Back in November, I gave you guys a preview of my NEED FOR SPEED set visit. In June 2013, I made the quick flight up to Detroit to spend a day on the very active set of the DreamWorks film, helmed by ACT OF VALOR director Scott Waugh and starring the likes of Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, and even soon-to-be FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY star Dakota Johnson (sadly, she was not there when our small group of online writers was visiting).
Loosely based on the Electronic Arts videogame of the same name, NEED FOR SPEED is about street racer Tobey Marshall (Paul), fresh from prison after being framed by a wealthy business associate. He joins a cross-country race with revenge in mind, while his ex-partner (Cooper) finds out about the race and places a huge bounty on Tobey's head, resulting in some unbelievable high-speed chases and probably a crash or two…or 30. And it was clear from everything we saw shot, every interview we did, that NEED FOR SPEED is about capturing real, functioning, non-CG American vehicles that adhere to the laws of gravity and physics.
Toward the end of our day, we witnessed multiple takes of a sequence involving Tobey's customized Mustang flying around a block-wide traffic circle, precisely timed with other cars coming in and out of his line of sight while a souped-up police car chases him, both cars absolutely burning tire rubber (with the loud screeching to prove it) as they went. And this went on for hours, with each take lasting two full passes around the traffic circle with cars narrowly missing other cars (and a few pedestrians, some of which were, um, unexpected). In my original report, I featured our interview with director Waugh. Today, I'll focus on the star of the film, Aaron Paul, just at the beginning of the day of shooting.
In the photo above taken in downtown Detroit, Tobey's car (a Gran Torino) is at the bottom-right with the stripes. Behind him is a police car in hot pursuit. The truck parked at the bottom-middle of the image is known as The Beast (you'll see it referenced several times below). This is a shot of one of the many takes of them racing around this small park. The image below gives you a close up of the police car chasing after Tobey's car (in mid-skid going around a corner.
Most of what we see shot this day involves Tobey trying to get the attention of a police officer in front of an office building with extras pouring in and out, and every so often Paul revved his powerful Mustang engine as loud as it would go. While the cameras change position, Paul is hanging around and makes his way over to us. He's wearing the leather driving jacket you see in the trailers, with a white t-shirt underneath. His hair has grown out since completing the final episodes of "Breaking Bad" (which had not yet aired when we did this visit). He's a friendly, open guy, who probably knows he's about to get bombarded with questions about how his TV series is going to wrap up (I'll skip those questions). Here's our brief chat with Aaron Paul…
Question: Was there any apprehension about jumping back into the crime genre?
Aaron Paul: I definitely wasn't trying to stay away from the whole crime element in future opportunities. I like crime. It's dangerous. It's super-fun. With this film, it gives me the opportunity to drive really fast in really crazy cars. So why not?
Question: How is the Mustang?
AP: The Mustang is amazing. His Gran Torino is unreal. The Koenigsegg is pretty freakily fast, too.
Question: Do they let you drive very fast, or are they scared you'll kill yourself?
AP: A combination of both. I do drive fast. I've probably gone on camera maybe 120 mph. And it's legal and I'm flying by cop cars. It's so great.
Question: What kind of preparation did you have to do?
AP: In terms of driving, they had me do a stunt course outside of Los Angeles. It was mostly to teach me how to get out of problematic situations if something were to go wrong in the car. I learned how to drift around corners, do reverse 180s and 360s. I don't why they had me learn that. I don't do it in the film. But it was badass.
Question: Do you now apply it in your life?
AP: Everyday, yeah. In rental cars. The winnebago, I haven't tried to flip yet [laughs]. We've been having a blast.
Question: Do you get to keep one of these beauties?
AP: Oh man, I'm trying. Trust me, I am trying. I think everybody wants the Gran Torino, and we only have two of them. I know Scott, our brilliant director, wants to take one home and I know my stunt driver, Tanner Foust, who is truly the one making me look like I know what I'm doing [does too]. In all reality, he's doing most of the driving.
Question: We've heard this film is very grounded in reality.
