After serving as Assistant Director on Speed Racer, Dark City and The Matrixfranchise, James McTeigue made his directorial debut with Joel Silver’s V for Vendetta.
McTeigue met Korean actor/rock singer Rain during the shooting of Speed Racer and when the concept of doing a martial arts movie for the 21st century was brought to him, he knew Rain would be perfect for the role of a ninja assassin named Raizo, who as a child was transformed into a trained killer by the Ozunu clan.
At the press junket for the movie, James McTeigue spoke of his new movie, which is a departure for him.
This is the first martial arts movie that you’ve done.
It is. It’s the first time I’ve done a straight out genre piece I guess really. I did V for Vendetta, that crosses genres, that was two hours of talking and maybe 10 minutes of action.
There’s a lot of action in this, but I think when you have a movie like this you want to keep the story pretty straightforward, but you want to have the characterizations so you understand the people enough that you care about what happens to them.
This movie makes Kill Bill look like a PG-13. When you started this did you discuss how far you wanted to go with the violence?
I guess I wanted to set it up so in no way was it real. So in the first scene in the tattoo parlor I set those guys up as super bad guys, so when all that stuff starts happening to them it’s kind of funny, hopefully. That was the esthetic I was going for from the outset.
I got with my storyboard artist, Steve Skroce, I said, ‘Hey Steve, what about this?’ He came back with a little more [violence] and it’s like, ‘Oh, that could be cool.’ You end up being very inventive in the way people die, I guess.
How did you know Rain could do all the ninja fights?
You bring the fight choreographers in and then you start to flush it out and then you bring the actor in to see how many of the moves that they could do.
Rain, through his dance background and his singing background, the way dancers count off, and he just kept getting better, so we just kept giving him more. At some point you stop and go, ‘Okay, bring the stunt guy in.’ But he just kept doing it. So we just kept giving him more and more complicated choreography, which is good.
It’s not usually like that, let me tell you. You get actors that hit people in the head with swords.
There’s a lot in the press kit about bringing the ninja mythology into the 21st century. What was the change that you hoped to make in your movie?
The idea of a ninja movie was to try and bring other genres into the ninja genre, like bring some anime, bring some horror, film noir, I guess, that’s what I was hoping to do.
What kind of star/director relationship to you have with Rain? Is he very collaborative, or does he want to do his own thing?
No, he’s super collaborative. I think [that’s] the good thing about him, and I think the reason he is such a huge star in Asia is he keeps pushing himself, like going to the next level. His English is pretty good, but he learned a lot of stuff phonetically.
When you have English as a second language, at some point you understand a lot more than you can actually express, and I think he was at that point. So I could give him very nuanced direction and he would get it.
Can you talk about your next film, The Raven – is it a biography of Edgar Allen Poe’s life?
No, it’s not a biography actually. He disappeared for the last five days of his life, that’s the true part of it. And they found him drunk in a bar in not very good shape.
This movie is like a cross between Seven and a series of Edgar Allen Poe stories. There’s a serial killer lose is 1850s Baltimore and he uses Poe’s stories as his methodology to kill people. And he kidnaps Poe’s fiancé and says, ‘I’m going to keep killing people and leave a clue at each killing that I do which will eventually lead to where your fiancé is, if you get there in time.’ That’s the basic premise of it.
What Poe stories are included in the killings?
There’s a lot, there’s the Tell-Tale Heart, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Premature Burial; it’s a cool concept.