Ed Skrein – The Transporter Refueled

September 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “The Transporter Refueled,” the fourth installment of the “Transporter” franchise, British actor Ed Skrein (TV’s “Game of Thrones”) steps in to take the reigns as leading man from Jason Statham. Skrein stars as Frank Martin, a former special-ops mercenary who is pitted against a gang of femme fatales and a Russian kingpin.

During an interview with me this past week, Skrein, 32, talked about taking over Statham’s role in the action movie series, the inaccurate information that has been reported about why he is no longer on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” and the excitement he’s feeling when he thinks about the world seeing his next movie, Marvel’s “Deadpool.”

Besides you taking over for Jason Statham in the lead role of this new “Transporter” movie, what do you feel this installment brings that is different from the other three movies in the franchise?

I would definitely say it’s different because we introduce the character of [Frank Martin’s] father (played by Ray Stevenson). It gives my character a lot more back story and some indication as to why [Frank] is the way he is. Also, some of the central characters here and those characters that are driving the plot are female characters. We get to see a gang of these strong independent women in this movie. They take the control away from Frank.

What is it about this series that you think audiences like so much? Does it go beyond the action or is that really the selling point here?

I think it has a lot to do with release. In reality, life is hard and we work hard. All week long we work hard, myself included, and you want that release. Sometimes I sit down and I just want to watch a movie that is fun and takes me away from reality and shows people doing things that we can’t do in real life.

Well, on that note, how much of the things your character Frank Martin does were things you were able to do yourself? Did you get to do a lot of your own stunt work?

I love sports. I train really hard. I train six times a week even when I’m not working. I’m an adrenaline junkie, so I relish the opportunity to get into the physicality of a role. However, I didn’t have any martial arts training going into it, so I knew it was going to be a big task and going to be difficult. I knew I was going to have to work very hard and be the best student I could be. I knew my face was going to be on screen and I knew you could tell when there was a stunt double. Usually, the actor just stands up like a hero at the end of it. I like when actors do their own stunts. I think you can see in this movie that it’s me doing [the stunts]. I’m proud of what we did. These are my baby steps. This was me doing my first couple of months of martial arts ever. You’ll see a progression when you see me in “Deadpool.” After that I hope to continue to grow and continue to improve. I suppose the sky’s the limit.

Any bumps or bruises to report from doing all that stunt work on your own? I’m assuming it wasn’t easy.

Nah, I trained really hard for it and made sure everything was functional. I didn’t want to have any injuries. I wanted to have the stamina to last the whole shoot. The stunt guys I worked with were some of the best in the world. Safety was paramount to everyone involved. I kept safe and never felt in danger. It was very important to me to make a great movie and make great action sequences, but it was also important that everyone went home to their families at the end of the day in one piece. There were a couple of scratches and bruises, but nothing that we couldn’t get over.

If this film does well, would you like to start being looked at for more action roles? Is this genre one that you could see yourself doing long term?

I certainly know that I’m capable of it. I know that if I get to work with incredible coaches I’ll continue to grow and improve. I certainly have the appetite and capacity for it. However, I am born out of independent European cinema and that is where my heart is. I’m so excited because there are a couple of really low-budget projects I’m going back to after this. I’ve already turned down a number of action roles that were extremely well paid. It’s just not what I want to be doing all the time. I’m interested in characters and directors and casts I can learn from. I’m looking for layered stories that are original. I can do the action roles, but I want to apply the same principles to the low-budget independent films as well.

I read that you left your role on “Games of Thrones” to pursue this role. Is that true?

That [report] wasn’t accurate. I wanted to stay on “Game of Thrones.” My plan was to stay and develop the character. I loved the character. But there were some politics involved and I was sad I wasn’t able to continue my role. I would’ve loved to. I enjoyed my time [on the show]. I look back with fondness. But I’m also not somebody who looks back much. I try to stay positive about everything. I’m thankful about where I am today. It would’ve been great to be able to carry on with that show, no question, but I’m thankful for today and don’t look back.

Looking forward, of course, includes your role in the upcoming “Deadpool” movie. How exciting is it for you to be a part of the Marvel Universe?

I’ve always wanted to play a superhero character. I’ve always wanted to be in a Marvel movie. To be honest, “Deadpool” is a dream movie to be in. Tim Miller is a dream director to work for. Ryan Reynolds is a dream actor to work opposite of. You add in people like T.J. Miller, who is one of the funniest men I’ve ever met, and Gina Carano, who is this badass sweetheart, and Brianna Hildebrand, who is this incredibly talented young lady, and Morena Baccarin, who is a great actress and gorgeous to match, it really is a dream come true. It’s also exciting to be able to build on the skill set that I learned on “The Transporter [Refueled].” Tim Miller really pushed me and took me out of my comfort zone. He made me work hard and really got some great results out of me. I’m really excited for the world to see it. I feel we made something that hasn’t been made before in the superhero world and in modern cinema.

