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Set Visit: Rampage's producers talk cast, crew and possible sequels

For producer Hiram Garcia, going to work with Dwayne Johnson, the biggest movie star in the world, is like waking up, eating breakfast, and brushing his teeth; all apart of the routine. The man has been working as a producer on his movies since JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, and has since worked on HERCULES, FURIOUS 7, SAN ANDREAS, the HBO show BALLERS, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, BAYWATCH, JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, with movies like JUNGLE CRUISE on the docket. All in day's work for the president of production at Seven Bucks Productions (Johnson's production company).  As for producer John Rickard, this is somewhat new territory. He's worked on an expensive, CGI-driven movie before, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, but for the man who has worked on movies like HORRIBLE BOSSES 1 & 2, HALL PASS, HOW TO BE SINGLE and FIST FIGHT, this takes things to a whole new level. In the interview below, they talk about working with Johnson and director Brad Peyton, adapting a video game movie, the science behind the movie, and so much more!

Interview with John Rickard and Hiram Garcia

What was it about Rampage that made you think you could do something with this and how did you overcome the hurdle of making a video game into a movie?

JR: First of all the backstory of RAMPAGE is not really mind-blowing as far as storytelling so that gave us a great place to start from because we could go a lot further with any story we wanted to prep behind it. Really I think the nostalgia of RAMPAGE is just three monsters attacking buildings so you just take that piece of the concept and build something out exciting behind it, so I feel like the possibility of being attacked for doing it is a little less. We’re really just trying to have a lot of fun with the title and the monsters themselves and not take ourselves too seriously.

HR: It’s a great opportunity because the game is so old that at the time it was just you drink a potion and become big, so it gave us a lot of opportunity to really root it in science and something that’s really happening and get to the rampaging monsters in the most realistic and authentic way. We were excited. The science that we’re based on is factual. It’s how they’re bringing wooly mammoths back, it’s how they’re bringing carrier pigeons back, they’re successfully removing HIV from rats with this technology so it’s a very real device that’s happening and at the end of every great discovery there is always a scientist who is saying, “I also fear for how this can be used if it’s not used in a positive way.” So, for us as storytellers, that’s a great opportunity to try and get to that big, final end moment that everyone knows from the video game but in a very realistic way.

Why make George albino instead of brown like he is in the video game?

HR: We’re very aware of the landscape. You have KING KONG, you have PLANET OF THE APES, but the fact is, in a story like this George does have the greatest capacity, the mental capacity, of any of those creatures. One of the things we wanted to do is, through that even being aware of the dynamics out there, a story like this to try and separate it from the others as rooted in a real heart connection between Davis and George. They’re essentially best friends. In that attempt of how do we make this feel fresh from what’s happening in APES and what’s happening in KONG, what about an albino gorilla? On paper it’s kind of daunting at first, you’re like, “Oh, is he going to look fluffy?” But when we started to get mockups and you see how badass he looks and get in it, you’re like, “Wow this is striking, I’ve never seen this.” We felt like it was a great opportunity.

JR: Me personally, I really bumped on it when we first talked about it. It wasn’t until really that image there [points to the wall] when I actually said, “Oh there’s something interesting to it and something different and unique.” And then to get to the story aspect of it that he was touching on, the fact that it’s an albino baby gorilla in the story that he’s actually finding amidst poachers killing the rest of his family, you feel that much more for the albino which clearly is that much more valuable to the poachers. Really, Davis has no choice but to save him.

HR: When you see this though, you’re like, “Oh, yes!” You’re like, “Oh, okay, I am 100 percent in.” Right? So cool!

MR: Can you speak to the rest of the cast?

JR: From my perspective, I don’t know if Hiram feels the same way, each one of these, we don’t have that much cast, in truth, in the movie. Each one of the people that we got, I feel like elevated the character on the page. That’s all you can ask for from an actor, to come in and read that character and then bring something on top of it. Each one of those elements has to make the movie that much better every single time. So, when Malin [Akerman] came in and Jake Lacy came in as our villains, it really was exciting to see that dialogue, which you’ve been reading for so long, all of a sudden come to life but also feel like a character that you really wanted to hang out with for longer than just the scenes they were in. And then Jeffrey Dean Morgan?

HR: You know how hard it is just to cast someone opposite Dwayne? Jeffrey Dean was fantastic. They looked great together and Jeffrey Dean has so much weight to him that seeing them face to face was very exciting. Malin obviously, she comes in, she kills her villain. The nice thing was, we drafted off of SAN ANDREAS in terms of the studio was so happy in terms of the way we told that story and what we were able to do, and so we were lucky enough to partner with John on this, and as we started to make this, I think the one thing we found, and Jake was kind of the portal to that was, how much more fun we can have with this movie. We started very grounded and real and Jake brought an aspect of fun that just made us start to adjust things a little bit where we were realizing at the end of the day, we’re still a big summer fun movie and a well-timed laugh goes a long way. Jake was really the catalyst for that in terms of adding more levity to our movie. It’s been great, we’re very fortunate.