AP: When it was placed in my lap, I instantly thought, "Oh, it's going another FAST & FURIOUS film." That's not necessarily a bad thing. Those films are super-entertaining. That's why they're so highly successful. I read the script and went, "Oh, wow. This is really interesting." Then I heard the pitch from Scott Waugh and heard that he wanted to do a full throwback to the '60s and '70s classic car-culture films. Stuff like BULLITT. I thought that was very interesting.
Question: Can you talk about the energy that Scott [shown below] brings to set?
AP: Oh man, you walk on set and--you can't really tell today--it's such a testosterone-driven set. He's a second- or third-generation stuntman and he has a very specific, unique vision of what he wants for this film, and it's very gritty and edgy. Really, to be honest, I think this film is going to surprise a lot of people. But he's a wild man. He knows what he wants and he's really a perfect director for it. He's super energetic, super excited. Some days are more stressful than others, but he's a madman. He's great.
Question: The game doesn't really have a plot. Can you talk about having that blank canvass to build a film on?
AP: That's what's so great. There have been so many "Need For Speed" games, but there's no narrative. It's truly a blank canvass for the writers. You'll see when you watch the film that you actually feel like you're behind the wheel. For a lot of the camera angles, you feel like you're actually driving the car. It makes you feel like you're in the game in a way. In terms of character, it's a blast being a badass but also the good guy. Being a badass in these crazy cars, it's just been fun.
Question: Do you play video games?
AP: Yeah, on and off. Not really so much right now. But I dabble. I definitely was a huge gamer.
Question: Is it fair to say that playing a video game pales in comparison to driving a car at 120 mph?
AP: Kinda, yeah.
Question: Does this film have its lighter moments?
AP: Even with "Breaking Bad," even though it got super-dark, the show is pretty funny. You find yourself laughing at very terrible things--bodies being melted by acid. It's funny, but in reality, it's not. Here, we're having fun. It's really an intense story, but there's the story between Tobey and Julia [played by Imogen Poots], the two people stuck in the Mustang on the cross-country venture, that's a pretty funny one.
Question: So it's very much SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, with you as Burt Reynolds and Ms. Poots as Sally Field?
Question: Can we talk about your wardrobe? Is there more badass leather?
AP: Actually, this is pretty much the only thing he wears in the entire film. It's a story of this guy desperately trying to make it across country in a very short period of time. He doesn't have a lot of time to change. But it's definitely very different than the attire I wear on "Breaking Bad." That's not necessarily a bad thing.
Question: Is this your character's company [points to a logo on his jacket]?
AP: Yeah, it's Marshall Motors. I'm Tobey Marshall. It was his father's business, but his father has tragically passed away. So has his mother. So he's left alone, struggling to desperately keep this business afloat. It's not looking good for him.
Question: What kind of music does Tobey listen to on a cross-country trip?
AP: There's actually not a ton of music.
Question: What about just in terms of his personality? What fits him?
AP: He seems like '70s classic rock maybe. He's a very old-school, blue-collar guy. A real man's man.
Question: Where is he from originally?
AP: New York. A small little town in New York.
Question: It sounds like, in a lot of ways, you're trying to revive Steve McQueen.
AP: Yeah, that was definitely one of the pitches they gave me. Steve McQueen was one of the ultimate badasses because he wasn't trying to be. That's just who he was. Hopefully I can pull it off.
Question: Can you tell us a little about Tobey's revenge plans?
AP: He is desperately trying to make it to a race to make a wrong a right. He knows this particular guy is going to be at this race at the end of the film. He's seeking some very intense revenge. I don't want to give anything away, but it's going to be fun.
