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Set Visit: Naomie Harris & director Brad Peyton talk everything Rampage

Oscar-nominee Naomie Harris is no stranger to big-budget spectacle or intense action. She outran zombie hordes in 28 DAYS LATER; she freaked everyone out as the voodoo mistress Tia Dalma in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN  2 & 3 and; she accidentally shot James Bond (Daniel Craig) in SKYFALL (this one still stings a bit). But with RAMPAGE, she's being thrown head, feet, and body first into the action like never before, subject to insane, over-the-top, monster-filled carnage. Luckily, she has one of the best and biggest (emphasis on "biggest") action stars ever alongside her, Dwayne Johnson, and in the following interview, she talks about what it was like working with the legend himself, and how director Brad Peyton got her to do such a crazy, massive movie.

Speaking of Peyton, you can say he's made it his life's mission to try and kill Johnson in the most spectacular, visually astounding ways. Peyton first pit him against giant, man-eating monsters in JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, following that up by making him navigate a crumbling San Francisco in SAN ANDREAS. Now, he's combining all of that by making Johnson go up against man-eating monsters while the city around him crumbles in RAMPAGE. But Johnson is clearly up to the task, and below, Peyton talks about what's it like to work with the superstar for a third time, trying to create a grounded movie among the chaos, and creating the biggest video game movie ever. 

Interview with Naomie Harris

About her character:

NH: So I play Kate, and she is a scientist who has been discredited by the firm, [ENERGYNE]…so she’s been discredited by them and, um, she’s been fired and ended up in prison as well – so she has a real reason to want to clear her name and also to bring to light the evil work they’re doing, so that’s her kind of motivation for getting involved with this whole journey and hooking up with Davis (Johnson).

MR: Can you tell us about your dynamic between your character and Dwayne’s?

NH: Well he’s very reluctant to partner with anybody, because he’s not a people person at all, and he does not want her on the journey – he thinks she’s more of a hindrance, to be honest. His sole motivation is really because of his friend George, who has obviously been infected by this virus that he doesn’t know what it is. So, he doesn’t really want her on board, and she has to really earn his trust and find a way to get him to want her to go on the journey. She initially lies to him and says she can cure George, and actually that’s not true, which we discover later on in the movie. She’s not capable of doing that, she doesn’t have the vaccine that can save George at all, but by that stage, they’re sort of hooked, and she tells him her story about what happened with the Wydons and ENGERGYNE, and then he has sympathy for her.

On the dynamic between her and George the gorilla:

There’s a complete fascination because seeing George is like seeing the worst side of my work come to life. She takes a huge responsibility for the state George is in, and really cares about him. She starts off initially – she worked in the arctic saving very rare species – that’s sort of Kate’s backstory. So, she really does care about animals generally, and then also she feels very specifically responsible for George, because of what’s happened to him and because it’s a result of the work she did, even though it’s the result of the work being used in the worst possible way she still feels responsible.

What's been her favorite part about working with Dwayne?

There’s so many! I don’t think there’s one in particular that I can pick out. I just think that working with someone who…this is his genre, right, and he’s the master of this genre, and so just being taken by the hand and being shown how to do it, and watching someone as skilled as he is at work is really priceless.

Why did she want to do this movie after coming off a film like MOONLIGHT?

There’s several reasons. First of all, because I…you know I read the script, and I didn’t expect it to be my kind of movie at all, but it moved me, and I was excited by the character. I loved the idea of playing Kate. She was intelligent and capable and fun, all the kind of things I look for in a character. That was the first thing, and then I still wasn’t sure. Then I spoke to Brad [Peyton], and I was having a really bad day, it was a really hectic time in my schedule, and I was really tired, but he’s like the most enthusiastic person in the entire world, and just speaking to him I felt better and I felt positive. I felt really…like he just made me feel really fired up about the project and I was like, “I wanna work with this guy!” I’m so glad I said yes, because every day on set you’ll see it, and you’ll see how passionate he is. He’s like that every single day, and he’s such a brilliant director and I absolutely love working with him, and I’m so glad I made that decision.

