The director talks about his stars Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner in the action flick
There probably aren't too many times you put the names Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher in the same phrase - of course, unless someone is getting Punk'd. But that will all change with their new film, The Guardian.
The two star in the action film that follows a Coast Guard team of rescue swimmers. Ashton plays the 'punk' kid who enlists in the program to escape his past life; he's befriended by Kevin, the veteran of the team, and shown the real ways of the water.
The Guardian is directed by Andy Davis, who last took on Shia LaBeouf in Holes. Before that, he's helmed the action flicks The Fugitive, Under Siege, and Chain Reaction, plus the suspense drama, A Perfect Murder.
We spoke with Andy to find out what it was like to return to the action scene and work with Ashton and Kevin on this film in and out of the Bering Sea in Alaska. You may be surprised to find out how much in common Andy has to the water.
Check out how our conversation went:
Holes took you in a different direction from where we had seen you, what made you want to go back to the action side?
Andy Davis: Well, you always get pegged. My first movie was a coming-of-age story about musicians in Chicago called Stony Island, and after that I did Code of Silence and that made a lot of money. And so the studios want you to do things that make money, but my intention in life was not to be an 'action' director. I was a journalism major, and I like to do movies that have some kind of relevance and some kind of historical context. Holes was a departure, but it was the kind of movie I've wanted to make for a long time. I felt that this script was about real heroes, and it was not about killing people; it was about saving lives, it was about the best of what we want to think of our government and our protective forces should be. And I also wanted take on the challenge of making a film in the Bering Sea that was realistic. I don't think I've seen any films that have captured what it was like to be in the water, and in fact, I don't think anyone has ever photographed anyone swimming at night in the Bering Sea.
Did you know what kind of actor Shia was when you worked with him in Holes?
Andy Davis: I knew very quickly that he was extremely special. His talent has nothing to do with his age, and Jon Voight and I talked about that a lot. I look forward to working with Shia again; I think that the success of Holes was a lot based on finding a kid who could play Stanley Yelnats. I described him then as a cross between Dustin Hoffman and Gene Wilder.
What were the challenges to doing shots like that?
Andy Davis: Absolutely; you have to create a world that is totally believable, because the sea becomes our alien in some ways - it's the monster of the story; mother nature is the beauty and the beast. People have to deal with it, and our characters, at least the ones in Kodiak, that's they're job. So we went about trying to put together a team of people that could help create this environment. We ultimately designed a wave-making tank that was very unique, and never been done before; we created a postage stamp piece of the Bering Sea. It would create 6 ½ foot waves and when you turned on the fans, and the midnight sun, and the fans that were a part of this, it became exactly what this is - the Bering Sea in the height of a storm. One of the Coast Guard legends, a guy named Bob Watson, he worked with us on the movie as a rescue swimmer - when we turned on our tank at night, he turned to me and said, 'I'm getting goose bumps, this is so real.' So that was a real challenge, and then trying to get our actors to work in that kind of environment. You put Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner in that water and have them play scenes and there was a lot of training and a lot of safety and a lot of preparation for that. We would shoot all night long and have 10-12 people in the water for the entire night.
Do you think you needed to shoot in the Bering Sea if you had the tank?
Andy Davis: The tank was just for the people, the faces, and the bodies; we had to shoot in Kodiak. We had an aerial crew, and we had a base in Oregon where the Coast Guard trains, survival boat crews, where they teach the rescue swimmers how to deal with how to jump into volatile oceans. You have to put yourself in it; I've always been hesitant about doing digital movies. I come from a documentary background. When we shot The Fugitive, we really crashed a train; we took a real train and crashed it. We've always felt that the best way to approach things is make it as real as possible.
You went all over the country for this movie; what would you say is the best place you went?
Andy Davis: We were in New Orleans when the storm hit, and we had to relocate the picture for three days. I thought Oregon was beautiful, I thought Kodiak was beautiful; we were on the Oregon and Washington border, it was called Cape Disappointment and that's where the Columbia River hits the Pacific Ocean - that's sort of infamous for ship tragedies.
How did Ashton and Kevin come up as your two leads?
Andy Davis: Both of them had been interested in the project for a long time. When I came on, I met with Ashton right away, and I was just impressed with what kind of human being he was, and how charismatic he was, and how eager he was to do this kind of movie. And I thought he was going to be great. Kevin is someone I've wanted to work with for a long time, he's a real pro, and he represents the next generation Paul Newman in terms of his acting ability, and his leading man qualities. I just felt really blessed that I was going to have these two handsome, masculine, and great acting guys. Ashton is someone who's know for being a comedic actor, what he's done in this movie is going to astound people in terms of the range of his performance. And Kevin - I'm not going to take credit for it even though several people have said they think this is the best acting he's ever done, and he's had quite a career. It's about a man coming to the end of his career and facing that reality, and a young man learning about what it means to be a hero and a legend and finding a father figure he may not have had.
How did you break the tension while you were shooting the serious scenes?
Andy Davis: We brought in the real guys; we were in boot camp for two weeks and the guys who ran that boot camp were the senior members of the Coast Guard swim program. Master Chief Butch Flythe; he was one of the original swimmers that had set up the school; he was part of our team. And then, Bob Watson, and John Hall, who went down to Katrina while we were in our pre-production meeting cause he had to leave to help in the rescues down there. These guys were in the school, and they set it up like the real school. We asked students to be in the class who were athletes to be in the school, Olympic divers, actors who were in good shape; we had 22 kids in the class and they did a boot camp that was very, very serious. They had to get in shape, and learn what it meant to be in the Coast Guard, how to tow people do all the exercises to learn what it was like. And that was very serious. But did they laugh at the end of the day, after work, after the camp was over - yes. There was a certain humorous quality of how they run the camp, in sort of dry humor.
Did you join in and learn to swim like the actors?
Andy Davis: I'm a pretty good swimmer; I was in the water, I used to be a lifeguard when I was younger. And I know what it takes to tow someone 1500 yards with all the gear on; I don't know if I want to do that. But I have a long history with the water; I grew up in Chicago by the lake, and when I was four years old, I learned to swim from the head of the Chicago lifeguard. I taught water skiing later when I was in college, so my connection to the water is very strong, and I felt that this was very strong for me.
What will you be doing next for you?
Andy Davis: A long vacation. I'm working on a lot of different things, and I'm going to decide in the next three or four months what I'm going to do. This has been about two years of pretty grueling work. I'm kind of challenged to do something again on the water, because this was very exciting and I'm encouraged to do that again. At the same time, I'd like to go back and do another family.
At the end of our chat, Andy just wanted to make sure everyone knew how hard his two leads worked, and how much respect he has for them. He said, "Just to summarize, Kevin and Ashton work their butts off in this movie; they really worked hard. And based upon the reaction we've been getting from the picture, their performances are pretty incredible and the context of the story and the characters, we're getting really great responses to them and their story line. So I hope they get the proper attention they disserve."
You can see Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner in The Guardian in theaters September 29th; it's rated PG-13.