As soon as we finished talking to Aaron Paul, we turned out attentions to producer (and frequent actor) John Gatins, who also has a story credit on NEED FOR SPEED with his brother George, who wrote the screenplay. Gatins is perhaps best known for being the screenwriter on such films as REAL STEEL and FLIGHT, for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. On this day, he was wearing a hat that was remarkably similar to Burt Reynolds' black Bandit hat. He was able to provide us with a bit more background on how the game was translated into a film, some car geek details, and a whole lot more. Here's John Gatins…
John Gatins: Sometimes video games have a hard time translating to movies, but I think that a video game with no narrative is a good place to start, because my brother and I were able to create the world, the characters, the story. Electronic Arts was amazing, because that game has been around for 17-18 years--and I’m a huge car freak personally, which I think is why they thought of me first, and then I’m a gamer. My kids are gamers too. I knew the game really well, and the thing that we most took from the game was the landscapes. Any kind of a driving game, we wanted to create a quest into the story, so we got to do all kinds of cityscapes and mountains and stuff, and that’s why we’ve been to Mendocino, San Francisco, Atlanta, Macon, Detroit, Utah. It’s like we wanted to honor the game in that way. It was a great opportunity for open landscape as far as the story went.
Question: What is it about the NEED FOR SPEED franchise that makes it the most successful selling racing franchise?
JG: Well, as a car freak, which I am--I just grew up a white-trash kid who loved cars--I’d never heard of a Koenigsegg, and I’m a grown man, and in the game, there’s all this wish fulfillment where you get to experience driving a super car that goes 250 miles an hour, and it wasn’t until making this movie that I put my hands on a real Koenigsegg and Spano and cars that I had only seen in magazines. So I think that that game gives you a great opportunity, because Electronic Arts has great partnerships with all of those companies, from Porsche--all of these incredible cars you wouldn’t see in other games, they have these great longstanding relationships with.
Question: You talked about wish fulfillment, but you’re really making this gritty, and there’s been a lot of talk about '70s car movies. Why did that seem the way to go for you?
JG: Well, I think that it comes from Scott Waugh [director], who has an incredible story personally, in that he grew up in this family where his father was a famous stuntman, stunt coordinator, stunt director, and he grew up as a stunt kid. The first meeting that we had with Steven Spielberg, he looked at Scott and said, “Wait, I know you,” and he said, “Yeah, I stunted on HOOK.” So as a little kid, he was a stunt player for one of the actor kids in HOOK, and Spielberg recognized him. So Scott grew up in a world of authentic car stunts, and for him, it was really important for that authenticity carried its way into the movie, unlike other movies that really rely so heavily on CGI, we’re not gonna.
Question: It’s more TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, less FAST AND THE FURIOUS.
JG: Exactly. It’s more--Scott uses VANISHING POINT and BULLETT [as references], and I always talk about SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, because I was the perfect age when that movie came out. I loved movies and I loved cars, and then now there was a movie about a car. It was like the greatest thing that ever happened. I saw it every day for two weeks. So I think that that’s a big part of it, and they introduced this car to the world, and we’re getting an opportunity--where Ford is our partner--where we get to reveal their new Mustang.
Question: I own a Ford, but it’s a hybrid. Is it safe to say there are no hybrids in this film? Nobody wants a hybrid driver movie?
JG: You never know. We may destroy a few hybrids. We’ve destroyed a lot of things, both intentionally and unintentionally.
Question: What’s the one thing that you guys have destroyed that you got--
JG: That made you cry a little bit?
JG: Well, it’s funny because we have a warehouse where we keep--as we keep moving place to place, as our circus continues to move--the carnage comes with us, because we’re honoring our partnerships to these companies who shared their CAD files and all the blueprints and the architecture, because we had to duplicate some of them, and so we have them, and they used to be beautiful, and now they look like lunch boxes that have been run over by a school bus.
Question: What’s the most expensive car that you guys have trashed?
JG: Most of the cars that we absolutely destroyed were cars that we built, but even those cars that we fabricated were $300,000 builds.
Question: You talked a little bit about creating characters from scratch. Obviously action movies are great, but if we actually care about these people who might be getting hurt in these car chases, that helps sell the movie.
JG: For me, anytime I approach a story, I usually place myself somewhere in it. So, for me, he’s obviously a very young, very handsome blue-collar hero, but honestly, it’s true, he comes from a part in the world that’s familiar to me, a beat-up town outside of New York City that’s urban and suburban and rural all at the same time. So it was like the idea that my brother and I both grew up really big car fans, car freaks, and we were like, “Let’s have this group of guys who grew up together, tinkering and putting cars together.”