You brought up Gina Carano. With all the martial arts you learned for “The Transporter Refueled,” how well do you think you’d do if you went against someone like Gina or Ronda Rousey in an MMA cage?

They would absolutely flatten me. (Laughs) They would destroy me. I’m used to punching without contact. (Laughs) I’m hitting people three inches away from their face. Hopefully it looks real and looks like I’m doing a good job, but I leave it up to the stunt guys who are jumping around and doing great reactions and the sound guys who are doing great sound effects. Ronda and Gina are incredible. I learned a lot from Gina on the set. Her stand up fighting is incredible. I just love watching the way she moves. She’s such an incredible athlete. She’s another reason [“The Transporter Refueled”] was such a great project.

Jabbar Raisani – Alien Outpost

February 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

At the age of 17, Jabbar Raisani had already made up his mind about what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. There was no doubt about it. He wanted to work on the visual effects in big Hollywood movies. It was an ambitious idea, but what 9-year-old kid watched “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” in 1991 and didn’t want to know how the T-1000 shape shifted into liquid metal? Raisani did, but he didn’t just want to know. He wanted to make that same movie magic himself.

During his last two years of high school at Sandra Day O’Connor (his first two were at Marshall High School), Raisani was part of an independent study mentorship program where he was given the opportunity to be a mentee at the San Antonio-based visual effects company GeoMedia. After graduating from O’Connor in 2000, Raisani attended Trinity University and majored in computer science. As an undergraduate, he was hired by San Antonio-based Atomic Pictures, a visual effects and 3D animation company, where he worked until graduating from college in 2004 and moving to Los Angeles to pursue bigger goals in the industry.

Over the last decade, Raisani has made a name for himself at a number of production companies, including the Stan Winston Studio where he worked as the CG supervisor on films such as “Iron Man” and “Fantastic Four.” He later moved back to Texas and teamed up with Robert Rodriguez at his Austin-based Troublemaker Studios where he was the on-set VFX supervisor for two action movies, “Machete” and “Predators.” Three years later, Raisani returned to L.A. where he found himself supervising the digital modeling of Superman’s live-action suit in the 2013 superhero movie “Man of Steel.” That same year, Raisani won an Emmy for his VFX supervision on the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

In his latest venture, Raisani makes his directorial debut with “Alien Outpost,” a sci-fi action film that follows a documentary crew embedded in a military unit during the wake of an alien invasion. Along with his role as director, Raisani also co-wrote the screenplay.

During an interview with me, Raisani discussed the moment he knew he wanted to direct a film, the intimidating interview he had at Stan Winston Studios, and the highlight of his career so far, which involves the wearing of a superhero costume.

“Alien Outpost” makes its San Antonio premiere Friday, February  13 at 8 p.m. at the Alamo Drafthouse Westlakes. Raisani will be in attendance for a Q&A session after the screening.

After working for GeoMedia in high school and Atomic Pictures during college, you moved to Los Angeles right after you graduated from Trinity University in 2004. Was that just the natural next step for someone like you who wanted a career in visual effects?

Yeah, unfortunately there’s not that much film work in Texas, particularly in San Antonio. I was lucky enough to work on “Spy Kids 3” while I was still there in Texas. I really wanted to work on more films, so the best way to do that was to move.

The first job you landed in L.A. was with Stan Winston Studio. How difficult was it to get into a company founded by one of the most iconic special effects and make-up effects people in the business?

It’s really tough. I had a portfolio/demo reel that I got out to companies and was lucky enough to get an interview there. They had the most intimidating conference room I had ever been in. I went in and at the conference room table I was surrounded by all the creatures from every movie they did. They had the queen alien from “Alien,” the dinosaurs from “Jurassic Park,” Edward Scissorhands, the Terminator. All those things were just staring at me during my interview. Luckily, it went well and they brought me on.

I’m assuming Stan Winston was an inspiration for you growing up. Had you seen all the films he had worked on during his 25-year career?

Yeah, I loved everything he did. He made all the movies I loved watching as a kid. It was a dream job for me.

Talk about the work you did at the Stan Winston Studio. What did you do on “Fantastic Four?

I was in charge of the visual effects for Jessica Alba’s character, Sue Storm.

And for “Iron Man?

For “Iron Man,” I supervised the visual sculpt of the suit. I worked on the digital prototypes and printed out visual models. At the time, I don’t think that had been done on any movie before. I even got to put on the Iron Man suit at one point, which was awesome. (Laughs) It’ll probably be the highlight of my career. It’s pretty hard not to look badass in that suit.

Was it exciting to work at a non-Hollywood studio like Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios?

