Writer/Director Neil Marshall Interview

The writer/director of the new horror film talks about his influences, the Splat Pack and strategic planning

Neil Marshall may be fairly new to the film business, but he sure is making an impact. After his first film, Dog Soldiers was an indie hit, he moved up to The Descent, another critical hit. His third film, Doomsday hits the theaters on March 14, and this is easily his biggest film yet. I had a chance to meet with the director for an interview, and here's what this talented young filmmaker had to say:

I read that you came up with this story from a random idea you had about a post-apocalyptic world and an action hero squaring off against an armored knight. In what ways did you turn that random thought into Doomsday?

Neil Marshall: I just had this image in my head of these futuristic soldier in body armor and helmets and futuristic weaponry, with this knight in armor on a horse. I was thinking, 'That's a great image, but how do I make a story around that and how does it not involve time travel?' (Laughs) The other thing was I was born and grew up in Newcastle in northeastern England, and then I lived on the west coast of England for seven years, and in between that stretches the remains of Hadrian's Wall, the ruins of Hadrian's Wall. I always used to drive by on this old road that goes past the Wall, and I was thinking what kind of scenario would exist where that wall might be rebuilt? I've seen some articles about Chernobyl and how that was basically left deserted for so many years. So I thought, 'What about a virus or something?' and if Scotland was totally quarantined and people were left to die in there for 30 or 40 years. If there were any survivors, what would that world be like, and how could they survive? So the two things kind of came together and I thought they might be living in castles in Scotland, because those castles have been around for hundreds of years and they will be around for hundreds of years. That's where the whole thing came together.

Rhona Mitra has had a string of impressive performances lately. I loved her in Shooter. What did you first see in her that made you think that she was right for Eden?

Neil Marshall: The role has a very strong duality to it. She needed to have a sensitive side, to portray the emotional core of the story, with the relationship with her mother. At the very beginning of the film we see her and her mother...

And she's (Rhona) the last one to go...

Neil Marshall: Yeah, and she's lost her mother. Her mother gave her own life to get her out of the hot zone before the wall went up. She barely remembers who she is, what she looks like. The only evidence she has is this envelope with her mother's name and address on it. As she says herself, she's got a name, an envelope and an address to a place she can never go to, because it's in the hot zone. It's a very personal journey of redemption to go back into the hot zone, and she eventually kind of goes home. I needed that, but I also needed someone who could convincingly look like they could kick the shit out of everybody, and Rhona has that cold look in her eyes when she needs it. She looks absolutely convincing. I think she spent like 11 weeks in the gym and doing stunt training and stunt driving and fight choreography and everything before the shoot. She was in really really trim shape. She just has that look about her that you wouldn't want to mess with her.

When I first saw this trailer, I actually, just at a first glance, I thought it was Kate Beckinsale jumping out of Underworld. They have such a similar look.

Neil Marshall: I know now who I'd back in a fight, I'll tell you that. I think Rhona could take Kate Beckinsale easily.

(Laughs) Just the look, the hair was kind of similar. For that look, what kind of influences did you have for her?

Neil Marshall: It was just a thought I had in my head. We did a whole bunch of sketches of the character. I wanted to maintain her femininity, but still have it practical as much as possible.

You're used to working with fresh, up and coming young actors from your first two movies. Now you have a couple of seasoned veterans in Malcolm McDowell and Bob Hoskins. What were they like to work with? I'm a huge fan of both of them.

Neil Marshall: Oh, me too, and it was just a real joy to work with them. Bob Hoskins was my first choice for that role, as the grizzled police captain. There was no question about anybody else. I wanted to hark back to the character he played in Long Good Friday. I wanted tough, hard Bob. I didn't want Roger Rabbit Bob. He was just brilliant, same with Malcolm McDowell. I've followed his career for several years and, just to have that level of experience, the gravitas those guys bring with them. The reason that they still do what they do is because they love it so much. They love being on a film set and they love making movies. That's infectious, and that made my job so much easier.

I read that this was inspired by films like Mad Max [Special Edition], The Warriors, Escape From New York and those sort of films. I'm assuming you grew up on those films, but what did you want to bring to that sort of genre with Doomsday?

Neil Marshall: I wanted to bring my own twist to it, maybe a sick sense of humor to it. Those films are pretty straight. I wanted to bring the kind of sense of humor, and a British sensibility to it as well. That was a unique twist, and as much action as possible, as well.

