I'm a big fan of the SNIPER franchise (namely Part 1 and 2, although watchable, Part 3 didn't stay with me) and when I heard that they were somewhat rebooting the franchise (Berenger, although a champ is getting up there in age); I was a tad scared as to how that would go down. Thankfully actor CHAD MICHAEL COLLINS has what it takes to streamline the series into a new era. He of course plays Brandon Beckett, the son of Berenger's Thomas Beckett. I recently had the chance to trade punches with Collins as to all that was the Sniper Reloaded experience; and here's what the dude left-hooked my way!
CHAD MICHAEL COLLINS INTERVIEW
What's your favorite action film?
For all-around action, I don’t think you can beat the newer Daniel Craig-lead James Bond movies or Matt Damon’s Bourne Trilogy – hand-to-hand combat, knife-fights, guns, cars, damsels-in-distress, and more – but my all-time favorite actioner is Braveheart. I’ve watched it about 17 times. Saving Private Ryan is a close second.
Were you a fan of the previous Sniper movies before tackling this one?
I saw the first years ago, shortly after it came out. I dug it, but I like military action films in general, as I’m a big fan of that sub-genre. But, c’mon – Tom Berenger, especially after Platoon, is just the picture of the rugged, stoic soldier. He’s great to watch in anything. It was a nice surprise to see him onscreen in Inception last year.
How arduous was the audition process in terms of locking the role of Brandon Beckett?
Long story, that one. I did Lake Placid 2 for Sony years ago, and one of the film’s producers called my manager after we shot it and thought I was a dead ringer for a young Tom Berenger. He was trying to get another Sniper movie off the ground, and I was attached to an old version of the script that was an origin story, with Berenger attached and flashbacks to me playing a young ‘Thomas Beckett’ as a grunt in ‘Nam. I was set to film for six weeks in the Philippines when it got shelved, as these things sometimes do. A few years went by, and several more revisions of the script had it set in present-day Eastern Europe, but they kept me attached to play the lead, thankfully. I had to go in for a work session with the producer and convince the director, a talented helmer named Claudio Faeh, that I was the man for the job. About two weeks before principal shooting started, I learned I was their guy and packed up to go to the final, locked location: South Africa.
Once you had the role, were you at all intimidated by the fact that you would be filling Tom Berenger's big shoes?
I wasn’t at all, really, since I was going to play his estranged son. Whatever limited relationship the two characters have as father and son is kept under wraps, which lets the audience fill in the blanks however they want to while leaving the door open for a possible reunion. Had it been an origin story, you bet I would’ve studied tape on Mr. Berenger like he was a prizefighter. In Reloaded, my character admits that he eschewed sniper school and became a grunt just to spite my old man. But obviously I come around, or else the title would a bit ill-fitting, eh?
How much (if any) training did you do to prep for the part? Am talking weapons, hand to hand and weight training?
When I was attached to do the origin story version of the film, I was supposed to get a week of “basic” training and then five weeks of principal photography. Unfortunately, for Reloaded, it came together so last-minute that I got what amounted to about six hours of weapons and movement training with our technical advisor, a former Russian sniper named Vadim, and our fantastic armorer, Pete Smith, once I got into Johannesburg. But those guys were incredible; they’ve worked with dozens of action stars like Nic Cage and JCVD and were insanely knowledgeable and open to teaching me. Between every single take, I was literally picking their brains about everything from terminology to stance to holstering in an attempt to be as authentic as possible. I had to earn their thumbs up every take, but I knew that the audience would be thrilled with the action as a result.
Although I didn’t have as much prep time as I wanted, I always keep in pretty good shape through kickboxing, boxing, and rolling MMA casually. For the film, I put myself through a boot camp for about a month, lifting heavier weights and doing tons of natural body-weight exercises like push-ups and pull-ups. Marines are no joke, some of the strongest and toughest guys I’ve ever met, and I knew that I’d have to come ready to bring it for the rigorous 23-day shoot (of which I worked 23 days). It was about 90-95f most days, in high elevations, and I did just about all of my own stunts in addition to the sprinting, diving, sliding, and action sequences, take after take. But not a second of it was any less than wicked fun.
The flick was shot in South Africa; how would you describe your time there? Smooth, tension filled, a bit of both?
Unfortunately, I was basically a member of the crew, on set every day pretty much from start to finish and didn’t get too much time off. I think I logged about 2-3 days off in the five weeks I was there while we shot, but we shot mostly on location in these exotic wildlife reserves, so every day was an adventure. We’d be shooting and from out of nowhere a warthog family would come waltzing through the shot, or a giraffe would roll up and start messing with the lighting. Not to mention the roars of the lions in the distance, or a herd of wildebeests crashing through the brush. It was a pretty amazing experience for a country boy from rural upstate New York.
As far as the culture goes, I found South Africans to be a wonderful, laid back people. Very accommodating and cool, some of the harderst-working people I’ve ever worked alongside, but also quick to toss you a beer and ask “Howzit?” when the work is done. That’s South African for “What’s up?,” by the way. We shot about three months before the World Cup came through, and the city (Johannesburg) was abuzz with excitement. We also shot a few days in a legit shantytown, where young kids literally kicked around taped up garbage without shoes, on a dusty field, and were just happy with what they had. They didn’t know they were so poor; it was all they ever knew, and it didn’t matter to them. I’m talking tin scraps as a house; no plumbing, no electricity. It was a lesson in humility and gratitude, seeing those kids running around smiling like they did.
