When “RED,” Summit Entertainment’s ensemble adaptation of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s DC Comics/Wildstorm miniseries, hits theaters next Friday, October 15, fans of the comic will notice that the film’s comedic tone is a big departure from the grim feel of the comic. The central conflict in the source material between retired government killer Frank Moses and the CIA contingent that wants him dead, however, is alive and well in the relationship between Bruce Willis’ Moses and Karl Urban’s agent William Cooper, the man tasked with pursuing and eliminating the former agent.
Willis and Urban sat down to discuss “RED” last weekend with a group of journalists gathered in New York City. The discussion inevitably turned to a knockdown fight scene that occurs roughly halfway through the film in which the two men trade close-quarters blows in the confines of a small government office. The exchange that follows illustrated the great chemistry that the two actors discovered while working together for the first time on the film.
“I got my ass kicked in that fight scene,” Willis commented.
Urban turned to him, a look of surprise on his face. “Really? That’s funny, because I got my ass kicked in that fight scene.”
“Thank you,” Willis quietly replied, eliciting laughter from the gathered audience.
“No, I’m serious. I was in six weeks of [physical therapy] after that fight scene,” Urban continued. “I’ve got the bill for you.”
The exchange is all that much funnier after you see the scene unfold, several minutes of absolutely brutal punch-for-punch-for-elbow-for-knee-for-face-through-glass-table close combat. The camera maintains a reasonable distance from the action and each shot is allowed to linger long enough for audiences to understand that the fight is much more stagecraft than film trickery. Willis freely admits that the preparation was intense.
“We rehearsed a lot,” he said. “I think that we both rehearsed knowing once the cameras got out in that little room and once everyone was there…it just gets hard to underplay it, because you just want to make it look like we’re really fighting. You can get hurt.”
Urban, who has been lucky enough in the past year to re-launch a massive franchise (“Star Trek”) and now work with some of cinema’s greats in “RED,” appreciates his good fortune. Willis, after all, is “Die Hard’s” John McClane. When it comes to action in film, there are few better to share a fight scene with.
“I feel very blessed having this fight with Bruce,” Urban said. “He’s obviously been doing it for a while. He taught me things that I didn’t know. For example: if it’s not done correctly you can get hurt, so he told me it’s very important to maintain eye contact as much as possible so the other person knows what’s coming. There were no holds barred. If you’ve seen the film, it was a pretty intense, gritty kind of a fight and I’m really proud of it. I think it stands out as one of the best fights that have been put on screen.”
It’s a mutual respect, Willis readily admitted. “I want Karl to be in every one of my movies.” In “RED” specifically, the veteran actor looked at his co-star’s role as the most challenging of the bunch. “Where everyone else was just given [free] rein to try to make you laugh and be in the romance element of it all, Karl’s job was just to be the real truth, the real hard truth of the guy who brings death, the guy who tries to stop all of these things,” he explained. “A lot of times, that can be a very unforgiving part and less fun than when you’re getting to run around and blow things up and go act like you’re someone else.”
At that point, he turned to Urban, addressing his costar directly. “I think you did a great job and made us all look better [because of] how tough you were in the film.”
For all of the mutual respect flying back and forth, both actors acknowledge that the success of “RED” – and seeing the film, it’s hard to argue that it’s anything but – hinges on the whole team that came together. “This film has comedy, action and romance,” Willis told the press. “What I’ve been saying, and what I think we were all saying when we were working together, is that you could’ve made a movie about any of those things [individually]. It was very ambitious. We didn’t know when we were making it if it was all going to stay in and all be in the film.”
“We were very fortunate in that we had a really wonderful script, a truly insightful and specific director and at the end of the day we had the luxury of the most phenomenal cast that I think I’ve ever worked with,” Urban added. “For me, it was a point of getting to work with actors whose work I have admired for such a long time. The wonderful thing was to find yourself in that situation – when you approach that, you’re never quite sure if they’re going to be able to live up to your expectations – but across the board my expectations were completely exceeded in how wonderfully supportive and generous they all were. I’m just really looking forward to this film getting out there and finding an audience because it’s a really fun ride.”
Warner Bros.’ “RED” opens in theaters on October 15.