Set Visit: Runner Runner: Part 2: Death by Alligator and the Sexy Thrill of Interviews!

(read PART 1 of our set visit here)

For those of you tuning back in, or those of you being rebellious by checking out Part Two of this set visit first, we left off with twenty four journalists and myself standing around on the set of RUNNER RUNNER located in a slum called La Perla.  We'd just finished watching a scene between Justin Timberlake and Gemma Arterton shot six ways from Sunday, and it was time for some snacks at the craft services table before the interviews. While not an action-packed sequence by any means, the scene had been a stroll along the beachfront that played host to the sharing of some very personal details between the two characters.  It was the start of what quickly becomes a more intensive flirtation between them, and so there was plenty to ponder as the crew began to pack up the equipment and prep for the next scene.

But the sky was swiftly growing darker and darker and the ocean responded in kind, the navy waves bursting apart in a splash of foam as they crashed onto the rocks of the beach.  And Gemma Arterton had just stepped into our little tent/overhang/thing to have some hair and makeup done when it started to rain.

For those of you uninitiated in the ways of the Caribbean: when I say "rain," I'm talking the kind of torrential downpour that would make my hometown of Seattle turn its head in shame.  Lightning split the horizon, thunder rumbled all around us, and chill gusts of wind forcefully whipped right through us.  And so all of a sudden, the set of RUNNER RUNNER and any plans we might have had were upended and suspended until the rain stopped.  Whenever that was.  We were, by the way, there during hurricane season.  So there's that to think about when you're trapped under a tent with a bunch of guys you don't know.  Then again, being trapped shoulder to shoulder with Gemma Arterton more than makes up for that.  And while we're here, let me share something with any of you out there who are fans of hers: she's much more beautiful in person than film or screen are able to capture.  So if you already think she's beautiful? Wow.  "Wow" is really all I can say.  Words fail. 


Eventually the rain moved on and all of the equipment was taken up the street for the next scene, and the twenty five of us were driven back up to the production's base camp for our interviews with Timberlake, Arterton, and director Brad Furman (THE TAKE, THE LINCOLN LAWYER).  By now night had fallen, and Old San Juan (the neighborhood up the hill from La Perla that lay between us and base camp) was awash in bright lights that added a kind of subtle glow to the pastel colors of the building walls.  Base Camp was a collection of trailers belonging to different people involved in the production, and we took refuge at some tables beneath another long tent in case it rained again.  The rain came often and without warning, and just because it had passed once didn't mean that we were safe.  Then Justin Timberlake strolled up to us in his form-fitting, black, casual business-esque outfit, and we started our interviews.

How Timberlake came to do this project and initially wanted to play the villain: Honestly, I read the script, and I thought it was really interesting. I called the producers and they said read this, for the role of Richie. And said it’s great – I wanna play Ivan. ‘Cause it’s fun to play the bad guy. But I’ll tell you, what really pushed me over the edge was meeting Brad and hearing his take on the movie… he had all these great visual ideas to kind of contemporize the movie and kind of take the stakes to a really nice level. I didn’t know much about the gambling world of Costa Rica, so after meeting with him and continuing to do a little research on it, and the more you found out about it – there was this “Wizard of Oz” juxtaposition to what could be attractive and sexy about it but also the seedy undertone to the whole thing.

How he helped make the R rating happen and why it was important for this movie: I think there was a couple of people that made it happen, but I was definitely the first one that just kind of put my flag in the sand to say “I think this would be better for this movie.” Just to clarify: It’s not about “we have to make a rated R movie to make a good movie,” but it’s about… you know, with everything Brad and I talked about it got me so excited, and it just seemed like that would be the only way to sort of do it as real as possible. Real and grounded as possible, and at the same time make the stakes high. Make the stakes life or death.

Note: at some point in here a truck squeaked as it backed up, and Timberlake excused himself.  It was disarmingly funny after all the rain and the long day of watching him and Arterton walk back and forth along a beachfront talking about emotional issues involving their fathers.