You partook in many action sequences in the film; which would you say was the most challenging to execute and why?
The hands-down hardest thing I had to do was a time-lapse shot propped up against an old rusted-out jalopy, remaining perfectly still for an hour-and-a-half while the DP (the phenomenal Lorenzo Senatore, who I worked with on LP2 as well) snapped a frame of the setting sun on the horizon every 38 seconds or so. I’m serious; I was sitting on sharp little stones, ants crawled in my clothes, my legs went numb, and it was so hot that sweat and sunscreen leaked into my eyes. And that was the first 10 minutes. Every deep bruise, smashed fingernail, and road rash throughout the shoot was cupcakes and sunshine compared to that. And, of course…the scene didn’t even make the final cut of the movie!
SNIPER veteran Billy Zane comes back to the franchise with this entry; any memorable on set shenanigans to share with us as to your time spent with him? He comes off as a cool guy to hang with.
Billy was great, both on set and off. That guy has made some movies, y’know? I was like a sponge around him, and he proved to be incredibly generous with his time, advice, and knowledge. He’s not only a veteran, but a highly intelligent and funny guy; we shared a lot of laughs being clowns (endless quotes from Team America) and loving what we do for a living, but also worked together to make sure that we made the best movie we could. He contributed a lot in the way of making each scene better, stronger, and funnier (when it made sense); he helped infuse a bit of gallow’s humor, a nice Butch and Sundance dynamic, which really makes Reloaded so much more enjoyable. We actually spent most of our time hanging out in the kitchen of the manor house we were staying in. Dude is a great cook; he made some fantastic roasted carrot dish that I still need to get the recipe for…
The ending of the picture left the door wide open for you to SNIPER some more; is that something that interests ya? Are you signed on for further sequels? If so, how many?
Absolutely. Billy and I had so much fun doing this, and established such a nice personal and professional rapport that we literally at one point looked at each other and said “Man…we gotta make more of these!” That however, is up to Sony, so hopefully Reloaded does well and we’re globetrotting spooks in Sniper: Reloaded…uh, II! Let the record show that we’re both down.
If it were up to you, where would you like to see the character of Brandon Beckett go psychologically and in terms of the character's overall evolution?
In Reloaded, ‘Brandon’s’ squad is taken out by a sniper, and he is forced to embrace the way of the sniper, despite his disdain for it. You can’t embrace the almost zen-like qualities and patience inherent with the job without completely owning it; I think it opens him up, helps him get past some past anger, grief and resentment, and even develop a sense of humor. I mean you can’t partner with a wacky character like Billy’s ‘Richard Miller’ and not just loosen up a bit more. I see the next installment of Reloaded as playing up a lot more of that Butch and Sundance relationship; I don’t think it’d ever devolve into a full-blown buddy comedy, but I think there’s enough soldier-like rigidness with ‘Brandon’ and sardonic, anti-establishment humor from ‘Miller’ to make for a hilarious dynamic.
From what you know; any chance of seeing Berenger and yourself doing some damage together in a future SNIPER sequel?
I know that they’ve tried to get Mr. Berenger, but he’s always had other projects in the works. But yes, the guy’s a legend, and it’d be an honor to play one-half of a father-and-son action duo alongside him so I’d love the opportunity. But honestly, I’m happy to keep a good thing going with Billy, a total blessing for me.
What's next for you as an actor, any exciting project we can look forward in seeing you in?
I just starred in an episode of CSI: Miami air on April 10th, playing a champion MMA fighter being protected by Horatio (and his shades) and the gang from an escaped convict ex-training partner looking for payback after my testimony put him in the clink. It was fantastically brutal; they brought in a former UFC fighter (Roman Mitichyan) to play my opponent, and we did a few days of pretty intense fight choreography for the championship bout. Let’s just say I earned my pay on that gig. I’m a huge fan of the UFC and MMA in general, and I learned firsthand that MMA fighters are insanely tough dudes. Not that that’s any surprise.
In a complete U-turn of a departure, I also just wrapped shooting on a hilarious indie mockumentary about an oblivious, narcissistic self-help guru called Rock Barnes: The Emperor in You. It was such a blast, very funny and improv-heavy. I’m a fan of the Broken Lizard movies – Super Troopers, Beerfest – and Erik Stolhanske was priceless in the title role, so it was a blast to work alongside him. Let’s just say that people who watch me running around as ‘Brandon Beckett’ in Reloaded will wonder “WTF?!” when they see me in this one, playing a straight man pretending to be a gay consultant. Two words: fishnet shirt. Out of curiosity; how do you perceive the current state of the action genre? I think it is, and always will be, an in-demand and fan-favorite genre. Look at a movie like The Expendables; that proves that the genre is alive and well. I mean, the action stars of yesteryear and today alike are part of America’s cultural lexicon, whether you’re talking Stallone and Schwarzenegger or the Rock and Statham. Personally, I love that the comic books of my teenage years are all coming to life on the big screen, most as incredible action flicks. Seriously, how great was Iron Man?!
What's the first drink you guzzled down at the SNIPER RELOADED wrap party?
Castle Lager, a fine mid-grade South African brew. I also remember drinking a lot of Hansa, when I wasn’t peer pressured into taking slugs of vodka straight from the bottle by Vadim, our Russian ex-sniper technical advisor. I let him know he was a walking stereotype each time, to which he chuckled…then said “Now drink.” Vadim was all about the tough love.
"Pictures courtesy of Sony Home Entertainment"