The acclaimed director discusses his upcoming heist thriller and its exciting ensemble cast
Best known for his 2003 directorial debut Kontroll, director Nimrod Antal returns to theater screens just in time for the holidays this year with his star-studded heist thriller Armored. The film, which stars Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Skeet Ulrich, Amaury Nolasco, Andre Jamal Kinney, Milo Ventimiglia, Fred Ward, and Columbus Short, revolves around a crew of armored transport security officers that risk their lives when they embark on the ultimate heist against their own company. Armed with a seemingly foolproof plan, the men hope to make off with a fortune. But when an unexpected witness interferes, the plan quickly unravels and all hell breaks loose. All bets are off and each man must fight to survive on a dog-eat-dog battleground made of steel. We met up with Antal on the set of his film, and here is what he had to say about the experience:
How is shooting going today?
Nimrod Antal: I have been very fortunate. The whole thing has been a blessing. The actors are really great. It has been a blessing. It has been great. Nobody has gotten hurt. They all look really great. Lance Gilbert, our stunt coordinator, his father and his grandfather were all stunt men. His grandfather did part of the chariot race in "Ben Hur". I feel like I am among blueblood royalty with them.
I hear that this is the first time Matt Dillon has been set on fire in a film? Did he put up a fight?
Nimrod Antal: He did not. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Apparently his arm was on fire in "The Outsiders". I think his arm was on fire in that film. But his leg has never been on fire. I lit his leg on fire.
Did he volunteer to have that done to him?
Nimrod Antal: He has been very supportive. That goes for all of the guys. I am serious when I say that they have all been very lovely. It's not just me trying to be PC, and make the studio smile. They have all been very supportive. With Fishburne, and Reno, and Dillon? I have been a big fan of theirs. First and foremost, I am a big geek. For me, having them on set is a blessing.
All of the actors talked about how important the character drama is within the action. Why has that gone missing, and why do you think there is a craving for that in this type of movie?
Nimrod Antal: I don't know why it has gone missing. One thing that appealed to me is that this isn't about gangsters. It's not about a bunch of bad men doing a bad thing. It is really about a lot of desperate men putting themselves into a situation that became ugly. That is something we haven't seen for awhile. Of course, there was "A Simple Plan". And there have been films similar to that. But I think we were able to bring a real toughness and a very heavy vibe to a film about men that are just desperate. You get to know them as a unit. As a very well oiled machine. They are very jovial. There seems to be a lot of love and care between these guys. All of a sudden, it becomes this nightmare. It starts to fall apart. I think that's what was intriguing to the guys. The actors. They got to play with that.
You talk about being a geek. It must be pretty exciting to have the director of photography from both "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs".
Nimrod Antal: Yes.
It's probably a good Omen, since this is also a heist movie.
Nimrod Antal: Yeah. I have been a fan of Tarantino's as well. Andrzej Sekula is someone I worked with on my last project. He is really a support for me. He is a guardian angel. I think visuals are one of the most, if not "the" most important part of a film. His approach is sparse and simple. It really compliments the story. He's just a really lovely guy on top of that, too. We work well together.
Is this a relationship you see continuing on through even more movies in the future?
Nimrod Antal: If he is willing to put up with me, I'd love to work with him again, again, and again. Plus, he is funny. So it is pleasant. He's not some serious guy with a patch over his eye, or anything.
Did you develop the story behind this? How far into the development of the script did you come on?
Nimrod Antal: Um....I am not going to answer that question if it is okay. I will tell you why once all of these recorders are off.
Can you take about shooting the film in sequence?
Nimrod Antal: We're not shooting the film in sequence.
Matt Dillon thinks you are, though.
Nimrod Antal: Maybe for him, we were shooting his scenes in sequence. But we have been jumping around. Once we hit the factory floor, from that point on? It was chronological. But tomorrow we are picking up something from the beginning of the film. I think what he was referring to was the arrival onto the stage here. That is really where the shit hits the fan.
In asking about the development of the film, I guess what I was getting at was that this had a similar vibe to your first film. I'm wondering what your personal stamp would be on a story like this?
Shit, was that wrong too? I'm sorry.
Nimrod Antal: No. There are definitely some similarities as far as a group or unit of guys in this subculture. Armored car drivers are a mystery to everybody. We don't ever really see into that world. And in my first film, the occupation of ticket inspector wasn't something audiences were familiar with. For foreign audiences, it was almost like science fiction. Yeah. There are a lot of similar things. With each character in the film, regardless of how many pages they have, or how much dialogue they have, they are living, breathing guys. You get to know each and every one of them. I see a lot of similarities there. In the subculture and the structure of the guys together.
This is an amazing cast. What do you think drove them all to this project?
Nimrod Antal: I can't speak for them. But this isn't a gangster flick. There is a lot of texture to these characters. Though we don't find everyone's motivation for what they are doing, I think it comes across who these guys are. I think that's what they were looking for. They didn't want to be props, obviously. They wanted to have something to grab onto and carry. And they did that very well.
Was it ever a daunting task to direct all of these guys?
Nimrod Antal: I was freaking out. It's that I am a fan of these guys. I could go and start naming their films, but you already know them. These are really talented guys. Even the younger guys that I wasn't too familiar with. They just don't have that background yet. It was a little nervous seeing your heroes in person. I would turn around and throw-up in private. But in front of them, I was always confident. You have to be a good actor, too, as a director. Just to sell the fact that you are not affected by them.
