After much delay and a few re-shoots, G.I. Joe: Retaliation finally opens in the UK. In a media blitz that covered the whole globe, the stars of the action-adventure descended onto London for what proved to be a fascinating press conference.
In attendance were Dwayne Johnson, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Stevenson, D.J. Cotrona, Jonathan Pryce, Byung-hun Lee and director Jon Chu.
Q. You’ve been described as ‘franchise Viagra’. The man who comes in to give movie franchises extra zip. Is that right?
Dwayne Johnson: The Viagra part? (smiles). It’s interesting how it all came into play in terms of the franchises. It started with Fast & Furious and Journey 2 Mysterious Island and now GI Joe. But it really came down to whether I loved the script and whether I could come in and elevate it a little bit.
Q. Was that easy or difficult to do with GI Joe?
Dwayne Johnson: In terms of elevating it? It was… I think just working in that spirit and trying to elevate GI Joe was very easy because we had a filmmaker [Jon Chu] who was new to the brand. I love Stephen Sommers, who directed the first movie… he was my first director and he gave me my break in Hollywood with The Mummy Returns. But here we had Jon Chu who loved GI Joe, had a great passion and a deep connection to GI Joe, plus you also had the studio in Paramount that does franchises very well with Transformers, Star Trek and GI Joe. And they realised with GI Joe that there was room to elevate the franchise and make a better movie the second time around. You also had actors involved who all were very passionate about it and loved the mythology of GI Joe, so in that sense… the work was hard but having everybody in that spirit was great.
Q. This is pretty much the summer of Dwayne Johnson. Are you the busiest man in Hollywood?Dwayne Johnson: I’ve been called the hardest working man in Hollywood – by myself [laughs]! It’s a very busy time and it’s a fun time. What makes it fun, for me and for audiences, is that it’s a bit like a buffet. So, whatever you want, you come and you’ll get that in terms of them being diverse. It’s also a challenging time in the schedule because any time you have movies coming out, which of course you have to promote, and they’re fairly big movies… I’m also preparing for WrestleMania and for Hercules 2 at the same time, so it’s a delicate balance of trying to balance the schedule out with all the press and also with the 12 to 14 week prep for Hercules 2 and, of course, putting boots to asses.
Q. Are you going to beat John Cena again?
Dwayne Johnson: Well, yes. If I do, then it’s very real. If I lose, then it’s not real [smiles].
Q. What was your favourite moment in playing your character?
Dwayne Johnson: For me, I have a really nice connection with GI Joe and the mythology of GI Joe and the love that we have for it. It was why it was really important for us to respect and to really pay homage to the mythology this time around. When I was a kid I was GI Joe because… it was Star Wars and it was GI Joe. I was GI Joe and Snake Eyes and I was Han Solo and Bobba Fett. For me, I had two cool moments. One was the scene with Bruce Willis where we’re looking at the tank and the audience doesn’t see what we’re looking at and Bruce says something to the effect of it not being driven in neutral.
And the other cool moment, for me, was sharing a scene with Snake Eyes. One of the really cool things about the movie and the franchise is the duality between the reality of boots to the ground soldiering which transcends every culture that it relates to but then you also have the other side to that, which is the fantastical world of ninjas with Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, and these amazing sequences in the Himalayas that Jon was able to shoot. So, I would say that.
Q. If you put all the characters you’ve ever played, including The Rock, into a rumble who would be the last man standing?
Dwayne Johnson: My character from Be Cool, Elliott Wilhelm, because he was probably the toughest son of a bitch I’ve ever played who happened to be gay.
Q. You’re just the right age to be a Star Wars uber-fan. Have you put a mention in to your agent now that they’re making a new movie?
Dwayne Johnson: That’s interesting… there’s been a lot of chatter about Star Wars and myself. It sort of blossomed out of me saying that I was into GI Joe and Star Wars as a kid. I did this interview where the journalist said: “Hey, you should call JJ Abrams…” And I said: “Yeah, sure, I’ll call him.” And all of a sudden I was going to be in the new Star Wars. I would love to do it, sure, but again like the GI Joe franchise, there’s an emotional connection to Star Wars. So, Jedi, Sith… you got it.
Q. There’s another franchise that has a Rock-shaped hole in it and that’s The Expendables. Have you been approached?
Dwayne Johnson: I know those guys… Statham and Stallone are good friends of mine. As a matter of fact, I just saw The Expendables 2 last night and I can honestly tell you that they’re not ready for me…. they’re not ready for me. They’re still hunting people down, so they’re really not ready [laughs]. And what’s a Rock-sized hole anyway? I like that…
Q. If we were lucky enough to be around your presence on a Saturday night, what would we smell cooking?
Dwayne Johnson: Good question! Usually, some kind of sea bass with pineapple… egg whites. I don’t cook that well unfortunately. It sounds interesting. But I do egg whites very well.