The other reason was because MOONLIGHT is such a specific character that I suddenly found myself in a position where I was being sent every “haggard mother” role, and I was kind of like, “I never started my career doing those kinds of roles. This is like the one role I’ve done!” It’s so easy when it’s something that people kind of attach you to for you to get type-cast, and I was like, “I have to do something completely different to ensure that doesn’t happen,” because my career has always been based on playing completely different roles – that’s what keeps me excited and I wanna make sure that I have the opportunity to continue to do that.

Did she have any idea it was based on a video game?

What happened was I was debating with my friend because it’s always like a committee – it’s like different friends, my family, like “Should I take this role? I’m not sure. Can you read the script for me? What do you think?” And I sent it to one of my friends and he was like, “Oh my god, RAMPAGE! That’s based on the video game! I used to play that! You have to play this part!” So, that’s how I knew [laughs].

What was the craziest scene she had to shoot?

Oh my god, they’ve all been crazy, to be honest [laughs]. I mean, from like being in a helicopter – you, know, they actually created a helicopter on a rig so that when we were crashing it actually feels like you’re crashing – to creating this huge government plane inside where we’re like on harnesses and pretending that the back of the plane is blown out, and we’re being strung up from the ceiling. I’ve never – I mean I’ve done action movies before obviously with BOND and other movies like that – but never anything like this. It’s all been literally insane. Even like the shooting here [Atlanta] where this building is supposed to have come down, and you see the debris and the destruction – it’s a mad movie!

On what it was like to work with Jason Liles, the man who played George via motion capture:

The only struggle I would say is because you so wanna look at what Jason does, because he’s so brilliant and he’s so moving – his performance is really moving because George is going through a lot of emotions in this movie – and so often he’s like there, but we’re not allowed to look at him we have to look at an “X” or something. So that’s the only challenge I would say, and it’s just a blessing to have…I remember talking to Brad when I first came on board and he said he was gonna get a real actor to play the character of George and I was thinking, “Was that really necessary? Can’t we just have a head? [laughs]” And now I understand why it’s important because a head can’t bring all those emotions, you know? It’s vital, actually.

On if she ever felt an out-of-body-experience realizing she was in a massive “The Rock action movie”:

I kind of have to keep that hidden, otherwise, I’d be just way too intimidated [laughs]. But I’ve had like 20 of my friends and family come over and visit me, and each time they kind of get a little bit like, “Oh my god, The Rock!” [laughs]. But he’s so down-to-earth and so humble and so warm and easy going that he just makes you feel comfortable.

What would surprise people the most about Johnson, given his massive personality and social media presence?

What would surprise people is that he is that 24/7 [laughs]. You think, “No, no, no that’s a performance,” and it’s not, that is precisely who he is, and that’s really extraordinary. And he has such a level of passion and an understanding of what his fans love and what they need, and he’s really careful about that. So many stages in the movie he’ll say, “Okay, I don’t think the audience are gonna really like this, or they’re not gonna be moved by this, or they’re gonna love this particular moment.” He’s really in-tune with what his audience wants. I’ve never seen anybody as in-tune as that.

MR: How involved were you with the stunt work?

More involved than I’d want to be, to be honest [laughs]. I imagined that I would – you know I have a wonderful stunt double, and I’d very happily hand everything over to her – but Brad, our director, has other ideas, and he wants us to do as much as possible. So, I’m inspired to let the people who are paid do it! [laughs] My chair is there, it’s very comfortable! [laughs].

What sets this apart from other action movies?

What sets it apart is Brad, and because of his understanding that at the heart of this movie has to be about relationships and about truth, ultimately. He’s very specific about that. If something doesn’t make sense, and it’s just there to drive the movie forward, he calls it out, and he’s always like, “That’s unacceptable.” He’s so sensitive to that, and I think an audience is going to really respond to that because there’s so much heart and there’s so much passion and truth in this movie. 

