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Rob Cohen The Hurricane Heist interview

We chat to the director of The Hurricane Heist, The Fast & the Furious, The Skulls and XXX.

The Hurricane Heist
Credit: Sky Cinema

The Hurricane Heist is out now in cinemas and on Sky Cinema. The film is directed by The Fast and the Furious and XXX’s Rob Cohen and stars Toby Kebbell (Kong: Skull Island), Maggie Grace (Taken), Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) and Ralph Ineson (The Office).

As an unstoppable and deadly hurricane bears down on the Gulf Coast of the US, a mandatory emergency evacuation is underway clearing the city. The storm proves to be the perfect cover for a team of hackers to infiltrate a vulnerable Treasury facility and steal $600m.

Bracing himself for the impact of the hurricane, stormchaser and meteorologist Will (Toby Kebbell) finds himself caught up in the chaos and teams up with Casey (Maggie Grace), the only Treasury agent left standing and his wayward brother, Breeze (Ryan Kwanten). Together they must stop the ruthless thieves from pulling of the heist of a lifetime and survive the storm of the century.

We chatted to Rob about The Hurricane Heist and his thoughts on action movies, his past work including The Skulls, inspiring James Bond and possibly returning to the Fast and Furious and XXX franchises.

The Hurricane Heist

Credit: Sky Cinema

This film is a classic throw-back to action films of the past which don’t seem to be as prevalent as they were in, say the 90s. Do you think that’s because the real world is enough of its own disaster movie right now, and why do you think we as audiences love to see tales like these told onscreen?

There was a new context when people did disaster films in the 90’s… lets take Twister as an example. I think that was dealing with a phenomenon that had always appeared on the earth in certain places, the tornado.

Now in the late 2000’s you had 2020 you have to look at those films differently as the (threat of the disaster) is getting worse – they are getting more frequent, so they are much more menacing in the world of climate change then they were when they were just a phenomenon. So that’s a very big difference.

We could be seeing, in these terrible storms, the beginning of an escalation that is frightening in a very different way than is was for Jan de Bont or Steven Spielberg in the 1990’s.

How much of the film is practical effects vs CGI and as a filmmaker, do you have a preference?

I am kinda analogue. I always feel if you can put it in front of a lens, the effects, they are more effective then if you wrap them in digitally. There is just a difference in the way the camera picks up the strength and the chaos of a natural phenomenon. Computers keep getting closer but never, so far, have gotten 1000% there.

It’s a great tool, I took on CGI early with Dragon Heart and know how powerful and amazing it can be but sometimes, no matter how hard you work, it can still look like effects, so personally, and in my approach  I prefer to put it as much of it in front of a lens as I can. That way when I say cut I know I have it.

As an example, when Toby is climbing up that tower you have got to believe he is in the middle of a hurricane blast and that gives me a lot of satisfaction to look in the monitor and to see that in fact he is being pummelled by the wind and the rain and not going, ‘well it looks sort of right, or it looks kinda convincing’. I like to look at it and say ‘yes, look at his face, his cheeks are flapping’!

This type of film and subject matter demands a lot of effects-heavy work. From your standpoint, does it require a different style of preparation from you in visually telling a story?

You need to have the whole movie firmly in your head and that takes a lot of work in the prep period and as you are starting to shoot. You must know how every piece fits with every piece, so if you are going to do a visual effect in this particular moment in the film you have to be able to explain it to the actors, exactly what it is that they need to show to make that effect work and they need to create their own actor reality, which is of course why we love actors as they can sell you the truth and make you believe it, even if they are in front of a green screen.

By the way, we used almost no green screen in this movie. When you can know your film so well that you can constantly refer to it in your mind and be able to be clear with the cast and crew as to what everything needs, that’s when you are working at your top level.

The Hurricane Heist

Credit: Sky Cinema

Maggie Grace, Toby Kebbell and Ryan Kwanten seemed to share a great chemistry together. What was it like working with them?

Maggie had to go to combat physical training for months to get ready to play this action heroine. Maggie had to do the physical part so she needed the extra work. Ryan came to the part very naturally – but he wanted to dye his hair this goofy blonde, red-blonde! And Toby you know, it was all about bringing the 3 of them together and working together around a table to create the interlocking personalities and the histories of the two brothers. Why (when we find them) are they so distant and so uneasy with each other, downright hostile in some aspects, and you know, coming back to the father and the death of the father. So it was not a-typical in the character inspiration.

What is your favourite scene from The Hurricane Heist and what was the most demanding one to shoot? The tower scene and shoot-out was very impressive.

You have great taste! This is my favourite scene as well. I felt that that got the closest to the reality of a hurricane in that scene then in any other. The 12 min, non-stop, action scene with the trucks, at the end, was really challenging and very difficult to shoot, but the interaction of the actors and the effects in that sequence really capture the heart of the hurricane experience and that is what I was really proud of – that literally in-camera with literally no visual effects look. BTW that wasn’t a miniature, we tore that tower down!

What stories interest you as a writer and can we expect to see more of your work in this field soon?

I just finished my new script, Razor, and its based on a series of graphic novels by Everette Hartsoe. It’s a completely original script based on this excellent work, Everette Hartsoe was part of creating the Crow. It’s a dark female driven action film that has a Joan of Ark theme and hopefully that will be the next movie.

