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Max Payne - John Moore interview

Max Payne

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JOHN Moore talks about directing Mark Wahlberg in Max Payne, adapting a video game into a movie and how he took on the MPAA in America and won to avoid receiving the dreaded R rating (or 18 equivalent)…

Q. What’s more daunting – directing a remake of a much loved horror film such as The Omen [Moore’s last movie] or making a computer game that’s been played by millions?
John Moore: [Laughs] They’re both pretty daunting. I could make life a little easier for myself. But you know what? It’s a bit like falling in love. When you’re attracted to a story and it won’t get out of your head then there’s not much else you can do except go for it and hope that people enjoy it.

Q. Was Mark Wahlberg always your first choice for Max Payne?
John Moore: Yes, the minute I played the game I saw Mark. I was delighted that he agreed to do it. I was also very nervous because if he’d said “no”, I really didn’t have a go-to guy. If he’d turned me down, I don’t think the project would have happened. I don’t think we’ve seen the cop as the anti-hero for a long time. You have to go back to Bullitt or Dirty Harry to see the cop who is ostensibly the real tough, don’t f**k with me guy, but who absolutely has right on his side. So, I think this is an enjoyable throwback to that type of character.

Q. So what was it about Mark that made you feel he was such a perfect fit?
John Moore: He just has that real-life toughness. Mark’s got some real life experience – he’s from a poor working class family. He’ll tell you his own story. But I’m sure people know that he’s been inside. So, he has that genuine toughness. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a really fun guy to be around when he’s not on, but when he turns it on I buy it. When he starts swinging that shotgun around, I buy it!

Q. Did he live up to your expectations?
John Moore: He exceeded them hugely. People use the word “collaboration” a lot and, to be honest, it’s a f**king bullshit word. They use it in Hollywood all the time. But in this case, Mark made the movie with me. So, he’d be on set a lot and we’d talk about things a lot. Whereas some actors just don’t want to know beyond turning up to do their bit and going home, Mark was very involved because it’s his movie. Mark Wahlberg is Max Payne, so he was very, very involved. And that was a lot of fun… to almost have a co-director to work with makes the job a lot less lonely.

Q. How did you come to cast Mila Kunis in such an action role?
John Moore: Most people know her from That Seventies Show, or the voice of Meg in Family Guy, so to see her as a baton-wielding Russian hit woman was certainly a change of pace for her. But she wanted to do it. She was up for it. I’m sure her managers probably balked a little bit: “You wanna do what?” She could have played it so much safer and done another stupid romantic comedy role. But she wanted to kick some ass and some ass she did kick.

Q. And Bond girl Olga Kurylenko?
John Moore: Olga is a superstar. She is Sophia Loren. I think it’s very significant that she’s not a Bond girl; she’s the co-star of Quantum of Solace. I think that’s really significant. And mark mine, or anyone’s words… she’s Sophia Loren. She’s going to be a huge movie star.

Q. How was shooting in the snow?
John Moore: Very difficult because although it looks great, nothing works! Cameras freeze, batteries go dead, everything is twice as hard. Everyone has 56 layers of clothes. The actors are trying to not shiver when they’re delivering their lines. You have blow heaters just out of frame. So, it looks great but it’s not a lot of fun.

Q. When you were making it, did you have the fans in mind? Or did you make the film you wanted to make?
John Moore: I think there comes a point where you stop with the game. You put it in a drawer and it stays there because you have to make a movie. There are apparently 11 million players of the game world-wide and that is, of course, a huge fan-base. So make them happy? Yes! But also give them something that’s not just ticking off what’s in the game. Plus, you have to make a movie that people want to go and see. You can’t afford to be that specialist. Video games have such a patchy history. They’re very hit and miss in terms of being turned into movies. So, that hangs over you as well. So, we kept the story. The character’s wife and child are murdered and he’s out for revenge. But we basically changed a lot of the dynamics. We put a twist in that certainly isn’t from the game and a lot of the female characters are quite a bit different from the game. But the through-line of the story is the same.

Q. I read that you had to make some cuts to avoid an R rating in America?
John Moore: No, that’s not true. What we did is we fought the MPAA and we fought them right to the end and won. We were very unfairly treated. The Dark Knight got a PG-13 rating even though it has a guy shoving a pencil through another guy’s head. We got an instant R rating and the MPAA said: “Well, your movie feels R.” So, I took issue with them and I appealed. I said: “You’ve no right to judge intent; you’ve only a right to judge content.” And we won. We did not make cuts and I’m very proud of that. I’m sure they’ll get me back on the next one. But I just think Warner Bros is such a big machine and Batman is such a big machine that they were afraid and gave them the rating they wanted. Then our little movie came along and we got the blowback. But I said: “Well, f**k you. We’re fighting!”

That actually makes the studio very nervous because you have a deadline and they can beat out the clock on you. They could say: “OK, if you want to appeal it could take two weeks…” So, you have to kind of play poker with them. But I’d like to stress that I did not make cuts to suit them. That organisation is screwed up. They say that they volunteer as if that somehow absolves them from anything. But you can’t be gay to serve on the board and you have to have a shared parenthood experience. Now, there are 22 million single parents in America, so none of them are eligible to serve on the MPAA board? Give me a f**king break!

The problem with getting an R isn’t quite so obvious in terms of audience numbers. But basically because of the advertising rules in America, even if your advert shows rose petals falling… because the movie is R rated, you can’t show that ad before 9pm. So, it hugely impacts upon your ability to advertise your movie. That’s really what people can’t quite get. So we fought the law and the law didn’t win!

Read our interview with Mark Wahlberg