Harry Lu takes to arms with Public Enemies

The head armorer of the film talks about his experiences on Michael Mann's new film.

Harry Lu is not a name that most fans of action films will know off-hand, but if you like filmed gunplay, you've surely come across his work. Lu has worked as an armorer or weapons consultant on a slew of Hollywood blockbusters for the past 20 years, with such films as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Mission: Impossible III and that tiny little summer film The Dark Knight as just a few films in his impressive filmography. The latest film he worked on was Michael Mann's period action-drama Public Enemies, which was just released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 8. I had the chance to talk with Lu over the phone about his time on the set of this film, and here's what he had to say.

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For those who might not know what your job entails, could you talk a bit about your job as an armorer?

Harry Lu: OK, sure. A movie armorer provides expertise in weapons, in handling, managing and maintenance for the movie production. We make sure we're in compliance with the law on the federal and state level and other jurisdictions. Sometimes, we advise the directors, the writer, the PA's, in the proper use of equipment.

With a film like Public Enemies, it must have been pretty exciting to land this gig, a period film with all these older guns.

Harry Lu: (Laughs) It's always exciting and interesting. I try to work on the more interesting ones and Public Enemies has the unique challenge in procuring the weapons of this period. I think we did a good job, with a lot of help from various people.

Was that the hardest part of the job? Just trying to find all these weapons?

Harry Lu: That actually is a challenge, but it definitely is not the hardest part. The hardest part is always to convey to the director that I'm right (Laughs). There are many experts out there that will have something to say, but without the facts backing it up. Like I said, we got some excellent help, like from the FBI and there was a museum in Indiana. We actually sent people to Arizona, to Tucson, where Dillinger was arrested. We actually had some of the antique weapons converted to look like those weapons. Those are the challenging parts, to research and get proper documentation to verify it, so we're not embarrassed in front of the audience.

What was the arsenal, so to speak, on the set like? How many guns were on the set on any given day?

Harry Lu: I think, the maximum that we would have was close to 100 weapons. Those were in Little Bohemia at the Crown Point Jail where we had the military and also that big scene at the Biograph Theater. We had a lot of Chicago P.D. and FBI agents and splinter units, so there were a lot of weapons. We had to keep track of everything and it was not easy. I had a little shuffleboard and I kind of learned that on an aircraft carrier. I had little magnets and a metal lock box so I knew where everything was at any given time. It's another challenge, yes.

Johnny Depp has been known as an actor who just immerses himself in these roles. What was it like to work with, on the weapons side? Did he have a lot of training from previous films?

Harry Lu: Johnny had previous training with other films, and you hit it on the right note. He is a very professional actor. He is dedicated and very focused in what he does. When we came to range days, he gave us 100 percent so we were able to accomplish a lot in a very short amount of time. He doesn't mess around, when it comes to safety. He's very careful and he needs to be wild, like John Dillinger was, but the moment they say "cut," his finger is off, the safety is on and the muzzle is down. He's an excellent shooter. So is Christian Bale. He is really focused and dedicated too, so I'm really blessed to have these two, and many other cast members that are just as dedicated.

So would you say both Johnny and Christian are crack shots in real life?

Harry Lu: Most definitely (Laughs). There's no way you'd want to cross your path with either of them. No, I'm just joking, but they have target paper to prove it.

You've worked on both period pieces like this film and present-day films. Is it more fun to work on a film set in the present day, or is it more fun to go back and recreate a historic era in a film like Public Enemies?

Harry Lu: I would say it's definitely more fun to work on a period film. Some of the stuff is not that old, but they're in the hands of collectors, so you have to beg, borrow and steal to get them, to use them in the film and to try to return them in good condition. It's hard. The props have to make custom holsters, based on research and some of the holsters from that era are just fragile and definitely not the best of design. They were great back then, but now we understand more about safety and liabilities. The props have to incorporate some of the safety features but still make them look old. It's like we're reverse engineering.

Can you talk about some of the locations you shot this film in?

Harry Lu: We went to a lot of historical locations, the jail he was housed. You walk in that jail and you have a strange feeling that someone is watching you. It's really really weird. We went to a little town called Darlington, Wisconsin, population maybe 2,000 or 3,000. By the time we finished filming, there were 3,000-plus people outside, wanting to say hi to Johnny. He makes a point to shake their hands and if it takes two or three hours, he does it. I don't know how he does it, but he's a very humble man.

Yeah. I remember you filmed in Wisconsin and parts of Chicago as well.

Harry Lu: Yeah. We started in Chicago then went to Indiana then went back to Chicago and went to Wisconsin.

It sounded like the filming actually kind of followed Dillinger's actual path.

Harry Lu: (Laughs) Pretty much, yeah. Like Little Bohemia, we actually went to the same lodge where the fire took place. The building caught fire on, I believe a Dillinger anniversary. It happened overnight and some electrical short took place and boom (Laughs).

You worked on the last Pirates of the Caribbean film. Have you gotten the call to work on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides?

Harry Lu: (Laughs) No comment on that (Laughs). That would be fun. I worked on the first one and man was it a learning curve. It was hard. It was actually, to a point, dangerous, in the sense of ship-to-ship transfers. One ship could be 15 feet high above the other ship and a wave would crash and boom, you'd be 15 feet below the other ship. Once again, on Public Enemies, the critical part is the audience, whether they liked the film, I'm sure they will. Michael Mann did a great job and the cast did a great job on their part. I was actually very fortunate to work with Marion (Cotillard) again, who played Johnny's girlfriend, on this recent film. She's wonderful. She's delightful to have around.

Is that new film Against the Wind?

Harry Lu: No, Inception.

Oh, you're on Inception as well? Nice.

Harry Lu: Yeah. We just wrapped last week.

There's been a lot of buzz about that.

Harry Lu: Really?

Oh yes.

Harry Lu: What have you heard?

Well, it's Christopher Nolan. That's the buzz-word right there. That and people just don't know much about it, so people are clamoring for info.

Harry Lu: Hush-hush, that's Nolan. I'm honored to be invited to his project. It's been great and please go see it too.

Oh, absolutely. I'm looking forward to it. To wrap up, for those who didn't see Public Enemies in the theaters, talk a bit about why they should pick up this DVD or Blu-ray?

Harry Lu: It is somewhat of an American Robin Hood, in a sense. It's got a great story and Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, JD as JD. We've got an excellent director and cinematographer and in the weapons, we did our part. I'm sure audiences will find the finished product enjoyable. There is a lot of really nice scenery and everybody poured their hearts and souls into this project. Everybody was just as professional as can be.

Awesome. Well that's about all I have for you, Harry. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with your future projects.

Harry Lu: Yes. Thank you so much. Take care.

You can see all the explosive action of Public Enemies on DVD and Blu-ray shelves right now.