Gunning for glory
Back in March 2014, we visited the Berlin set of Hitman: Agent 47, 20th Century Fox's second attempt to turn the iconic bald assassin into a movie star. A full reboot which restarts from scratch, the film stars Rupert Friend (Homeland) in the title role, with Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) on ambiguously villainous duties.
As well as seeing action sequences in progress (including a climactic showdown between Friend and Quinto) and strolling around the studios various stage set-ups (having a sneak around the Syndicate headquarters, visiting a rooftop helipad, inspecting the room where 47 will be interrogated) we spoke to the stars and production team to get the full story behind the making of the film.
Here's what we found out.
It could start a franchise
According to producer Adrian Askarieh, Hitman: Agent 47 is intended to be the jumping off point for a new franchise. We're hoping this is the beginning of three or four movies it's very much a reboot and a franchise starter. It's its own thing.
The intention is to keep this installment very much grounded in reality, with Askarieh referring to gritty reboots like Batman Begins and Casino Royale as lofty inspirations.
There are elements in this story that will have to be addressed in the next movie, he says. Hopefully we'll make one every 18 months to two years.
According to first-time director Aleksander Bach, the interesting thing is that we establish a completely new franchise. What I wanted to definitely create was something visual and epic, but something ground and believable. It has to feel real.
Zachary Quinto is the bad guy. Sort of.
When we chat to Zachary Quinto in his trailer after a particularly vigorous scrap with Rupert Friend, he's in suprisingly good spirits. With (fake) blood splattered all over his shirt, he explains how his character, John Smith, fits into the universe.
John is a mysterious guy, he says. He comes out of nowhere and you're not really sure where he fits into the dynamic of this world at the beginning. He forges a relationship with Katia (Hannah Ware) early on in the movie, and that relationship leads them into a triangle with Agent 47. So then things become clearer
It's an action movie, so it's much more based in physical connection [than my previous roles], but hopefully there's an inner life underneath all the punches and gunshots. But it's not a chamber piece, he smiles.
You'll see Agent 47 in a new light
With a bestubbled bonce instead of a gleaming chrome dome, and a more subtle barcode tattoo on the back of his neck, Agent 47's slightly revamped look is in keeping with the grittier aesthetic that's being aimed for.
I feel it is my responsibility to do something beyond the game, says Bach. You can play the character, but what's going on behind his eyes is interesting.
Askarieh elaborates: We didn't want 47 to be a robot. There's layers to this character and a lot of surprises. Not that fans of the game should expect too drastic a departure. We had to respect his origins, the mythology, the look of the character, who he is 47 can't have sex, he can't have a romantic storyline. There a lot of stuff that [the studio] wanted respected and we've done all of that. I don't think anyone can look at this movie and say that's not Agent 47.
The action is inspired by the game
We shot a couple of days last week where it's the opening of the movie, explains Askarieh, when we return to another Berlin set in March 2015 for the shooting of some additional action sequences. If you're a fan of the games, you're going to go nuts. It is literally out of Absolution.
There are lots of Easter eggs, he continues. I would say 80 per cent of the kills are from the games. There's a sequence that's right out of one of the most iconic images of the games, which hopefully fans will lose their mind over.
We get a chance to ask Aleksander Bach what specific element from the games he wanted to get into the film. For me, what's specific and important is you can play the game in very different ways, he responds. You can play it in the way you're just shooting around, killing people but that's not the point, because you're not getting points for that.
It's more, 'How can I fulfil the assignment in the most intelligent way?' That's what I want to bring to the movie, because it's a very intelligent character.
Hannah Ware has been preparing for action
Newcomer Hannah Ware (sister of singer Jessie) takes her first major leading role in Hitman: Agent 47. During our time on set, everyone including Ware is extremely tight-lipped about Katia's back story. It's hard to talk about her because it gives so much of the plot away, she tells us, apologetically. What I can tell you is that she's very important to both Agent 47 and John Smith, and they're looking for her, simultaneously.
Ware landed the role after reading the script in a corridor at Fox, under intense legal scrutiny. It wasn't until about two years later that she actually got the call to say she'd been given the job.
