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INT: Joe Carnahan

Oh, what might have been. That’s the thought that kept cycling through my mind as I watched Joe Carnahan’s latest flick, SMOKIN' ACES, last month. Carnahan, who four years ago gave us a gem of a film called NARC, was originally slated to direct MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3 before leaving the project after 15 months over creative differences with the producers. It’s a pity, because SMOKIN' ACES is filled with action sequences that might have made M:I 3 more than just another forgettable summer action flick.

I got a chance to sit down with the cool-as-hell Carnahan for a one-on-one interview a few weeks ago. He talked about SMOKIN' ACES, M:I 3 and, of course, his love of JoBlo.com . Check it out.

Joe Carnahan

Smokin’ Aces looks like a pretty big departure from your previous film, Narc. What was your mindset going into the project?

I came out of 15 months on Mission: Impossible 3 and kinda started another aborted film for three, four months, and I went through a really rough, kinda personal period in my life and it was one of those things where I really needed to kinda re-energize and re-vitalize in this way that I thought…the analogy I draw is like a fighter: if you’re out of the ring from three years and you haven’t really let your hands go, you have this propensity to just kinda go out and wail on something.

That’s kinda what this movie feels like; it’s like me going, goddamit, while I’m young enough to get away with it, to do this really conscious effort where you just go, “I’m gonna throw everything at ‘em at one time, every outlandish thing I’ve ever thought about or conceived of, and I’m gonna try to make them run parallel or intersect with heavy emotional stuff.” I’d rather fall reaching than to go, “Well we shouldn’t do that. The kid can’t get a boner” You know what I mean. Let the characters kinda become emblematic in that I shot them the way I thought they’d wanna be shot. Which I think is great.

Tonally, it requires the audience to shift gears quickly and then grind them at times. But I like it. I like the deliberation. I think it’s a complete stylistically, dramatically, there are some holdovers. There are some things that I look at and I see similarities. But we should be able to do things as filmmakers. The guys I really admire are the Ang Lees and the Soderberghs. They don’t really have a style; their style depends on the subject matter and they’ll adjust their style accordingly. I love that, man.

This movie has the biggest, craziest cast I’ve seen in a while. How do you handle that as a director and a storyteller? How challenging was that?

It was in the sense that, for all the elaborations in plot and character and so on, you’re kinda fighting to get everybody their equal due, and you try to create as fully dimensional a character as you can. It’s a mad, mad, mad world, all these cameos and characters popping up and so on. When you’re actually in it, the shooting of it, you’re immersed in this thing. Today we’re doing this, tomorrow we’re doing that. So it’s really when you get into the editing room that you start to make all of these…who’s gonna collide? Who’s gonna brush into one another? Who’s gonna do this or that? But really, it was the script. More than anything else, it was me knowing that the fundamental foundations, the first brick in the building, made sense to me on paper. Whether or not it would actually translate, you never know. But you go off with your strongest foot, which is always the script. So it wasn’t as problematic as maybe I thought it was gonna be. Not to say it was a cakewalk, but I didn’t get hung up on that, you know?

That was 40 days, brother. We shot that thing in 40 days.

Watching all of the cool action sequences in Smokin’ Aces, I couldn’t help but wonder what might have been with M:I 3.

I’m telling you right now brother: it was the best. We had a script that I thought was so goddamn good. It was becoming something really special. Danny Gilroy wrote it with me. His brother Tony wrote the Bourne Identity. And his twin brother John cut Narc for me. Their father Frank Gilroy won the Pulitzer – he was big playwrite in New York . So the whole family is really talented.

Danny and I wrote a script about private military and going into Africa and assassinating this West African premier and throwing this country into chaos. Ken Branagh was gonna play this guy based on Timothy Spicer, who was an SAS colonel, British army. And he retires and he’s a billionaire two years later, because he puts his private military together and they go into Sierra Leone and they go, “You got a problem with this rebel uprising? Will crush ‘em.” 15% of the copper mines, 10% of the diamond trade, etc.”

We were so far ahead of the curve, with private military. Now you hear about it with Blackwater and all these other companies, Brown Kellogg, the guys in Iraq , Cheney’s cronies, those sonsabitches at Halliburton. But we had it where it was geopolitical and really sharp. It would have been something else, dude.

No offense to J.J. Abrams, but the M:I 3 that eventually made it the theaters was pretty safe.

And that’s what they wanted it to be. When I came into that process, I said specifically – my words verbatim were, “We have to do the punk rock version.” We had to take the piss out of Bourne, because I consider that series to be the standard-barrier right now. Damon’s amazing. I love those movies. I think they’re intrinsically human and relatable and he seems like a very flawed character and a very troubled guy and I loved that. And if you’re not gonna knock that, then what’s the point? If you’re not gonna try to take it to that level and beyond, what’s the point? And it got to the point where it was just kinda…when I left, I had no illusions. I didn’t think I was long for that process. I think that if I didn’t quit, within a week I was probably gonna be blown out. The analogy I use is that it’s like getting invited off the street to have a gunfight, and you just shoot the f*cker in the saloon.

This is not to cast any aspersions in any way, shape or form on M:I 3. For the first half hour I enjoyed the hell out of that movie. I thought it was really sharp and J.J. was making some really good decisions. And that kind of momentum didn’t hold. Dramatically and emotionally, I lost it. And that was something I wanted to avoid.

You’ve embraced the internet a lot more than most directors, with your blog what not. Why?

For me it’s like, why do you want to have any distance to exist between you and the people who go out and patronize your films and pay money to see ‘em and have questions and fascinations with movies? Why would I consciously want to build up that wall? Certainly, I can’t take scripts over the internet or anything. There’s still a channel for that stuff and I’m not gonna tell somebody to piss off.

I think we erect these towers because, one, it makes us feel better and it gives us some sense that we’ve achieved something and therefore the great kinda unwashed masses or whatever the f*ck you want to call it, I think it’s absurd. Some kid wrote me from some town in Pennsylvania , saying, “Hey man, is it possible to get an autograph picture? I’ll pay you for it.” And I thought, “My god, this kid’s gonna…” and I autographed a poster and sent it to him. I was really lucky when I was young. Shane Black, who wrote Lethal Weapon, really took time out to talk to me and he wrote me this letter. And it meant a lot to me…It really stuck with me.

You ever check out JoBlo.com ?

Absolutely. All the time. I just went on your site yesterday and read the Clooney interview…I’m as big of a movie freak as anyone. It’s a community of like-minded people. I probably go on JoBlo twice, three times a week.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com

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