Anything James Bond or John Wick can do, Agent Lorraine Broughton can do better. In Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron plays a platinum-blonde, ass-kicking spy working for Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service. Her mission: to retrieve a list of double agents being shipped into the west on the night of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. What could possibly go wrong?
David Leitch, who is currently hard at work bringing 21st Century Fox's anticipated Deadpool sequel to life, recently spoke with CBR about tackling the spy-noir genre, putting Charlize through the wringer, choreographing action sequences, and the possibility of returning with some Atomic Blonde sequels.
CBR: Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City. What was it about the material that spoke to you?
David Leitch: I’m a fan of the spy-noir thriller. That graphic novel is in the spirit of The Third Man. It’s black and white and shadowy, with trench coats and fedoras. It really drew me in with its graphic sensibilities. Then, obviously, Charlize Theron’s character, Lorraine, is the female protagonist in this world of lies. It was really interesting.
How do you feel Atomic Blonde turns the spy-thriller genre on its head?
The approach was to figure out a way to contemporize it. When I got the script - my wife handed it to me, who is my producer on it at Sierra - she said, “Is there a way in for you as a filmmaker, where you could make it a heightened-world in Berlin, or infuse some of your action sensibilities?” I was like, “I don’t know. It’s spy noir.” As I started to read the script, I started to hear music tracks coming in. I started to see set pieces that could be altered.
Having done six movies in Berlin as a second unit director and stunt coordinator, I knew the city. The city on the page wasn’t really described yet. I started to see set pieces. I started to see color. Being a child of the '80s, I was like, “You know what? Maybe this is a pop-culture, mash-up. And, maybe this is driven by music and sort of a style piece. How do I do that?” That’s sort of where it all came in. It's taking a Cold War noir and infusing '80s cool, from top to bottom.
Charlize kicks major butt in this movie. What impressed you most about her work ethic?
Her work ethic impressed me about her work ethic. Showing up to those training sessions early in the morning - Having to drive to our training facility from her home, which is an hour away. She had to drive to our facility near the airport, three to four times a week, staying for four hours, getting her ass kicked by the stunt guys – and never complaining. She only wanted more, and only wanted to be better. It’s rare.
How did her gung-ho attitude push you when it came to the action sequences?
As a producer, and as a creative collaborator, she’s so supportive of the vision of, “Hey, we want to do this one-shot in a stairwell.” She’s like, “Is it going to be great?” “Yes, it’s going to be great. I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time.” “I’m in. How do we do it? Let’s do it. What do I need to do?” You couldn’t ask for a more supportive producer.
Audiences still talk about that one-shot hallway battle in Netflix's first season of Daredevil. In Atomic Blonde, you have an eight-minute continuous fight sequence in a stairwell. What was it like filming that scene?