How he researched the role of Richie and what he brought to his character's journey through the movie: I actually have a couple of friends who still work in that world and work for investment companies as well, so that was sort of lucky, being able to just call them and pick their brains. But just to kind of break down how the movie is set up: I play a guy who’s dropped out of an Ivy league school to start a career on Wall Street – or, start a career at, it’s called Rush Street Capital, we’ve given it the name Rush Street Capital in Chicago, so it’s not exactly New York but it’s the same world. And then in talking with the writers too we all kind of decided that it was important to make the movie current and feel right or real, and that we should embrace 2008, the whole crash… Originally when I was sent the movie Richie was written much younger, and I thought it could be more interesting to kind of embrace that and it just raises the stakes that I would be back at Princeton as an undergrad but older than the rest of the kids there, and it would set up this interesting [character dynamic]. A lot of movies of this nature start their sort of lead character as wide eyes and naïve and I thought it was more interesting to have him have his own story to begin with.

How he'd feel about coming on to SNL for a season if asked: You know that’s a funny world, SNL, it’s… yeah I’d be game for it.

Timberlake was followed by director Brad Furman, a guy very chilled out in his backwards baseball cap and cargo shorts.

What the success of THE LINCOLN LAWYER did for his career: I think there’s a lot of different ways of looking at how to build a film career, and the specificity of your choices, and for me I’m not interested in simply working as a director. I mean, if I’m not making movies I want to make, or I feel passionate about, or that I feel are hopefully at the level of cinema quality that I think they should be, then I’m not really that interested.  A lot of people told me I’d be dead in the water on it because of McConaughey, they said he was done which I didn’t believe to be the case, and he’s proven obviously that isn’t the case in the movie and beyond. People said you couldn’t make a legal drama or a thriller because it was TV fare, and I didn’t agree with those things. So I went and made the movie in my heart that I believed I could make, that we could make, and we succeeded.

What the potential success of RUNNER RUNNER might do for his career: This movie’s interesting because it’s a balance – there’s the gritty, raw stuff but there’s also the super sophisticated intelligent psychological complexity that Ivan Bloch (Ben’s character) has with Richie… For me, I’d like to think this movie represents a time and a demarcation of my life and my career. I don’t think I’m going to want to make another movie like this just like I’m not going to want to make another LINCOLN LAWYER. But Hollywood is about taking steps and making choices politically and creatively and balancing both to advance your career. If this movie succeeds and does well… then I can start making what I consider to be my movies, things I’ve written, developed, things I’ve toiled on for years, book rights I have, stuff like that. So that’s a bit of the journey.

What freedom the R rating provides and if Fox is for sure on board: Yeah, there’s no way at this point. I guess anything’s possible, but I wouldn’t know how to edit the movie. I mean, just the language alone is an R rated movie. It’s just a content thing – look, all these things are compromises… I’ve been lucky enough to have my vision supported, but yeah there were definitely compromises made on LINCOLN LAWYER. I’m proud of the film, but there’s a part of me that feels like “yeah, I knew how to make that movie even better.” I’ll live with that always, that’s always a tough pill to swallow… But I embrace the studio system, I embrace the support the studio’s given me, and the reality is I think I’ve been able to sort of usurp the system in a way that I’m getting types of movies and certain things done that are different – it’s a character drama between Affleck and Justin Timberlake. It’s not a superhero movie, it’s not a shoot-em-up blow-em-up movie.

What he's learned making this movie and any advice for you filmmakers out there: As a filmmaker there are no rules how to play this game. That’s a big problem I think that exists in the “education of how to be a filmmaker or how to make movies.” I think you don’t break new ground in anything in life if you’re willing to just follow the rules.  And that’s something constantly I learned from being an independent filmmaker, from people not believing in me, having to raise money, steal money, take money, whatever… So when I got to these bigger studio movies, it’s a lot about what you can’t do – “you gotta bring Justin Timberlake here, you gotta bring fifty people,” and I’m like “why? The f***ing guy’s walking down the street, just roll the camera." There’s all these elements of like political, larger things that I think I’m learning about in the bigger system. But like I said before, I embrace that system and you have to learn how to make a movie within that system. Because here’s the thing: you could make a dope movie and it may never see the light of day. [So] the point of all that is I think you just take this journey and you sort of figure it out and what you learn is a lot about how to work within the process and some of those limitations. Every time I trust my instincts I land on my feet. Every time I don’t, I go “why didn’t I trust my instincts.” I think just human growth, you know? Your perspective as a thirty year old man versus a twenty year old man, you’re like a Monday morning quarterback. “I wish I knew then what I know now.”

