Saturday 11 July 2020

I Am Vengeance; Retaliation - Interview with Ross Boyask

FORGET HOBBS & SHAW! if you're looking for a fast paced, fun filled action packed thrill ride featuring two of the genre's biggest hard men taunting and trash talking one another in a testosterone fuelled measuring contest look no further than Gold and Teague aka Stu Bennett and Vinnie Jones. The dark avenger from the 2018 independent hit 'I Am Vengeance' ('Vengeance') returns on an even more personal mission with plenty at stake and this time has to deal with a nemesis from his past whilst leading a team to capture him. For star Stu Bennett it means ramping up both his action credentials and his thespian abilities, as writer and director Ross Boyask puts both star and hero through one hell of a explosive and personal journey. 

Along the way film maker Ross, who is also the Creative Director of British independent film company Evolutionary Films, packs his latest action extravaganza, 'I am Vengeance; Retaliation' with laughs, thrills, explosions, and lots of hard hitting no nonsense martial arts fun expertly choreographed by the legendary Tim Man. Ross also shows that the girls can more than give the guys a run for their money with the inclusion of Phoebe Robinson-Galvin and Katrina Durden kicking arse and taking names and with sport packing some serious weaponry all joining the line up. The film is already enjoying a US release attracting the attention of big industry publications such as 'Variety' and is waiting in the winds to descend upon the UK so of course Ross can't wait to talk about his latest film. Cine Bijou had the pleasure of a sit down chat with the action aficionado and storyteller to talk about the latest adventures of John Gold and his more personal, challenging mission to date. First there was a little matter of the film title to clear up - is it 'I am Vengeance; Retaliation' or 'Vengeance 2'?

It’s called ‘I Am Vengeance: Retaliation’ and the reason it's called that is because Saban Films, and Lionsgate in North America called the first film ‘I Am Vengeance’ and so the title has changed in accordance with that. Also, you don't actually have to watch the first 'Vengeance’ film to enjoy this movie; it allows it to have its own title so we're not too concerned whether or not you've seen the first firm.  We see our character John Gold [played by Stu Bennett] - an ex Special Forces soldier turned mercenary - on one of his missions to avenge the wronged in a gentlemen's club in Basildon. On completion of said mission he is met by his former handler Frost played by Mark Griffin who approaches him about a job. Gold has stayed off the grid for a number of years and has no interest in working for the government again because they abandoned him a number of years ago. When he finds out an old colleague  [Teague played by Vinnie Jones] who betrayed his team leading to his issues with the government, who was presumed dead but is actually still alive, Gold is enticed back for the job. He signs up with Frost's team of operatives, and they go to take Teague down so he can stand trial.  However Gold wants him dead and to top it off there are a couple of flies in the ointment which makes it very difficult for him to do that. 

It’s a very different film from the first one, like you said you could almost watch this without revisiting the first one. What made you want to bring back John Gold for this story, what is it about him that is so appealing? 

That's a great question. Part of the reason for the sequel was that, obviously the first film was well received so there was always that potential for John Gold to become a franchise of some sort. When we delivered the film to the distributors internationally, we were asked fairly swiftly before they actually released the film, “So what are you doing for a sequel?” For anyone who doesn't know, Evolutionary films, the company that I'm creative director of in partnership with John Adams and Diane Shorthouse who are CEO and MD (they're also the film's producers) is also the sales agent for the UK distributor. So, the fact that buyers, especially international buyers liked the first film to the point where they asked us “So what’s the next one about?” it made us get out the sequel fairly quickly. It's interesting that you asked about why we dropped John Gold into the story. The two key aims really were; If you're going to do a sequel, however possible it should be bigger and better, because that tends to be what a franchise does so that was one aspect of it. The second part was to do with opening up the role of John Gold - how were we going to do that? Well one of the ways was to first of all have him bounce off different characters in the movie. The idea then came about for the team and that by exposing John Gold to them – and you have to bear in mind that he hasn’t been with a team and that he had exiled himself for many years - the idea was eventually they would warm him up somewhat so that you find out a bit more about him. Then you’ve also got a villain from his past, a Nemesis if you like who was also previously a friend. They had saved each other's lives, many times before Teague turned traitor. 

