The hair has begun growing back on Timothy Olyphant’s head, but he still has what looks like a very tight buzz cut. He has been bald for the last few months shooting Hitman, an adaptation of the video game about – well, I think the title sums it up. The head had to stay bald well after principal photography because Olyphant needed to go back for reshoots, something which doesn’t actually always mean trouble. Woody Allen schedules reshoots into all of his films, in fact.
But there has been some buzz surrounding Hitman the last few weeks, quite a bit of it troubling. We heard that director Xavier Gens, making his English language debut, had been canned. We heard that Fox was editing the movie down without his input, looking to get a PG-13. The PG-13 turned out to be sheer bunk – Hitman is certainly rated R. But what about the rest? Olyphant had only a few days before heading north to Canada to start a new film, so Fox called a number of online journalists in to their lot to sit down with the star while he had availability. We took the opportunity to find out from Olyphant himself what was going on.
Here’s what I found interesting about Olyphant: he wasn’t coached, and he was honest in a way that can translate poorly to print, especially since he has a dry sense of humor. It would be easy to take his quote about the Deadwood TV movies never happening -‘I could give a shit’ – way, way out of context. His joke about trying to get Gens fired for not speaking English is another one that could be taken completely wrong. And honestly, I find that refreshing. Too often I sit in rooms with highly prepped actors and directors who feed me an endless line of happy go lucky bullshit with a smile on their face. Olyphant is a straight shooter, a plain speaker, a guy who says what he wants to say.
Hitman opens November 21st.
Can you tell us a little bit about your character?
Agent 47 is based on this video game character. He’s essentially a guy who was born and bred for the purpose of killing. The story is about a guy who was hired to do a job, and he does it seemingly as well as he’s done any other. Then he’s told by the people he works for that there’s a witness, and he’s going to go clean that up. But something’s not right when he sees her – it’s a woman played by Olga Kurylenko, who’s just fantastic, she did a really lovely job – and there appears to be no recognition when she sees me. Then someone tries to kill me, and the guy I killed shows up on television – [Agent 47’s] whole world is turned upside down.
Did you play the video game at all?
I did read about it. That’s a thing about the internet, as you people know, there’s a wealth of information there. How much of it is factual, I don’t know, but there’s a wealth of information. I felt like we did, based on what I read and understand, we did a good job of honoring and paying tribute to the game while not being a slave to it, which is a nice place to work from. Xavier [Gans, the director] is a big fan of the game, is a big gamer in general, and loved the game. He was really adamant about certain things that reflected the game. I also know in particular other than the imagery I saw there were things like once we got our hands on the script – it’s hard to tell what came first, whether we read about something in the game that inspired choices we made, or whether there were choices we wanted to do that sort of were also reflected in the game. We were conscious of it the whole time.
Can you tell us what the reshoots entailed?
We did this kick ass little
action sequence in there. A couple of little touch ups and stuff.
Little bits, little inserts. It’s lovely to have that luxury. Then we
had an action sequence that we sort of added to.
Did Xavier direct the reshoots? There’s been some talk that he’s not -
He’s involved. I saw him when I was there [doing the reshoots] but he did not direct the reshoots. I heard the talk on that, that he was fired. I kept saying I was trying to get that guy fired for months. They finally fired him? Fuck! I was saying that forever. He doesn’t speak English, didn’t anybody see that?
Another rumor has it that Fox has gone in and reduced the level of violence in the film. Is there any truth to that?
I’m aware of that too, that that was being talked about. I have no information that supports that at all. I’ve had conversations that they don’t have to have with me at all, but I’ve been very involved, and they’ve kept me in the loop here at the studio, and there was never a conversation that I’ve had with any of the executives here or the producers in France or Xavier that was about fear of being too violent. The only conversations we’ve had have been creative conversations about the kind of violence and where it hurts or helps the story. There’s no way it’s not a violent film. We’d have a forty five minute film – we shot a very violent film. If there’s any truth to that rumor at all, there’s always a conversation about what you’re trying to elicit from the audience. There’s a difference between the violence in James Bond films – especially the ones from the past – as opposed to the violence in a Quentin Tarantino film versus violence in a horror film or something designed to make you uncomfortable. As far as I’m concerned the conversations were about that, finding the right tone and not about this idea of toning it down or making it anything less than an R-rated film.
What is the tone? Is it gritty violence, is it entertaining fanastical violence?
I thought what we were making was reminiscent in terms of specific films was the old John Woo films. There’s a certain elegance to the film, but the violence was there as well. It wasn’t comical – we weren’t making something where it felt like, ‘Wow, 50 guys just died and I barely noticed.’ It wasn’t that kind of thing. As the movie changed Xavier and I had a lot of conversations about the type of violence and how it changes throughout the film, as the character changes. Xavier is a very thoughtful guy and a very smart guy, and he is the main reason I was enthusiastic about this project. It’s not lost on me that the fact that Fox offered me a project like this was quite an opportunity and quite flattering. I hadn’t done anything like this before, and it was a responsibility. That was all well and good, but Xavier was, from the moment he met, his enthusiasm for the material was… he was aiming high. I thought that was impressive.
Is there humor in the film?
We tried to find some moments. We did. Perhaps not enough. I haven’t seen the final thing. It’s always nice when you find those little moments.
Is it a gallows humor?