After our interviews up at base camp it was already 9:00 at night, and but there was still a whole scene left to shoot.  It was going to take place at an outdoor club of sorts, with an encounter between Timberlake and Arterton that signaled the last barrier before they tumbled into cahoots with each other (and maybe even bed/love).  So we bundled back into the vans and drove back through Old San Juan, past the moonlit and ghostly-white stones of the cemetery that stands at La Perla's entrance, and into the narrow street that serves as La Perla's main road.  After watching the club scene several times over and hearing the all sorts of improvised lines charged with undercurrents of desire and implication, a lighting change was called for and it was our chance to interview Gemma Arterton.  Clad in a stunning red dress that served to enhance everything beneath, she descended the stairs that led down from the hidden patio on which they'd been filming and joined us at the monitors.  

Fun fact: Arterton sang snatches from CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY between takes.  When asked how she knew the lyrics so well, she explained it was because it was one of her favorite films when she was a kid. 

Why she picked this movie: I thought the script itself, the whole thing kind of gripped me. I thought it was very clever. I thought the monologues were great. I've always liked those Rat Pack casino movies. And one of my favorite movies is GILDA, and there's kind of Gilda quality to this a little bit and, then in other ways it's very contemporary, very like "bling, modern, get rich quick, money-loving, prostitute-loving. (laugh) You know, that kind of sleazy bling world. It's that as well, but it has this style to it that I was enticed by. It's about money, power and greed, [and] mistakes in life.

Why her character is important to the story and just who her character is: I play Ivan Bloch's, who's Ben Affleck's character, his right-hand woman, the kind of woman that runs things, you know. And then we end up–me and Justin, end up falling in love. And she's like a femme fatale but then [she] redeems herself just enough to save face.  Rebecca is the kind of the humanity in the story.  I mean, Justin's character and Ivan, Ben's character, are like the polar opposites at the start, you know. And then my character is the one that kind of brings them together in a way. They compete over me and I unlock in both of them this kind of desire and human need other than wealth, money, [and] materialistic needs. And similarly, that's what [Justin]'s character does to my character, you know.  She is a very materialistic person, greedy and spoiled and very rich and he brings her back down to earth. So I think she is like the human glue.Otherwise, it would just be about money, and we might as well make a movie about politicians. You know, I think it's, [she] actually makes the movie feel.

Why her character was changed from American to English: I actually went in and did an American accent in my audition. And also that was a draw for me. I was like, ooh, cool, I can do an American accent in this film. I have yet to have done one. [But then they said] "we love your accent." (laugh) That always happens. (laugh) I'm like, "what accent? I don’t have an accent!" So then Brad was like, "do it in an English accent." And he liked it as well because it made it more international and, you know, it's a global company that we work for in the film, and it makes sense.  It's nice, you know. I don't have to worry.

Why she loved working with Ben Affleck: We have this weird back story, Ben and I, and we had a relationship in the film. He has this possessive kind of thing over me. My character's very independent. And she's very cutting. And there's one particular scene where he finds out that I've just had a night of intimacy with Justin's character, and he gets very jealous and then, like, kind of pounces on me, but that wasn't in the script. It was really fun and like, he really sprung it on me… And I love all that stuff. I'm always like, "bring it on, do something that's going to creep me out a little bit!" So what was on the page became much more than what we read, and so it was much richer.

Even with everything I've talked about in both halves of my set visit write-up (check out Part One right here), there were a whole host of elements about this RUNNER RUNNER that were only hinted at during our visit.  At one point during a lull between takes we were given the chance to take a look at stills of the movie – you'll remember that this ws the 37th day of shooting out of 46, so most of the thing had already been filmed.  The photos really looked fantastic, with the use of film definitely standing out in terms of the sharp light/shadow definition and the way the island's colors really popped right off the screen.  The photos we were shown took place all throughout the story, from Timberlake's time in Princeton to the computer-ilt interior of Affleck's online gambling operation to a man who crossed Affleck's character being smeared with chicken fat and pushed into an alligator pool.  And that's something for you fans of Affleck's acting out there can look forward to – while he played a grim and violent character in THE TOWN, RUNNER RUNNER looks to be showcasing him in a turn that for all intents and purposes will be downright nasty.

So there's all that for you.  Hope you enjoyed a peek into the process behind the making of this "very sexy stylized thriller" (in the words of Arterton), and look for RUNNER RUNNER to arrive in theaters on September 27, 2013.