“It’s a good day at the office when you get to shut down a whole city block and set it on fire” - hmv.com talks Hotel Artemis with director Drew Pearce
Lots of brilliant directors cut their teeth as a gun for hire screenwriters, from Federico Fellini to Quentin Tarantino, starting out as a writer and moving to calling the shots behind the camera is a well-trodden path. Few though come better qualified than Drew Pearce.
Pearce’s screenwriting credits include Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Iron Man 3 and the forthcoming third instalment of Sherlock Holmes, all setting things up nicely for his debut as a feature director with Hotel Artemis.
He’s assembled an all-star cast, with Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Dave Bautista, and Zachary Quinto in key roles and Pearce writing and directing.
Foster plays Jean Thomas, a nurse who runs a secret hospital for criminals in futuristic Los Angeles. With riots going on outside and an influx of patients to deal with, things soon spin out of control inside the Artemis, putting everybody in harm's way...
As the film comes to cinemas (it’s out on July 20th and will be available to pre-order from hmv’s online store in the coming days), we spoke to Pearce about how it all came together…
Can you talk us through the genesis of Hotel Artemis?
“I’ve been lucky enough to be a screenwriter on a lot of big movies over the last eight or nine years, but I’ve always wanted to direct. I’ve directed a few small things, but if you want to do a feature then you pretty much have to write it yourself. I’d written a couple before this, but nothing came of them. This one though, it stuck. It’s a small movie, but I’ve managed to get an unbelievable cast. Hopefully, people will remember us in the middle of blockbuster season.”
How was it putting the cast together? Did you get everyone you wanted to get?
“I did. I’ve got a better cast than I had any right to get, it’s one of the best you’ll see this year. It all started with Jodie. She somehow found the script, even before it was out there. When I met her I instantly wanted her and when she came onboard it acted a big seal of approval. It’s hard to cast a movie when you’re a first time director, people are understandably wary. Jodie coming on board definitely sent a signal, she’s been doing it for 50 years, if she trusts me then I might be okay…”
What about the rest of the cast?
“I got very lucky. A lot of the people who are in the money were not as big a year and a half ago as they are now. Sterling K. Brown was fine and well respected, but This Is Us wasn’t the biggest show in America and he hadn’t won every single award that’s ever existed. There had only been one episode of Atlanta when I got Brian Tyree Henry, the Jeff Goldblum renaissance was still yet to hit its peak. Dave Bautista was already huge, but the chance to work with so closely with Jodie was what got him involved.”
How did you approach directing? You’ve worked with some big directors, did you pick up any tips?
“I’d directed lots of small things, but this was very, very different, suddenly directing Jodie Foster. I had a very short schedule and it’s an ambitious movie. I spoke to a few directors I knew ahead of shooting and the main piece of advice I got was to plan as much as possible. But, as soon as you start directing, you realise quickly that plans had chucked out the window pretty much as soon as you start. It’s more about being there for your actors and for your crew.”
How did you find Hotel Artemis itself?
“It’s based on lots of real, 1920s, busted, burnt out hotels in downtown Los Angeles. It’s an amalgam of lots of themes and we built a set, only about a third of the actual floor because of how much money we had. We spent a lot of time frantically swapping around rooms to try and double up. It’s the roof of one hotel, the lobby of another. The lobby is actually this hotel called the Hotel Cecil which is notoriously haunted. There was a story a few years ago about a woman in the elevator who was caught on camera being possessed by something, who then finished up in one of the water tanks on the roof. There’s a lot of macabre crime stuff associated with that kind of hotels.”
For a lot of the film, there’s a riot going on outside the hotel, what was it like setting up those shots?
“That was amazing. It’s a good day at the office when you get to shut down a whole city block and set it on fire. So much of those movie takes place inside, so when we do go outside, I wanted it to feel operatic, you need to feel the release. About a third of the budget went into two days of night shoots. I got sent a photo from two blocks away and all you can is this giant bloom of smoke and all these lights. Those are the moments you can’t believe, something that existed for a long time inside my brain and now you’re in it.”
Did you have to make many changes to the script in production?
“It got a lot shorter. It was always designed to be a small movie, a bubble movie with a group of trapped characters. The three months leading up to any indie movie are terrifying, every day you find out you have less money than you hoped you would. That can help though, it focuses you, you’re disciplined about what you shoot and get the stuff that’s important. Feeling rushed is in the DNA of the characters, none of them has time to do what they want to do, so having a pressurised shoot probably helped that feeling.”
Finally, what’s next for you?
“As a screenwriter, I’ve got a couple of big projects going on and I know what I want my next project to be as a writer/director. Hopefully, some of that will be in the same universe as Hotel Artemis. We’ll see.”
Hotel Artemis is released into cinemas on July 20th and will be available to pre-order on DVD from hmv’s online store in the coming days.