Yeah. We’re not yucking it up by any means. We were trying to make a serious film, but you have to find those moments.
How involved was Luc Besson?
I don’t know. I can tell you I had very little interaction with him when we were making the film. I met him, he was there for a day or two. I didn’t have that much interaction with him.
Can you talk about filming the action set pieces?
It was great. I really enjoyed it. It was challenging for a number of reasons – it was challenging because it was a big responsibility and I hadn’t had it before. And it was all amplified by the fact that the director was French and the crew was Bulgarian and so on and so forth, it added additional challenges. But that being said, I really enjoyed it. Like I said, Xavier was a very smart guy, and it was very rewarding engaging with him, creatively, and fighting the fight with him, day in and day out. Is there a way to make this scene smarter? How much of a character film can we make, given the source material? Can we still try to get to the heart of something?
What kind of acting tools did you have when you’re playing this guy who is a killing machine?
The angle I take is that you trust that takes care of itself. You trust that if you kill a bunch of guys in an elevator and you walk out the only guy without a scratch on you, that defines who you are. You trust that, and you can leave that alone. You say, ‘Well, I don’t need to convince everybody I’m a bad ass because I’m the one who walked out of that without a scratch.’ You set that aside. Then what you do is say, ‘What else is there?’ How many angles can you look at this? Where’s the humanity in it all? You start with a guy who goes from job to job to job. It sounds sort of – I don’t know if it’s a cliche or something, but you assume it’s a lonely existence, like a traveling salesman or something. I thought it was interesting to look at his job prior to the events that happen, and it’s kind of mundane. You go from job to job, you’re good at what you do, it’s sort of easy, and you’re not engaging with a lot of people. There’s a sort of detachment to it all to be able to do it. That gets interesting, when you look at something that seems so special and you try to find something pedestrian about it. Then you take that and you just turn that upside down. What happens when that guy’s world turns upside down, and you have this soldier – for lack of a better term – where his job is you point and I’ll shoot, since the assassin isn’t choosing who dies and who doesn’t die. Somebody gives him a target and he takes it out. But what happens when there’s no trust, the boss is not to be trusted, the target’s not being given to you, who do you take out and who do you not take out? What starts to happen is it starts to force him to examine in some sort of small, maybe unconscious way, is what else is out there? If I’m not that guy, do I have any other job skills? You start looking at it that way, and those are very human experiences. Everybody can relate to that. Everybody can relate to the carpet being pulled out from under them. Everybody can relate to asking yourself, ‘Is this who I am, or am I capable of being something else?’ Not necessarily something better, but something else, or is that pre-determined?
Is this a character the studio envisions as a franchise? Would you want to pursue a franchise?
I don’t know what the studio’s plan is, you’d have to ask them, but it seems these days everything is intended to be – if it’s successful, there’s another one coming. It’s hard to find a movie these days that doesn’t have franchise potential. Someone was telling me the other day, ‘Game Plan, sequel.’ I was like, ‘Really? A franchise? I didn’t see that.’ But it did great, so why the fuck not?
Are you signed for multiple films?
Does the film set up a sequel?
It’s certainly rich with possibility. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Do you have something else lined up?
I leave for Canada Wednesday. I’m doing a movie called The High Life. Not sure if there’s a The, but it’s definitely High Life. A guy named Gary Yates is directing it; he directed a film that was at Sundance a couple of years ago called Seven Times Lucky. It’s a movie about four morphine addicts in 1983 who attempt to rob a bank. It’s funny.
You’re going from this big, mainstream, possible franchise film to a smaller, edgier movie. Do you see your career as one where you’ll keep dancing back and forth like that?
As long as they’ll let me. Like right now, my mindset, while excited about Hitman, I can’t wait to do this tiny little film. God bless the studio executives who gave me this job, but it’s a really different creative conversation. It’s nice to be able to go and just shoot. You got 98 pages, whatever the script is, and it’s just perfect and you just shoot that. It’s a nice feeling. The director’s got all the power in the world, and those are great things. On the other hand, when this is all done, I’ll say, ‘Somebody give me a big fucking trailer, because this is just ridiculous! This is a fucking joke – they don’t got cable or nothing in there!’ [laughs] It’s lovely to go back and forth. I had the pleasure of working with Bruce Willis, and how he’s been able to go back and forth from big picture to small picture without any lack of credibility and without hurting the film – there’s no sort of hurdle to get over. When he puts himself in a small picture, you don’t say, ‘What the fuck is Bruce Willis doing in there?’ He’s a goddamn genius, and I’d love to be able to steal a page from that.
Now that it appears that the Deadwood TV movies are probably not going to happen, what are your thoughts on the show’s legacy? Did you keep anything from the show as a memento?
The answer to your last question is no, I didn’t keep anything from the show. My feelings on the show are the same as they were from the jump – it was an incredible creative experience. One of the greatest experiences I’ll probably ever have. Working for David Milch was the job of a lifetime.
Do you feel kind of gypped that you won’t have a chance to go back and finish up with those bookend films?
Honestly? It always feels a little… I could really give a shit. I mean it in the most respectful way. I had a great time on that show, and I am thankful to have that experience. To look at it from any other angle is, I think, a slippery slope. I don’t think anybody owes me anything. I walk away from that saying thank God it existed. I have great relationships from that show. And you know what’s better than seven or eight years on TV? Three years on TV.