Question: Do you have to treat the car like a real character with plotting out how things are getting handled? Because I know you can’t always focus on Aaron Paul and what he’s doing.
JG: A couple of the cars have real personality. Like I was saying, this kid who’s the blue-collar hero, the every man, who is down on his luck financially and every other way, and doesn’t have access to a world where he can show off his real talents as a driver. So the cars that we witness at the beginning of the movie are cars that I grew up loving--the muscle cars, American muscle cars that you could start with a couple thousand dollars and slowly put it together and put it together, and those are the cars that that Aaron plays; he gets to race and campaign against other cars. And it isn’t until Dominic Cooper’s character enters the picture that it gives him an opportunity to step into a level that’s magic with these super cars.
So those cars, I think were important because they’re the ones that I grew up with that we still see as iconic, that are still big cars at auctions. We have Camaros and a Grand Torino and GTOs, and cars that are very iconic to American car culture and the collector hobby. Like I said, I’m a guy that’s been in that hobby my whole life, but now this super cars thing is like a whole other thing, so those have personalities too, because we have European drivers for them. So it brings this different flavor to it. And the Beast is a really big part of it, the Ford F-450--the support car, basically. They call it the Beast, and it has its own personality, and they tricked it out in this amazing way.
Question: Can you talk about Dominic Cooper’s character?
JG: Personally, the guy’s a…[laughs] No, he's so great. The nice thing is I haven’t done a movie with a young cast since VARSITY BLUES. So it’s like I work with grown ups who come to work and just go home. So to be with this cast who's like, “Come on, we’re done with work, let’s go out!” They get along so well, and Dominic Cooper is like a ringleader: “Come on, let’s go to this spot. I found this place, let’s go dancing.” It’s like, oh my God.
Question: He talks like Dickensian urchin?
JG: He does, he does! He really does. But his character--he’s the guy they grew up with, but he was on the right side of the tracks, so he comes from a family that's wealthy, and money gave him access to campaign cars on a different level, and he ultimately slithered his way into a world of high-end racing, but he always knew that Tobey had incredible talent. So he comes to Tobey with an opportunity that Tobey can't turn down because of the financial situation he’s in, despite the fact that they don’t think much of Dominic, obviously, and there’s like an antagonism from the beginning.
Question: So he’s involved in that race that they’re trying to get to?
JG: Yes. Ultimately, yes. He’s the antagonist.
Question: Did you have any guidelines or must-have scenes that you had to put into the script, or did you just have that kind of freedom?
JG: The interesting thing about this process, what Electronic Arts decided to, because they’ve had video games before that have great titles and some of them have worlds and narratives, and they’ve made partnerships with movie studios that have developed their titles into the ground. So EA felt like, “We can develop stories. We do it in our games all the time.” So their agents who are my agents said to them, “Why don't you keep the process a little longer? Don’t just sell off the ID, develop the story yourself.” So that’s when we partnered. So with Electronic Arts and myself and my brother George, we developed it with them, so it was great because there was no shocker to them. It wasn’t like we turned in a script and they went, “Oh my God, what did you do?”
Along the way we had really detailed treatments where we said, “This is what we want to do.” We want to create this ensemble of young guys, and this what we think we should put them through, and they had input all along the way. So by the end we had a script, we had a game with a great title and a great following, and then we were able to go out and meet with DreamWorks and Fox and a couple of studios. I’ve worked with Steven [Spielberg] and Stacey [Snider] for years, on and off, and they knew that I had the project, and then it was was like, “Let’s do this.” So it was great, because that’s what Electronic Arts really wanted to hear; they had been down the movie-development path a few times, but Spielberg literally walked in and just looked at them and said, “Let’s make this movie.” And they were like, “Okay. Good.”
Question: I know you said there were new models of cars that were being debuted. Is there also though a sense of timelessness to the story?
JG: Well, I think so. Like you were talking about, like TWO-LAND BLACKTOP--it’s been so fun. We were in Macon, Georgia. The race that opens the movie features a '67 GTO and a ’68 Camaro, and all of these iconic muscle cars, that no matter where we go, we have to bring all that stuff with us, and people always want to stop and look at them and want to talk about them. So I think that that definitely, especially because it’s the opening of the movie, immediately invites you into like into like, wow. This a movie that I want to see. I remember those cars. I had this car.
