in a good mood, a good time of the month. (Laughs.)
RM: Was there any interference from studio or production companies or anything to try to cut back on either the violence or the nudity or anything?
WK: No, not really. Even when we sold the film to New Line, there was really never an issue about that. Initially the financing company had some reservations about the pedophile scene. But I said, 'No, this is going to be a winner," you know?—
Paul Walker: That's my favorite scene.
WK: And we stuck by it. But everybody who bought into this movie knew it was going to be a very sort of ballsy experience.
RM: Yeah, in the production notes, it says that you think this character is closer to Paul than anything else he's played. Is that really a quote from you?
RM: And why do you think so?
WK: Because he's a tough MO, you know? I like to say he's not the laidback sort of surfer. I mean he is that guy on some level but he's not really. He's a tough guy. I would not like to be on the wrong side of him in a barroom fight. People think they're going to stand up to him. It's like the Sean Connery as James Bond thing - people always challenging him. And I think if people decide they're going to challenge the guy from The Fast and the Furious or one of these lighter comedies he's done or something, I think they're going to find they're facing down Sean Connery.
PW: You're just creating a whole bunch more trouble for me by saying it.
RM: Well, you know, how do you feel about that? I mean, do you feel this character's closer to you than what you've played?
PW: Yeah, I think he's probably the closest thing to me, to be honest with you. I mean the opposite is what, East Coast/West Coast thing? But I think attitude and that sort of thing, I think, you know, there's no way I would have gone at it if I didn't feel like there's a lot of me in it. There's definitely more of me in it than not. And I think on the outside what people see and what I present, especially when I'm doing press. Or what they've seen in movies, they've seen the friendly like nice guy, which, yeah, I like to think that I am. But I definitely have a dark side. I think everybody does.
RM: Oh yeah.
Groucho: In some ways, though, it's probably the most challenging work you've done, which has got to be very exciting. How did you prepare, including—from the ground up—the accent—
G: The physicality of the character—
PW: My lifestyle is active, attitude is attitude, whether you're a West Coast gangster or East Coast gangster, you know? I grew up in the Valley and, you know, it's mixed racially, also. I had Latino friends. I had black friends. And they thought they were thugs. A lot of them weren't half the thug they thought they were, always getting into trouble. But I know the attitude, you know. I know the personality. My dad's a biker. I mean, all the guys he comes around, most of them got priors. They're been in and out of the joint, you know? Those are the guys I grew up around, so there's a lot to pull from. And then, you know, I worked with Chazz Palminteri. He was in this movie; I worked with him on Noel. You know, he's got his mobster crew buddies out there, and—
WK: Arthur Nascarella was a great source.
PW: Yeah, Arthur. I had guys to pull from at any given time. If there was ever a time I wasn't comfortable with what I had to say, they were right there. They were the bullshit police for me, which was great. And I grew up on gangster movies. I loved the mobsters, man. I mean growing up as a kid it was cowboys and Indians and it was mobsters. I mean, that's an American childhood, you know? (Laughs.) Those are the movies you grew up on.
G: Well, I wanted to ask both of you about kind of the hard-R sensibility you share, and maybe what were some of the seminal films in that respect. And also, following up on that, there's a theme in the film, I think, of the satisfaction of revenge that's very visceral, and I wonder what are your feelings about the interaction you get there with an audience.
WK: Well, you know, I've always said that this film is very interactive. I mean, I've been to a couple of audience screenings, and I can tell you the beats where they start like talking back to the screen. You know, the whole pedophile scene, you can just start to feel sort of the anxiety building and sort of the silent chanting, which then becomes vocal like, "Do it, do it. Do it!" You know what I mean? And I totally miss these kinds of movies that are these visceral, adrenaline-rush experiences because Hollywood has become about the PG-13, watered-down film. And I remember growing up and seeing The Warriors. Or even 48 Hours was a tough movie. You know, we think of it more as comedic today, but that was an R-rated—just on language itself. And the Peckinpah stuff and Scarface, which is a classic. And I felt like the momentum of a movie like Carlito's Way, you know having to make it through the night and stuff like that. Dirty Harry or, you know, the Don Siegel films.
G: There's a Bronson one-off line.