JR: And the way our schedule worked out, we actually shot them up front so it really started to inform the tone of our movie at that stage. That’s where it all clicked, like, “Oh this is what’s making our movie special and different.” And then on top of that, the casting of Naomie Harris was such an inspired idea.

HR: Especially coming off MOONLIGHT and an Oscar nod. Let’s bring some capital to her career. [Laughs]

JR: She’s playing a scientist, a very forward-thinking, smart genius, really to tell you the truth. And you can’t just put glasses on an actress and all of a sudden she’s smart.  

HR: Tell that to some people. [Laughs]

JR: Naomie brings real weight and going back to CRISPR and the pathogen we’re creating in the movie, you buy what she’s talking about in a real way and it makes it feel that much more real and grounded. That was a really important piece to keep the groundedness of this story alive and therefore the stakes are real.

With human villains, how do you want audiences to view the other animals that go on a rampage if they’re victims of these human experiments? Should we sympathize or even root for them as they destroy Chicago?

JR: That’s an excellent question. 

HR: We are sensitive to that, especially with Davis. Davis was the head of an anti-poaching unit for a military unit in Rwanda so he’s coming from a place where he’s an animal lover. He’s actually not a big fan of humans. He has a hard time trusting them because he’s seen what they can do. Part of his arc is really learning through Kate that he can start to trust people again. But George is his family and his best friend. We wanted to make sure that we’re sensitive to the fact that all the animals are victims in this. One of the things that we like about our dynamic of our movie is typically even though they’re trying to stop these creatures, our heroes, it’s always about killing the monster, stopping the monster, we’re actually trying to save the monster. Our story is essentially about a man trying to save his best friend. That’s our journey and ultimately Davis is doing everything he can while everyone’s freaking out and unfortunately, these creatures are being triggered to rampage out of their control, Davis to the end is trying to save them. And he’s still trying to save the world but ultimately he just wants to save his friend and bring his friend back, because his friend never asked for this.

In the original game, you play as the creatures. Was that ever a possibility when you were first shaping this movie, to make them the main characters?

JR: I heard lots of different pitches when we started to craft this story and some of the writers did go down that path but every time I heard it, it just felt like it wasn’t really right. You couldn’t buy it, honestly. It was too much to buy. At that point, I realized, one buys sci-fi as the best way to go and understanding creatures can grow from what they were and become something else, but from human to animal, it just was one step too far. Every time I heard it, it just didn’t feel right. As much as I wanted it to work that way because it could be more fun to have a human become something, but I think it was the right choice now because of how grounded and rooted in reality our story actually is.

Will we see the pathogen affect any humans?

JR: Not in this one, no. [Laughs]

We were told that this is raising the bar for the monster movie genre. How?

JR: For us... I was really excited about this title is because most of these monster movies do have one monster at the basis of it and, organically, we already have three in this one. And just using the CRISPR technology to be able to take attributes from all kinds of different other animals and plug them into these three animals gives you so much latitude to give strengths that you wouldn’t have to these animals as they’re growing, as they mutate. So, not only do we have three monsters in this movie, but they’re continually growing and getting more pissed off and more agitated and also getting stronger and having new strengths and abilities that weren’t there to start with. It’s almost like a superhero movie meets a monster movie with three monsters.

HR: And I think, like when you look at the landscape, obviously there are tons of fans of comics and stuff like that...it’s the best time ever. There are giant movies. You have Star Wars. You’ve got AVENGERS. You have all these things, so the scale is out there. And I think even when you look at something like TRANSFORMERS, I remember... I think compared to when the first one came out, and you think about the relationship between the boy and the car and that was the root of it and how endearing that was for you. Aside from everything, I think there was a very drilled down aspect to this where we knew we had the goods in terms of the scale, the creatures, we’ve got WETA on our side, who are the best at doing this photo-real look. But what really helped set us apart is the relationship between Davis and George. It’s Han and Chewie. They have such a cool dynamic. The fact that George can talk, the way they joke, and we’re able to layer that in well, that threads through the whole movie, so George… you really care about George because he’s actually able to emote that he’s not happy about what’s going on to him, as best as he can. He’s scared about this, and he doesn’t really have control over this. You take that through you, so, all the way to the end, this is an emotional, fun journey, but I think there’s that connection that, sometimes, can get lost in the scale of things, that we really wanted to make sure we had that, on top of the visuals and everything, that you’re also going to care about these characters and that relationship really keeps everything together.

*Below artwork was done by Tom Miatke (Twitter: @TomMiatke; Instagram: @tommiatke)*

Can you talk a bit more about the CRISPR technology? How does it apply to the story of this movie?

JR: So, everything that’s happening in this movie is actually real. There’s one piece of it that is science fiction that may become real in the next five to 10 years that they’re working on now. So, CRISPR is real. It’s the ability to take attributes… like, it’s really unzipping DNA, pulling out bad attributes, putting the good ones in, and also, if you wanted to, you could take attributes from other animals and plug those into them.

