A bank robbery, a handful of diamonds, a mysterious flash drive, and a team of cold-blooded killers: Momentum, the directorial debut from Stephen S. Campanelli, has all the ingredients needed to bring an action movie plot to the boil. The film, which arrives in theaters and on VOD this weekend, stars Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) as a skilled thief called Alex, who pulls off what is supposed to be a simple heist with a small crew of fellow criminals, only to find her escape plans derailed when a ruthless specialist called Mr. Washington (James Purefoy) comes looking for what she stole.
Also starring Morgan Freeman as a corrupt senator with some secrets to keep, Momentum was scripted by Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan (Conspiracy) and filmed on location in Cape Town, South Africa. At the center of the film is a cat and mouse game between Alex and Mr. Washington, both of whom are strong-willed, in possession of deadly skills, and determined to achieve their own goals.
Purefoy recently starred opposite Kevin Bacon in Fox drama The Following, in which he played a serial killer who amasses a cult of fanatic followers. He can also be seen alongside Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons in upcoming release High-Rise, an adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel directed by Ben Wheatley. Screen Rant spoke to Purefoy ahead of Momentum‘s release to discuss the experience of making the film, as well as some of his other recent projects.
Screen Rant: The first question I have is obviously the most important one. Did you get to keep the wonderful tie Mr. Washington wears?
James Purefoy: I definitely did get to keep the tie. I try to keep one item of every character I play.
SR: And this time it was the tie.
JP: I don’t know why. They all end up in boxes up in the attic. I think I started imagining when I was stupid, and young, and arrogant that one day there might be some kind of museum. Clearly that’s never going to happen. So they remain in boxes in the attic.
SR: Well there’s nothing stopping you from opening a James Purefoy museum.
JP: That would be hilarious, wouldn’t it? [laughs] My mum would come.
SR: South Africa is becoming quite popular as a filming destination. What was it like to film there?
JP: It was my fifth time that I filmed in South Africa. I love it there. I think the crews are incredible. They work really hard, they are fun, they are nice to be around. And they are really professional. They are just really, really shit hot good. So, A, the crews. B, the locations you get in South Africa are fantastic. I filmed an entire series of a thing called The Philanthropists in South Africa for NBC a few years back and each episode took place in a different country. In South Africa, we were able to do one episode set in Kashmir, another one set in Nigeria, another one set in San Francisco, another one set in Paris, all in South Africa, because the population in South Africa is so diverse you can get it populated very easily for lots and lots of different countries and lots of different cultures. And also, the government there makes it very easy. They open up the doors for you and they really enable the South African filming process to happen.
SR: So are you expecting or hoping for a good response from the people of South Africa for Momentum?
JP: I hope so. I think the movie shows off Cape Town really well. I think it becomes a kind of character in the film. I know that’s sort of cliché to say, but it does cinematically for that. And I hope they will support it, because it’s their guys, by and large, who have created that film, right from top to bottom.
SR: Did you have a favorite location that you shot in?
JP: Bizarrely, I liked sort of the disused [warehouse] because it was just a great location. Steve Campanelli shot the f— out of it and it looked great… I liked it there. Nobody else liked it like I liked it. It was dank and dirty and you weren’t quite sure what you were breathing in. it had sort of an element of danger about it and that’s something I always enjoy.
SR: It’s an interesting relationship that Alex and Mr. Washington have, because I think she kind of hates Mr. Washington, but he seems to admire her in some ways while even while he’s trying to kill her.
JP: I think she pretends to hate Mr. Washington. I think she finds him rather attractive underneath it all. No, I’m kidding. Yes, absolutely. He admired her enormously. But then he’s the kind of guy who’s never lost. So he never for a second thinks that his life is in jeopardy… He’s enjoying the cat and mouse of it. He’s enjoying the game. I think he does enjoy it. He’s a seasoned professional. He’s a very pragmatic bad guy. He’s pragmatic in the sense he just wants to get the f—ing job done and then get home. Get paid, get home.
SR: You’re kind of well-known, particularly for The Following, for playing villain roles. Is there something kind of liberating about playing villains?
JP: I think it’s something that happens to English actors as they get older, to tell you the truth. The Americans love casting us for bad guys, for whatever reason that is. I mean you could really psychoanalyze it at some length… We start off wearing frilly shirts and britches and being good guys and the heroes. And then as time goes on, every English actor ends up playing bad guys. That’s what we do.
I think as far as bad guys are concerned, he’s a very different bad guy, Mr. Washington, to Joe Carroll. Joe Carroll is as bleak as you like. You couldn’t get more bleak than that man. Even when he was being charming, he was never doing it with other people’s best interest in mind. He was only ever doing it for him. Everything was about Joe, in the true sense of what a real psychopath is—manipulative, superficial, glibness of charm and, as I say, incredibly manipulative. Joe Carroll is a very different kind of guy than Mr. Washington. Mr. Washington is a professional. I’ve met many people in Special Forces in my time and they are men who, generally speaking, men/women, who just want to get the job done. And whatever it takes they’ll do it. They’ll get the job done. They’re just very expedient about it.
SR: Continuing with the subject of villains, your name kinda gets mixed in with James Bond a lot, because I know at one point you were up for the role of James Bond. Would you be interested in becoming a Bond villain at any point?
JP: Ah, a Bond villain! Now we’re talking! I think the James Bond thing has sailed. But yeah, of course I would want to be a Bond villain. They are great parts. I think it’s highly unlikely, but one can always dream.
SR: The end of the film definitely seems to be setting up for a sequel. Have you heard any sequel news?
JP: I would imagine it’s very much dependent on how popular it is. Like all these things, it comes down to business. If it does the business, then yeah. I’m sure Olga will be back, and Olga should be back because Olga is fantastic. Olga kicks ass.
SR: This was your first time working with Stephen Campanelli, so what initially attracted you to the project?
JP: To be brutally honest, I am a little bit of a Clint Eastwood nerd. Clint Eastwood who was the man who drew me into movies. When everybody else was watching Star Wars, I was watching Fistful of Dollars. When they were watching Return of the Jedi, I was watching The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Those were my movies. That is what I grew up on. I have pretty much I think watched every single Clint Eastwood film he’s been in or directed ever since. So I’m very aware of what Stephen’s been doing with Clint for the last 18 years.
When I spoke to Stephen about it, he was just very clear that he wanted to run a set… like Clint runs a set. He wanted to be able to discuss things with his actors like Clint discusses with his actors. Clint runs a very disciplined, quiet movie set. Stephen wanted to do exactly the same thing. So he learned from a really tremendously good filmmaker what he wanted to do. Frankly, you would never know looking at Momentum that this is a first-time director. He’s accomplished something really extraordinary, I think, considering he’s a first-time director. He f—ing moved that camera like nothing on earth. He’s really good with a camera. Again, I have great admiration for him. He’s a good, kindhearted, funny guy, and I would work with him again in a heartbeat. I think he’s terrific.
Momentum is available now on iTunes, VOD and in select theaters.