It's been a long time since we've seen a movie like this. No big action scene to start the movie -- instead...characters. We are drawn in to the story. Of course, suspense happens... Director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, The Family Man, Red Dragon), who is producing the upcoming Oscars ceremony, has possibly reinvented the classic heist genre for a new era. He's collected an incredible ensemble cast consisting of Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Gabourey Sidibe, Téa Leoni, and Alan Alda, who all sat down with Buzzine to talk about making this exciting film.
Eddie Murphy & Ben Stiller
Tim Wassberg: When I look at this, it’s almost like reinventing the genre of the action-comedy heist films, which I think is really neat. Going into the project, of course (to Eddie Murphy) you were one of the first collaborators for this film. Did you think about reinventing this genre? And what elements did you think goes into a film like this?
Eddie Murphy: I wasn’t thinking about reinventing a genre; I just had a funny idea and thought that this could be a funny movie. And the way the movie turned out – Brett Ratner turned the movie into what it turned into. He mixed all these different elements and made it like the old fashioned heist movies. That’s all the director’s sensibilities. That stuff’s not on paper when you read it – you’re just reading it. And he’s the one that turned it into what it is.
TW: What kind of director do you think Brett Ratner is? Are there any crazy things that happened on the set? Do you think he probably has a different method than other directors you’ve worked with in the past?
Ben Stiller: Every director has their own method, and Brett is a very experienced guy. He’s also a friend; I’ve known him for a long time. We’re sort of the same age – I’m a couple years older than him, so I know him on that level. But as a filmmaker, he loves movies, he’s really dedicated to making movies. You can just tell he loves it. And he had a real vision for this movie, and just incredible enthusiasm. But every director has a different method. That’s why I find it interesting to work with different directors, because everybody makes movies differently, and the combination of everybody’s input – Eddie’s point of view, Brett’s point of view, my point of view, the writer…everybody coming together and hopefully having a similar thing that you’re going for, but everybody having different ideas about that is what contributes to the movie having its own tone.
EM: And directing performance. Lots of directors just kind of – in my experience – say, “Action,” you do your thing, “We’ve got it…” and move on. Brett gets in and is specific about dialogue. He’ll be like, “No, don’t say this, say it this way and go again,” and he’ll change an “is” or a “the” or something. He’s really hands-on and he’s really directing the actors in the movie.
TW: What do you think are the most challenging aspects of making a film like this? Because you’re balancing all kinds of different genres – you have comedy, you have drama, you have action scenes – find the right pace. What do you think were the most challenging aspects going into this film?
BS: Any movie, the challenge is to keep your energy up from the beginning to the end. It’s like this is a four-month shoot in the middle of winter, and at first it’s really fun and energetic, but then you get three-and-a-half months in and it’s work. Yet you know that the scene you shoot on the last day is as important as the scene you shoot on the first day, so just keeping that energy up is sort of a marathon, and remembering that as you go along is one of the challenges.
Tim Wassberg: Once again, you’re reinventing the action-comedy type of film, and you’re adding the whole aspect of the heist to it. So what goes through your mind when you’re reinventing a genre?
Brett Ratner: I better not fail. [Laughs] I don’t know. I’m kind of doing what I do best, and I’ve done movies in many different genres, and I’m one of the few directors that can go from genre to genre, but all the movies that I’ve done have been preparation for this movie because this movie is the hardest movie technically, believe it or not – even though it looks pretty simple – it’s the hardest movie to really pull off. Walking that line of action, of comedy, of heist, of suspense, of drama, and I want it to be emotional, I want you to care about the characters… It’s not an easy film to make.
TW: I think it’s probably not really easy with the casting process, because every single character has unique capabilities, has a unique personality… How do you go about casting a group like this? Eddie was with it from the very beginning, so casting process and collaborating with Eddie and finding this cast…?
BR: Eddie brings a lot of the cache to it, and Ben Stiller does, and all these other actors. Basically, the goal was to get all dramatic actors to be in this movie, and not to try to surround Eddie and Ben with comedians, because then it was just going to be about the jokes. I wanted actors who could really bring something real to it, and that’s what they did.
TW: And the collaboration between you and Eddie you can definitely see here, harkens back to the ‘80s films…
BR: Yeah, I grew up watching those movies. I love those movies.
TW: Can you talk at all about the collaboration process that’s going to go into the Oscars, between you and Eddie?
BR: I think we work so well together. He wouldn’t have done the Oscars with me if he didn’t feel good about our collaboration and the work and the end result. If the movie wasn’t any good, I don’t think he’d be doing the Oscars. So he was very, I think, influenced [laughs] by the fact that we worked so well together, and that he felt safe and comfortable that I can deliver an Oscars that will be a hit.
TW: And going back to Tower Heist, there are so many different tones in the film – you have comedy, you have action, and you have drama. What are the most challenging aspects of directing a film like this? Is it the comedy? Is it the drama? Or is it the huge action scenes that we’re seeing in the area of New York…?
BR: It’s everything. It’s walking that line. It’s a tightrope, and it’s like, okay, if you go too far with the action, then it becomes another tone – it becomes another type of movie. If it’s too funny, if it’s too broad, then you don’t really care about the characters; you aren’t invested in them. So it’s really walking that line, and it’s a balancing act for me, and that’s my job. That’s what the director does – he has to have a point of view; he has to communicate that point of view to those actors and say, “Okay, this scene is not about the funny. It’s about this. This is the goal that we have to accomplish for this scene. There’s a beginning, middle, and end of this scene.” And that’s what I try to do in every scene.