Question: What makes a great villain car?
JG: It’s gotta be fast and deadly, probably, and Dominic has a variety of them, which is really funny, because he constantly shows up in a car that’s like, “God, what is that?”
Question: You said that Aaron Paul’s character is like a blue-collar hero. What traits about his character, other than the themes of vengeance, which everyone can get behind him, do you think make him so relatable and such a good character?
JG: What’s interesting is these guys, as much as they’re wise asses, are very honorable and very loyal to each other, and have grown up together. So that’s a theme that comes through, this loyalty and friendship and love they have for each other. And there’s a tragic event that happens that even draws them closer together, and Aaron’s character is right in the center of it, so you click into him right away.
Question: What do you think he actually brings to the role?
JG: Aaron? Well, it’s funny, because that’swho Aaron is in life. He’s such an open, straight-forward kind of guy. I’ve worked with a lot of actors, and the first day I met him, I actually talked to him on the phone while he was in England making a movie, and just on the phone in two seconds, it was super comfortable. He was so humble and excited and not an asshole at all. It was kind of amazing.
Question: How big of a team of guys are we talking about? You said there’s air support, there’s gonna be another car-. I thought it was just a guy and a girl traveling cross country.
JG: No, like I said there’s Rami Malek and Ramon Rodriguez, those guys are the Beast guys, and there’s Scott Mescudi in the air, so that’s three. And then the two of them, Aaron and Imogen [Poots].
Question: Can you tell us a little about her character?
JG: She’s amazing because, by design, Scott really loved Imogen and was like, “I want her to be a twisted version of herself.” He wasn’t gonna her make try to do an American accent--we wanted her to be European and play this upper-crust character so they can be opposites. He’s an American kid and comes from humble means and he wants to run in this world of dealing these really high-end cars. So immediately, they’re a little bit like oil and vinegar.
Question: Is she running from a wedding?
JG: Ha! That would be good. Maybe in the second movie. I didn’t even think about that. We should’ve totally did that. We actually did put a bandit car in at one point. I don’t know if it’ll make the movie, but Scott was like, “Should we give the guy your hat, or is that too much?” And I said, “Yeah, let’s leave the hat out.” We do a Bandit in there, a ’79 Trans Am.
Question: There are obviously big action set pieces in this film. Was there one before filming began that you guys were like, “Oh, how are we doing this one?”
JG: Oh, we have a couple like that. Like, there’s one called The Grasshopper that we’re doing here, which is great because Scott’s father--there’s a great history among these stunt guys. There’s a camaraderie and this amazing, almost military-like respect they have for each other, because they’re real jokers and they’re hilarious guys, and you see them out and they’re full of life, But when it comes to doing the work, when we get closer and closer to doing what they call "the events," it gets quieter and quieter, and they get more serious, and then literally, the last moment before they go to do it, everyone stops to get out of their car, and all this hugging, and like, “Hey man, see you on the other side.” They take it incredibly seriously.
I’ve never worked on a movie with stunts like this. It’s usually a lot of green screen and different kinds of stunts. Car stunts are intense. You’re driving thousands of pounds of metal at tons of miles an hour at each other. It’s kind of insane. So the Grasshopper was one of Gilbert's--Lance Gilbert is our stunt coordinator, and the Gilberts and the Waughs, Scott and his brother and his dad, they’ve all known each other for years. They’ve grown up together. Mickey Gilbert’s a very famous stunt coordinator, stunt director, so they’re redoing a stunt that their fathers had done, which is a car stunt called the Grasshopper, which is a huge jump and all this crazy stuff. So the Grasshopper is very near and dear to the heart of the production, but there are other things too. We’re using a Sikorsky helicopter to lift a Mustang and fly it off a cliff. There’s some shit that’s like, “Oh my God, please let’s all survive this day.”
Question: Since you mentioned a sequel, if you were to do a sequel, is there a specific car, rig, model, anything that you would like to see that you were not able to include in this one?