Q. How was working with Ray Park? Was he a hero for you?
Dwayne Johnson: Ray’s a very special guy. He has a personality that lights up the room. He’s so incredibly warm and happy. But it’s interesting because he’s had this kind of tough life and he’s had to overcome a lot of challenges. But he’s turned into this tough guy who has a heart of gold and he trains his butt off. He loves what he does and his following is insane… it’s crazy. And the most insane thing about it is that we spent a lot of time in New Orleans and we went out a couple of times publicly, and no one quite knew who he was. And I would be like: “If you only knew… you’d go crazy!” But he’s a great guy.
Q. Upon any level, were you sort of thinking that doing this movie was upstaging Jon Cena’s one success in films? And is there anything you’d still like to upstage him with?
Dwayne Johnson: I can honestly tell you that coming down to New Orleans and shooting with this awesome cast… we’re all great friends now. So, John Cena was the last thing I was thinking of!
Q. Do you ever think of him away from WrestleMania?
Dwayne Johnson: Not as much as I think you do [laughs]. Only when I’m getting ready to kick his ass!
Q. You get to fire a lot of weapons but you seem to enjoy using your own muscle power the most. Is that fair to say?
Dwayne Johnson: I do enjoy that. I enjoy being able to drive the world’s fastest tank. It’s a big kick. I got to fire some pretty massive weapons. The fight with Ray [Stevenson] was pretty challenging because Jon had the idea of creating a fighting style that hadn’t been seen before on film. And that’s pretty lofty. So, we did this thing where we had two weapons at the same time where we’re trying to evade the bullets coming at you but at the same time trying to fire and kick and do our martial arts. So, Ray and I were working on that for weeks and weeks and weeks to try and get that down. It’s cool shooting guns and driving tanks but there’s nothing like good old knuckle sandwiches to the mouth! I enjoy that [laughs].
Jon M Chu
Q. This is a sequel in that you have returning characters and plot elements. But it also seems to me to be a reboot. Is that fair to say?
Jon M Chu: It was a delicate balance. So, both the challenge and the advantage we had going into GI Joe: Retaliation was that we had a great movie before us but it was a different tone movie to what I knew of GI Joe. So, we wanted to get in there and have fun with it in the tradition of GI Joe. Every few years it gets re-invented like the toy-line or the cartoon or the comic book… even the movie itself. So, to have the opportunity to be a part of that tradition and to re-invent it with this amazing cast that we have gave us a huge advantage.
Q. How was working with Jonathan Pryce? You get two for the price of one in some scenes…
Jon M Chu: John really brought a sense of humour to Zartan. The fact that he just is… we described it as delicious. He just swims in the part of Zartan and the President of the United States. He was awesome. Sometimes when you’re using technology it can become stale, but he just gives it a flair.
Q. We can’t let you leave this London press conference without asking what you have against our fair city? Was it a case of picking the most friendly city?
Jon M Chu: It’s funny because when we were looking for places to blow up in the world we looked at all the major iconic cities and every single one had been blown up except for London. I haven’t been to London a lot but I feel like I know the streets and the buildings… in that design of that shot we had to know every single window, every single double-decker bus and all those things. But I apologise [laughs].
Q. What was your favourite moment in bringing GI Joe to the screen?
Jon M Chu: I feel like I’ve been making this movie since I was 10-years-old, playing with the toys in my back-yard. The fact that each one of the characters was a part of who I was as a child growing up… I’d identify with each one of them at different times. Sometimes I was Roadblock and I was sometimes Snake Eyes. So, to have a cast like this bringing these characters to life in ways that I could never imagine as a kid, and to see it coming to life, literally I get chills even now seeing everyone together. It’s very rare that we can all get together now, so this makes me feel really happy. I feel like I’m that kid again… I get that excitement and I feel like I need to go to the bathroom or something [laughs]. That was a weird comment! But I hope that the audience feels the same thing. Obviously, having Dwayne and Bruce and the ninjas and all these guys being there was an honour.
Q. Would you like to be involved with a third movie?
Jon M Chu: It would be an honour. I hope the fans go out and see it. So if they do… we built a lot of foundation into this movie that we could build off of. We could go crazier and louder in the grand tradition of GI Joe. All the characters here would be really fun to take to the next level. Again, because we were kind of a sequel, not a sequel, and re-inventing and introducing new characters, we kind of had to serve a lot of things and get the audience connecting the dots with the old GI Joe and the cartoon and the comic book was and what we are now. I’d love to see Cobra be the ultimate villain and go crazy. I’d love to see some other villains come into this as well and continue to build the giant world that is Joe.
Q. There’s a lot of humour injected into the film. Did you ever have to put anyone in the naughty corner and act a little bit like the school teacher?
