Ever since he taught us to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, director Rawson Marshall Thurber has shown a knack for both tickling funny bones and throwing in some hard-hitting action. Later works, including We’re The Millers and Skyscraper, continued Thurber’s evolution as a helmer who could ably craft comedies and big action movies in equal measure.
In a sense, Red Notice is the perfect marriage of those two styles. Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot star in a cat-and-mouse thriller that sees Johnson’s Agent Hartley on the hunt for two art thieves slapped with a 'Red Notice' by Interpol. It’s already stolen hearts and broken records, beating Netflix’s previous record for most-watched movie in its first 24 hours.
That means a lot of you have already watched it – and might want to know why things went down the way they did and, crucially, what comes next. Us too – and it’s something Thurber reflects on at length in our recent interview.
Here’s the full Q&A, edited for length and clarity.
GR: Part of Red Notice’s appeal is you’ve got three of the world’s biggest movie stars in it. By now, everyone is aware of the strengths of Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, and Dwayne Johnson. Did they bring something to the film that maybe even surprised you?
Gal Gadot did, for sure. I had never seen her do this sort of thing before. She’s wonderful as Wonder Woman – if you’ll forgive the phrase – but this is an opportunity to see her be a little more mischievous, a little more the-cat-who-ate-the-canary, a little more fun and funny.
I think the role she plays in Red Notice is much more like who she is as a person; she’s wickedly smart and deadly funny and it was a real joy to show that side of herself to the world.
There are a couple of twists towards the end of the movie which set up a new dynamic for a potential sequel. When you were writing this script, how did you imagine that dynamic playing out? Can they trust each other now?
That’s a great question, Bradley: can they or can’t they? As the writer-director, I can’t quite help myself thinking about what I want to do next. I love these characters, I love this world, I love this tone.
I have an idea of what’s in store for them, but I think when you put three thieves together, it can be tricky. Never trust anybody!
How much scope was there for improv in the script?
I have an open-door policy on improv. I welcome it, especially when you have someone like Ryan Reynolds in that space who’s so gifted, it’d be a shame and directorially negligent not to welcome that support.
I would say the film is 85-90% written and 10-15% improv. That 10-15% makes all the difference in the world. I don’t really care if it’s my idea or someone else’s – it’s biggest laugh wins and the good news is I get all the credit at the end!
Can you point to one of those 10% moments that made it into the cut?
There’s a moment where Ryan pulls out a watch and Dwayne asks if it’s his father’s watch and Ryan said, 'No, it’s the watch from Pulp Fiction.' That made me laugh really, really hard.
I’ll admit that the twist with The Bishop and John Hartley being an item took me by surprise…
Was that always in the script as a key component?
Yeah, absolutely, it was baked-in from the very start, from the very first pitch.
When I pitched [it to] Dwayne, we were having dinner and we’d been making Skyscraper. I told him the story of Red Notice and when I got to the twist at the end, he threw his napkin down on the table and said “I’m in! I’m in! I’m in!”
How do you set up those breadcrumbs throughout the film?
It’s fine stitching. It’s really important and sort of the catnip of these twist endings and reveals. It’s important you get it right. What you don’t want to do is cheat the audience, right?
When the reveal happens, if you get it right, they should slap their forehead and go 'Oh, of course, it was there the whole time!'
And on a second viewing, you see it that we play it cards up the whole way through. All of these scenes are screaming at you to tell you what’s going on, but almost everybody doesn’t see it coming because Dwayne Johnson is the greatest and he’s always the good guy.
I have to ask about the Ed Sheeran cameo! It was so wonderfully surreal and one of my favorite parts of the entire movie. How did that come together?
It’s actually my favorite part of the movie too. Ed, from the very first pitch, was who I wanted.
When the time came, I had a mutual friend who put us in touch and I emailed Ed – who is the loveliest person on the planet, by the way – and I sent him a picture of my notebook when I was writing the pitch, which had his name in it, so he knew I wasn’t fooling.
Ed said, 'The weirder, the better,' and I said 'I’ve got something for you.'
You say the weirder, the better – how much of what we saw on-screen was his idea? Was he pitching ideas in on the day?
Like I said, an open policy on ideas. I’m a 'yes, and' director, so he had a couple of one-liners that he wanted to try and we ended up with a nice balance.
You’ve had a varied career, starting from Dodgeball and directing films like We’re The Millers and Skyscraper. From Dodgeball up until now, how do you think you’ve evolved as a director?
I think I’m a much better director than I was when I first started. I think my technical expertise has gotten a lot better. My understanding of production, what’s hard, and how to plan properly has gotten better. I think this is the best movie I’ve ever made, and I hope the next one is even better than this.
Is there any update on The Division and how close can we expect it to be to the games?
Do you play?
I’ve played the first two, yeah.
Me and my friends play every Tuesday night, sort of like a bowling league. We play The Division 1, The Division 2. I waited in line for three hours at E3 in 2014 just to catch a glimpse. I’m a deep, deep fan.
I’m so thrilled about it. We’re in the middle of the latest re-write and I think we’re going to start shooting [next year]. It’s my next movie, Jake [Gyllenhaal] and Jessica [Chastain] are fired up and ready to go. With any luck, we’ll film in 2022 and I’m incredibly excited to film.
Of course, it’s going to be based on the video game and honor that game. As a gamer myself, I couldn’t make it without that, but I wanted to make sure that people who have never even heard of the game, let alone picked up a controller, can enjoy it. So, I think that’s my job as the director, that you want to make sure the fans are satisfied and feel like they’ve been honored by what you do, but also you have to include people who just don’t game and want a good story.
Red Notice is now streaming on Netflix. For more from the streamer, check out some of the best Netflix shows you can watch right now.