EXCLUSIVE: Netflix’s action-adventure-comedy Red Notice has a number of exhilarating set pieces including a climatic chase scene that would rival Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom mine cart sequence when it comes to thrills. What audiences might not realize is the heart-pounding roller-coaster ride the film’s director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, went through in making this project had him wondering if they’d ever make it to the finish line. From the record-setting spec deal when it sold to Universal to moving from a theatrical release model at Uni to a streaming one at Netflix, to its eventual production halt and restart due to the Covid pandemic, the ride was a wild one for Thurber — all leading to a final product and massive Hollywood premiere last week.
Thurber sat down with Deadline to talk all things Red Notice as well as a number of other topics including being in the Dwayne Johnson business, whether he would consider doing a horror film and whether we ever see a sequel to the film that launched his career:
DEADLINE: I’ve seen the film, and it’s a ton a fun. The funny thing is, it would seem that getting this film from its first pitch in the room to its final product probably felt like a roller-coaster ride unto itself. How many times in the past couple of years did you go, “We’re never finishing this film?”
RAWSON MARSHALL THURBER: (Laughs) Oh gosh, I mean a handful of times at least. It’s always so tricky when you are making any movie, let alone a movie at this scale, with three big stars — it’s incredibly tricky. We faced a number of challenges, the pandemic, of course, being No. 1, and when we shut down we were halfway through shooting, almost to the day and about
two weeks from going to Italy to shoot this opening car chase, which had been scouted and prepped. Then the world shut down, which ultimately led to us leading to us to shutting down production. It was a long six months of not knowing anything. We didn’t know if we were ever come back. We didn’t know if it would be a write-off and your film would be the stuff of legend but in a bad way, with people saying, “Remember that movie they almost made?” To everyone’s credit at Netflix, no one ever wavered and, whenever I would speak to them it was never, “if we are coming back” it was “when.” So that’s always reassuring. And then it became a question of how we would come back and how do we keep everyone safe while getting what we needed. So it became an incredible combination of effort, and when we came back to Atlanta in this kind of NBA-bubble quarantine, it was really, really, intense. Finally, we needed a buy-in from the cast and crew to do that and essentially be away from their families for like three months, which is not easy.
DEADLINE: So you still had 90 more days of shooting left?
THURBER: About 45 days of shooting, but when you add in the weekends and prep, it turns into about 90 days. For me it was even more isolating because the crew stayed at one of two hotels that we bought out, but I had to stay at my own place because if there was ever a breakthrough or infection and I was connected to that, then I would have to be sidelined. So I had to be even more isolated. That was the real challenge, being away from my family, completely isolated and go through my six-day work week, Monday through Saturday, and it took a toll. On top of that, still had this global pandemic, no vaccine at the time, we have this tumultuous election happening while we were in Georgia, which was a knife’s-edge state on whether it would go red or blue. And then on top of all of that, we had to figure out this film creatively. So back to this car chase in Italy that opens our movie, I had to rewrite the movie to now fit our new reality.
DEADLINE: Is that why in the movie, instead of getting this big car chase, someone crashes into Dwayne before we get into it?
THURBER: That’s exactly why we did that way, and I actually think it ended working out better for the movie.
DEADLINE: So I loved Skyscraper and have told people close to DJ that I’ve actually wanted to see more of those films. I’m curious, that was your first straight action film?
DEADLINE: When you had done so much comedy and are stuck in that box, was that action genre something you wanted to pursue, did DJ love that Central Intelligence experience so much he pushed you towards this project, and did doing that film give you the confidence in believing you could do something as big in scope as Red Notice?
THURBER: Absolutely, I think that Red Notice is the culmination of all of the movies I’ve made to this point and learning every step of the way. I would say Central Intelligence is a straight-up action-comedy, and then Skyscraper was a straight action picture — not a lot of comedy at all — and then Red Notice is an action-adventure-comedy, so it has big, big action, hopefully big laughs and big stars in it. But I could not have made Red Notice without making Skyscraper first, and I’m glad I did it in this order and believe Red Notice is the best movie I’ve ever made.
DEADLINE: Lets touch on the Universal element and it moving from there to Netflix. On one end, by it moving, you aren’t getting that same theatrical distribution strategy but on the other end, I don’t know if you get Ryan on this film, I don’t know if you get the same budget or if it even happens. Were you bummed it didn’t get that theatrical experience or do you think in the end it ending up at Netflix was the best case scenario for all parties?
THURBER: I think both. When you have only made movies that have been released theatrically, the idea that it won’t be released theatrically, particularly in a large way, it’s a change and something you really expect and that was a little harder for me when I first thought about it. What wasn’t hard for me was going to Netflix, they were so excited about the film and so supportive all the way through. Then, of course, when the pandemic hit, I thank my lucky stars we were there. I can’t imagine if we were at a traditional studio with a theatrical model what would of happened. We might not have come back from the pandemic and finished. So there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank the cinema gods that Netflix rescued us from Universal and backed us.
DEADLINE: Going back to Ryan Reynolds, I can’t imagine anyone else in that role. If you didn’t get him, I don’t know what the film is because the two of them together just play off each other so well. Did you have to do things different with the script? Gal is fantastic too, but because Ryan and DJ are doing so many scenes together, how did you go about that chemistry because it helps the film so much?
