Paul Walker is stepping out the shining beach boy light into the gritty, dark streets of New Jersey for his new film, Running Scared. If last week’s Eight Below, while good, seemed like average Paul Walker fare, Running Scared will change all your expectations. In the film Walker plays mobster Joey Gazelle, whose job it is to get rid of guns used in murders. When a drug deal goes bad – and a bunch of dirty cops are blown away – Gazelle has to make the don’s son’s gun disappear. Unfortunately the 10 year old next door steals it, shoots his abusive dad with it, and takes off into the night. Gazelle has to get the kid before either the mob or the cops do, otherwise he’s a dead man.
Last week I talked to Walker on the phone – it was bright and early, a 9AM interview, and it took him a little while to warm up. But once he did he was funny and forthcoming, and came across like a regular guy.
Running Scared opens this weekend. If you’re in LA or Orange County, click here to download free passes for a preview screening on Thursday night, and be sure to check back later in the week when I’ll run my exclusive interview with director Wayne Kramer.
Q: Running Scared seems like a real departure for you. Was that a conscious choice to go grittier, to get a harder edge?
Walker: It was more making a movie that I’d like to see. This is the type of movie that I like.
Q: So what are your favorite movies?
Walker: Big Lebowski is one of my all time favorites. I love Fincher, like Fight Club and Seven. Snatch. Those are just a few.
Q: Is it tough when you’re making movies that aren’t the kind of movies that you want to see? Is it tough to be making 2 Fast 2 Furious when you’d rather be in something harder?
Walker: Hell no. Just to be working period feels pretty damn good. I’m not a pretentious guy and I don’t ever plan on becoming one. I’m grateful for my spot but at the same time I think it’s good to always want something more, something different, always having to prove yourself. Otherwise I think life becomes real boring, and a result you become pretty boring yourself. There’s definitely a genre of movie that people like to place me in because of the way I look, but I like earning projects. It’s one thing to have things handed to you – that’s great and all – but there really isn’t much sense of pride.
Q: When you were making Running Scared, did you set out to put the most ‘fucks’ possible into the movie?
Walker: Yeah, pretty much!
No, what happened was I went into it and I was just surrounded by those guys – Arthur [Nascarella], Johnny Messner and the remainder of the cast, and I was like Jesus, all these East Coast guys. Arthur was an undercover cop. So I’m sitting with these guys and I’m like, ‘Is it really like this? Do these guys really talk like this?’ ‘Fuck yeah!’ So alright, I guess if I’m going to be authentic, I’m going to be authentic. And man, there wasn’t a sentence that they wouldn’t get ‘fuck’ into two or three times, so I matched the level.
They got bad mouths, man. The bad part was that it took me a while to shake it. I went home and was like, ‘Fuck this, fuck that,’ everything. I was like, ‘I can’t have this. I have nieces and nephews I have to go home to.’ Erasing it from the vocabulary took about a year!
Q: Did you do Eight Below before or after this? Were you saying ‘fuck’ to the dogs all the time?
Walker: No, that was well before.
Q: I was impressed at how violent this movie was. Did you guys get everything into the final cut that you shot, or was there stuff that you did that didn’t make it into the R-rated version?
Walker: No, that’s it. Wayne is really smart, and he knew what he was going to be up against in terms of the ratings board, and he played his cards accordingly. What you see is the final cut. That is his cut. That is what he wanted.
Q: This also has one of the most explicit male on female oral sex scenes that I have seen in a long time in a mainstream movie. How did you do that – was there some kind of prosthetic application you’re working on down there?
Walker: Nah, I just went for it. It looks like I was right in there, but I was just alongside of it.
Q: Is it uncomfortable when you’re on set doing that?
Walker: You know, it could have been, but I was so – it was the very first day. And Vera [Farmiga, who he is eating out] had dinner together in a group setting twice before. We knew it was required, so we went in and just had to make the best of it. And she’s attractive, so it’s not like it’s a bad deal for me. I think for her, as a woman, I would think it would be much more difficult – good looking as she is, she’s surrounded by the entire crew is male. The pressure wasn’t really on me as it was on her. She’s a really confident lady.
Q: Are there days where you wake up and go, ‘Today I’m going to perform oral sex on Vera, or I’m going to go swimming with Jessica Alba for a couple of hours today…’
Walker: Oh man, I’m pissing myself. I’m going, ‘I can’t believe my flippin’ job.’ The thing of it is that, God willing, I’ll be able to do this for another ten or fifteen years, but I realize that I’m not going to be in the same position for too long. I’m not going to be cast opposite the most beautiful women in the world forever, but I’m going to run with it while I can, how about that?
Q: Clint Eastwood managed to stay cast opposite some very beautiful women for a long time into his career, and you just worked with him on Flags of Our Fathers. What’s that like, having Clint direct you?