WK: Oh yeah. It's definitely got a Charles Bronson vibe. And I don't want to sound cheesy at all here when I mention this example of a movie that kind of seemed like wired through my brain on a subconscious level, but it was a Steven Seagal movie, Out for Justice, you know where it takes place over the course of a night, and he's got to find the guy who's killed his buddy. And I'll tell you, that is a bad-ass movie, that movie. Young audiences—
PW: I like Steven Seagal, shit.
G: There's no shame in that.
WK: To me that was the last like really real movie he made. I mean, they called it Out for Justice, but I remember that movie's original title was The Price of Our Blood. I thought that would have been a much better title.
RM: Now without giving anything away, was the ending that we saw last night the only ending you shot or was there an alternate version?
WK: No, I get asked that question a lot, and it was the only ending. And, it's interesting. In retrospect I've questioned whether that was the approach. But you know what? In the moment, in watching that movie it's such a brutal sort of—you know, the audience just gets thrashed around and dragged through this. And I always felt as a filmmaker, and I knew I made the right decision again last night, that it's so intense an experience to just end up in a dark place, where for the sake of being very noir about it or something like that, I just think would have worked against this film because of how much you're rooting for this guy and the situation. And enough people, enough blood gets spilled, and it's kind of like a dark fairy tale. I do think it ends kind of well, but probably with scars, emotionally. I mean, we don't know where that relationship is going and a lot of things, so it really was the only ending. But it could have worked definitely in another way, and it was just—I know a lot of people probably think, well, this is the studio forcing me to take that approach, but I do tend to be a kind of a resolved-ending kind of guy. And you know if, and I say this, if a certain revelation was not made toward the end of the movie, I think a darker ending might have been more fitting for it, you know.
G: You also mentioned, I think, that the ending of the film is a release after so much pent-up, almost claustrophobic intensity.
WK: Yeah, it's a really intense experience that—even I as the filmmaker who has lived with this film for a long time—when I see it I feel the audience going through it. I mean it really takes no prisoners in its approach. It's a very—I liken the film to kind of like a primal scream. Once Paul's character realizes what's happening it's just bam, bam, bam, you know? And I love watching his performance in the movie. It's the most exciting thing for me about the film because there's a crazy madness that plays in his eyes, where he's just crossed the line at some point. And he's in this woman's apartment, she's holding the baby, and he's yelling in her face. I really believe this man is fighting to save his life and his future and his family and everything else. It's the intensity that Paul brings to it that I doubt another actor could have come through the door with.
RM: Paul, did you take this guy home with you at the end of the night?
PW: Every night.
RM: Really. How did you live with that?
PW: I've never been the guy that brought anything home but when you're forced to just reach certain levels. I mean, the only way to sell adrenaline and flying high is just to go there. You live it day in and day out. You can't shut that off. I'd go home trembling. A girl friend of mine came up to visit and she planned on spending some time with me. She spent four days with me and went home. She's like, "You're just too intense." I couldn't relax.
WK: Every scene you see him doing on screen, he's doing ten times on the day, you know? So the amount of adrenaline he's having to manufacture, it's amazing.
G: And Paul, you're a parent. I wonder what that brought to your experience of playing this character, because you don't get to play parents too often on screen.
PW: My family's really close. My father's like—growing up as a kid, let's put it this way. You know kids. As boys, you would engage "Oh, my dad's tougher than your dad. My dad has a shotgun. Oh, my dad has this," you know? I wouldn't even engage. I was like, "My dad would kill every one of your dads." I just—I knew it, you know?
PW: My father's a protector. My father's old-school. He's a cowboy. He's not much of a—you know, when it comes to words of wisdom and just the pat on the back, he's not very good. He's a drill sergeant. He's a Vietnam Vet. I mean, you get—this is the mentality, this is the household I came up in. And, uh, so when I see it, I mean it's like—hey, look: people are going to think I'm sick and I'm twisted, but when I read it, I don't think that there was anything that was unjustified. I'm sorry: this guy dug himself a hole, and he dug his family a hole in the process. He'll be damned if anything is going to happen to him. And besides, who's he smokin'? Who's he whacking along the way? They're bad guys. The world isn't going to miss them. You know? So the whole way I'm going, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, do it!" I'm reading this thing, I'm going, "Yeah, fucking kill that guy!" The pedophiles? If she didn't smoke 'em, c'mon! That's my favorite scene in the movie, and the best thing about it is that the people that don't get it, absolutely hate it. They go, "That scene just completely came out of left field." I'm like, "You're missing the point because that's the whole idea." That's my favorite scene. When I read it I said to Wayne, I said to Vera [Farmiga], I said, "I'm so jealous of you. That's the most memorable scene in this whole movie."