JG: That’s a great question. I think that I’ve joked that I want the opening of the sequel to take place in Sweden and in the Koenigsegg factory, and in one shot, I want to a Koenigsegg being completely put together, so that people know that it’s actually a $2.3 million-dollar car, and then take it out onto some highway and just destroy it. Just to put it all to bed, like this is what we’re gonna be doing. It’s like, go to Europe and just destroy amazing cars.
We’ve talked about the idea in a second movie, because the video game lives in North America, and we’ve even said to EA, we’ve said, “Look, if we make a second movie, don’t you think we should take it overseas?” And we were a little worried that they might be like, “No, it has to live in the world of the game.” But they were like, “No, let’s do it.” So, they might end up tailoring the game to what we potentially do in the movie, because why not take it to Dubai and Paris, and race cars 180 mph through the streets of Paris?
Question: You’ve done a couple movies now that are based on worlds that have really obsessive cultures, like high school football in Texas and car culture. Is that something you intentionally pursue as a writer, or is that something that happens?
JG: I think it’s somewhat intentional. FLIGHT, for example, is a movie that came out of my intense and obsession of flying and airplanes and the pilot culture, and working on a movie like BEHIND ENEMY LINES gave me the initial idea, because it was working with all these technical advisors who were military pilots. Getting to know these guys and realizing some of these guys become commercial airline pilots. It’s used to be much more so; it's a little less now. But yeah, I think it’s always like, what do you want to learn about? And then you get inside something and you’re like, “Wow, there’s a movie here.” But as a writer, that’s what you’re always thinking. It’s like you walk around going, “Is that a movie? Is that a movie?”
Question: They deal a lot with American masculinity, as well. Does that interest you as a topic?
JG: I trying to think. I want to come up with a clever answer [laughs]. I never thought of it that way, but I guess, yeah, I grew up playing a lot of sports and I’ve done a lot of sports movies, so I think that’s probably part of it. And it’s such part of the American thing--the sports references when it comes to business. People just talk in sports metaphors all the time, and I think sports reveal character. That’s the reason I get my wife interested in sports. She’s always just, “Ah, I don’t want to watch this football game,” but then if I say, “But wait! This guy broke his leg two years ago, and he’s back, and it’s just him and his mom, and she was a prison guard,” and now she’s crying, and, I'm like, “I’m in! I’m in! I’m in!” So I think that any time you can apply a little human experience to whatever it is, we as Americans are suckers for it.
I think that we're always trying to look for a twist on things. I think the TIN CUP was a great movie too. That surprised me. He makes great sports movies, Ron Shelton. Do you remember that movie though? It was like the third time he put the ball down and started, I was like, “Is this really happening? Costner’s supposed to win, right? What the fuck?” So I like that. We did that too, here. We hopefully twisted it a little bit. We tried to keep the movie in front of the audience as much as we could.
Question: Your films have a lot of minutia and detail--and a lot of accurate detail. How many drafts did you do of this? When do you really put in those details?
JG: It’s a lot. It’s always many, many, many drafts and it’s a ton of research, and it’s the reason I say "No" more than anything when somebody comes to me with something, because a lot of times I say, “Look, I’m just gonna be honest: I don’t know a lot about that.” And I feel like, why would I be the guy who should write a period Western? I don’t know shit about that. It would take me forever to get up to speed with how they do what they do living in that place. So cars was a little bit something more up my alley. Sports came really easy because I played so many sports through college. Cars, sports, things I know about, and things I get fascinated with. FLIGHT being the airplane thing.
But I had to learn a lot on this. It’s like I said, I don’t know anything about European super cars. I didn’t even know what a super car was. Like, think about this: the commercial airplane that some of you took to get here, that takes off at about 150 mph. When that plane takes off, it’s gonna take off at about 150-160 mph. The Koenigsegg can go 250 mph. That’s 100 mph more than the speed of the plane you’re taking off in. You just put that in your head and you go, “I don’t even understand that.” It’s like, how is that even possible.
That ends Part 2 of my NEED FOR SPEED set visit. I'll have at least one more installment for you with interviews from a couple more actors in the coming weeks. See you soon.