Walker: He’s just cool. I don’t know what else to say except that you go into it thinking, ‘Man, I’m going to be working with Clint Eastwood.’ You don’t want to be too excited, and you don’t want to expect too much from him because you don’t want to be let down. I grew up on this guy; he’s this iconic figure, and after working with him, I gotta tell you that he’s definitely one of the coolest people on the face of the earth. Not just because he’s Clint Eastwood but as Clint Eastwood the way that he deals with people – like, you could be the PA or Steven Spielberg, it’s the consistency of the way he deals with people that makes me respect him so much. He’s the same with everybody. He realizes that his persona is larger than life and that a lot of people are taken aback by being around Clint Eastwood. He works really hard to keep himself accessible. He’s a pretty personable guy. I mean, he ‘s pretty quiet, he doesn’t say a whole lot, but when he does everything is well thought out. He’s definitely a man of few words. I just really like him a lot.
Q: I’ve read that Clint works really fast and efficiently, that there aren’t a lot of takes. Is that hard for you, or is that the kind of thing you like?
Walker: I like it, it’s just that – around him I seriously doubt that you have to worry about people becoming too lazy. I think everyone wants to give him their best, but you do see that from time to time; people come in and don’t know their lines or there is some uncertainty in that they don’t know exactly what they want to do with the scene. There’s no time for monkeying around when working with him. You have to know exactly what you want to do.
Q: This is a weird two weeks for you – you have Eight Below, which is a family film, and then you have Running Scared, which is about the least family-friendly film that’s been released in months. That just happened that way?
Walker: It’s funny – did it just sort of happen that way or did New Line say, ‘Hey, we should piggyback some of that press, since he’s going to be doing a lot of Disney stuff and we’re not throwing a whole lot of money at it because it’s a small movie.’ Not to mention that there isn’t an executive at that studio who has a huge stake in it because they bought this after the movie was already made. They picked up domestic distribution. This was financed by Media Eight, they pre-sold a couple of territories, and by chance New Line liked it. The funny thing is that here I am, running around doing this press for Disney – does Disney want me talking about Running Scared while promoting their family movie? Hell no!
Q: The funny thing is that they’re both pretty good movies. Eight Below, for what it is, a kid’s adventure movie, is pretty good, and Running Scared is great.
Walker: What did you think of Running Scared? Honestly.
Q: I loved it.
Walker: You did?
Q: You know, I walked in and wasn’t expecting a whole lot and then 25 minutes in I was going, ‘This movie is insane.’
Walker: Yeah, that was my reaction. It’s fucking crazy.
Q: When did you realize it was a really great script?
Walker: I was actually working on Into the Blue, in the Bahamas, diving. When I’m working on a movie I don’t read other material. I just can’t do it, I’m working too much. My manager called me up and said, ‘Paul, we found the project you want.’ I was like, that’s a pretty bold statement. I was like, OK cool, I want to read this. Let’s see if somebody’s getting fired. Do these guys really know me? [laughs] I read it, sure enough, I loved it. When I called them up and said, ‘Get the ball rolling on this,’ they said, ‘It’s already in motion.’ They didn’t even wait for my response. They just knew it was the one.
Q: When you read the script was it obvious that it was a demented fairy tale?
Walker: I don’t know that that was – I think that was more of an afterthought for him, to be honest with you. I think I saw it happen; everything just materialized as things were going on. I remember when we were going through the casting process and he cast the pimp and I was, ‘Ah, that’s not exactly what I was thinking.’ And then he did the blue dress [on a hooker] and he was talking Blue Fairy, and the next thing I knew the art department was changing the wallpaper in the diner and they were putting the Cheshire Cat up on the walls. It started becoming more apparent as time went on and he was talking about it more and more and more. I remember one day he was really excited because all the pieces just seemed to come together.
But he told me that he thinks it was maybe a subconscious thing going on, where he wasn’t too aware of it but at the same time weaving it throughout the script. That guy’s the real deal. I think Wayne’s going to be around for a long time.
Q: 2006 is shaping up to be a good year for you. What’s next? What’s in the future for you?
Walker: I don’t know. I hope people stop thinking about me as the golden boy. It’s nice being in that spot, being thought of as the leading man, but given more opportunity – I don’t know how to fail, man. I’ll land on my feet. The more I have to bite off, then the more fulfilling. Initially I was a little intimidated – I never thought of myself as an actor. But now more and more I just love it.
Q: Are you willing to take non-leading roles? Will you take smaller parts?
Walker: Oh yeah, sure. That’s what I really have to prove to people now. There are a lot of bonuses that come with that, too – you don’t have to hang around the set of the damn movie for one. [laughs] So yeah, I welcome that. Ensemble pieces, smaller supporting roles – you’re going to see me doing more of that for sure.
Q: But there’s nothing you have on your plate next?
Walker: No, but I’m chasing the new Coen Brothers project right now. I told you that one of my favorite movies of all time is The Big Lebowski, but I’m running into some resistance there. They have preconceived notions of what I’m about, so I’m begging them to watch Running Scared right now. Who knows? Keep your fingers crossed and we’ll see what happens.
Q: Is Papa still happening?
Walker: Yeah, but we got thrown a bit of a curveball. Anthony Hopkins, who was going to play Hemingway, found another project that he wanted to do before it. We’re looking to do it in the fall. But we lost our financing – there’s a narrow window there, so it looks like it’s gonna drop for August or September, we’re going to pull together the financing.