So the way it’s working for our technology is our villains are actually taking that CRISPR technology and adding in what our scientist, Naomie Harris, Kate Caldwell in our movie, has figured out a way to pull those attributes and not only attack just one cell in the body, it has a delivery system that can spread throughout the body in a short period of time. And that’s the science fiction part that I’m sure will actually be solved in the next 10 years. So, by taking that technology, they basically steal that away from her and are going to use it to weaponize animals and they actually are going to achieve that and, in achieving that, the space station they’re on doing this experiment is destroyed. So those canisters that aren’t built to survive re-entry, fall to Earth, and that’s how our three animals actually come in contact with them. So, CRISPR is at the basis of all of this. There’s a bit of science fiction that allows it to help our animals mutate and do the things they’re going to do, but that’s where it stands.

Can you talk about working with Brad and what he brought to the film?

JR: Sure, so it’s my first time working with Brad. I’ve known him for a while. And I know Hiram worked with him on SAN ANDREAS…

HR: This is our third movie together.

JR: Sorry, [JOURNEY 2] MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, as well. So, for me, this is my first time watching him work and, what’s so exciting about Brad, he’s so detail-oriented, and the prep process for him is so important, that it makes everything once we got here to production just work like clockwork. And the guy is so geared towards grounded the moment in something that’s real so you buy every moment and all that emotion can play in the way that it should without being pulled out by something, some bad science fiction piece or something, on the screen that doesn’t make sense. He understands the story so well that you put all those things together. He preps well. He creates great shots. I mean we pre-vised this entire movie so we knew what it was going to look like before we even stepped foot on the first day of shooting. There are no questions he doesn’t have answers to. So, anytime Dwayne Johnson or Naomie Harris comes up, it’s like clockwork. He’s already thought it out. It’s in his head. He knows the answer to it, down to a tee. There’s not one detail he hasn’t thought of and he doesn’t have an answer for with full confidence. And, for me, not every director is like that and it makes it so efficient to shoot this movie. So, I can’t be more thankful for the process that’s happened here and I can’t wait to work with him again.

HR: I think, as a director, too, Brad has always admired… he looks up to like Zemeckis, he looks up to Spielberg and those guys. So he just loves big, heartfelt kind of stories that he can tell. And, like he’s saying, it’s not rare that you kind of dance with someone three times in this business. Doing three big movies with Brad is a testament to how he is as a partner and his ability to… especially now more than ever, you try to make a movie responsibly, especially financially responsibly, and we were able to do that because of how organized Brad is, especially in terms of our shooting schedule. It’s so tight, and there’s not many directors who can pull that off. Brad basically has everything mapped out before we even start rolling day one. So, it’s his ability to tell big stories, kind of relate to the audience while still being extremely organized. It’s tough. There’s not many directors who can do that.

JR: Just look around at the artwork we’ve created with him. I mean he’s pushing the envelope everywhere he can in such a big way that, once we ramp up to that third act, like you’re asking about, it really pays off in a massive way. There are camera moves, shots that you will never have seen in any other movie that he’s taken so much time to craft and it’s visually stunning.

Was there ever any intention to have the animals bipedal like they are in the game?

JRs: That was never on the table for us because we wanted to keep it grounded in something that was built in science and the real world and, I think, if you start to have them up on hind legs and, honestly, climbing buildings that way, too, it just opens up a whole can of worms that may look wonky and we just never… Brad never wanted to do that.

You joked about a sequel. Can you talk about the potential to have this expand into a full-blown franchise?

HR: I think you always have a hope for…I don’t want to say creating a new universe, but being able to start a story and kind of world that you can go deeper into. So everything’s going great and we’re very thrilled with the stuff we’re getting, and ultimately, the reception and how it’s received always kind of dictates that next dance. Ultimately, our hopes are we’re setting a relationship up between Davis and George that, hopefully, if things work out, I would love to see that go on.

JRs: And we have left room for other opportunities for other things to happen.

It’s not common to see a female villain in a movie like this. Was that a conscious decision?

JRs: When we first started talking about it, it was one person. And then we thought how cool it would be to split it in two. And then we thought about a brother/sister relationship, and then from there, we’re like, OK, wouldn’t it be cool to have the female be the one in charge? The smarter, the stronger of the two?

HR: Yeah, the Kate character was shaping up great, and on the Seven Bucks [Production] side, the co-CEO of the company with Dwayne is a badass female. So we love to have badass females in our stories and I think we just realized we wanted to make sure we had another strong female character. And we were like, let’s make the villain a badass, brilliant chick. Let’s have her come in there and, jumping off what Malin’s done on Billions, she just kills on there, and it just seemed like a great opportunity to do it and let that be who’s pulling the strings. It just worked out perfectly.

Check out the rest of our set visit here!

Naomie Harris and Brad Peyton, Dwayne Johnson, and producers Everything You Need to Know!

RAMPAGE hits theaters April 13.

 

Source: JoBlo

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