On the ass-kicking action side of the performance which was completely new to her Ware admits she struggled to get into it at first, before fully embracing it. I think you want to make it believable, she says. Because this is the first time I've done action and hitting and fighting. I'm not tough at all. I really have a long way to go to fill Katia's boots.
Some of the sets feel very videogame-esque
During our second visit to Berlin, the shooting was taking place in a huge steel mill outside of Berlin that's doubling for a jet engine factory. Huge engines are being hoisted above our head, and several metal components are dotted around the factory floor, some genuine, some rubber film props.
Adding to the Hitman vibe is the fact that multiple 47s (well, Rupert Friend and a couple of stunt doubles) are dispatching various Syndicate footsoldiers left, right and centre. The action is being overseen by John Wick directors (and seasoned second-unit action orchestrators) Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, and there's a ruthless efficiency to the number of set-up's being filmed while we're on set.
I'd say the action is heightened, says Leitch, who doubled for Brad Pitt earlier in his stuntman career. A term we use a lot is hyperreal, so I mean we might be using real techniques and practical techniques in terms of training the actor, but then when it becomes him killing 25 guys, you realise that's a little bit more fantasy than reality.
Friend is very complimentary when our chat turns to the topic of 'Chad and Dave'. It's full-on, he smiles. They want full contact. The guys are tough as hell and they don't pull any punches. Chad and Dave come from an action background. The minute we have to improvise a takedown, it's immediately top-level professional, in the way that you're like, 'You actually have killed people, haven't you?!
Rupert Friend played the games in preparation
Friend leaned on the videogame to inspire his interpretation of the character. I played the game to prepare for this, he tells us. I was just struck by the intelligence of the gameplay.
On what he took aways from the games, he explains, 'Don't pull your gun out. Do it without that. Use stealth. Use cunning. Use disguise.' As an actor, the idea of disguise and being a chameleon is very attractive. So when I came on board, I wanted more costume changes, more stealing. I wanted the iconic dragging of the bodies. I wanted the garotte in there and I wanted to invent a fight style with it. I wanted to do all the stuff that to me was important about the game.
Zachary Quinto, however, didn't pick up a control pad in preparation. I did not [play the game], he admits. John Smith is a really peripheral character in the videogame. For me, I was more interested in the dynamic between the actors, and what Ale [Bach, director] wanted to bring out.
Paul Walker almost played the lead character
We were down the line with Paul, say Askarieh of the tragic Fast & Furious star, who was cast in the lead role before his untimely death in 2013. We were all shocked and really devastated by it, we weren't even thinking about the movie after that happened.
Producer Chuck Gordon admits, it would have been such a different movie with Walker, and Bach concurs. Back then it was a different movie with Paul Walker, but I'm very happy with the results we have with this one.
Marvel Studios is a big inspiration
Askarieh wears his love for Marvel's movie model on his sleeve. Marvel Studios is the gold standard in the business, he says. I think Kevin [Feige] and his team have created a model that I think every studio should follow. I think Marvel makes movies for the fans, but also for the non-fans alike.
The inspiration extends to a post-credits sequences that'll tease a potential sequel, and an expanded universe is also hinted at. If we can get a little bit of that magic in Hitman, and try to do that with this universe I think with the end of this movie and the after-credits sequence we've got a little bit of that Marvel vibe, I hope.
So, will we ever see a team up movie with different videogame characters? I honestly can't comment on that, laughs Askarieh in response.
It's hoping to turn the tables on videogame adaps
Given the poor previous success rate of videogame adaptations, it's often suggested that the failure comes from the screen version of the character being made non-interactive. That's always been one of the knocks on videogame movies, says Askarieh, because people play them and when you do a movie it's a very passive experience. I respectfully disagree with that I think videogame movies have failed because they're bad movies.
I think this debate is going to go on until we have three or four big videogame hits in a row and they're mostly good movies. I remember comic-book movies when they were making bad comic-book movies, it was always the same question. Until Blade comes out, and then X-Men and then Spider-Man and then Marvel getting their own money and that's all that's sustaining this business now. I think that comic-book movies are going to go the same path.
Askarieh namechecks the likes of Warcraft, Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell as adaptations which could turn the tide and help forever change the reputation of videogame movies. I think this film is going to work, he asserts. And I think in about four years you're not going to ask this question again...
Hitman: Agent 47 opens on August 27.