From what I've seen in the trailers, it seems like you spill a lot of blood here, but it's more subtle. It's not like Kill Bill where there's just blood gushing everywhere. It's more of a subtle realism.

Neil Marshall: Well, yes and no. My makeup effects supervisor pointed out that there is more blood and guts in this movie than in The Descent, it's just spread out in many different ways. I for one love doing that as long as it's not going to be offensive, if it's over the top and it's funny. Yeah, I love splashing the blood around so I don't hold back on that. We've got a couple of really gratuitous, violent scenes in there, and that's fine.

You've been given quite a substantial increase in the budget, as compared to your last two films. Is that more of a comfort zone, or are there disadvantages to having a bigger budget?

Neil Marshall: Well, in my experience, it makes absolutely no difference. If I was trying to make a bigger film on this budget, that would be a different story, but I'm not. At the end of the day, you're trying to make a certain film within a certain budget. Those rules never change. We have a much bigger budget, because we have a much bigger film.

Yeah, it seemed that even for $30 million, it seemed kind of ambitious for a project like this.

Neil Marshall: Yeah. I don't want to rest on my laurels, as far as that's concerned. With both of the films previously, I had a $2 or $3 million budget, and I set out to make a $10 million movie. With this one, I had a $30 million budget and I set out to make a $50 million movie. I want to push the envelope for every second on the screen, and make it big.

This is really going back to the old-school too. There's no CGI, no wire work. Did the cast do a majority of their own stunts?

Neil Marshall: The cast did do a majority of their own stunts, but we had the South African stunt team that we had was absolutely crazy. They've had a lot of experience, but they're so daring and willing to do new stuff that you might not get from players in the U.K. or U.S. These guys are standing on the hoods of cars going 90 miles per hour with no safety wires, nothing. They're climbing out of a window and getting onto the hood of a car and just standing there. You go, 'What are you doing?' but at the same time you think, 'This is great. Film it!' It's terrifying and exhilirating at the same time, and that's exactly the kind of film I set out to make. I didn't want green-screen, I didn't want CG, I didn't want wires or any of that kind of stuff. I wanted real guys doing insane stuff all the time.

Were there any major injuries on the set?

Neil Marshall: We had a couple of close calls, but, thank God, nobody was injured. We had some falls and things like that, but nobody was seriously injured. We got very lucky.

You've been dubbed as a member of the Splat Pack. Have you talked to any of those guys, like Rob Zombie or Eli Roth?

Neil Marshall: To be honest, I haven't had time to. Have I spoken to Eli? I haven't spoken to Eli since it happened.

I was just wondering if you guys have all gotten together.

Neil Marshall: We should get together and have a Splat Pack reunion. Some of those guys like Rob and Alex Aja I'd really like to meet. We'll see. It's a badge I wear with pride.

You used a lot of the actors from your first two films, and it seems kind of like a Kevin Smith thing. You use the same sort of crew of actors.

Neil Marshall: Yeah. I was kind of modeling it after John Ford. He had all these great character actors. Yeah, some of these guys are in Dog Soldiers and some are in The Descent, and it's just that I had such a great time working with them the first time that I just wanted to do the same thing again. We don't want to repeat ourselves. It was great to bring them and try new roles.

With that being said, now that you have Bob and Malcolm in the fold, are there any plans to put them into future projects?

Neil Marshall: Oh yeah, absolutely. Definitely.

So you just keep building the crew up with each movie, a bigger posse each time around.

Neil Marshall: Yeah.

I didn't see any future projects listed for you. Is there anything that you're working on now that you can tell us about?

Neil Marshall: I'm working on a lot of projects, but I'm not sure which is going to be next.

Finally, when people leave the theater after Doomsday, what do you want them to take away from it?

Neil Marshall: Well, I hope that they'll be kind of shell-shocked and panting, breathing harder, and then I hope they'll think 'Wow. I didn't really take it all in. I guess I'll have to go see it again.' (Laughs). It is kind of a busy film, and once you finish it you really do need to see it again.

Strategic planning, making it so they'll have to see it again. Double your box office.

Neil Marshall: I just hope everyone enjoys it and has a good time.

Well, that's all I have for you Neil. Thank you so much for your time.

Neil Marshall: Cheers.

Doomsday hits the theaters on March 14.