With the scenes between Gold and Teague   we didn't want to go into full details about their past but enough about their previous friendship and then the obvious animosity to come together. You then get some layers to Gold,  a lot of his history alongside all the warming up his personality for the movie. The first film, as you said was very much a Western, a revenge thriller; in many ways the remit for the first film was ‘Get Carter’ meets ‘Commando’. What we wanted to do with the second film was to make it more of an action movie as opposed to a revenge movie even though we wanted to keep the theme of revenge in there which comes along with Katrina Durden's character Jen Quaid. So the theme of vengeance is still in there, but with an expanded action-packed chase movie. If you look at genre movies those are two sort of flip sides of the same coin of where action can go. 

I was going to ask you was about the evolution of John Gold. In the first film he's very much the avenging force singular in purpose, very dark. Now he's become sort of a team leader and has to balance all these things. In a way he's become kind of an inspirational figure as well but there's a real evolutionary growth that Gold has to go through to get the job done isn’t there? 

Yes that’s a really good point and you’re the first person to have picked up on that. It’s funny because a couple of interviews have talked about certain things other people haven’t mentioned. And the idea of becoming a co-manager of the team – in fact you mentioned pep talk -  the scene he has with Lynch [Phoebe Robinson-Galvin] after that explosion in the middle of the movie where he tells her to go do one thing while he goes off to do this thing. It was interesting because partly it becomes a little bit flirty -  that was absolutely done on the day by the way, it wasn’t in the script - I think it came across well because it wasn’t so obviously flirty but it has a little moment there, just the way that he gets her to agree to do what he's asking of her was as a commander in the field. That was fairly, I don’t think subtle is the right word because there is nothing subtle in this film, but there are all these little things that make you go ‘Wow he is a team player’. I hope people see that there is a lot of story and character in the action and also these little moments with particularly in the very last scene with Gold and Frost. Both Stu and Mark Griffin were the only actors from the first film to be in this movie so we bookend it with them. There’s also a  comradeship that’s there and it's very easy, it's not forced with just the last bit where he says’ let's go off and get plastered" and they go off together after quite a day. I believe that  comes through without being too heavy handed.  

Honestly, it’s great and you’ve done a fantastic job. Now it’s no secret you’re an action fim buff and you love your 80s action. There are lots of homages to classic action in both the films - we've got a bit of ‘Walking Tall’ ‘Commando’ you mentioned earlier and ‘Lethal Weapon’ it’s quiet a dark picture. With the second film, it’s definitely lighter in tone I detected some ‘Midnight Run’, ‘A Team’ even the relationship between Lynch [Phoebe Robinson Galvin] and Shapiro [Sam Benjamin] is reminiscent of Frost [Mark Rolston] and Vasquez [Jeanette Goldstein] in ‘Aliens’. So where did you draw inspiration from for this film? Were some those influences on the script? 

There's a lot of drawing from that not specifically but I think all of that anima draws together – you could go back to ‘The Dirty Dozen’ I guess but we’re not as gritty as ‘The Dirty Dozen’. Even going back to more modern films like some of ‘The Expendables’ which I'm not the biggest fan of, I actually prefer the sequel to the first film. Some of the comradeship examples in those films work really well and also some of those little comedy moments. A film like this moves forward at such a pace you always try to find  these little moments. There's a bit at the end, which someone obviously came up on the day, in the scene where Katrina [Durden] who plays Jen Quaid causes havoc in the final act and really disrupts Teague’s plans basically to kill Gold at that point. I think they hide behind some barrels together and he says "well that was interesting" and she says "Dad always said you were so dramatic”. I mean she's avenging her father’s death and she says it like a little girl, almost. It takes Katrina’s character, at that point in that little moment to talk about her Dad in amongst the madness. So, we're trying to find those moments because otherwise it'd be really easy to have all the action, be really po-faced, be really straightforward about it and everyone acting badass and I think that’s boring. 

So, let's look at the two extra dynamics then that have come into John Gold's latest mission. Let's deal with the first one, the hard man himself Vinnie Jones. Was he your first choice to play Teague? 

