Last week I headed over to the Fox lot for some cocktails and a screening of Street Kings. Keanu Reeves and director David Ayer (who also wrote Training Day and directed Harsh Times) came out to intro the film, and then Ayer came back after the screening to do a Q&A. The funny thing is that I’ve been to Q&As with civilians, and it seems like reporters ask the same sorts of cringe-worthy questions. You would think that an event like this would make people bring something more than ‘What was the hardest scene to film?’ but you would be sorely mistaken. So rather than present you with the tedious transcript of the entire Q&A session, here are some highlights.
Ayer on changes in the script from James Ellroy’s original:
The script has taken quite a revolution. Obviously it was originally a James Ellroy script which took place in 1996 around the time of the O.J. verdict. It sort of focused on Tom Ludlow as a Mark Fuhrmanesque kind of character. Over the evolution, as it passed through various writers, the version Keanu showed up attached to everyone agreed was a blueprint for the film. This version, there’s not a lot different. The [Internal Affairs] office confrontation scene was a new addition. The girlfriend was a reporter and she became a nurse in this case. There were some adjustments, but basically the form of the movie was there.
On Ellroy’s reaction to what the movie became:
Yes, Mr. Ellroy has seen the film and he’s really happy with it. Obviously it diverted significantly from his original vision. The basic plot is his which is a broken down detective in a specialized unit discovers that his boss is the center of evil of the universe which is a pretty standard James Ellroy plot.
On the genius and wonderful casting of Terry Crewes:
Terry is obviously a big guy. He’s a physically imposing. He’s in incredible shape. He’s a former NFL player, but there’s a real likeability to him. There’s a warmth to his soul, warmth to his character. The role of Terrance Washington is axial obviously because the entire plot hinges around his death so that character had to leave a shadow throughout the entirety of the film. If he were less sort of charismatic or maybe a more abrasive person, it would be hard to understand emotionally why Ludlow feels compelled to solve his death. The other thing is that it’s a little bit of casting against his type because Terry has played really likable and comedic roles so the last thing you expect is for him to get sprayed by a couple of machine guns.
On the casting of Hugh Laurie:
Biggs is the classic sort of secret policeman. He’s sort of the bureaucrat who works in the shadows and pulls the strings. By his nature and his familiarity as House, brings a certain levity to the film. And so with Keanu, we get it with Cedric, we get it with Terry Crews. You cast people who bring that. They can bring that… I don’t want to say fun, but they help sort of lighten up the palette a little bit. It was really interesting working with Hugh because obviously he has a thick British accent, and he likened acting with an accent, an American accent to playing tennis with a fish. He has to focus more than the other actors on the stage. But Hugh is a very gracious guy. He gave us a lot of time and worked with our consultants, asked a lot of good questions and did a lot of rehearsal. A lot of rehearsal went in here, it may not seem like it, it might seem like it’s ad-libbed or sort of on the cuff, but it’s all scripted and all very detailed and executed.
On why he keeps coming back to crime in Los Angeles:
It was exciting to do this particular project. One thing you have to realize is that when you’re in a career in Hollywood it’s not like you’re walking into Hometown Buffet and you pick from a variety of projects lying out before you. When this project came along, I really wanted to get back on set. I had a great experience directing Harsh Times and a brutal distribution experience, but that aside. Here comes Keanu Reeves with a script that’s pretty close to camera ready in an arena I’m really familiar with. You’ve got to keep in mind this is my first studio movie as a director so I’m not going to get hired to do a romantic comedy [and] I’m not going to get hired to do a summer tentpole. That’s just the reality of the business. So here’s a wonderful opportunity in a city I know, in a world I know with characters I know and it afforded me the opportunity as a director to not have to focus on the world, but to focus on developing performance.
I’m from Los Angeles, so it’s where I grew up. I grew up just south of downtown. I know these neighborhoods. My wife is from here. I went to high school here. I know these streets. I know L.A. east of LaBrea. This part of town I’m kind of uncomfortable in. Let’s say a director is from New York and decides to focus on New York and sets that as his back drop – perfectly acceptable. But when you do that in L.A., there’s a little conceit there. It’s like, “Hey what’s with L.A.?” It’s a city I know and love.
On walking the line between making a gritty police procedural and an exciting cop thriller:
Well it is sort of a dance. What you have to realize in this case is, these guys are conducting an impromptu, sort of, off-the-books investigation. They’re solving a crime they are not supposed to be solving. But a lot of the specific detail is absolutely accurate. You know, the little ballistics envelopes, we got those from the coroners office. So it was shot in the coroner’s office for that morgue scene. We did detailed, photographic studies of robbery/homicide in LAPD. We got from somewhere, copies of their actual documents and copied them and used those in the film. And plus, with our consultants and advisors, we went to great lengths to sort of, portray the reality of policing and the mechanics of it as accurately as possible. Because my whole thing is, I don’t want a cop watching this movie rolling his eyes.
On getting LAPD support for a movie about dirty cops:
Well first of all, you’ve got to realize that everyone loves a good cop movie – especially cops – and there is the official department one which is you’re supposed to approach public affairs and get whatever resources and affairs you need. Everything we need is basically off the shelf. We did use the actual LAPD Emerald Society Honor Guard in the funeral sequence. I had some really high caliber technical advisers who are former LAPD officers and I was able to get a lot of sort of inside support. I think everyone is sort of able to separate out that this is a movie and it’s a work of fiction.
On a sequel or prequel:
I think a prequel is actually pretty interesting, which is, what got these people into this situation. It may sound corny but 99.9% of people get into law enforcement because they want to help people. And so you take that, bright eyed-bushy tailed rookie, and how does he become the Tom Ludlow.