G: Did you feel paternal to your young co-stars at all?
PW: Oh yeah, especially to the parents. I mean, they signed on to it knowing what they're getting themselves into, but still, you know, that's got to be tough. And so I wanted to make it very clear that "I understand what's going on here, and I understand that you've accepted the environment that basically your kids are going to be in for the next while, but just know that I'm sensitive to it. And I'm great with kids. I come from a huge family. I got nieces, nephews. I'm Peter Pan, shit. I feel like I'm twelve, thirteen years old anyway—"
PW: "So I'm going to get along just fine with these kids." And so my whole point was—and I thought it was really important—it's like, you know, "Let's stay focused, and let's—" We have a job at hand here, but I'm sensitive to the fact that these kids are out of school, they're away from their friends. I've got a football. I've got a soccer ball. I got everything. And you know what? And it's good too because I establish, I build a rapport with these kids; I want them to feel comfortable around me. And, hey, who's to say Joey Gazelle wouldn't go toss the football with Oleg anyways, so it all plays in.
G: That neighborhood feel.
[Wayne Kramer has stepped away.]
RM: Last night when you introduced the film, you said that this guy is a director that you'd work with again and again and again.
RM: What's so special about him?
PW: He's just such a great guy. First and foremost, that's the most important thing to me. I'll work with a great guy that maybe even hasn't proven himself before I'll work with the asshole that's sold it time and time again. But I just—you know, you live once. I want to enjoy things. To find the balance that he's got, it just—it doesn't happen. He's Fincher—he's any of those guys. I think Wayne's going to blow up. He's going to make a lot of great movies over the course of who knows how many years. I just hope to be involved in a lot of 'em. You know, I'm a pretty mellow guy. I'm pretty easy-going. I see everyone's perspective. I see everyone's side, so I'm a pretty good mediator on set when tensions are flying. That guy is tenacious and he fights. So I think we complement each other in that respect. I'm pretty good at soothing him and mellowing him out, but at the same time I want to give him just enough so when it's crunch time, and got five minutes left to get a shot, he's going, "Fuck you! I'm getting this damn shot!" I'm like going, "Yeah!" in the back. I'm rooting—but at the same time when I see it getting out of control I can step up and go, "Hey, look. Na na na na na na na."
RM: Yeah, cool.
PW: I think we work well together. Nobody messes with this guy's movie.
RM: And as the writer, he's got, you know—
PW: Nobody messes with his movie.
Mario Anima of Fanboy Planet: Can you touch back on the balance you were speaking of in regards to the children. The themes in the film are very dark. You know, you're dealing with pedophilia, with mass amounts of violence—you know, it's an interesting contrast that you also have another film out, Eight Below—
MA: And I'm kind of curious—how did you deal with balancing those two different roles. One's a very family film—
PW: Mm-hm—Well, I did Running Scared—what?—close to two years ago now.
PW: Wayne cut together the trailer for AFM [Ed. American Film Market], trying to sell the damn thing. I was so excited, hot off the presses, I run home, I show my mother. She just about started crying. She says to me, "You know what would be great? If you could make a movie that you can take your nieces and nephews—not to mention your daughter—to." Two weeks later, to the day, Disney offered me the Eight Below script. Fuck, I didn't want to go make Snow Dogs.
MA: Yeah, yeah.
PW: I've already seen that. And when I read it I was like, "Oh my god, this is Old Yeller." And I liked it and I got it, so I was like, "Hell with it." And I get 'em off the hook. Tomorrow I get to take my daughter, all my nieces and nephews, the whole family to the premiere. It's one premiere I'm actually looking forward to going to. This is the first time, to be honest with you.
RM: So what was it like working with all the dogs?
PW: It was great. It was cool. I mean, I love dogs. If you like dogs, you get it. If you don't, you don't get it, you know?
[Paul Walker is pulled away, and Wayne Kramer returns.]
