“Killer Elite,” which takes place in the 1980s, is a movie about international political intrigue, betrayal and lots of intense action. Jason Statham plays Danny Bryce, an ex-mercenary who is forced out of retirement when his mentor simply known as Hunter (played by Oscar winner Robert De Niro) is held hostage under the orders of an ousted Middle Eastern king.
Danny is told that he must assassinate a number of former Special Air Service men or else Hunter will be killed. The former SAS men are being protected by a fellow ex-SAS agent named Spike Logan (played by Clive Owen). It’s not long before Danny and Spike are headed for a showdown, and of course there are casualties along the way. In these interviews, Owen and Statham talked about their “Killer Elite” experiences.
Interview with Clive Owen
What attracted you to “Killer Elite”?
Owen: It’s always the same things that attract me to make movies: the script and the director. I read the script. I liked the script. I thought it was a very unusual and original spy movie, really. It had some very cool action, but it was rooted in this very unusual, real world.
It was these guys who were ex-Special Forces who were living very much in the real world. It felt like a real spy story. And then I saw Gary [McKendry, director of “Killer Elite”], what he was nominated for, and I thought it was really impressive. And then I had a number of conversations about his vision for the film and decided I wanted to do it.
What can you say about your Spike Logan character?
Owen: I play a character called Spike, who’s ex-SAS [Special Air Service]. And something has happened. He’s obviously damaged his eye, and he’s left the Special Forces but still feel very much like he wishes he was involved. And he’s part of this clandestine group that meets and protects members of the SAS and their families and people who have left [the SAS].
And basically, they begin to suspect that some of their men are being targeted. They don’t quite know why, and they don’t quite know who’s doing it, but certain people have been around asking questions about certain operations that the SAS were involved in. And he begins to set up counter-intelligence amongst the SAS guys, who are now trying to find out what’s going on and try to prevent their guys from being killed, really.
What did you do to prepare for the role?
Owen: Luckily, I know a few ex-SAS guys, so I could pick their brains a bit. And I had a couple of meetings with an SAS consultant, a guy who’d been in the SAS for 25 years. The interesting thing is he’s ex-SAS, which is what I was playing. It was fascinating, really, just to pick his brains about the whole selection process for the SAS.
I had no idea what that was like, just to hear how rigorous that is and how very few people pass that test/procedure. It’s pretty much how people are showing themselves to be incredibly adept and skilled, and sort of selected and put through this process, where a lot of them are eliminated, and only a very few get through. So he taught me all about that whole process.
And also, he was a great explainer of what it’s like to be ex-SAS. There’s something about this film that covers what’s the most interesting aspect for me, playing this part and why I wanted to explore it: When a guy has been highly trained and highly skilled, and has been in such extraordinary, intense situations, lots of situations where it’s life or death, to suddenly try to let that go and try and live a normal life, what that is and how people are, what a lack of understanding there must be from anybody else who hasn’t been through that, about what they’ve been through.
How would you describe the fight sequences in “Killer Elite”?
Owen: There’s a couple of very big fights that I’m involved in, in this film. They’ve got a really fantastic stunt team. I’d say it’s the best I’ve ever worked with. It just requires a few hours a day for quite a few weeks to get on top of that.
It’s not the sort of thing that you can wing and turn up on set and work out. It’s very specific. It’s like acting. It’s like doing dialogue. It’s about rhythm. It’s about precision.
You’ve got to execute something very specific. And you’ve got to be ready and prepared to do it. And it certainly helps if the team around you, the stunt team are very experienced and very skilled — and these were.
There’s something very satisfying about doing fights in movies because they’re very specific. The lines of what you have to execute are very clear. It’s like there are beats on certain things. It’s about precision, and it’s very clear, the objective.
It’s different with dialogue, because there are so many different ways you can interpret things. But with a good fight, it’s very clear what you’ve got to try and execute. And I find that quite satisfying.
Can you describe what it was like working with “Killer Elite” director Gary McKendry?
Owen: I’ve had a really great time working with Gary, the director. It’s his first feature, and there’s always a risk involved when you work with a director who’s never directed a feature before. I’d seen his short film [“Everything in This Country Must”], and I loved it. And I liked him a lot when I met him and spoke to him about the movie and about his vision for it. But you never know until you start shooting how the thing will pan out.
I’ve had a really great time with him, and I’ve been hugely impressed with him. He is incredibly prepared, always have a good perspective. Where you position a camera on a movie can tell as much of the story as dialogue can in the script, just in terms of where you’re coming at the characters and coming at the story. And his visual eye is really impeccable and his choice of shots of where to put the camera.
He’s not one of those directors who comes in and tries to find his way through the scene. He comes in with a very clear idea about how he wants to tell this bit of the movie. And I find him a great collaborator, easy to work with, and I’m sure this is the beginning of a lot of features [for him].
Can you summarize the plot of “Killer Elite”?
Owen: Jason plays a character who is basically a hired assassin. His best friend and mentor has been captured and has been will be killed unless he does this. And he basically pulls a group together and targets these ex-SAS guys who did an operation that somebody wants them killed [for], because of what they did.
And I play a character who is ex-SAS, who begins to realize that our people have been targeted. And I put together a group, counter to what they’re doing. So it’s a spy movie that has lots of good action in it, but it is based on a very real world and a real ‘80s film. It’s a period film, and it feels like a spy movie, but a real one.
For people who don’t know, who are the Feather Men in “Killer Elite”?
Owen: My character Spike is part of a group called the Feather Men, who are a group of ex-SAS people who wield a lot of power that are there really to protect the interests of SAS people or ex-SAS people and their families. And it’s a very secret, clandestine group that meets. And they have agendas. They look after their own, basically.
And I basically play their guy on the street, really. They’re very established people that have got strong attachments to the military, and I’m very much the guy on the streets who is hearing the things and sorting the things and can enlist ex-SAS members to help do this. So they’re a very sort of strange, secret group.
Interview with Jason Statham
How would you describe your “Killer Elite” character Danny Bryce?
Statham: We find Danny in a part of the world where he’s finding his retirement quite cushy. He’s dragged back into a situation to free his mentor, played by Robert De Niro, who’s being held hostage at the time. And if [Danny] doesn’t take on the job, Robert De Niro dies. So it’s a situation that is out of his control and that he has to do.
What was your favorite scene with Robert De Niro?
Statham: It’s hard to choose your moments. The whole experience was probably the best I’ve had, in terms of my career. To single out a particular scene would be difficult. But if I could say that every single scene with Robert De Niro would be the most memorable, I wouldn’t be far from the truth. [He laughs.]
Can you describe “Killer Elite” director Gary McKendry?
Statham: For someone dhow doesn’t come with 20 years of experience, he shows the signs of someone with more than that. His confidence is unbreakable. I think this guy is just someone to be reckoned with.
What did you do to train for your role in “Killer Elite”?
Statham: We’re always doing special training. I wouldn’t say “special training.” I know how to hold a gun. The physical preparation is going to happen. I do it for every movie. The stunt training and the choreography, you’ve just got to have the right people with you.
How would you summarize the plot of “Killer Elite”?
Statham: A lot of the films we see now in the movie theaters, they’re just pure fantasy. It’s all about the explosions, the action. There are no characters in them that you care about. [“Killer Elite”] is about real people doing real things and trying to overcome a situation. And I think there’s a lot to be said for that. If you can tie that dramatic situation in with action, then I think you’ve got a great film.
For more info: “Killer Elite” website
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