In 2007, Sylvain White made his directorial debut with the popular Stomp the Yard, which topped the weekend box office for two weeks.
He’s now turned his talents to bring the graphic novel The Losers to the screen. The movie spotlights an elite Special Forces unit comprised of Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Jensen (Chris Evans), Roque (Idris Elba), Pooch (Columbus Short) and Cougar (Oscar Jaenada). They have been sent on a search and destroy mission in the jungles of Bolivia. When their mission goes drastically wrong, and they discover their boss Max has attempted to kill them, they go deep undercover to plan their revenge. They find an unusual ally in a mysterious woman named Aisha (Zoe Saldana) who approaches Clay with the same target in mind.
What attracted you to this graphic novel?
The first thing that attracted me to the graphic novel was this amazing combination of hard-hitting action combined with humor, they did it in quite a unique way. And when the script was generated by Jamie Vanderbilt, he was able to inject even more humor into it. Secondly, the esthetic of the graphic novel is very beautiful, the use of colors and the graphic nature of the design of the novel is really amazing, so I wanted to stay truthful to that on some level and make sure (the film) reflects the graphic novel but, at the time, that it’s not intrusive to the experience of the movie.
Was there any thought about making this more cartoony than you did?
I think the movie has this comic book tone. It was always about trying not to push it too far, but push it far enough that it would make people laugh and have fun, so it was actually not that difficult to attain, specifically because the graphic novel itself is such a great benchmark for that.
Can you talk about casting Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the lead?
He pulled up on his Harley and I knew instantly he was the guy. He’s got this very cool, mature energy about him, a kind of old soul quality that makes him a born leader. Jeffrey is very likeable, very approachable, but there is also a bit of a dark edge to him, which was something he was able to layer very well into the character of Clay as he spirals down into his obsession to take revenge on Max.
What about the other cast members?
Having worked with Columbus Short on my last film (Stomp the Yard), I was determined to cast him in this film. He was probably the actor I had first in mind from the second I read the first page. The character of Pooch is really the one emotional vector that you have to care for in the movie, and that’s how you end up caring for the crew. You really want this particular character to get back to the U.S. and back to his wife in time for the birth of his child. I think he’s got this sensibility about him that works for this particular archetype.
I had seen Zoe (Saldana) in a movie years ago that a friend of mind directed called Haven, and basically since that I’ve been waiting for a project and an opportunity to work with her. Those were the first two actors I was really locked on.
Oscar (Jaenada) was brought to my attention by our wonderful casting director Mary Vernieu who went really far to try and find original ideas for me. I was supposed to meet 20 people for the role of Cougar, but she said, ‘You just have to meet this Spanish actor first.’ And it was all it took, I met Oscar for an hour and I called her and I said, ‘Scratch all the other meetings. This guy is the man.’
The great thing about this movie for me with the cast is I really got my first choices for each character and I feel fortunate and very happy about it. Once I met with each and every one of them, they wanted to do the movie, so I didn’t have to go to second or third choices and I think in the end the movie is good because of them.
What first put Idris Elba on your radar?
The first time I really saw Idris breathe life into a character was as Stringer Bell in The Wire. I loved that series and I put him on my radar, but then also the producers of my first movie produced three movies with Idris, and so I had some interaction with him during those times and I was just waiting for an opportunity to work with him. When the character of Roque came up I thought there would be nobody better to bring (him to life). He’s a great actor and I wanted the opportunity to work with him.
The first time the cast was all assembled as a group they immediately bonded, and it was pretty clear that they had great chemistry between them. That’s the kind of thing you can’t really predict or bank on, so when it happens you feel really fortunate. And I think it makes a big difference on the screen, too.
Has a sequel been confirmed yet or does it depend on how this does at the box office?
We don’t know at this point, but I certainly feel like we’ve all had a great experience making this movie and we’d love to do it again. This material has such (a great) story arc and continuing characters that it deserves to be continued.