Ray Stevenson is extremely excited about his upcoming action release and wants you to check it out!
Punisher: War Zone was one of the most violent, undeniably fun action films released last year. Director Lexi Alexander took over the reigns of this comic book franchise and has lovingly injected it with her own extreme style, substance, and an admiral amount of truly hilarious camp. It's a unique film, one that never fails to disappoint or entertain. On March 17th, the film will be available in stores on both Blu-Ray and conventional DVD. Arriving in a Special Edition 2-Disc set, the package contains five featurettes on the making of Punisher: War Zone, as well as an audio commentary with Lexi and her director of photography Steve Gainer, and a digital copy of the film for downloading to your computer or personal entertainment device. To celebrate this great release, we caught up with the Punisher himself, Ray Stevenson, to chat about his upcoming DVD. Here is that conversation:
How excited are you about a whole new audience discovering this excellent movie on DVD? I know some folks might have been a little apprehensive about seeing it at the theater. Now they're going to be able to see what they missed.
Ray Stevenson: I'm very excited, actually. It's a movie that I am extremely proud of. The box office wasn't as good as what some people expected. But it did come right on the heels of the last one. Maybe a few people said, "I've seen the Punisher. I don't need to see it again." They just assumed that it would be the same deal. Or maybe they thought it was a continuation of the other film. Which it most certainly is not. I am very excited that the DVD could open up a whole new market to Frank Castle and The Punisher comic books. And everything else that goes along with that. I am sitting here with my fingers crossed that people see it, and take to it.
I remember telling you when Punisher: War Zone came out in theaters that this was the funnest movie I'd seen last year. And that certainly held true the second time around. Did you have as much fun making the film? Or was it more of a brutal experience? Because you are really put through the ropes in this thing.
Ray Stevenson: It was brutal. Yes, it was fun. You work hard and you play hard. But it was a very brutal experience. We had two and a half months of night shoots. There were long stretches of time where no one saw the sunshine. We shot form Dusk till Dawn in the middle of a Montreal winter. It was minus eight degrees. We were on location in buildings with very windy corridors. It was tough. It was brutal for everyone involved. The film stands as a testament to everyone who helped make this thing what it is.
Did going that long without seeing the sun help bring a harder edge to this brooding energy we see in Frank Castle on screen?
Ray Stevenson: Yes. It has a very psychological effect. It is weird. You initially get this feeling that is a lot like jetlag. It stops being jetlag, yet you are never seeing any light. It is a strange sensation. It does give you a harder edge. We couldn't have done three or four months without the sun. It really does have an effect on you. We had to get the film done on time, and get it in the can in the best possible way. In doing that, you start drawing on supplies you never realized you had. Everyone focused in. Working at night helps people focus in on this crazy little bubble you've created, wherever you are filming. It doesn't matter where the location is, the world doesn't exist outside this bubble. And everyone is trapped inside.
With the new DVD that is coming out, we are going to see some of the behind the scenes work you endured, as well as how this all came to fruition. Do you have anything that you are really excited for fans to see as far as what happened behind the scenes on Punisher: War Zone?
Ray Stevenson: I really am. I have seen some of the books, and some of the Punisher paraphernalia that shows off some of the sketches that when into making this film what it is. There are a lot of back-stories going with the sketches. Its great to see that stuff. You get to witness the process that went into it. I love sharing that experience with fans of the comic book. People that have already made such an investment. I don't mean the investment in purchasing the comic books. But the emotional investment that goes into the storylines and the characters. You don't want to cheat people in that way. In watching the filmmaking process, I don't think it will add or subtract from the film itself. It just shows how much was done by so many to make this thing happen. And how we got the film that we did. I think it is a sharing thing. We show how much commitment went into creating this character and this particular storyline. It is our way of giving back as much as we can.
The film has an intentional line of humor running through it that you don't expect walking in. How important was that element to this particular adaptation of the comic?
Ray Stevenson: I think it was extremely important. If you talk about the flip side of the same coin, and look at the film as if it weren't based on a comic book, a soldier's time on the line is absolutely terrifying. People shit themselves or piss their pants. Yet they still get up and go. That's what bravery is. After the First World War, we find what is called 'Trench Humor'. In one story I remember reading, a forearm was sticking out of one of the trenches. The poor bugger had been buried alive. It had been there for weeks. As the new soldiers went over the top of the trench, they would shake this hand. Even though they didn't know whom this person was. Its that grimness, that 'Trench Humor', that allows humans to get through some of the most horrific and enormous events. Humor is a very important thing. It is a natural predilection. It is an emotional release. You can be brought along on an adventure like this, and you are able to find the humor in it. Its not just one line. Life itself is pretty funny when you realize how absurd it can be.
On the subject of human absurdity, are there any really good bloopers on the upcoming DVD?
Ray Stevenson: Oh, good grief. I have no idea. It is going to be a revelation to me. I am a bit weary about watching it. I will let my friends call me up and say, "Oh, lord! Did you see that?" We filmed it about a year and a half ago, now. There's been quite a distance from that. There are some moments I remember, and I think to myself, "Oh, no! I hope that's not on the DVD." But it should be a fun experience.
How was it working with Lexi. She has such a wonderful, outgoing personality.
