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Rob Cohen talks to Live for Films about The Hurricane Heist

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Rob Cohen (right) directs Maggie Grace and Ralph Ineson

The Hurricane Heist stars Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), Maggie Grace (Taken), Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Ralph Ineson (The Witch), and is directed by Rob Cohen ( xXx and The Fast and the Furious). We recently caught up with Rob to chat about making The Hurricane Heist, getting fungus between your toes and creating a punk James Bond with Vin Diesel.

A crew of thieves plans the ultimate heist, to steal $600 million from the U.S. treasury facility located on the Gulf Coast of Alabama using a hurricane as their cover. When the storm blows up into a lethal CATEGORY 5 and their well-made plans go awry, they find themselves needing a vault code known only by one female Treasury Agent, a need that turns murderous. But the Treasury agent has picked up an unlikely ally, a meteorologist terrified of hurricanes but determined to save his estranged brother kidnapped by the thieves. He uses his knowledge of the storm as a weapon to defeat the bad guys in this non-stop action/thriller

Hi Rob. I’m Alan from Live for Films. First off: How did you get involved with the The Hurricane Heist? What attracted you to it?

When Howard and Karen Baldwin gave me this 20-something year old script and I took a look at it and although the script was very outdated, it had within it this great idea, to me, of a Hurricane and a heist being connected, and I thought that was really interesting …And to think about it, it would be a time when the town is evacuated, it would be dangerous – more than just the heist is dangerous – all law-enforcement and everything would be looking at other issues instead of thinking the bank’s being robbed, and so there was a logic to it that I found kinda crazy and inventive –  and that’s when I jumped in because I began to think of things that could happen in a hurricane that would embellish the heist, but the heist would give a reason to do the hurricane instead of ‘Oh my daughter is trapped in a building across town’. So it gave a reason, a glue for the disaster-end of the movie.

 

Was it fun making a disaster movie? Were you a fan of them as a child, and if so – do you have any favourites that influenced your work on Hurricane Heist?

Well, you know, obviously films like Twister are antecedence and inspiration; I really had a very exciting experience my first foray into Hollywood really was when I became a junior executive at 20th Century Fox and when I got there they were making The Poseidon Adventure and I would walk on all the upside down sets and just wonder at the incredible power of movies to do these things, and so the idea of an inverted universe came back to play for me with the shopping mall scene, where he creates a pressure inversion so instead of things falling down like you’d expect, everything goes up, and that’s my tip to my hat to my thrilling days on Iwrin Allen’s set of Poseidon Adventure.

You have a great cast in Ryan Kwanten, Maggie Grace, and Toby Kebbell; what were they like to work with – and did you ask them to prepare themselves or their characters in any particular ways prior to filming?

Maggie had to go to combat physical training for months to get ready to play this action heroine, and erm, Ryan… Ryan came to the part very naturally – but he wanted to dye his hair this goofy blonde red-blonde!

It was all about bringing the three of them together and working together around a table to create the interlocking personalities, and the histories of the two brothers and why when we find them they are so distant and so uneasy with each other and downright hostile in some aspects.

 

The film also stars Ralph Ineson – who is in one of my favourite films, The Witch), how was directing him and what makes him such a great character actor?

Well, Ralph is a tremendous bundle of talent, I mean he’s a wonderful actor with a wonderful voice and an imposing physical presence, and I was looking for a kind of villain that in another movie could play the hero, because I think villains are most powerful when they have an almost tragic-heroic character. And Ralph, I mean when I saw The Witch he blew me away, just like you, and I never forgot it and when I was writing this part I thought, yeah Ralph, that kind of guy would be the right Perkins, so I was absolutely delighted when we offered it to him and he said “yes”, and I felt that quartet of Ralph, Maggie, Toby and Ryan were four very different types of actor, who were different types of personalities and would yet make a cohesive cast.

 

What are the drawbacks in working with a lot of water and weather effects?

[laughing0 Fungus between your toes! And er, too much noise, too much wet, too much wind… it makes life very difficult, and you know there were a few nights where I almost went “What the hell were you thinking top put yourself through this!? Couldn’t you have done a nice little road trip movie?”

And there is also a lot of CGI, what are your methods for directing scenes where a lot of elements don’t yet exist?

 

Well, there’s not as much CGI as you think, most was done in front of the lens…But there are sequences that can not be manufactured by in-camera devices, so for those I like to do a very big storyboard. I write up thousands of storyboards and take the actors through them, so they can envision the entire sequence, the way it’s going to be in the end, so they know how to plug back into the reality that will one day be there. And they knew from the work that we did on the tower sequence, they all knew what that kind of weather would feel like and the dangers of it, so in some ways the fact that we shot so much of the realistic stuff first was a big help to them later when they had to imagine the power – because they’d felt it themselves. It’s like every aspect of directing, it’s all about imaginative communication with your actors.

 

Hurricane Heist is extremely fun. How do you go about baking that kind of vibe into a film as a director?

Well you have to identify it as your goal. You have to go ‘”Im not gonna take the film too seriously” because I don’t want it to come across as a very earnest movie. On the other hand if I make it so much fun and so light then the threat gets diminished and then you don’t believe anything, so it’s a balancing act between keeping the tension and the balancing act of the hurricane and having the right amount of imagination and gonzo approaches to the various moments so the audience can go this is a fun film, I can just let go and have a good time.

 

What unique skills does a director need to be able to direct big action-packed movies? It seems like the genre with the greatest amount of challenges and moving parts possible.

Well that’s why I took it on, because if I know how to do a film from when I read the script, I don’t normally want to do it, it’s only when I go “How would I make a hurricane in front of a lens? What would that be?” that I start watching hurricane documentary footage and I say “Oh that’s the kind of condensation of the water”, you know, that it’s so dense that it looks like a smoke cloud or smoke screen and file that idea away…Horizontal rain, how much rain, then when you get it analysed then you’ve got to figure out how to do it so you don’t kill the actors! So you know, it’s a journey and a discovery. The biggest thing you have to have to make one of these is to have a willingness to be uncomfortable, that you don’t know exactly how to do it, and you are going to learn as you go because otherwise you would never undertake something like this, it would defeat you just in fear.

 

xXx and Fast and Furious were massive and sparked blockbuster action franchises that are still going strong. What do you think was so special about those two films?

Well, first of all, it’s the kind of tone that both of them affected, that I was able to achieve. One was this tone of multiculturalism: I had this idea of this multicultural family that weren’t really related by blood, 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 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.

Similarly, with xXx, I vested all my research in the extreme sports world to find out how these guys do these things and what their thought process is. People 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 all in a character.

I knew that Vin had a more flamboyant character than Dominic Torreto in him and I wanted to appeal to that other part of Vinnie where he can be funny and wry 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.

You know that tonal attitude plus, doing things that no-one’s ever done: jumping off a falling corvette, that was falling 700ft, you know in the in openings, 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. After xXx they got rid of Pierce Bronson and they brought in a guy, 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, and 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 the audience has a hunger to re-experience it.

 

Was your relationship and chemistry with Vin Diesel also a factor, and would you like to make a return to either series?

Well yes, 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 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 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, is often where the true creatively lies for both actor and director. We had these two 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.

Catch THE HURRICANE HEIST in UK & Irish cinemas and on Sky Cinema from April 6.

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