Jon M Chu: Our cast is amazingly funny. I mean from Ray Stevenson interpreting Firefly in a way that I could never have imagined as a kid… he’s this bad ass guy and he gave him this sort of good ‘ol boy feel and was obsessed with explosions and the art of explosions… some people see it as destruction but he sees it as creation. It felt like everyone was playing jazz and I just had a camera and had to keep up. Again, I just sat back. So, when Bruce [Willis] and Adrianne [Palicki] are in a scene, I just let it play and tried to get as much as I can so that the audience could see what I was happening – this incredible work just happening. When Dwayne is with Bruce… to have them just riff off each other was really incredible. And then there’s Jonathan Pryce talking to himself… I just loved that. I could go on and on and on and on.
Adrianne Palicki, DJ Cotrona and Byung-hun Lee
Q. As newcomers to the franchise were you given a franchise starter pack?
DJ Cotrona: Luckily I had my own from when I was nine that I keep with me. Just in life [laughs]…
Q. What was your favourite moment in playing your character?
DJ Cotrona: For myself, to get to come to work with people like Dwayne Johnson, who I’ve looked up to for a very long time. Bruce Willis is also on the set. And Adrianne is also there. It was very humbling for me personally because this was the first large movie I’ve ever been a part of. So, I just kind of tried to enjoy every moment and turn into a sponge so that I could learn a lot.
Adrianne Palicki: There’s so many moments…. getting to run around with guns and pretend you’re a kid for four months straight, which was so fun. I think my favourite moments weren’t so much on-set, but the off moments and just hanging around with this cast and crew and the director. We really bonded as a family and became friends.
Q. If a third film happens where would you like to see your character go?
Adrianne Palicki: Well, I loved playing Lady Jaye, so I hope the third film would continue down her path. We touched on it a little bit in this movie but Lady Jaye and Flint are kind of the two that stuck it out and are getting married and have their own thing, so it would be nice to flesh that out a little bit more.
DJ Cotrona: Yes, it would! I’d be into that (laughs).
Q. Was the ‘Brenda’ thing in the script?
Adrianne Palicki: Oh no, that was all Bruce [laughs]!
Q. Did he ever explain where that came from?
Adrianne Palicki: He definitely has a thing with calling certain people Brenda. I’ll never forget the first time he did it I even had an actual reaction to it, just as myself. So, we definitely put that into the character because it worked perfectly.
Q. Byung-hun, what attracted you to the role of Storm Shadow for a second time?
Byung-hun Lee: I like that Storm Shadow is his own man – he isn’t on the side of good or evil. He walks alone and its a very fascinating character to play.
Q. How was it working with Ray Park (Snake Eyes)?
Byung-hun Lee: Ray is amazing! And so very disciplined. We would train on set and it was very hot and humid. I couldn’t keep up with him! He is so dedicated to his craft. Our scenes were a joy to be a part of.
Jonathan Pryce and Ray Stevenson
Q. Did you have the most fun doing the scenes where you’re seen chatting to yourself?
Jonathan Pryce: It’s been my ambition to work with someone who is my calibre [laughs]. Unfortunately, most of the time I was acting with a piece of wood… but again that wasn’t unusual in my career! But I did have a lot of fun doing it.
Q. Was it challenging?
Jonathan Pryce: Well, for me the acting wasn’t difficult. Technically it was difficult for Jon. But fortunately, because of the technology, we could look at what was happening digitally and see where I fitted and was I looking in my eyes. But I enjoyed doing it.
Q. What was your favourite moment in playing your character?
Ray Stevenson: It’s so hard to pick one. I was given possibly one of the greatest gifts by Jon Chu and that was possibly the greatest entrance into a movie I’ve ever had. And probably ever likely to have! And working with Dwayne, who is such a tremendous athlete… it was a very physical role but it was just great fun, so it’s almost impossible to pick out one particular moment. But putting my entrance sequence together was such a rare gift, so I’d have to opt for that.
Q. And Jonathan?
Jonathan Pryce: Dancing the tango with Adrianne Palicki. Or Lady Jaye, whoever she was. I really must read the rest of the script!
Q. Why does Hollywood always come knocking at the door of British actors for villains?
Jonathan Pryce: Because we’re cheap – and over-achievers [laughs].
Ray Stevenson: I think it takes a really, really good guy to play a good bad guy because we exercise our demons that way and we don’t take it home.
Q. How do you prepare for your fight scenes with Dwayne, who is so physically imposing?
Ray Stevenson: Well, I have about half a centimetre in height on him but his arms are the size of my thighs! But as I mentioned earlier, any fight sequence is a tightly choreographed dance designed not to get you hurt… although we did clip each other a couple of times! But it’s a tremendous challenge to work in conditions like that. But it is what it is. It’s just such a great rollercoaster and you’ve got to be up for it – entrances and exits and big guys thumping the hell out of each other! And I get to blow a lot of shit up!