Ray Stevenson: It was really great. She not only has the sensibility and sensitivity of a female director, and is an artist in her own right, she is also an expert kick boxer. Lexi knows what its like to stand in a ring, looking at someone that is going to hit her as hard as they can. And she has to hit them as hard as she can. Only one of them is going to walk away. The only thing you've got is your training, your aptitude, and your attitude. You don't shout cut in the midst of a fight like this. She had the confidence and belief that made it possibly to show Frank's pain in a way that was unique. There is no redemption for Frank. His life comes at a cost. This is one thing we talked a lot about. We don't want anybody leaving the cinema wanting to be the Punisher, right? You love watching him,. And you can't wait to see what he does next. But we were very adamant that people not walk out of the theater deciding they want to punish the school bully. No, no, no. If we can commit to showing how much of a black hole Frank is in, and that there is no way out. We'll prove that you don't actually want to be Frank. But you are glad that he is out there. Doing what he does.
When I talked to Lexi during the theatrical run for the film, she said it was quite possible that you'd take over as a director on a follow-up to Punisher: War Zone. Is there any truth to that?
Ray Stevenson: I think that is Lexi being extremely generous. That is very sweet of her to say. As an actor, I love working with directors. As much as I love working with other actors. We have our disciplines. I'm not saying that I wouldn't look to directing my own project one day. I think this news is Lexi being extremely generous. Its just Lexi being Lexi.
That would be a really complex process. To have to hit your mark and make sure everyone else is doing the same while all of this chaos is going on around you. You are hanging upside down with a hundred bullets whizzing past your head. Then you have to be in charge of the operation at the same time...
Ray Stevenson: Exactly. There is a reason we have a director. And a reason we have an actor. And a reason we have a writer. And a reason why we have a camera guy, and a lighting guy, and a stunt guy. There is a reason for all of these people. When one of those people starts wearing too many hats, I have to wonder how much of the process is being diluted.
But as far as the character goes, and with him coming straight out of the comic books, you and Lexi collaborated quite closely on the reconstruction of this anti-hero.
Ray Stevenson: Yes. It was valuable having that relationship with her. It is the way I work. I work very closely with my directors. I would hope that my input is valued, and that it can have an effect on the finished product. This is really the best collaborative business on the planet. We have one guy writing the script in some dingy office in Los Angeles. But as soon as he finishes, it becomes a springboard. And the actor is often involved. They will have their own ideas. Some are valid, a lot of them are not. The director has his or her own ideas. But it's this solid collaboration that will make the end product work.
In talking about the collaborative process of the film, I want to talk about the photography. It is absolutely beautiful.
Ray Stevenson: Isn't it incredible? Steve Gainer, I remember him looking at a wall of marble, and trying to figure out which color was used in a single frame taken straight out of the Max comic. He would light a city street in sodium yellow. It was a very particular yellow. He was matching everything to the comic book. With the blues, and the greens, and the black and whites. Even the flesh tones. I think he is one of the great unsung cinematographers out there. I think he is a genius. His commitment to this comic book world is what gives us this completely unique look. It is beautiful. That is why I am so proud of it. It is the Max series on screen. It's not only Lexi and myself. But it is Steve and the other actors. Steve and Lexi worked very closely on getting this palate together. Then Steve realized it on film.
How difficult was it to come in and hit your marks when it was so fully realized, and set within the single, structured frames of a comic book?
Ray Stevenson: It was absolutely perfect. You are literally stepping into that world. They had rebuilt an entire city street. Someone walked up and asked, "Is this an art instillation?" We had three colors shinning down four city blocks. And the entire city looked magical. It was otherworldly. We were doing some pick-up scenes in Vancouver. It was incredible. You would walk on set and see these colors and structures. You were immediately thrust into the Punisher's world.
Each frame of this film looks like a cell out of a comic strip.
Ray Stevenson: Exactly. You can freeze any frame, and you can make a comic book out of the DVD. I am so proud of this piece of work. And I am so proud that everyone was so committed to doing it.
For fans of the comic book, who might have missed this in the theaters, do you have one scene that you are really excited for them to see?
Ray Stevenson: I have thought about this. I have been asked about this before. But hand on heart, I am the worst person to ask. Because I am so closely involved with it. I think, if anything, you should watch the whole movie. And if there is something else you take away from the movie, I'll be happy. You really get to see Frank Castle in a moral dilemma. It is something that happens within the movie that I think is very special. I can't put my finger on any particular scene. Just because I am too close to it. I would like to say, "Yeah! This scene where this guy does this, and that guy does that." I just can't do that.
Personally, I am hoping that this proves to be a big hit on DVD, just because I want to see another installment. Really bad.
Ray Stevenson: You and me both. I would love for this to expand and work. I would love for them to come back and say, "Okay, the box office wasn't so good. Maybe because it was too close to the other one. But on DVD, the die-hard fans and the movie fans have proven this to be something quite special. It has opened up a whole new audience. And there is room to bring Frank back. Let's put him through some mayhem again." I would be thrilled at that prospect. I would love to do it again.
Everyone I know that has seen it absolutely loves it. I think it is going to do very well.
Ray Stevenson: That is so great to hear.
Punisher: War Zone arrives in stores March 17th, 2009, on both conventional and Blu-Ray DVD.