“He’s the perfect killing machine, we needed to find out how much humanity was left in him” - the stars of Hitman: Agent 47 reveal all
Hollywood's track record with taking video games to the big screen is a patchy one, but things have improved a lot in recent years with Prince Of Persia and Max Payne, while much hope is held out for the adaptations of Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Warcraft. But before all that, there’s a brand new adaptation of Hitman, IO Interactive’s giant hit that follows Agent 47, a cloned assassin as he goes about a series of ever more deadly missions with clinical precision.
There’s already been one attempt to take the game to the big screen, 2007’s Hitman, which starred Deadwood mainman Timothy Olyphant as the titular hero, but after a critical mauling and Olyphant’s reluctance to return for a sequel, producers are starting again with a brand new movie titled Hitman: Agent 47.
This time Agent 47 is forced to team up with Katia Von Dees, a young woman searching for her father, a man who could hold the key to taking down a dangerous international terrorist group.
As the movie hits DVD shelves, we chatted with director Aleksander Bach and star Rupert Friend, who you’ll know best from his role as the treacherous Peter Green in Homeland, Mr Spock himself Zachary Quinto and newcomer Hannah Ware, who as well as undertaking big roles in US TV series Boss and Betrayal, is also the sister of singer Jessie Ware, the big-selling soulstress.
How did you first get involved in the movie?
Aleksander Bach (Alek): “I got an award in 2009 in Cannes for my commercial work and it seems like that put me on Fox’s radar. I got a call from my manager saying that they were interested in me, I went to see them in Berlin and I was given the script and then a couple of months later I got the call offering me the chance to make the movie.”
Zachary Quinto: “I was finishing a play in New York and I was figuring out what to do next and the script came through to my agent. I thought it was a good fit for me, especially after I spoke to Alek. I liked the story, I thought the narrative was interesting and I came on board as a combination of those things.”
Hannah Ware: “It started about three and a half years ago actually, so it was a long process to get there. I went to the Fox lot to read the script, it was one of those scripts that they were being really secretive about and you had to stand in the corridor and read it. I kept auditioning and eventually I got the job. It was a really long wait, but it was really exciting to get the role.”
Rupert Friend: “A couple of years ago. I’d read for it a long time ago and completely forgot about it and then I got sent the script and it went from there.”
What attracted you to the role?
Zachary: “I liked the idea of creating this action movie and creating a world that was populated with characters that had a little bit more going on than you might expect. I liked the fact that my character has a real ambiguity to him, you couldn’t really figure what his motivation was or which side he was on.”
Hannah: “I really liked the character of Katia Van Dees, I thought she really held her own within this male driven action plot and I liked the anti-hero element she brings to it.”
Rupert: “I thought it was a very stylish action film. I really like the idea of this guy who’d been bred to be a perfect killing machine and who’d started to question that was a really interesting premise and it’d be interesting to explore.”
How much did you know about Hitman? Had you played the game?
Alek: “I was aware of the game, but I’d never played it. Once I got involved I did play the game, I wanted to find out what the DNA of Hitman really was, what’s special about the character and how I would bring my vision of the character to life. I wanted to show this character who is prepared for everything, except human emotion. You can’t capture that in the game and that’s how you can bring it to life on screen.”
Zachary: “I’d never played it, I knew it existed, it’s hard not to, but I’m not really a gamer. My character’s pretty peripheral in the game and I only actually had six weeks to prepare for the shoot. So I didn’t really have the time and I think the movie stands alone from the game. For Rupert it was probably a necessity to play the game, but not for my character.”
Hannah: “I hadn’t played the game, but a lot of my male friends had. They were all very complimentary about it, but it wasn’t essential for me. Katia, my character, is entirely fictional and she’s not really part of the world to begin with.”
Rupert: “I played it after they offered me the role and played it quite extensively to get a handle on the way he moved. I’m not really a gamer, which is just as well because I don’t think I’d do anything else, it’s a great game, completing all these contracts, improvising with your surroundings, it’s very addictive.”
Obviously there’s been one Hitman movie made already, did you watch it when you were getting ready for the movie?
Alek: “Yes I did and I didn’t like it. I had a very open conversation with Fox about it and it’s definitely the reason why they wanted to reboot the whole movie. I had the chance to re-establish a new world and a completely fresh look. It’s tricky because Agent 47 is not an easy character, he’s so cold and stoic, he’s the perfect killing machine, we needed to find out how much humanity was left in him and to make it right. It was a big challenge.”
