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Contraband - Baltasar Kormákur interview (exclusive)

Baltasar Kormakur

Compiled by Jack Foley

BALTASAR Kormákur talks exclusively to us about directing Mark Wahlberg in Contraband, which is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, July 16, 2012.

He also talks about why he feels the film, a remake of Reykjavik-Rotterdam, works better in an American context, why he enjoys directing action, and why also being able to use locations in Panama was extremely important to him.

Q: How did Contraband come together?
Baltasar Kormákur: Back in 2007, I was asked to play the lead in a film called Reykjavik-Rotterdam and I agreed to do it if I could produce it, as well. From the beginning, I always thought it would probably play better as an American movie because it hasn’t really got that much to do with Iceland. It was more about the international shipping community and smuggling on container ships.

Q: How did Mark Wahlberg become involved with the project?
Baltasar Kormákur: he movie did quite well in Iceland and I wanted to see if it would do well in Hollywood, too. I showed it to Mark, who was my first choice to play the main character and he loved it.

Q: Can you talk about the process of getting the right script for the American version. It was written by Aaron Guzikowski, correct?
Baltasar Kormákur: Aaron and I went down to New Orleans even before he started writing. It was very important for both of us to be grounded in the reality of the location where the action was going to take place and where we were going to shoot it. So, we did a lot of research. There is a history of smuggling in New Orleans.

Q: You show a different side of the New Orleans than normally appears in movies…
Baltasar Kormákur: I didn’t want to shoot the glamorous and jazzy locations of New Orleans, but rather the working blue-collar side of it. That’s what the movie was about. It’s s a great city to work in because it’s actually not that big, which makes it easy to get around. We wanted to shoot there because of the locations. We used everything.

Q: You also shot in Panama?
Baltasar Kormákur: Panama was a very important piece for me. It’s almost like one big dock with so much coming and going through the canal. We found a way to make it work. It was a fantastic opportunity. The people were really helpful and opened up everything for us. Mark and I drove around like crazy and shot stuff gorilla style, which gives the film a special texture and energy.

Q: How important was Mark Wahlberg’s involvement in Contraband as a producer?
Baltasar Kormákur: There are many projects out there that don’t have a home. Mark made this one real. The moment he accepted being a part of this project, it was a game changer. He supported Contraband the whole way through and stood by me when there were difficulties. It was a fantastic collaboration.

Q: What do you believe made him the right man for the leading role of Chris Farraday?
Baltasar Kormákur: When an actor is in the right role, it’s just great. Sometimes they are used because of their box office power and put in the wrong roles. In this case, Mark was perfect for the part because he is truthful as a blue-collar guy. So, the core of the character was well placed.

Q: What is Mark Wahlberg like on set?
Baltasar Kormákur: He is very professional and shows up well-prepared, which gives you an opportunity to play with the role. For example, if you improvise without being prepared, it’s just not going to work. With Mark, because he was so grounded in what he was doing, when he started improvising, a lot of it was totally spot on. Some of the best lines in the movie came from him improvising.

Q: How do you see Mark’s character, Chris Farraday?
Baltasar Kormákur: Chris Farraday is a guy who was brought up in a dark environment and whose father is in jail. All he knows is that world. After meeting his wife, Kate, played by Kate Beckinsale, he decides to raise a family and doesn’t want to be a part of that world anymore. But it’s not that easy. When his brother-in-law, Jacob [Caleb Landry Jones] makes the wrong decision, Chris is forced back into that underworld because he is still associated with guys that are a part of it. Then one thing comes after another and he has to overcome different obstacles. What I like about Chris is that he is a regular guy with a strong personality that is placed in difficult circumstances. The same thing can be said about the team that works with him. They are not specialists. They’re just regular guys.

Q: Kate Beckinsale plays Mark’s wife, Kate Farraday, on screen. What can you say about her?
Baltasar Kormákur: Kate is beautiful and sensitive, but also tough. Having those attributes made her perfect for the role because I didn’t want her character to be a victim of what happens, but a part of it all. She knows the world that Chris comes from.

Q: How did Mark and Kate get along on set?
Baltasar Kormákur: Great. I think they have really good chemistry on screen.


Q: Sebastian is Farraday’s best friend in the movie, a complex role that was embodied by Ben Foster.
Baltasar Kormákur: It was very important to get someone of Ben’s caliber for this role because it has to be complex and never one-sided. Without giving too much away, I think Ben’s wrong doings come from his cowardness. We discussed how to avoid clichés. I think he played that really well.

Q: For the villain, Tim Briggs, you chose Giovanni Ribisi.
Baltasar Kormákur: Normally, those characters are played by big muscular guys, but it suddenly struck me that Giovanni could be the right person for it. When I sat down with him, I realized that he would make a really interesting villain. He was surprised. And at the same time, he loved the idea and was willing to take that journey. It was a risky one but he was ready to throw himself into the ring.

Q: You also have Diego Luna in a small but key role as another villain, Gonzalo.
Baltasar Kormákur: Diego is one of Mexico’s best actors. In this genre, it is key to have really good actors to find different ways to play the characters and give it all a sense of reality. I wanted Contraband to be grounded and not a superhero movie. In this way it is similar to my previous work, even though on a bigger scale and with more action. But it had to be true to where it came from.

Q: Being an actor yourself, were you interested in being in the movie?
Baltasar Kormákur: I was tempted a little by the producers but I choose not to direct myself. I think I do a better job when other people are acting. Right now I enjoy directing more than acting. It is my passion.

Q: The ship you use in the film is almost another character?
Baltasar Kormákur: It was very important for me from the beginning that this ship, the S.S. Bellatrix, became a character. It is almost 1,000-foot long and so heavy that you almost can’t understand how it can float. I wanted to shoot this monster from every angle, which included the interiors too.

Q: How comfortable are you in water?
Baltasar Kormákur: Being from Iceland, I spent most of my youth in the ocean. I even competed with sailboats. The opportunity to shoot in water was a big attraction for me.

Q: Contraband has a lot of action. Do you like to shoot action?
Baltasar Kormákur: I love shooting action. I actually coordinated the stunts in the original film. We don’t have very many stunt directors in Iceland. I enjoy action if it is part of the story, but I like to make it real. Mark is on fire in those action scenes. He does a lot of the stunts himself. That’s great because audiences today can see thorough them if they are fake.

Baltasar Kormakur

Q: Contraband also has humour…
Baltasar Kormákur: Humour was very important in the film but I didn’t want it to be goofy. I wanted it to come out of the situations the characters are in and the things that happen to them.

Q: What are the main themes of this movie for you?
Baltasar Kormákur: Contraband is about a man that has to go back into a dirty world, for the right reasons. He does it because his family is in danger. So, to me, the film is about family and friendship and how far you are willing to go to protect them.

Read our review

Contraband is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, July 16, 2012.