Matt was saying that you were a really good actor's director. It's not that often that we hear that about younger directors, because they come up through commercials and music videos. They never learn how to relate to actors. It's a tough job. How did you get to that point where you could really work with these guys.
Nimrod Antal: Well, if it is true. I like to think it is true. I don't know. I approach every scene through structure, lighting, and performance as a fan first and foremost. It's about what I would like to see. What I would feel is believable. I think that is about it. And I love actors. They are what you see on the screen. It is important that their concerns are addressed. I think with everybody on the crew, you have to listen to everybody. The job of being a director is that you have to act as a filter. You have to spoon out all kinds of ideas. You let the good ones through, and you hold up the other ones.
What have you been able to do with a $25 million budget?
Nimrod Antal: Make it a $75 million film. That's no joke. This is going to look like a much bigger film than the budget we actually had. I do that through preparation. We had a lot of storyboards. I'm also surrounded by very talented men. Jon Gary Steele is our production designer. He is probably one of the most underrated guys working in the business right now. You guys saw the set. It was really mind blowing. The attention to detail. Even Charlie, who painted the set, was great. If you look at the pillars, they have rusty on them. It was build out of wood. The lighting is so beautiful. And the camera movement is so controlled, it feels like a big film. Plus, you are looking at Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, and Lawrence Fishburne, so that helps too.
We've heard that they have bonded with each other by being fans of each other as well.
Nimrod Antal: Yeah.
Have you seen that sort of Boys Club camaraderie on set?
Nimrod Antal: There was a definite love and respect. There was no ego. Everyone was very humble and down to earth. It really became about the work. And I think that there is a true respect there. I haven't been on that many film sets. I haven't been doing it that long. So I can't compare it to a lot of things. The few things I have done, I can tell that this is special. I can feel it.
When you are working with a $25 million budget, is there more pressure to get the scenes in just a few takes?
Nimrod Antal: No, as far as Kodak and the film being used, I am not worried about that. I don't like going at it too many times, anyway. Because you start to lose it after awhile. But no, that is not a pressure on me.
What has your transition into Hollywood been like?
Nimrod Antal: I think I was very naive. I thought after "Kontrol", things would be different than they were. "Vacancy" was a tough shoot for me. It was a blessing in disguise. I didn't recognize it then. But I wouldn't be doing this film if I hadn't done that film. It is a tough transition. But I am a young guy. And I am here. I have to wake up every morning and remind myself that this is a true gift. There are literally a million people in this town that would die to be in the position that I'm in. It is a big deal. I am very luck.
What sort of movies are you looking to do after this?
Nimrod Antal: Wow. I would do anything form a Western to "Akira". I would do that as a live action film. I would do the "Star Wars" TV series if they asked me. I would do a very serious, heavy film. I am very open, with the exception of musicals. I don't have any rhythm. With the exception of musicals, I would be open to anything.
What has been your biggest surprise on this movie?
Nimrod Antal: Just coming to work and seeing Matt Dillon, Lawrence Fishburne, and Jean Reno every morning. As far as the younger guys, Skeet and Amaury, and Columbus? Those guys are really talented actors. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.
What do you have left to shoot?
Nimrod Antal: We have a big, big "Bullitt"-esque chase scene with armored trucks. Which is going to be fun. It will be done in a steel factory in Fontana. Being in Fontana is exciting. If you can only imagine. Once we have the armored trucks there, it is going to be great. It is going to be a really intense chase. We have a rig where a stuntman will be up on the roof of the truck driving. So our actors won't be completely acting. The fear you will see in their eyes will be completely real. (Laughs)
When you are doing a big chase scene like that, do you ever feel like throwing in an homage to a previous film that you are a fan of.
Nimrod Antal: Sure. I try not too. But I think I have seen so many films that I am a fan of, even subconsciously I start imposing things, and doing things in a manner that I have seen at least one time. We are not reinventing the wheel. I am going to run into it a few times. I try to avoid it. I will give you an example. There is one scene where Matt and Fish are trying to get the pin out. They are hammering away. They have a railroad spike in one hand, and they have this really heavy, strange contraption in the other. They are trying to hammer this pin out. We shot it with them standing at the back of this truck. We had to cut back to it seven or eight times throughout the film. There are only so many places that you can put that camera. So, at one point, I wanted to make it a little bit more dynamic. I asked that the camera follow Matt with this bar. As I am watching it, I am seeing "The Shinning" with Jack Nicholson and his ax. That wasn't the intent. I didn't set out to do Jack Nicholson in the shot. But you run into that after awhile. Especially when there are only so many places you can put the camera.
How do you handle Milo having a gut shot when so many people know that scene from "Reservoir Dogs"?
Nimrod Antal: Regardless of what happens, I know people will see parallels. I only hope that people will be able to see beyond those parallels. And appreciate the film for what it is. I'm sure people were thinking of "City of Fire" when they were watching "Reservoir Dogs". So, you are going to eventually run into it one way or the other.
Borrow from the best.
Nimrod Antal: Yes.
Armored is driving into theaters on December 4th, 2009.