A Conversation with Mikael Håfström for the Stallone and Schwarzenegger action epic ESCAPE PLAN | The Fan Carpet Ltd • The Fan Carpet: The RED Carpet for FANS • The Fan Carpet: Fansites Network • The Fan Carpet: Slate • The Fan Carpet: Theatre Spotlight • The Fan Carpet: Arena • The Fan Carpet: International

A Conversation with Mikael Håfström for the Stallone and Schwarzenegger action epic ESCAPE PLAN

Escape Plan
15 April 2014

Escape Plan is the story of Ray (Stallone), a structural security expert who ends up in an ‘escape-proof’ facility based on one of his own designs after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit.

Upon arriving in The Tomb, he meets Emil (Schwarzenegger) and the pair plan to escape and track down the true culprit using Breslin’s survival skills.

Following the recent movie prison break out by iconic action stars Stallone and Schwarzenegger, The Fan Carpet‘s Paul Risker caught up with director Mikael Håfström to discuss filming cinema’s latest breakout.

Mikael discussed with us his coincidental career, the advantages of a familiarity of the writing process as a director, his interest in exploring cinematic space, and his work with an accomplished cast of actors throughout his career.



Why a career in filmmaking?

It is a story of coincidence. I started out writing and directing for Swedish television, and the turning point came when I began to direct television crime dramas. I continued to direct a number of different projects, and then eventually went into feature filmmaking with Evil, which was OSCAR nominated for Best Foreign Film. This was a turning point career wise as I started to make films in the United States, and that’s what I have been doing for the last nine years.


Earlier in your career you were frequently credited as a writer-director, but since 2005 you have become exclusively the latter. How have your experiences of writing informed you as a director?

That’s definitely true. Being a writer from the outset is an advantage, especially when I am working in English, which is my second language. It is always helpful in the early stages of the process of making a movie. Often a writer will rewrite, and I know what it is to be a writer. I know the writing process, and that is helpful to myself and the writer who I have to work with. I enjoy that process, and while you can direct in any language, writing in a language that is not your own is very difficult. But having said that, working with an English or an American writer is something I do enjoy.


A number of your films deal with the exploration of rooms and space including both 1408 and Escape Plan. The connection between those two films and your use of space forms connections and distinctions.

That’s true of a number of my films. Even Evil takes place in a boarding school which is a confined space or series of spaces. I always enjoyed prison or prison escape movies growing up as a kid, and 1408 is in many ways a prison movie – a guy locked in his hotel room. It’s one thing that has perhaps influenced me. You don’t analyse this too much yourself, but I am drawn to these dramas that deal with these conditions, and Escape Plan being an escape movie was what attracted me to the project.


It is not the filmmakers but rather the audience, writers and critics who contextualise a film. The primary focus of the filmmaker is the individual film and ensuring the story is well told.

Yeah, that’s true in a way. I never had a specific agenda with my career plan, and I try to make the next project something that I haven’t done before or something that I feel drawn to. I try not to think about it too much. My job isn’t to analyse; my job is to as you say make the film I am working on. As a director you are a part of what everyone else is a part of, and you are a product of memories and experiences. As a director whatever you do, and I don’t want to over analyse it, but I realise there are specific characters and situations I am drawn to. So when I read a script that’s what hooks me on a particular story.



What is it that makes escape movies so compelling and enduring?

It goes back a long way. Audiences have always enjoyed escape movies because it is a situation that they can understand. We are all trying to escape from something – you, I and everyone else. A prison movie in its shape and form is exactly that. I have always enjoyed these types of films, especially the English heist movies. When I was a kid I always found all of the planning and the fine details that would set the plan into motion intriguing. It is something that has worked well in so many films because we all have that feeling, and we can all understand the need to escape.


Escape Plan holds a certain social relevance, especially if one looks to Guantanamo Bay. Was this something you were conscious of?

Whilst Escape Plan does have that, at the same time it’s a commercial Hollywood movie.  But naturally it has these ingredients that you are talking about. You can definitely consider Guantanamo bay and those types of institutions that exist today. So that was part of it, and for me what was interesting aside from everything else in the movie is that it does dig deep into that. It takes part in a discussion within modern day society, but being a Schwarzenegger and Stallone movie, it’s not a political film.


Metaphor just seems to naturally seep into stories, to become part of their fabric, regardless of whether they are entertaining blockbusters or thought provoking art house movies.

Film is always a character of the people living in our society who have a knowledge of these subjects. It is a good thing in popular movies like this if a certain kind of metaphor is there without being heavy handed. Again there are films and other filmmakers who make specific films about specific issues, and that’s fine. Those kinds of films are sometimes great, and a film like Escape Plan can touch upon those, which is only natural because we all live in the same world.


Working with the cast of actors you have had the privilege to work with throughout you career, when first meeting them did you have a certain impression already formed based on their onscreen personas? How did this compare to the actuality of meeting them?

Famous or not I was never afraid of or intimidated by actors. I like the process of working with actors, and I like to think that I am good at making actors feel secure, and feel that they have an audience. When you meet someone like Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Hopkins for the first time, you know who they are because you grew up with these guys.

They are who they are. The interesting thing is you meet to talk about a specific project, and then you become colleagues – just two people who are working on a movie. Stallone and Schwarzenegger are very good at taking the story situation completely out of their persona by just being who they are. They are very natural, professional guys who hang around with the crew, and are helpful and respectful towards the director and the filmmaking process. When you meet someone whose movies you have seen growing up, then it can be intimidating in the first few minutes, but in a good  way. Though soon they are just guys working on a movie.


As the villain of the piece, Jim Caviezel is the lynchpin to the drama. How do you look back on your experience of directing him?

The warden was a key person for casting, and it took a long time to pin him down, especially when you have Schwarzenegger and Stallone in the movie. We have seen many wardens in prison movies, and my ambition was to try to find an actor who could live that almost clichéd character, and yet make him both personal and interesting.

It was Jim’s agent who wrote to me when I was in the process of casting, and told me that Jim might be interested. When I first received the e-mail I thought Yeah, f**k yes, Jim Cavaziel. Yeah, that’s the guy I’m looking for. I didn’t know Jim before, but I had obviously seen his work, and I always thought he had a specific persona and charisma. Jim is a fine actor, and a very special personality. He brought a great contrast to the other guys, and he creates something interesting out of his part.



Escape Plan Film Page