Yeah, I mean, I remember seeing the movie “El Mariachi” and thinking, “Holy shit, there is a guy from San Antonio who is making movies!” I remember watching “From Dusk Till Dawn” about a hundred times as a kid. I watched all Robert’s stuff. Austin is a great independent film town. It was fun to work there. If you’re working with Robert at Troublemaker Studios, it’s a big deal.

Is Danny Trejo as big of a teddy bear as everyone says he is?

He’s awesome! I remember the summer we shot “Machete,” there were days that hit over 100 degrees in Austin. Danny would finish up his scene and would walk around passing out water and Gatorade to the crew. (Laughs) I thought, “Who is this guy? He’s the star of the movie and he’s passing out Gatorade!” He was fantastic to work with.

You seem to be on this consistent trajectory in your career. Was directing a film a goal of yours from the very beginning?

Yeah, you know, when I worked on “Iron Man,” I saw how [director] Jon Favreau worked and made a decision then and there that that’s what I wanted to eventually do. I’m just really trying to get onto bigger and better stuff. I’m really looking for bigger budget movies.

What sort of things did you take from the directors you worked with prior to “Alien Outpost” like Favreau, Rodriguez and Zack Snyder? What did you learn from them that you brought into your own film?

You know, one of the things I definitely started appreciating over the years working with these directors is the quality of their work. Being around it for so long, your eye starts to develop and you intrinsically understand what’s good. It all comes down to being smart and learning as much as you can. You have to know what you want when you get on set. You can’t just start shooting something and figure it out as you go along. It’s good to be flexible and not rigid, but you also have to have a sense of what your vision is.

So, tell me what amazing visual effects work you did on “Game of Thrones.” Please tell me you worked on the Red Wedding episode.

(Laughs) You know, I was actually in Morocco during the Red Wedding shooting something else. But there will definitely be some epic sequences coming up in Season 5 that I visual effects supervised and second unit directed on. I can’t say too much about it, but it comes late in the season. I encourage people to watch. They’ll know what the scene is when they see it.

Where did a script like “Alien Outpost” originate from?

My co-writer Blake Clifton and I were working with Robert [Rodriguez] on his films and we sort of figured out how we could break off and do our own thing. Both Blake and I come from a military family. My dad was in the Air Force for 20 years (14 years at Wilford Hall Medical Center) and a lot of Blake’s family was in the Army. While neither of us has served, we both liked the idea of creating a film in the military world. Being the huge sci-fi geeks that we are, we thought, “Well, why don’t we take something military and bring sci-fi elements into it?” That was the initial conversation that sparked “Outpost.” We wrote the script and started shopping it around and now the movie is out in the world.

Besides your father’s background in the military, did you have any other references you turned to for the making of “Alien Outpost?

I spent a lot of time on military bases in Japan and German and Florida and Texas. It was like second nature to me. I also did a lot of research for the film by watching a lot of documentaries and reading a lot of books. I wanted to get my head into what it was like to be a solider; as close as I could without actually experiencing it.

Since you’re coming from a visual effects background, how much does story matter to you? Some people might assume a director like you would put less emphasis on the script and more on what they know best.

First and foremost, Blake and I told each other than sci-fi is cool and fun, but it’s secondary to the story. To me story and character are paramount. The visual effects should serve that story. The movie doesn’t mean anything if you don’t care about the characters and the soldiers. The first thing Blake and I set out to do was to get to know and love the characters. Hopefully by the time all the aliens and the mayhem break loose, you know who the guys are and you care about them as they try to vanquish their enemies.

I’m sure you know who director Gareth Edwards is. He made this very intimate independent sci-fi film called “Monsters” in 2010 that received great reviews, and then all of a sudden he’s directing a big-budget film like “Godzilla” last year and is scheduled to direct one of the new “Star Wars” films. Is that the kind of phone call you want to receive after “Alien Outpost” premieres – a phone call from a studio that just saw your movie and wants to give you a $100 million budget for your next one?

Yeah! I’d love to do something big like that. That’s generally where I’m pushing all my efforts. I think “Outpost” does a great job of saying, “Hey, here’s a guy without a lot of money who can set up a story in an interesting world with characters people care about.”

Which other sci-fi directors do you look up to right now?

There are a lot of guys I look up to and respect. I look up to Christopher Nolan and the work he’s doing with digital effects. There’s Gareth Edwards, obviously. One of the guys I definitely love is Duncan Jones, who is doing the “Warcraft” movie. He’s probably my favorite of those sci-fi guys. I think he’s doing a brilliant job telling stories in a science fiction world and really having them be about people. I’m really excited what he’s going to do with “Warcraft.”

The Oscars are about a week away. Any predictions for Best Visual Effects? I mean, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” has to take it, right?

Yeah, I think so. They are doing stuff that is amazing. Even when I saw the first film (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), I just kept thinking, “I can’t believe that is not a real creature.” I think they have a good shot to win it.