Was she satisfied with how the main female role was portrayed?

Definitely. That’s the reason why I signed on to do it, and it was like that from day one. I’d love to lie and say I influenced that, or that I had a hand in the writing, but I didn’t [laughs]. No, it was just there from day one.

What exactly did Brad say to get her onboard?

I don’t remember what he said because he speaks very quickly [laughs]. It wasn’t what he said but it was the way he said it. It was the level of passion! I couldn’t even stay on the phone, I was getting ready, and I thought I would talk to him for like 15-20 minutes because that’s how long it normally takes, but actually he stayed on the phone while I was getting ready, then when I got into the car to go to the event I was going to, and I had to say when I got to the event, “I’m really am so sorry, but I do need to go.” So, it was like over an hour and a half, and it was just pure passion.

Does her character have any interaction with Malin Akerman’s villain character?

Yes, I am delighted to say. I love her, and it’s awful because she’s the nicest possible person, and I wish her the very best. But in this movie, I absolutely hate her [laughs]. But I’m just so delighted I got to punch her! That was one of the highlights for me! [laughs] But only for my character in her journey.

MR: Is that the stunt you did wanna do?

NH: I did wanna do that one! [laughs]

How big was the learning curve working on something with so much green screen and CGI?

Massive, massive. The first time I was in the helicopter it was absolutely terrifying, because what you have is you’re in this helicopter, it’s on a rig so it’s moving up and down, and then you have a green screen in front of you and you have, like, five numbers, and they’ll say, “Look over there to number four! The gorilla’s coming, look over there! That’s the crocodile, look over there!” So they’ll tell you what these numbers mean, and then when the scene starts they’ll say, “Number three! Number five!” I was just looking all over! I didn’t know what the hell was happening over here [laughs]! And of course, Dwayne is the master of all that, so he was brilliant, so he knew exactly what was happening. But it took me a long time to get to grips with that. That was the hardest part!

Interview with Brad Peyton

Why, out of all the video game movies, did you want to do one for RAMPAGE?

This the one Dwyane and I talked about is the real answer [laughs]. What I liked about it was that you could expand on it so much, that there wasn’t a whole lot you had to adhere to. I thought that it led itself tonally to a fun direction, and of course, there are the creatures. But grounding it in real science with CRISPSR, Dwayne’s characterizations – his relationships in the movie. There was just a lot of room to make it my own and do my own thing with it. So, rather than doing…first of all, I play video games, and like I’d be scared shitless to do like, “Modern Warfare” [CALL OF DUTY], ‘cuz like any game like “ASSASSINS CREED” or one of those games where you’re like, “Okay this game is so deep in it’s own mythology and those characters are so defined,” there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that, and sticking to those things, and for me, you’d have to be a real die-hard fan to have a shot at doing things right. So, for this, I was like, “Okay, there’s not a lot of mythology that everyone’s aware of.” There’s a couple things – like we all think of the three creatures and the woman with the red dress who gets eaten. I’m like, “Okay I can do that, and then get to do all the things that I wanna do.” And that’s what led me to eventually say yes, because when I initially got it, it wasn’t a type of movie that I would wanna do – it wasn’t very grounded. But then we developed it into a direction where there was more emotion, more grounding, but still maintaining all the fun of it, and it was something both Dwayne and I thought we could really kind of, with both his skill set and my skill set, could really make work.

*Below artwork was done by Max Beech (Twitter: @MaxwellTheBeech; Instagram: @@maxbeechcreative)*

Matt Rooney: When people look at movies like this they have a tendency to think that the humans don’t matter, that they’re just along for the ride. That doesn’t seem like the case in this movie. Could you tell us about what you did to make sure that the human story in this is very defined and dramatic?