RM: He was talking about working with you, and you're really tenacious, and he kind of felt like he balanced out when you were kind of going for it. Do you think that you guys were a good combination together?
WK: Yeah, You know, I loved working with him because, as a director, he's completely supportive of my vision of what the film is. And even better, he's completely game for it. You know, here's certain actors I might have started down the path with had I done the movie with them, and as the movie gets more and more intense, I think they might have backed down and said, "Uh, Wayne, I think this is a little extreme." What I love about him is he just goes for it. And every time I thought he'd come to me behind the camera after the scene and go, "You know, I think we're crossing the line here" or something, he'd be like—he'd be like—come over to me and he'd go, [conspiratorially] "This is so fucked up," and he'd be like, you know, laughing. We'd be like conspiring together. I mean, I don't think anyone should take this movie seriously. There are subtexts to it about violence and children getting exposed to violence and parenting issues and the evils of this world, but at the end of the day, it's gritty entertainment. It's not making too much of a political commentary on the world. And it's visceral, it's entertaining, but I don't think this violence translates into real life where somebody goes and sees Running Scared and walks into a post office and shoots down people. It's pure visceral sort of— It's not unlike a game like Grand Theft Auto, you know, where you're going through these obstacles to achieve an objective.
G: I want to commend you about the natural kid talk in the movie.
G: And just kind of ask you to speak to working with those child actors, for one thing, and also that theme that you were referring to of playing off of fairy tales and using that as a style element.
WK: Right, you know, I knew it was going to be challenging to find the right kids to be believable because if the kids did not work—I mean if it turned into Project Greenlight or something, you know, the movie would fall apart. And initially the challenge is "Is any parent out there going to let their kid do this movie?' It turned out there were a lot of them who—the parents also understood that we were not going for something exploitive in a sense that the kid was going to be uncomfortable. Even the most controversial scene in the film, you never see anyone touch a kid; you don't see a kid without their clothes on. It's really implied, but the tone is there. It's gritty and it's dark, and these kids are thrown into a violent—like it's a Grimm's fairy tale nightmare. And I thought that played really well. I mean, the subtext became more apparent to me as I was heading towards production. And I said to myself one day, 'You know what I've got here? It's a Grimm's fairy tale canvas.' Like the pimp is the Mad Hatter, and the hooker is the Blue Fairy. And the Dez and Edele house is the gingerbread house, and they're the witches. You know, and like I tried to evoke that with the silhouettes through the window in the bathroom.
G: And the music.
WK:Yeah! The music. All of it's very hallucinogenic. And using like hand-crank camera to accentuate moments of tension and violence. And just the color palettes. You know, my cinematographer James Whitaker, who worked with me on The Cooler too, I just think he does an amazing job in creating this bruised look to the film, like these damaged characters that populate this universe. But if you did not get any of that subtext, I think you still enjoy it as a straight mob thriller if you're a fan of the genre. And we do try to tie it together with the animated title sequence at the end, where it takes you back through moments of the film, but this time in a very overtly Grimms' painted way.
RM: As the writer on this, how precious are you with your words? Do you allow these guys to go off the script, any of them?
WK: Well, you know, that's the thing. As a writer-director, once I put on the director's hat, then I'm the director, and I'm going to do what's best for the scene. So I do give my actors a lot of leeway. When I want them to stick to a very particular line, I will emphasize that. But you don't get a really from-the-gut kind of performance if you try to restrain them. And one of the things about this film: it's a crazy primal scream. And if you set actors loose with no brakes, you're going to get the level of profanity, you know? I mean it was a pretty profane script to start with, but I think it doubled on screen. And that's because I'm not stepping in there in moments of extreme tension or anger and saying, "You've got to dial it down." I just want them to go with what comes out. And I think—I mean, the film is exhausting and intense, and Paul goes to such lengths, but that's because I was never putting the brakes on him. It was funny. There was an actress in a scene who came to me and said "You know, uh, I think"—she was wearing a night dress or a gown or something, and she said, "You know, is it a problem if my nipples are like kinda showing from beneath? Like you could see them." And I said, "No. Why would that be a problem?" They're so used to doing PG-13 movies where that's such a consideration, you know—? Okay, well, thanks very much.
WK: You too.