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Director Nick Powell Talks 'Primal'

08 Nov, 2019    added by : Erica Corbin
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INTERVIEWER

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English

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Screenpicks.com

Primal opens on Frank Walsh (Nic Cage), a collector of exotic animals, stalking a rare white jaguar deep in the jungle. He manages to nab the beast – nearly killing himself in the process – and it’s looking like he’ll make a fortune if he finds the right buyer.

Things turn ugly for Walsh, however, when he, his jungle cat, and a menagerie of other animals find themselves trapped on a barge with an arguably even more dangerous creature: highly-skilled political assassin, Richard Loffler. Then, all hell breaks loose when both jaguar and trained killer get out of their cages aboard the ship.

ScreenPicks spoke to director Nick Powell about making the sure-to-be-memorable action movie.

ScreenPicks: Where did the idea for the film originate?

Powell: The script had been around for a while. The writer had written the script a while back, and I was talking to a producer one day about another project and he said, “You know you’d be perfect for this project that I’ve had for a while. Do you want to read it?” And that was “Primal.” Basically, I read the project and I thought it would be a fun movie to do … a fun sort of popcorn, edge-of-your-seat, audience-pleasing genre movie.

He sent me a list of actors that they thought they could get the movie made with, one of whom I’d already worked with: [Nic Cage]. And as I was reading it, I was thinking, “Nic Cage would be perfect for this role.” … So I said, “Let me see what I can do and see if Nic is interested.” And within three days of me sending it to Nic, he was on board and there was a deal being done.

ScreenPicks: So, you two had worked together before then?

Powell: Yes, absolutely. I’d worked together Nic before in China. It was a little bit of a disaster for both of us in terms of, you know, it was a Chinese producer who ended up taking over the movie and doing something that none of us were happy with. But outside of that, we got on very well, and we said, “Listen, let’s work on something else. Let’s put that behind us and do something really good.”

ScreenPicks: Smooth sailing from there on out.

Powell: We had a number of delays before the movie started – Nic breaking his ankle in Bulgaria and hurricanes in Puerto Rico where we were filming. But all and all, I think everything came together and the movie turned out very nicely.

ScreenPicks: I didn’t realize he broke his ankle.

Powell: Not on my movie. Another movie he was filming, yeah. So, he had to take time off to go get healed [and] we were delayed. Nobody got hurt on my movie! [Laughs]

ScreenPicks: There is a lot of physical stuff going on though. A lot of fighting and gun play. Did the actors have to do any kind of special training to prepare for that?

Powell: Some of them had done quite a bit before. Nic has done a lot of fighting and gun action before in movies. So has Kevin Durand. Basically, aside from normal rehearsals and them going off and getting a little bit of gun practice with the armor and things, we didn’t have that kind of a budget unfortunately where we could send them off to boot camp for a week or two. It was one of those, “Let’s [have you] go over there, speak with the guy with the guns, make sure you’re familiar, take it apart and put it back together so that it feels really natural and familiar to you.”

All the guys were so into it that they’d be sitting there on set, sort of get the gun, take it apart, put it together, lift it up and down, just so it felt like an extension of their bodies, just like it would for someone who has been doing it as long as [their characters] had been doing it.

ScreenPicks: Speaking of training, there are a lot of animals used in the film. Were many of them real vs. CGI? And did you have to do any prep or training with the creatures?

Powell: We had a lot of real animals, mostly when they were in the cages and didn’t need much training. The only real training that went on was with the parrot. The parrot was a trained “actor” – I use the term loosely – but he was a trained actor and it was one of those things that you’ve gone through the whole procedure with the parrot trainers and then they’d go off for a day or two with them off-set and then they’d bring them back and hopefully, he’s going to do exactly what you wanted at exactly the right time — which never happened. But it was a nice thought and it was the best way to do it under the circumstances. We sat there for hours with just me and a camera and a couple of people after everyone else had gone home.

[I’d say,] “Fly to this side of the camera.”

And then they’d go, “No problem.”

Then he’d fly to the wrong side of the camera.

“OK, try again!”

Then he’d go to the wrong side. We spent hours and hours trying to get that parrot to look good in the movie. We spent so much more time on the parrot than we did on any of the actors, I can tell you.

ScreenPicks: That parrot sounds like a real diva.

Powell: It was!

ScreenPicks: What was your personal favorite part of filming?

Powell: We were on a big boat where we were filming. Part of it was budgetary constraints but I wanted it to feel very claustrophobic, I wanted it to feel very natural, with a lot of texture in the scenes. We managed to find this old, massive working barge … that was about to be ripped apart and was sitting dry docked. They were ready to start ripping it apart and we got in there and said, “Please don’t!” And we used it for all of the scenes and it brought such an authenticity to it.

Also, just having fun with the scenes. Some of the scenes that Kevin did were fun – hard work for Kevin, but fun to film. And Nic and Famke [Janssen] in some of the more dramatic scenes, some of the performances were really nice. Those are the bits I really liked.

ScreenPicks: Let’s talk about Kevin a bit. When he was plotting and on the radios moving around, he had this interesting, idiosyncratic thing where he hummed. Was that in the script or was it his choice? Or yours?

Powell: I’ve known Kevin a long time – probably 20 years – and when I got Kevin onboard, … we sat down, and because I know him very well, … we built his character. I can’t remember now if it was myself or Kevin, but I think it was Kevin who came up with the humming. I think I mentioned something to him about Robert Mitchum in “The Night of the Hunter” and how he was singing in that very scary scene.

So I went to the producers on the day of and said “Hey, if we start singing some sort of religious song – ”

And they go, “We don’t have time to clear any of this stuff, please! Maybe you can hum something.”

So, I went back to Kevin and he came up with one of those hymns from the 1920s-30s that kind of reminded us of “The Night of the Hunter” and that’s essentially where that came from.

ScreenPicks: Something about humming or singing makes everything eerier.

Powell: I think so. Because it is one of those things where your greatest villains in movies are the ones that don’t seem like villains. They’re not sneering and twirling their mustache. It’s the ones that you think, “They’re not villains. They’re nice guys.” And then, all of a sudden, you find out that they really are villains.

“Primal” is available in theaters and on-demand Friday, November 8.

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