Yeah, it’s interesting, and to be totally transparent, it’s really 50/50. The reason why I say that is because the core relationship is between an animal and Dwayne. So, you have the real side of someone who’s raised an animal in captivity, and then you have the creature side, but there’s an intellectual side to that character. Like if you know Coco the gorilla, when she got the kitten she almost had a meltdown. Even with that animal, there’s a really humanistic side to it. And for me, as a filmmaker, I always try to lean into the emotion. That’s the thing I think ultimately when four years from now when I’m 85 and retire, I’ll hopefully be remembered for at some point. That’s what I want to bring to the table in a movie. I really, really try to push the emotion of it. From SAN ANDREAS, really on the page, it was just a destruction movie, and I [thought of it] having a family and having heart. Well, it was the same thing with this movie where I was like, “Okay, well this could be a creature movie, but where’s the heart in that?” And in defining the relationship between George and Davis [Dwayne’s character] was, to me, the anchor of everything in the movie, and therefore gives you heart and purpose and drive and makes you relate you everyone so it’s not just big destruction for destruction’s sake, which is always what I’m trying not to do. And the way I shoot is this weird, like, I kinda walk into my own shots and put myself in that spot, and that’s how I pick where the camera goes and how I feel about the shots and how to feel what’s really the emotional content of the scene. So, I kinda do that when I’m filming these big destruction scenes – I kind of walk through it as if I’m them – and it makes my communication with the cast really clear. And on top of that, I show them all my pre-viz and I show them storyboards, you know all these paintings. I’m shooting that shot this afternoon [he gestures to a piece of art on the wall, wherein the mutated creature is roaring at a human character on the ground] with Dwayne getting roared at. And he’s [Johnson] just like, “Ah shit yeah I’m gonna be scared!” [laughs] Like when I showed him that he was like, “Okay, if there’s ever a scene in a movie where I get to be scared that’s the [email protected] moment!” It helps everyone to kind of visualize what I’m picturing in my head on an emotional level. So, it’s always bringing it back to that, which by the way is a massive challenge, and you have to be a very good actor to be put in a green screen environment with fans and dust and dirt and me screaming at them in order to get to the heart of it. But that’s what Dwayne’s really, really good at, and the entire cast that I’ve surrounded him with are all solid actors, so everyone’s been able to get into that zone with some beautiful paintings and some pre-viz and all that.

This being his third movie with Dwayne Johnson, what can you say about his collaborative process with him?

First of all, I’m like a giant nerd. I live in a house on a lake in New Hampshire. I’m a quiet guy, I read I draw, I write. I’m more comfortable in a room with two people, and Dwayne is more comfortable in a room with 30,000 people. So, we are at polar ends of the spectrum is in terms of personalities. Where we meet, however, is that we talk very clearly: I talk very clearly to him, and he talks very clearly to me. For all of my introverted, nerdy shyness, he is willing to go the opposite direction. So, in a lot of ways, when I’m like, “Okay listen, this sounds bananas, but what if we did this here.” And he’ll be like, “Yeah! Let’s do that!” I would be scared to death like I’m constantly trying to craft the moments and figure out what’s too much and what’s too little and hit the sweet spot. We work really well, because he’s like, “Yeah I’ll run through that wall no problem.” And I’m like, “Oh my god that wall is going to kill me.” So, we balance each other out, and the reason why I think that works so well is because we just say what our goal is, and we have the same unified goal, which is “How can we make this the best thing possible?” My clear way of saying, “This is how I think it will be the best way possible. Tell me if you have something better” is a very transparent, no bullshit…there’s nothing besides “Where’s the finish line, and how do we cross it and make it look the best?” That’s kind of evolved over the years, because when I did JOURNEY 2 [THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND] I was 28 or something, very nervous, and I just was more uncomfortable than I am now talking to him [back then]. So, for our relationship all, that’s gone away, and it’s just like, “Here’s the goal, and here’s how I think you can do it.” He, again, he’s just so brave, there’s nothing that ever holds him back. He never looks at the monitors. He always says, “What do you need? How do we do it? What do you want? Let’s do it.” But that’s been earned, you know.