Yes,we were excited to get Vinnie for the role. The key criteria was  would have to be able to stand up to Stu like physically on screen. That doesn’t mean they have to be the same size after all Stu is six foot six, he’s huge. He’s also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet by the way but he is a ‘Terminator’. So, you need someone to match up with Stu physically but with the way they carry themselves with magnetism and charisma on screen, and commanding the screen. Vinnie brought a huge amount of extra veteran experience to that. Also, he’s got the personality that would have you believe he's a viable, nemesis. Vinnie brought so much to the role and we had a long conversation before filming. He had his thoughts on the script and so did we. I'm not a precious person when it comes to the script I'm absolutely all about 'let's work this on the day’. There are certain things I want to keep it for whatever reason, but I'm pretty much  at home with trying things and improvising as we go. He was very good at getting things down to its core and stripped things down and I really appreciated it in the end. There were a few times when I had to say ‘you need to keep this in otherwise there is no story.’ 

I love watching Vinnie work  and I really enjoyed working with him. We will do a take, obviously run it through first, but we’ll do a take and you can see him cogitating  about how everyone had been in the scene, it wasn't just about him. Then on take two, there'll be a really noticeable dip where he'll make some very specific choices. I don't think he faulted his performance he would just maybe look specifically at a character to react in a particular way. I thought was fascinating. If we then did a third take he would again make one more minor adjustment and it was interesting because it gave me options – I am the editor as well - but he never went too wildly off script in any direction and I thought that was great. He was definitive, he has his expectations and so you have to raise your game a bit which is a good thing. I think he delivers really well on screen.

So, the other changing dynamic that comes into play obviously is, you mentioned earlier is Katrina [Durden]. She’s brilliant in the film and I curious why doesn’t she get more work especially in important roles like that of Jen Quaid? 

I obviously can’t speak for Katrina but I think she works incredibly hard, she puts a lot of thought in her work, her audition was fantastic - so was Phoebe’s in fact. There was a point was a point where I was genuinely trying to decide who would play which role because they’re both really good roles. Katrina puts a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm into her work on all sides the choreography concerns for safety on set, and other things like her nutrition, training, and performance and how she works with everybody else and she's always thinking about the camera as well. She’s super full on. 

The reason Katrina and Phoebe are so prominent is because the first film - with the exception of Fleur Keith who plays Barnes - was very male centric.  

 It was to a degree I mean there are some female characters throughout the first movie but they don't get to get in on the action. It was partly to do with who we could cast at the time. For the second film we had to look long and hard to the cast for the second innings. Originally the character of Pearl. Sean Teague’s fiancĂ© played by Jessica – Jane Stafford, was going to be a tough female mercenary, an MMA type really. That was the original idea, but we just got to the point where we couldn't find anyone to fit the bill, it’s like they simply don't exist here, well maybe in LA. I don’t want to take anything away from Jessie she did an amazing job and it was the right way to go. It might have been cool to have a very physical female antagonist in there somewhere. In many in many ways though the Jen Quaid character is of course that antagonist.

For the action then you’ve assembled quite a team; Dan Styles, Dominic Kinnaird, and Tim Man for the fight choreography. What was it about them that made you decide to bring them on board?

I've seen a huge number of films that they have worked on and I've met them briefly a few times before filming. What it really came down to was whilst we have Tim Man on board which was incredible, we couldn't just have a fight choreographer for the stunts we had to engage stunt coordinators for that aspect of it. The producers John and Diane, my partners at Evolutionary Films, brought Dan and Dominic on board. I think they worked on a number of productions together. 

For the fight choreography then Tim's obviously well known for working with Scott Atkins on some of his biggest projects, if not virtually nearly all of them. What was the remit you gave to Tim in terms of the fighting style to stage, or did you just leave him to devise it all? 

That's a good question. I first spoke to Tim on the phone and we had a really good chat;  he said to me “you do know there’s like 19 flights in this film?” and I replied “um yes.” So, we talked briefly about the kind of fights to include, about the cast that we had and their abilities. Tim had worked with Stu before on ‘Eliminators’, so there's already been some familiarity there. We did talk a little bit about the style of fighting but not hugely because I trust him to do what he does brilliantly. Tim is an absolute Maestro at what he does, particularly given the relatively limited resources and budget, and the very limited shooting time, as per this situation. We have a fair amount of time restriction and Tim understands that, he knows the camera set ups and everything. He just comes in and does what he does. We didn't have a lot of time before shooting when we engaged Tim but very quickly he got – not all of the fights - but a significant amount of the fights previz, that helps hugely. He would send me them on for me to watch and I might add a couple of notes here and there but overall, he was amazing.  I love watching him work with the actors and I definitely wish I had more time to just watch how he rehearses people; I really wish I could have done that - saw a little bit of his work and subsequently some of the behind the scenes stuff, but having been on set and working with him really was an eye opener. He’s very direct but gentle with it, very swift in terms of decision making he doesn’t stand around fumbling if he needed to change something he’d change it which was very rare. 