THURBER: Well, thank you. Yeah I think Ryan and Dwayne together its a special kind of chemistry that you can’t fake and you can’t invent. It’s just the alchemy of those two actors come from the same brain, basically. Ryan is so good in the movie and Dwayne is so good in the movie, and Ryan couldn’t do what Ryan does in the film if Dwayne didn’t do what he did. I came up with the idea and pitched Dwayne, he said he was in. We sold to Universal at the time, and then I flew to London and pitched Gal, and she was on board and then I wrote the script … with Ryan in mind for that character. So the role of Nolan Booth, Ryan was my first and only choice: That’s who I want, that’s who I am writing for, and I’m pot committed. So I sent him the script and I crossed my fingers and sent a little note, because we’ve known each other for a little while, which said, “Look, I wrote you the best role in this script, even though you’re Canadian, I hope you like it. If you want to do it, you don’t have to call me back, just send me topless picture of Bea Arthur and I’ll know you’re in.” So he was in London at the time, so after I sent it, went to bed, woke up the next morning and turned on my phone and the first thing I saw was a text from Ryan with a topless picture of Bea Arthur. So he ended up loving the script, and he brought so much to the role both on the page and on the day and basically I got my three first choices, which were three of the biggest movie stars in the world, and I feel like I have three No. 1s on the call sheet. It’s just a dream.
DEADLINE: What I loved about this film is some themes and tones it takes from other classic films like Indiana Jones. Is Ryan actually whistling the “Indy” theme of when he is walking down into the caves toward the end of the film?
DEADLINE: I knew that sounded familiar. I loved that. There’s touches of Ocean’s Eleven, the Fast movies, even those great buddy comedies we all love — were you trying to implement those tones as you’re writing the script, or was it just coincidence?
Thurber: It’s not coincidence, it’s definitely intentional. The first act is very much of kind of a action picture, and the second act is a heist movie, and the third act is sort of an adventure film and these are all movies that I loved. We talked about Raiders, we talked about Ocean’s, Thomas Crown Affair, etc. so there is a bunch of stuff that I was inspired by and this was basically my love letter to those movies. I tried to weave it together as best I could so it didn’t feel disconnected. That was certainly part of it, where I tried to deliver big, swashbuckling fun.
DEADLINE: When it comes to the future of the Rawson business, you have done three straight films with Dwayne, he wants to take a little bit of a break…
THURBER: I’ll believe when I see it. (Laughs)
DEADLINE: It’s obviously a benefit to be in the business with Dwayne, but do you get a sense when you are pitching other ideas to studios that other execs just view you as just Dwayne’s guy, or has it helped you in that they see you in a different light given the different genres and types of films you have done since with working with him?
THURBER: That’s an interesting question, which I haven’t really thought much about. The last three films have been with Dwayne and involved pitching with Dwayne — and the guy keeps calling me even after changing my number three times; the guy just won’t leave me alone. In terms of how studios see me, I don’t really know. I’m someone that writes and directs everything I do, and I think if I want to show that I want to make a movie without Dwayne, I just have to write one without him. I’m not looking to do that, and I’m not looking to somehow prove anything to anybody. That said, I love movies, and if Dwayne’s taking a break, then I’ll probably go make some other movies.
DEADLINE: Is there a type of film you haven’t done yet that you would like to do like a horror film or even a serious drama? Do you just prefer sticking to action-comedies or does it all depend on the story?
THURBER: I really love action-comedy, and I think it’s something I do well. When you can balance those two pieces, its really just a satisfying experience, if the comedy is funny and the action is thrilling, it’s just a great experience. I’ve never loved horror movies, but I’ve always wanted to make one. I don’t know why. I feel horror and comedy are so linked because they are just different reactions to surprise. One makes you laugh, and one makes you jump out of your seat. They both are genres that deal with audience manipulation in a big way, and that’s something I’m really interested in. So I’d be really curious to try my hand in the horror genre and I’d have to think of the right thing and give it a crack. My tastes really lean toward sort of crowd-pleasing entertainment instead of hard-hitting dramas, and I think there are directors out there that do that really well, and I love seeing those movies, but I don’t think that is something I’ll end up doing. I’m interested in comedy, adventure, big action and sort of crowd-pleasing pictures.
DEADLINE: You’ve done a lot of films, but is TV something you’re interested in dabbling in?
THURBER: Absolutely. I love television, and I’m very excited where television is now and where it’s headed. It is something I’m working toward, and while I haven’t broken through with yet, it is something I’m taking very seriously.
DEADLINE: What I love about where TV is going is you don’t see directors just doing the pilot — they are directing the entire series, like Cary Fukunaga did by directing every episode of True Detective. That seems like a new way of directing a movie, just in longform, I find that fascinating.
THURBER: I think for me, as someone who writes and directs, just directing the pilot and walking away just doesn’t seem right, especially when you have all six or 10 scripts written. If you block, shoot and prep it the right way, you can shoot all those
episodes. Why wouldn’t you want authorship over the thing completely if you have created it yourself? Now if I l have been hired to direct something that is based on someone else’s idea, then I am there to execute for them. But most of the stuff I’m interested in on the television side are things I would have a hand in writing too.
DEADLINE: Bringing it full circle, Disney has 20th Century stuff now and has started rebranding some of those IPs for Disney+. Is there a world where we return to the Dodgeball universe and continue that story. Maybe we have DJ and Ryan join Vince and Ben on opposing teams? That is an IP they could have a lot of fun with.
THURBER: You know what — never say never. I never thought about Dodgeball as a series, but that actually might be fun. I’m
really proud of Dodgeball — it’s my first film and something people still really like it seems. I would say never say never, and it would have to be the right take on it. But yeah, maybe.
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