The Director talks about making the movie, working with Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner, and what really happened on the set of The Running Man

With credits such as Above the Law, The Fugitive, and Collateral Damage to his name, director Andrew Davis makes what can best be called thinking person's action films. He recently sat down with us to discuss his most recent effort, The Guardian starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher.

In the film, famed Coast Guard Rescue swimmer (Kevin Costner) is re-assigned to teach at the legendary Coast Guard A School and inspires one cocky rookie (Ashton Kutcher) to learn the true meaning of heroism and sacrifice.

What attracted you to the story of The Guardian?

Andrew Davis: This is about a group of men and women who have been really unrecognized. I thought the idea of doing a film where you deal with the coming of the end of your career, how you face that is very relevant, especially for me, someone who's part of the war baby generation. As Kevin and I are reaching those ages I thought it was very relevant to do a story about that. Also, the passing of what you've learned in life to the next generation is an important thing. We all have mentors an teachers and think that learning from someone is an important part of growing up. There was a human element to the story that was very interesting to me. I happen to be someone who's grown up in and around the water all my life. I was born a block from Lake Michigan in Chicago, I was a lifeguard, I was a water-ski instructor and I'm a sailor now. There were things about the ocean that have always been fascinating to me.

I've always sort of shied away from doing big visual effects movies. When I thought about the possibilities with today's technology, my interest of documentaries, of integrating those two and creating a really lifelike environment of the sea and the storm was really challenging to me.

Where the action scenes on the water the most difficult part of this movie's production?

Andrew Davis: Well, some of the stuff that we did had never been done before. Normally, they don't have wave tanks and wave machines there that can create the ferocity of the tank we built. We were sort of treading new water, you know? Once we developed the technique and saw that it would work, it became sort of easy, literally because we could turn on the tank and we could go about our business. The actual shoot was very complicated. There were safety issues, there was treating people in a humane way, being in the water, banging around all night long. Even though we were in Louisiana the temperatures were very cold outside. There were safety issues involving hardware over people's heads, wind machines, and all kinds of lighting issues, so it was very complicated doing the water stuff, but we approached it in a very methodical way. I had a great team of people around me to pull it off and guarantee it's safety.

Is there something about the action in movies like The Guardian, and even The Fugitive that draws you to them?

Andrew Davis: I don't know. I started off as a director of photography and I was around a lot of action as a cameraman. It became a part of what moviemaking was to me as a young filmmaker. I think going to a movie which takes you someplace that you normally don't go to, or lets you witness something that you normally don't see is part of the journey of going to a movie. The train crash in The Fugitive was a really important sequence to get right. We worked on that and I think it became what people remember about that movie. It was a very important, critical character point of this man escaping.

In The Guardian, I think showing the heroism of these characters, and what they have to go through to do their job properly, is an important fabric of their character. The action of itself isn't attractive to me. When it's part of the development of the character then it means something to me, and I can get behind it. I don't think I've done a lot of car chases and things like that.

What was it like working with Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher?

Andrew Davis: It was terrific. They both were very congenial. They worked very hard to be prepared for these difficult character parts. Ashton trained for many months, getting in shape. He became a terrific swimmer. I think the guys in the Coast Guard, we worked with these legends, they felt that he was good enough to become an actual swimmer by the end of the show. He was very much a leader within the class itself. We had Olympic swimmers around him, and he was able to keep up with the best of them. Kevin really brought a maturity and wisdom, it's part of who he is as person in terms of his career, to be a very believable Senior Chief. We had the real guys with him and they felt he was carrying himself in such a way that he was very believable in that role.

Can you talk at all about the work you did or tried to do on The Running Man?

Andrew Davis: Well, it was a very political situation. I think I was the fourth director working on the fifth draft of the movie. They had hired and fired a bunch of people before me. The producer was a frustrated director. I had done Code of Silence before that, and Arnold had loved that movie and wanted me to work with him. When we got into it, they just said, "You just direct, we'll take care of everything." On the tenth day of shooting the clothes weren't ready, there was a lot of stuff that wasn't ready and they were scrambling to figure out how to keep the production going. Originally, the budget was $16 million and I think it wound up being $24 million. I was getting less time and less money...

They decided they couldn't control the costs because of what was going on with the production. I shot maybe a week and a half and all of my stuff wound up in the trailer. They talked Arnold into replacing me and then later on he was very upset because he felt that he got screwed, and he wanted me to do another movie with him which I did later on. I feel that I sort of landed on my feet afterwards and was able to continue with my career... the producer wound up getting fired from the movie anyway.

What are you working on next?

Andrew Davis: I'm working on a couple of different projects. One's involving the story of a father and a daughter who literally go around the world together; finding the wonders of the world after their mother dies. It's called The Year of Wonders. We're just starting to work on it now. It's a very moving story about what does it mean to celebrate life when you lose somebody? It's more of an adventure than I would say an action film. I'm also in discussions with a wonderful book called The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle.

The Guardian comes to DVD on January 23 from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

Dont't forget to also check out: The Guardian

Evan Jacobs