Zachary: “No. I’m not a very big fan of being derivative, much as that’s a big part of our culture. It’s not how I thrive, I chose not to watch it, I didn’t think it would be helpful or necessary.”
Hannah: “I know Rupert actively avoided it, I watched it out of curiosity, not to take anything from it for what we were about to do.”
Rupert: “No, I didn’t want to look at somebody’s else version of the role before I’d had a chance to have a crack at it myself.”
What did you learn from watching the first movie?
Alek: “For me it was quite obvious what was missing, I didn’t care for the character at all, it’s a fine line to tread, you can’t love Agent 47 and you don’t hate him, but you need to understand why he is like he is. In the first movie he’s too stoic and I couldn’t feel anything for him. In our movie I tried to create a full character arc and I knew we had to make it different to succeed.”
How did you go about putting the cast together?
Alek: “I wanted to have a very young and fresh ensemble. The whole project had a great energy and, as soon as we got Rupert on board, I wanted to make sure we got a small cast and you really focused on them. That was another problem with the first Hitman movie, there were too many characters and you didn’t know where it was going.”
There are a lot of big action sequences, were they fun to shoot or just exhausting?
Alek: “It was exhausting and not easy to shoot technically. It’s an emotional story, but it’s well balanced with the action sequences.”
Zachary: “It was more exhilarating than tiring. I think Rupert and I were a good match. There is plenty of action, but we liked it to be matched with the intrigue and complexity of the characters. It was exhilarating.”
The training must have been brutal…
Zachary: “I had a month and a half to get ready. I worked with a boxing trainer, then I started training intensively with the stunt team and getting the fight choreography right, it was a lot of conditioning and training.”
Hannah: “It was hard. I’ve always been quite athletic, I run, I’m a real insomniac so I find running really helps me with that, so I was fairly fit coming into the role, but I’d never done fight choreography, so there was a lot of training with guns and fighting, trampolining, being strung up on harnesses, working out how to take down these huge men and make it look realistic. It was a challenge for sure, but I really enjoyed doing it.”
Rupert: “It was, but I enjoyed it tremendously. I’ve trained for roles before, but nothing like this, it was very hard, but very satisfying, they pushed us hard.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced making the movie?
Alek: “The biggest challenge was our budget. If you compare what we had to a lot of summer blockbusters then we’re a very small competitor. We made the movie for a small amount of money and we needed to compete. We had to spend smartly and be really well prepared, it took a lot of time to prepare properly.”
Hannah: “I wanted to make sure that the character Katia starts out as and the one she finishes the movie as didn’t jar. Towards the end of the film she embraces her true self as an agent and I want it still to be early days, a real anti-hero, so that took some time to figure out and how it manifested itself in my physical performance. She doesn’t understand who she is at the start of the film and I wanted to show that.”
Rupert: “Being completely bald. A shave and a tattoo every day. It’s so short that it’s a razor without a guard and iron fillings of hair get everywhere, in your ears, up your bum, everywhere. I had to go straight back to Homeland right after and I was terrified I might have to resort to a wig.”
The story is actually quite focused on the three leads isn’t it?
Alek: “Our movie has a real triangle, Agent 47 is the main character, but it’s the story of Katia van Dees, his story is the reverse of hers, she’s the lost girl who finds herself and who she belongs to, I wanted to create this triangle of characters and play around with the audience’s expectations.”
Zachary: “It’s a very triangulated dynamic. With my character John Smith you’re never sure where he’s coming from, he gains Katia’s trust, but there’s a whole host of ulterior motives in there. It becomes about what we need from each one and what we’re prepared to do to get there.”
Hannah: “I love that about it. I was a friend of both of them and it was incredible to work with them both every day.”
Rupert: “It’s as much Zachary and Hannah’s film as it is mine, but we’re rarely all together. It sounds strange, but when we are together it’s all go. It was tremendous fun to work with them both.”
The film is set up nicely for a sequel, is that something that’s already on the cards?
Alek: “Now we have to wait and see. From what I’ve seen so far the fans seem to love it and at the premiere in New York hardcore Hitman fans were coming up to me and thanking me. Hopefully the great reactions continue.”
Hitman: Agent 47 is out now on DVD, Blu-Ray and Blu-Ray steelbook exclusive to hmv.