As a storyteller, how do you approach doing a disaster movie different from a monster movie?

It’s interesting, I’ve had to reflect on this a little bit during the process. Every time you go to make a movie you start – if a filmmaker is really honest you start and are like, “Here’s what it is.” As you make the film sometimes it kind of does this [turns his hands] and you’re like, “Oh, here’s what it is.” And when I started the movie I researched monster movies and blah, blah, blah. Same thing with SAN ANDREAS or JOURNEY, I look at an adventure movie. With some reflection now having almost finished it, I think I make adventure movies, and I just slide the adventure movie into whatever subgenre. First of all, I go to see everything. I haven’t seen anything in a while, because I’ve been sleeping a lot [laughs], but you know I got to see EVERYTHING. My girlfriend is driven crazy because I’ll be like, “We gotta see JOHN WICK!” We gotta see every action film, every adventure film. I think at the end of the day, as I’m making these movies, I grew up – I was born in ‘78, and grew up in the late 80s early 90s – and I’m making a monster movie, but I’m making a monster movie that’s taking place all in broad daylight, that is not like a monster film I’ve seen recently where there’s the monster over there [in the distance]. Like [in RAMPAGE] you’re under the monster, you’re over the monster; you are inside that event as opposed to “Look at that giant monster over there!” And then, ultimately, everything I do I’m trying to drop you right inside of the event, and it really, I think it’s almost like a late 80s, early 90s adventure movie, but with monsters and Dwayne Johnson. I have people that I work with go, “You I just made an adventure film with a disaster? You know you just made an adventure film on an island?” And so, now I’m just going like, “Shit, do I just make adventure films, but I put them into a subgenre?” [laughs] So in a way, with a little bit of distance, having shot 90% of it, it feels like an adventure film harkening back to when I was a kid in the late 80s-early 90s…like I grew up on TERMINATOR 2. Those are the movies I [email protected] love. TERMINATOR 2 is the shit! So, in a way, I almost feel like I’m making an adventure film with giant creatures in it.

Video games movies are hard to bring to the big screen, so was that a negative for him coming on, or did it make it easier knowing there’s no deep mythology in the game?

I didn’t really think about. I’m as aware as you guys are as to what people write about video game adaptations, you know because it’s there and you read about. So, I was aware on that level, but there was never a trepidation because I was doing that – I wasn’t taking my favorite game or whatever and being like, “Oh shit I gotta nail this.” I thought of it more as like, “Okay there’s a cool tone to this, there’s a couple cool ideas in this.” But again, it was easier to say, “Okay I’m going to make this video game adaptation,” because it wasn’t so deep with mythology. It didn’t come out a year and was the highest-selling video game, you know what I mean? In a way, I was like, “Okay this is an advantage. I can project myself on this as much as I can pull from this.” So yeah, that didn’t freak me out as much as like, “How do I make this really good?”

Was there a point in the development process where you considered the game’s premise of the monsters also being human and being the main protagonist, or from the get-go was it like, “No way”?

That was a solid no [laughs]. Let’s just say I said no to “Rock-Zilla” [laughs]. It was presented in a room much like this and I was like, “That’s a hard pass from me.” That sounds really not grounded at all. It’s like a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE skit a little bit. I wanted to balance out some kind of grounding aspect with the fun, you know. So like Marvel is a tone that I really go, “Okay that’s the zone.” The villains are fun. I have these two rich billionaires, and one is like an ice queen, super-intelligent, cutting [Malin Akerman], and then her brother is like the overweight guy who can’t figure out how to work the keyboard. Those are the villains! Those are the bad guys in the movies. Again, grew up on JURASSIC PARK, or like the way Marvel has fun I was like, “I wanna do that,” but I also don’t want “Rock-Zilla.” I wanna have fun but I also need it to have heart and feel grounded on some level.

Check out the rest of our set visit here!

Everything You Need to KnowDwayne Johnson, and producers John Rickard and Hiram Garcia.

Source: JoBlo

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