You’ve had a wonderful career and made lots of action films which have really resonated with audiences. How do you constantly meet with and exceed the demands of an ever-changing audience who have seen it all before?

That’s a very good question and a very tough answer. When you have so many moving targets its very difficult. You have to keep you ear to the ground, you have to have a sense of the zeitgeist at any given moment, but you also have to project it ahead two years because when you start a movie to by the time it hits the cinema it’s a year an a half / 2 years… so you need to have a kind a of apprehension that is very delicate. Sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t but you have to go in that faith or you will be irrelevant every time.

The Hurricane Heist

Credit: Sky Cinema

Speedhunters sounds like an interesting project. What can you tell us about that film?

Unfortunately, as often happens, the money of that project fell apart, so it won’t be going ahead.

What are your top three action films of all time?

The Seven Samurai

The Wild Bunch

The last is a mixed answer I love what Craig and David Leitch are doing.  With John Wick and Atomic Blonde. I think they are upping the game on actions films and I am very happy for them, I know them and I very much like the work they have been doing.

We are big fans of The Skulls – what are your memories of working on that film and the cast including Paul Walker and Josh Jackson?

It was a very intense set because I had in my mind that I was telling the story of George Senior and George W Bush. I had gone to Harvard that had the dining clubs but not the skull and bones, the secret societies. But I knew a lot about the secret societies, and I thought this is how the elite functions. This is how the elite knits together these bonds that take them through life and keep them in the elite heights of any society, and I was very excited about portraying that with Paul and Josh and all the cast.

To create this secret world of power elites… that was very exciting to me and I got the cast excited about that idea. It’s interesting how many of the critics missed this and didn’t understand it and blowed it off as silly.  Skull and bones is a reality and the film got very close to how that reality works at Yale.

Working with Josh and Paul was thrilling. Josh is such a seasoned actor at a young age and Paul was just coming up but this is where my bond with Paul was formed because I saw so much potential in him. And I put him toe to toe with an actor who is really seasoned and he rose to the occasion and I loved him – the guts he had not to cave in, knowing in every scene he was going up against an actor who had been on camera 10 times more then he had. He brought everything to the park and loved him for that and therefore cast him in Fast.

The Fast and the Furious

Credit: Universal

What are your memories from The Fast and the Furious and XXX and would you like to return to either franchise soon?

Well, first of all it’s the kind of tone (that both of the actors effected) and were able to achieve. One was this tone of multiculturalism. I had this idea of this multicultural family that weren’t really related by blood, but that were related by heart and that was set in the street racing world and the hijacking world… but that what I felt was going on was putting a new kind of hero, or set of heroes, in front of a lens – mixed-race, very street-orientated. It was like a new look at the underclass of America and I think that those relationships in Fast and Furious are what made it continue along with the bells and whistles and all the gonzo action that I was able to design around cars and car-stunts and car sequences.

It was that combination of characters that you wanted to re-see, re-visit and action that was truly adrenalizing to the audience. Similar with xXx is I vested all my research in the extreme sports world to find out how these guys do these things and what their though process is, like Travis Postrana, Ricky Throne and all the guys that I talk to, Matt Hoffman, from the extreme sports world, and then to embody it in a character. I knew that Vin had a more flamboyant character than Dominic Torreto and I wanted to appeal to that other part of Vinnie where he can be funny and rye and very entertaining, as long as he’s kept within a certain reality, so I think the tone of that movie was adventurism, it was a new twist on James Bond, it was a Punk James Bond!

I’ve often said, and you know that tonal attitude plus doing things that no-one’s ever done – jump off a falling corvette that was falling 700ft, you know in the opening, it was again highly adrenalized, but it had a lot of humour and a lot of style and it created an alternate James Bond universe that I actually think had effect on the real James Bond universe, because after xXx they got rid of Pierce Bronson and they brought in Daniel Craig who was way more serious than his character but he was a rough guy, he was no longer the erudite gentleman that Sean Connery created, he was rough, and quiet and lethal and I think we had an effect on them.

It’s been a great effect, the films have become infinitely more interesting with Daniel Craig than they’ve been in a while. So you know, you get out there with cast, ideas, character and tone, and if you hit the right formula, so to speak, the audience has a hunger to re-experience it.

I would love to return to both sequels, I’d love to do them, I’d love to get back into XXX, whether it will happen or not, I can’t say. Vin and I had a unique relationship, and I don’t think it’s one he’s had with any of the other directors, because I was there at the beginning and formulating and design a reality in which his talents could reside, I think there was a bond that we were co-creating something really cool and new, and you can only create something new for the first time – you can repeat it but it’s not the same as the day when you went ‘What if he did/ What if he had this?’ or ‘What if he talked like that?’ or ‘Here’s how he would you know, handle this situation’ and that exploration, getting something new of the ground, you know going from 0 to 100, is as hard as going from 100 to a million! It is almost inevitable, it’s like getting these things off the ground is often where the true creatively lies for both actor and director, and writers and producer, so we had these 2 movies back to back, Vin and I, and they did very well by both of us and that’s a bond that is hard to break.

 

The Hurricane Heist is out now in cinemas and on Sky Cinema.

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