David Barrett discusses working with action legend Bruce Willis
With a triumphant history in TV, director David Barrett has finally made his first feature film, and ahead of the release of Fire With Fire – hitting UK cinemas on March 8 – we were fortunate to have a chat with the filmmaker on the phone, speaking to him directly in LA.
Fire With Fire tells the story of Jeremy (Josh Duhamel) who is put into a witness protection programme having testified against the dangerous crime lord David Hagan (Vincent D’Onofrio) following a murder case at a convenience store. However when his whereabouts are compromised, Jeremy decides to take the law into his own hands…
Barrett talks to us about working with such a stellar cast – one that also includes the likes of Bruce Willis and Rosario Dawson. He also tells us what it’s like to work with our very own Vinnie Jones, and discusses his own history as a stunt coordinator, and how useful that proved to be in regards to this particular project.
So, tell us a little about Fire With Fire…
Fire With Fire was tough because I had done a lot of second unit on movies, I’d done a lot of second unit action on TV shows, and directed probably 75 TV shows, produced shows, I produced Orphan, I shot second unit on that movie… So to have my first movie be Fire With Fire, where I had had to shoot something in 20 days, was really tough. It was probably just shy of half of what I have to shoot a television show. To have personalities like Bruce Willis, to have a crew that doesn’t know each other, to have no standing sets was a very, very difficult shoot, but thank God I had some terrific actors like Rosario Dawson and Josh Duhamel and Vincent D’Onofrio to help pull it off. The script had been around a little while and the tough part about it was really trying to find the right actor for that role, and Josh really fit the bill because he is a guy who is devoid of ego, he is one of the most kind individuals I have ever met. In order for some of the moments or scenarios that were in the script at the very beginning, in order for the audience to go on that right I had to make him as vulnerable and relatable as I could possibly make him or else it just wouldn’t work, and I felt like he was the right choice, and he was.
There is a fantastic cast on-board, in particular Bruce Willis, you must have been thrilled when he signed up for the project?
I was. I had done movies with him before as a stuntman when I did his movie Striking Distance, and I’d met him a few times. My dad was Burt Reynolds and Paul Newman’s stunt double, so Paul was my Godfather, so some of these race car races we would end up seeing Bruce, so I had met him before. Of course he didn’t remember, but when he signed on, I mean, are you kidding me? I knew I had the movie. I was ecstatic. He’s not in the movie a ton, but he does drive the story forward.
For me the stand-out performance was Vincent D’Onofrio – I think I’ve said that right…
Yes you did, good job! [laughs] I got it wrong a lot of the time.
He plays a really harrowing villain and has a really chilling presence to him. But I read there was a time he seemed unlikely to get involved because of scheduling issues?
I wanted him, and he didn’t want to do the movie. So, I put pressure on everyone in the biggest way and said “I have to talk to him”, so I got him on the phone and I told him who his character is, from the age of seven years old up until the time the script starts. I went into this big, back story of who his character is and how he was just a kid, and a kid who had hopes of running his father’s congregation, and the defining moment that turned him. By the time I was three quarters of the way into my pitch about the character, he said, “I see it. I’m doing your movie. We’ll figure out the scheduling, I don’t care how, but we’re gonna figure it out”. The first take, I mean I had an incredibly tough first two days of the movie as I was having to shoot nine pages those days in six different locations with Bruce Willis. So I got to Vincent and the very first take I looked to the producers and I said, “We have a real movie.” It’s important to have a lead, but your villain needs to be credible and relatable and he gave a performance that just… I mean, put it this way, he intimidated everyone in the cast, and I mean everyone. And the crew. He inspired everyone around him.
Tom O’Connor’s screenplay has that story of the underdog feel to it, was that something that first attracted yourself to the project?
Yes, and I built upon it because, you know, you have to make it relatable, and the only way to make it relatable is if it’s real and the only way to make something real is to get to the heart. So, I had to find the heart in it, and at the core it’s a love story and that was what I kept telling Josh. Now that we know he’s on a revenge, we had to see him grow into this monster and understand why he could pull the trigger on someone else. That couldn’t just happen, it had to be a journey, and that’s why we had him throw up. That’s why I had him lost for words, that was very important for me to be able to track his journey for the audience, so they bought this big climatic ending.
I’ve got to ask – as a Brit – what was Vinnie Jones like to work with? Funnily enough I did interview him once, when I was around 9 years old.
Oh really? [Laughs] Vinnie is hilarious. He is everything that everybody says he is, he’s a huge personality. Whatever he does, he does it to the best of his ability. I mean, the guy comes in like it’s a fight and like his life depends on his performance, and I mean that’s in line with his history as who he is. The guy would work. I mean work. He did his own stunts, and although we had a stunt coordinator to do a fight scene, I was like “Vinnie, you’re a boxer – let’s design this so that it’s real, let’s not do these fake punches and do two guys fighting in an alley and make it really, really messy”. Again, I didn’t want it to be an over the top fight scene, I wanted it to be messy, and he was great – a great athlete obviously. I was just able to design and choreograph something with him on the spot in 10 minutes. Invaluable.
Given your own history doing stunt work, just how helpful was that when choreographing action sequences?
Oh are you kidding me? It’s imperative. Do you think that movie was shot in 20 days? Does it look like a movie that was shot in 20 days? You know, you can’t do it. But because I knew stunts, and because I knew production I was able to do it. I set it up in a way that I could tell the story in a very, very quick way. The action I had to shoot like a play, I shoot it from the beginning of the sequence to the end, in one take, so if it all works in one and I shoot it in one with several different cameras, then it has a behaviour that is truthful. That way there is a realness to it, there’s a rawness, a continuity to the acting. I think this is by far Josh’s best performances, and that is one of the reasons why. So with that action mindset I take that into the approach of the actors and the dialogue, but being a stunt coordinator and doing the stunts, I know what somebody can do safely, I know what somebody can do comfortably, and if you design a sequence within those boundaries, there is not a whole lot of question, and that is what takes the time.
FIRE WITH FIRE IS OUT TODAY