TW: You’re a very versatile artist – I don’t want to just say director – books, TV…all different genres: Red Dragon, Family Man, Rush Hour… Can we know anything about the endeavors you’re probably looking forward to in the future? Since you said everything lead up to Tower Heist, where do you go from here?
BR: I’m retiring. This is it. No. Well the Oscars is a huge challenge. I’ve never done a live show before, so it’s a great experience for me to do that. I’m always challenging myself, and I’m always trying to find something that I’ve never done before that I can excel at, which means you’ll probably see me doing different genres of film. I haven’t done a musical, I haven’t done an adventure film…there are a lot of different movies that I haven’t tackled, because once you do comedy, you’re getting those offers. When I did Rush Hour, every month I would get a new movie like Rush Hour. When I did Red Dragon, I got all the serial killer movies. So they try to pigeonhole you – not on purpose; just because they like the work that you’ve done. And I’m one that’s like, okay, I’ve never done a family film – I’m gonna try to do The Family Man. I didn’t know if I could do it, but that was my practice. Now I know I can do it, so I can always revisit it and go back to it. And to me, it’s about your body of work – it’s not really about one film.
Casey Affleck, Gabourey Sidibe & Matthew Broderick
Tim Wassberg: Going into this, it has an old-school feeling, like the buddy comedy dramas, in a way – the heist movies, which I really love. Do you think Brett Ratner went into it thinking about reinventing this genre? What elements do you think goes into making a successful action-comedy film?
Casey Affleck: You definitely have to have some camaraderie, whether it’s Butch Cassidy or The Sting – so many of them – they always have characters who you want to watch. That’s the important thing. Brett dreams pretty big, so he probably did go into it thinking, “I’m gonna reinvent the genre…”
Matthew Broderick: I actually watched it with him and he was like, “See? It doesn’t look like a comedy.” He was very into the look of being cool and action-y, and kind of ‘70s too, but not to look like a comedy.
TW: What kind of director do you think Brett is? Is there anything unique about him? Were there any crazy times on the set? Can anybody give me an example of things like that?
Gabourey Sidibe: Definitely. We probably shouldn’t say it on TV. But he’s so enthusiastic, and it’s really interesting because he’s so excited about whatever scene we’re in, and every scene is really important, and everything is really important, because he’s such a huge fan of film, and he’s such a huge fan of telling stories. I really like working for him in that way, because he’s such a huge fan and I can feel his excitement, and I want to be really good for him, because I want him to be excited about what I’m doing too.
TW: Because it combines the styles of action, comedy, and drama in a way, and I’m seeing this scene with you hanging off the side of a building, and it really terrifies people. Because you have focused on theater, on drama, on comedy – what were the main challenges to you, going into a film like this?
MB: In a way, they don’t feel different. A comedy, drama… It’s sort of the same thing – I don’t know why that is. But even stage, it’s still just trying to make it look real and make it exciting, and tell a story. That’s a cliché, but you are trying to tell a good joke, even if it’s not a joke. You want to tell an exciting story.
Téa Leoni & Alan Arkin
Tim Wassberg: This film has such an old-school feel to it that I love. It’s almost like Brett is reinventing the action-comedy ensemble heist genre. Do you believe that? And what elements do you think goes into reinventing something like this?
Téa Leoni: I remember when I sat down with Brett to talk about doing this movie, and he referenced The Taking of Pelham, for instance, and one of the great ideas behind that film is that you don’t start this idea of just opening a movie with a big huge bang set piece and continuing that from the first moment go to the end. This old take is that you got to know the players. You got invested in it. This is a Robin Hood story of sorts, and I think Brett took a lot of care in casting and making sure that he had this impeccable ensemble cast. [Laughs] I like to say that because I’m in the core of it. Impeccable ensemble cast…so that you really root for these guys. You want to see this movie come out right. And the point of it isn’t the suspense of it – it’s the ride. And it’s a really thrilling and touching ride.
TW: What do you think the ride is for the audience, and what was the ride for you, in a way – watching the film and seeing it come to life?
Alan Arkin: I think it’s really fun that you understand. Because you understand the characters, you understand who these people are, doing the heist, and you understand both how much they want to get their money back, and how inept they are in going about it. And you understand in detail the ways in which they’re inept, which makes it funny in a very personal, human way. So it’s not just sight gags and jokes. You’re watching something that’s inherently funny, so you’re carried along by it and you find it amusing at the same time.
TW: Because the film combines drama, it combines action, and it combines comedy. And we have two comedians that are surrounded by such a great group of dramatic actors. But what do you think were probably the greatest challenges going into it?
AA: I think to get the whole picture done, because I’m amazed at Brett Ratner’s skill at putting this movie together. There are so many technical requirements that you won’t be aware of watching it. For instance, they’re in this beautiful big apartment that my character lives in. Out the window, you see New York at various times of day – the sun is always at the right place at the right time of day… We shot that on the soundstage. That’s a computer making New York for you, but you’re not aware of that watching it – you’re just aware of the story. And that’s what I love – is that all of these tricks of filmmaking are brought to bare on this, are there to serve the story, not to knock you out and get your adrenaline going. This is a really engaging story – very funny, and sometimes kind of thrilling because you’re watching these people go places where they’re not supposed to go. I don’t know about you, but I had a particular panic that I had watching certain movies. The one scene I can’t watch is where somebody goes into a room where they’re not supposed to be, and they start opening drawers. That’s a little crazy, isn’t it? I have to remind myself that it’s just a movie. And they don’t even do that in this movie.
Universal Pictures' 'Tower Heist' is released on November 4, 2011.