As the press conference for Warner Bros’ new film “The Losers” began, Zoe Saldana was asked how it felt kicking co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s ass. Before she could respond, Morgan responded, “She didn’t kick my ass. It was even-steven.” This set the mood for the rest of the event, which also included stars Idris Elba and Oscar Jaenada, writer James Vanderbilt and director Sylvain White.
“When you’re the only girl in a cast, I feel you almost have twice as much work to do, because you don’t want to be singled out,” Saldana explained. “You’re already the only girl, so if you’re the one who says, ‘I can’t do this,’ or whatever, it’s going to be, ‘Oh, she’s wimping out because she’s a girl.’ So, I toughed it out.” The actress went on to discuss how training for the film was a somewhat continuous process from her turn on “Avatar,” as both films shared the same stunt coordinator. “I’ve known Garret Warren for two or three years. He trained me, so he’s the one that has beaten me up and knows exactly what my body can do at times when I didn’t even know I could do it myself. BNy the time we got to Puerto Rico, we changed a couple of things because I had to substitute the bow and arrow for the guns and the knives.”
“We spent a lot of time choreographing those fights. Invariably, they change on the day and it’s hard stuff. We didn’t have the luxury of spending a week doing a scene,” added Morgan, who plays Clay in the film. “The hotel scene, we shot in a day and a half. The conclusion – the stuff with me and Idris – we shot in a day, and that fight got changed at the eleventh hour after we had choreographed something for two months in Puerto Rico. Then we shot it in LA and it was a completely different fight than we had anticipated. So that stuff was a big challenge. It’s hard getting up off the pavement twenty times.”
“I think Jeffrey’s trying to say that he was very scared to fight me; much trepidation,” joked Elba.
Elba, who plays Roque in the film, is perhaps best known for his role as Stringer Bell in HBO’s acclaimed series, “The Wire.” Director White credited that part with exposing him to Elba’s talents. “Stringer Bell is the first time I really saw Idris breathe life into a character. I love that series. When the character of Roque came up, I thought, y’know, there can be nobody better who can bring up those layers, because the character turns, but at the same time, you’ve got to love his character. The turn has to be believable.”
For his part, the actor credited the writing for how the characters are portrayed on screen. “The creators of ‘The Wire’ – and rest in peace David Mills, who just passed – but the writing offers the actor choices,” said Elba. “It is about choices, and the director helps you guide those choices into what the screenplay says. Jeffrey and I had a huge challenge to make our relationship believable so that when we have that fight at the end, you’re seeing not only two men going it at it that are professionals at what they do tactically, but two men that have been together as – not Brokeback – but as friends. ”
“Much to my sadness,” joked Morgan.
For actor Oscar Jaenada, who plays Cougar, “The Losers” marks his first appearance in a major Hollywood film. While the character has few lines, Jaenada is happy to make a statement in silence. “I just want to say something. If it’s without words, I don’t care. You can say a lot of things with your eyes, no? I think Cougar is that character,” he said.
“Can you say something to me with your eyes right now?” Morgan asked.
“Oscar was brought to my attention by our wonderful casting director, Mary Vernieu,” the director explained. “I was supposed to meet twenty people for the role of Cougar, but she said you just have to meet this Spanish actor. That’s all it took. I met with Oscar for an hour and I called her and said, ‘Scratch all the other meetings. This guy is the man.'”
Elba joked, “And Oscar didn’t say a word in that meeting.”
Morgan added, “With his eyes. He spoke with his eyes.”
White went on to explain his decision to cast Colombus Short for the character of Pooch. “Having worked with Columbus on my last film, I just was determined to cast him in this film,” said the director. “He was probably the first actor I had in mind from the second I read the first page.”
“Thanks, Frenchman – ‘Oh, Columbus is Pooch,'” Short added to the laughter of the group.
“It’s important in the sense that the character of Pooch is really the one emotional vector that you have to care for through the movie, and that’s how you end up caring for the crew,” continued White. “You really want this particular character to get back to the US and get back to his wife in time for the birth of his child. And it’s through his character that you have to care for these guys. I think he’s got this sensibility about him that works for this particular archetype.”
Asked why so many films are based on comics and graphic novels these days, writer James Vanderbilt replied, “There’s amazing writing and art going on in graphic novels and comic books and has been for years. I think, more and more, Hollywood has caught on to the fact that there are great stories being told in that form. I think twenty, thirty, forty years ago, it was looked down upon as an art form. More recently, the work of Andy Diggle and Jock, who created this, can be recognized, and Hollywood is sort of mining that.”
“It’s this amazing combination of really hard hitting action – visceral action – combined with a light collection of character and tone and humor. It did it in quite a unique way. The use of colors that Jock implements and the graphic nature of the design of the novel is really amazing,” explained White. “When the script was generated by James, he was able to inject even more humor into it, but staying true to the characters.”
Invited to compare the difficulty of filming a love scene versus a fight scene with Zoe Saldana, Morgan joked, “The love scene; that was hard. I had a rough day that day. I needed another take.” After the laughter died down, he continued, “Technically, the fight was much harder. Zoe and I and the whole cast were very comfortable around each other from day one, so the challenging part was the fight. [Both] physically and trying to get the tone of what we needed to accomplish in that scene. Which, I think we did. The love scene, man? Bring that on. I had Zoe Saldana sitting on my lap, naked. Yeah, rough.”
“It helps when you get along with the actors and it helps that Jeffrey was such a gentlemen and so respectful, because, trust me, as a woman, trying doing that with a freaking prick. It’s just…been there, it’s not a good day at work,” added Saldana. “You’re the only one that’s naked, and you have to act like you’re not aware that you’re naked. Not only that, but you have to flip your hair and have an orgasm…” Following the laughter from that statement, she continued, “So when you work with a good director and a good actor that makes it seem like a regular Tuesday, then love scenes are like any other fight scene. They’re just awesome.”
Asked if they had any concern about the similar “A-Team” film coming out later in the year, Morgan replied, “First of all, we never went in thinking about the ‘The A-Team’ at all.”
White added, “I didn’t even know about ‘The A-Team’ until we were back [from filming] and in post-production, so while we were shooting, I wasn’t really aware of that whole thing.”
Morgan joked, “Let them think about us.”
“The Losers” is in theaters on April 23.