Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best man US Intelligence has on the ground, in places where human life is worth no more than the information it can get you. In operations that take him around the globe from the Middle East toWashington, Ferris’s next breath often depends on the voice at the other end of a secure phone line –CIAveteran Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe).
Waging war from a laptop in the suburbs, Hoffman is on the trail of an emerging terrorist leader who has orchestrated a campaign of bombings while eluding the most sophisticated intelligence network in the world. To lure the terrorist out into the open, Ferris will have to penetrate his murky world, but the closer he gets to the target, the more he discovers that trust is both a dangerous commodity and the only one that will get him out alive.
Are the characters as described in the book anything like the people you see in the movie?
To put it simply, I saw my character as an operator that was trying to do his job in the higher moral context than his boss wanted him to. There was this great conflict set up in the book and adapted by William into the script of this character where he’s asked consistently to do things that he doesn’t believe in for the betterment of his country and this war on terror. He simultaneously meets up with this [foreign] intelligence officer who he grows to respect, and wants to do the best job he possibly can, but he’s being manipulated by both sides. It’s this fantastic cat-and-mouse, espionage thriller that warps on its own.
You did most of your own stunts?
Most of. Yes. (Laughs)
Were there any particular stunts that were particularly challenging?
Yeah, but that’s the nature of working on a Ridley Scott movie. You have to embrace that. The pace in which he shoots is really intense, really fast-paced, and you have to be prepared for anything at any given moment. He literally has helicopters on stand-by circling around, ready to get an overhead shot of you running through an entire city. And, he’s like, ‘Well, all right. You’re happy with the scene. Great, you got your dramatic beats. Okay. Why don’t you walk down the block and we’re going to have three helicopters chase you through a street in real time. And they’ve blocked off some traffic but you’ll be fine. You’ll be great. Go ahead.’ You have to just be prepared for that. That was the biggest adjustment. I’d just come from this other movie called Revolutionary Road where it was like doing a 1950s play or something where we are talking about our feeling for months at a time, in a small room. (Laughs) And then I wound up in Morocco with missiles being shot at me and it was a bizarre transition. But once you get accustomed to that pace, you embrace it and you enjoy it and it starts to become this adrenaline-fueled work environment that you love.
Is there really a building blowing up behind you right at the beginning of the film?
Oh, yes, yes. That was a big explosion.
Leo, what are your memories of the first time you and Russell acted together, making The Quick and the Dead?
Fun. (Laughs) I was eighteen at the time. We (Russell Crowe and I) were both hand-plucked to do that movie. He’d done Romper Stomper and I’d done Gilbert Grape and we were, sort of, hand-plucked to do this big budget film. So, we were both very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed doing that experience. Yeah, Russell is the same guy. He really is. I remember when I first started out having these interpretations or these clichés of what movie stars are. But, in general, for the most part, they’re nice people, to tell you the truth. And he couldn’t be more professional, couldn’t be a more normal guy to hang out with, and is intelligent and great, all that stuff. And he hasn’t changed. And that’s it.
Leo, did you do any kind of research from a CIA point-of-view, in terms of researching CIA Agents or the protocol?
I got to talk to some people that worked in that field. It’s very interesting subject matter to take on because unless you’re talking about theCIAin the general context of history and what they’ve done historically, which we’re only now starting to learn about, the basis of it being able to operate is the fact that it’s shrouded in secrecy. Otherwise it wouldn’t be able to function. So, there’s a certain leap of faith that you take with all this stuff. It was really David’s research, talking to real heads of Intelligence and all the stuff that Bill then adapted into the screenplay that takes on a life of its own. But, we did the best research we could in that regard.
The contrast is so great between the lives of Leo and Russell’s characters. Leo’s getting shot at while Russell’s picking up his kids. Can you comment on that?
I think it’s a commentary on the dynamic that exists in the intelligence community and in the spy trade. So, in other words, the guy on the ground, which is Ferris, he’s in the middle of it. He has to carry out the operation. He has to answer to a boss, a superior, in this case, Hoffman. He even says in the movie at some point, ‘No, you don’t know what’s going on. You’re not here everyday, in the middle of it. I am.’ So, that’s part of the fun – the tension between those two characters. And that’s always going to exist in the intelligence community.
From the actors’ standpoint, how does sense of location affect your performance?
Of course, it’s relevant. It would be great to have the real locations constantly. We shot in Morocco, which doubled for a lot of other different places. It’s more the attitude of the director that you’re working with and the environment that he wants you to be surrounded in. That’s what was great about working with Ridley. He’s like a human editing bay. He’s constantly saying to himself, ‘Do I believe this? Do I not believe this? Do I believe the people that I’ve surrounded the main character with? Do I believe what they’re saying? Do I believe what I’m seeing through this screen?’ He’s just this filter, and he trusts his own instincts on such a gut level that it’s great to work with somebody who will come and say, ‘Okay, this entire scene is wrong. Let’s just get rid of three pages of dialogue’ or ‘Let’s move this outside,’ or whatever it is: ‘I’m not believing it,’ or ‘I am believing it; push it to even more of an extreme.’ I keep talking about it, but it’s amazing to watch him in the tent with six different monitors, cameras from every different angle and he’s just snapping from monitor to monitor and switching, and knows exactly what he wants. He’s really efficient in saying, ‘This is exactly what I’m going to use in the movie, and everything else is a profound waste of time. Let’s just not do any of that other stuff because this is the moment that I’m going to choose and this is the kind of thing that I want. And let’s go work on something that’s actually beneficial to the movie.’ That’s the attitude that he has. So, you go in every day and you feel like you’ve done a day’s work and everything that you’ve put that effort into will wind up, for the most part, as part of the movie.
Leo, can you tell us a little bit about working with Mark Strong, who plays Hani?
He gave a fantastic performance. He was one the last people to be cast in this film. He has done a lot of theater inEngland, so he came in, and I think he was immediately taken aback by the ‘70s suits that he had to wear and the cheesy attire that he had on, but he jumped into the role full-force. He’s so subtly conniving and deceitful in this movie. He embraced the character and had such a great attitude. He’s fantastic in this movie. I don’t know what else to say except that he just knocks it out of the park. We really needed to have somebody on Russell’s end to be able to be the flip side of that coin. And we needed somebody with some weight to him to be able to match up, power-wise, when they sit in a room together, like, who has got the upper hand? And thank God we got Mark Strong.