MORE ON ‘PUNISHER: WAR ZONE’ FROM DIRECTOR LEXI ALEXANDER
In this extended version of her first interview, she talks about staying true to Frank Castle’s look and the appeal of a well-placed headbutt
By Andy Serwin
Posted December 11, 2007 11:40 AM
“Punisher: War Zone” director Lexi Alexander is taking her version of the classic Marvel vigilante to the MAX.
Basing her take on Frank Castle on the Garth Ennis-penned, mature-readers version of the Punisher comic book from Marvel’s MAX imprint, Alexander—in her first interview about the film in a conference call from the set—spoke to Wizard Universe about what to expect from this dark, violent version of the skull-clad killer antihero.
“The last ‘Punisher’ movie wasn’t really relevant to us,” Alexander said of “War Zone,” which opens on Sept. 12, 2008. and stars Ray Stevenson (“Rome”) as Frank Castle. “There’s a lot of comparison, but none of the people on my team ever looked at it and said, ‘Okay, how can we be different or better?’ We just made our own film. I concentrated on really, really making it as close to the MAX series as possible. I think we really achieved that in both look and tone. When I look at the dailies, seriously I think I’m looking at the MAX comic book. I think the feeling of it will be much darker, and the comic fans will realize it’s more like the comic.”
Check out this Q&A with Alexander, who opens up about the forthcoming flick for the first time.
WIZARD: Does this movie take place in the Marvel Universe or in its own world?
ALEXANDER: Well, I think in the sense of the other Marvel characters, it’s definitely its own world. In terms of its location though, we do call it the Marvel New York because rather than setting it in the real New York, I wanted to have a bit of a surreal feeling.
Will this be a hard-R “Punisher” and if so, what sort of guidelines has the studio established regarding how violent it can be?
ALEXANDER: Well, it’ll definitely be a hard R. Luckily Lionsgate has been great about that. They haven’t given me any guidelines in terms of violence. I think that they’re a really good studio to make a violent movie with. I really like violent movies. [Laughs]
Are the challenges of making a bigger picture like “Punisher: War Zone” more than that of a picture like “Green Street Hooligans”?
ALEXANDER: I think there are advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that there are a lot more toys and it’s a bigger crew. There are just more resources. The disadvantage is that the more money you get the more responsibility you have, the more people that you have to answer to. So you have all kinds of people that have a say in how this movie should be or giving me input on where I can go and where I can’t go. I think that I got really, really lucky for this being my first studio movie and having people who really believe in me and really haven’t been riding me to death. I usually know from other filmmakers that on their first film they hardly make any decision by themselves. I got really lucky.
What’s the significance to the subtitle “War Zone”?
ALEXANDER: When we were discussing titles, and obviously Marvel has a huge input on that, we wanted to go with something that the fans will recognize as a title and when they suggested a few; “War Zone” seemed like the one that fit this one. In particular it had something to do with the ending. It’ll make more sense once you’ve seen the film, but I think the ending really justifies the title “War Zone.”
How much hand-to-hand fighting do you plan on having Frank Castle engage in, or will most of the action be gunplay?
ALEXANDER: I think that it’s about 70 percent gunplay and 30 percent hand-to-hand combat. The first thing that I did really didn’t have anything to do with my background, although I love hand-to-hand combat and I love putting on these fights—that’s the world that I come from in terms of martial arts as well as from the stunt world. But when I make a film it’s about the character, and when I studied his biography the great thing about Castle is that he’s skilled in so many things. Being a Force Recon guy, you learn all kinds of martial arts skills and so you have pieces of every single martial art there is, but he’s also mainly focused on the guns.
Your storyline incorporates elements and characters from Garth Ennis’s “Welcome Back Frank” comic storyarc. Why was the decision made to bring in Jigsaw, who is not a part of that storyline?
ALEXANDER: The first script I received from Lionsgate already had Jigsaw in it. At that point I wasn’t really familiar with where Jigsaw came into the series, but he was there and he was the antagonist, he was the villain. I fell in love with this character. I think he’s a great villain and I wanted to keep him. So I don’t think that we strictly went for one storyline in the comic books. I think that we took parts of the world out of Frank Castle and tried to make the best story possible.
What makes actors Ray Stevenson and Dominic West perfect for their respective roles as Frank and Jigsaw?
ALEXANDER: I mean, they’re really, really perfect. Every day we stand behind the monitor and we just shake our heads and look at these guys, going, “Holy sh--. How lucky did we get?” Ray Stevenson is incredibly intense. Not only does he totally look like the Punisher, he’s really, really intense. He’s kind of got his life on his face. He’s not a pretty boy. You definitely see that he’s had a life. He’s really, really skilled. He teaches all of us now about guns and machine guns and bullets and all of that stuff. He’s very physical as well. On the other hand, Dominic is just a really skilled actor. I think that people will see a side of him that they haven’t seen because we really use all of his talent. This guy is a real British theater actor. He can have a huge range. He nails this part like there is no tomorrow. I think that people will be speaking about this forever and he says this and we all say that this is the best he’s ever done.
As a former fighting champ, how do you feel about handing out ass-kicking tips to your stars, and what’s been the most brutal scene to work on so far?
ALEXANDER: [Laughs] I have a lot of people hired that teach these guys the fighting and do the fight choreography. Once in a while it’s quite fun because I will jump in and I see that a punch isn’t selling or a certain elbow hit doesn’t sell. The guys shake their heads because they tower above me and I say, “Can you turn around and do it like this?” Ray will say, “I can’t believe this little midget is showing me how to fight, but she’s right.” So there’s a lot of humor about the fact that they think I can kick their ass, which is good for a director, so that they’ll all listen to me. In terms of the most brutal thing, I think that’s been the location that we were in two weeks ago. It was part of the finale and it was really, really cold and a toxic building and we all had to have these masks on, which didn’t help a lot because we all got sick anyway. It was toxic and so we basically had to shoot the entire time with these oxygen masks on except the actors—they didn’t get any.
Do you have a favorite kill that you can talk about without giving too much away?
ALEXANDER: I do have a favorite kill. Without giving too much away, I can say that it has to do with a headbutt.
Are you going to stick with the iconic costume for the Punisher in this film?
ALEXANDER: Yes, I am. But there have been over the years many different costumes. I think that we’ve taken the elements that we like the best from each of those costumes. I think that if you see a picture of him there are similarities to some of them, but not specifically one. Basically what I’ve taken is the best elements from each of these costumes over the years.
Is there an issue of the Punisher comic book that you can point to and say that you were inspired from?
ALEXANDER: God, there have been so many. I feel like I’ve read hundreds and hundreds when I first took on this job. Something that stayed in my mind which isn’t in this film, but I remember reading it and saying, “Okay, yes. I’m going to make this movie.” It was Frank Castle, he was still in his street clothes. His wife had just died and a neighbor comes over with a bottle of whiskey and tries to comfort him and in that conversation the neighbor admits that he’s having an affair with his secretary, and Castle’s face just changes and he says, “I lost my wife and you’re telling me that you’re screwing around on your wife?” Then he just says, “Run.” The neighbor doesn’t run and so he throws him through the window and basically trashes him. I thought, “Now that’s a cool guy.” I tried to put that in the movie, but it didn’t fit anywhere. I remember the turning point for me with that, saying, “Now that’s great writing.”