He really has knack of playing to the performers' strengths, and sometimes working within the boundaries of what they're capable of which actually with most of the cast their ability really is case of the sky's the limit really. He really got some of them to do a lot more beyond their background like with Stu whose background is professional wrestling but he’s doing some serious martial arts? 

Absolutely, and I won’t get too technical about it but there are certain things we did that I liked. We don’t have Stu throw a lot of kicks but when he throws them, I think they look amazing. I think he throws a mean sidekick particularly with a combination of strikes. There’s a scene near the end which I love that he did with Vinnie, where hit him with a punch combo that ends up with a sidekick and slams Vinnie into a load of crates. With Stu  his wrestling is kind of like brawling, and the same with Vinnie it's like grappling and a bit of close quarters knees and elbows, and that differentiates both boys from people like Jean Paul [Jean Paul Ly], Katrina, Phoebe, and everyone else. We’ve also got Greg Burridge in there who’s fantastic. We make Stu a brawler but who has a style, you get flashy moves occasionally, but at the end it's still close quarters, we use his size and his power. For a big guy Stu is remarkably agile one of his final moves is this huge drop kick he does on Vinnie’s character Teague. I am watching this and thinking ‘how does he get in the air. How does he do that? So, the idea was to give him this situation where he was still grounded but with all with those moves that make you go “hell yeah.”  

I noticed is the dynamic between Teague and Gold is a little bit like Hobbes and Shaw, the mutual respect and dislike for each other. They have a similar chemistry so will there going to be another ‘Vengeance’ movie, and if so, is it going to continue that dynamic with Teague and Gold? 

 So, there are currently two scripts for '‘Vengeance 3’; One involves Teague, one does not, there's no particular reason for that, they could even be ‘Vengeance 3, and 4. They just both work independently and again, even with Teague it still works like a movie where you don't need to see the previous two films, but it will help you to have done so. We feel like that's just a strong way to move forward. In terms of how people receive it a lot of international buyers will just retitle it themselves anyway so it doesn't really matter. Of course, for those who know they'll see the stories continue like the relationships and have more nuance. So short version yes there is a screenplay for Gold and Teague together, and I guess potentially a greater nemesis. And then there's another one that's completely different and it could almost be its own movie, it doesn't have to be a John Gold film. I love working with Stu though, and would work with him again any day.  

Some pure 'Gold' high flying vengeance.I know you're someone that likes to either pay homage to or revisit certain stories from films that you've loved as a kid, and still do. In terms of future projects and future action projects, is there anything that you really would like to revisit, and put to film again, to give it your own touch? 

  Well in terms of films I would, dare I say remake - with all the horrible baggage that word brings us - '‘Commando’ and ‘King of the Kickboxers’ for sure. I would actually love to remake  ‘No Retreat No Surrender 3’ because I love that movie so much. It's hard though because you don't want to just remake the film but you want to do your own take on it. I'll tell you - having watched it again recently -  I would love to remake ‘China O'Brien’. I love ‘China O Brien’ so much;  the charm and the heart and the wit of it. Again, it has that kind of ‘Walking Tall’ aspect to it. Also dare I say, ‘American Ninja’ or ‘Revenge of the Ninja’ are you kidding? I’d remake any other Canon classics like ‘Avenging Force’ which I just adore. The idea of being able to sort of be told, ‘Hey Ross, do you want to do this? I'll be like, ‘F*** yeah'. Another one of my passion projects  is 'Remo Williams; Unarmed and Dangerous', either as a TV show ideally, or a film would be amazing. I love all of those films, they are very close to my heart and without sounding like too much of a hack, the idea to be able to remake any of those, the 'Seasonal Film',  Golan/Globus and Canon, any of them really would be extraordinary, I would jump at it.

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