David Leitch has become well known for his films and their amazing stunt choreography and action sequences. After years working in stunts, he made his directorial debut with Chad Stahelski in John Wick. For his sophomore directorial feature Leitch returned to the action genre once again, and this week sees the release of Atomic Blonde, a Cold War-era thriller starring Charlize Theron as an undercover MI6 agent.
Screen Rant recently got the chance to interview Leitch, and we discussed how he choreographed Atomic Blonde’s fighting scenes, how intrinsic the music was for the filming process, and what to expect from the upcoming Deadpool sequel.
It was said that the stairwell scene in Atomic Blonde took place for two weeks. What was the trickiest part of filming that scene and why did it take so long? Was it all the blocking that was needed?
DAVID LEITCH: Obviously there was an incredible amount of blocking and there was a lot of rehearsal time to get the long pieces connected. The perception of the nine minute take is actually built out of several pieces, but those pieces had to be shot in continuity, in order, so we could apply effects makeup, squib walls, and we could do all the things we needed to do. So there is a reason why people don’t do it and it is because you have to have every department on board and willing to reinvent some of their ideas about how to get things done. That’s why it probably hasn’t been done before, but the choice to do it was really something I wanted to do, to stay with her character and to be immersed with her character for that moment in the movie especially as the lies in Berlin spin out of control. It’s sort of a good moment to do that.
How was it collaborating with Charlize and being a part of this uprising in female empowerment in cinema?
DL: It’s been fun and it’s been a really rewarding collaboration to say the least. I mean we set out to do something with a female protagonist who we didn’t have to make any excuses for. There was never going to be any rationalization about her emotional motivations or there wasn’t going to be any rationalizations of what she can and can’t do. It was just more about how we could make an authentic, badass spy. So those were always sort of the conversations with her and I think the things she really wanted to do is like how do we take the action and ground it and make it feel visceral and real and brutal and have real consequences. Those are things she latched onto and really tackled once we moved forward with choreography.
I’m just curious about 87eleven Action Design... Do you get any inspiration watching them training and performing stunts?
DL: Oh, it’s been years since we’ve had a stunt training facility and it is sort of a workshop and a breeding ground for choreographers and then hopefully, in the future, action directors. So, a lot of those guys in there who we have brought up or we’ve trained with as stunt guys, they become family. And I think like them, which you obviously learn from your family just as much as you teach them, so there is a lot of great creative minds in there. It was great to have a part of our team for Atomic. It’s part of why we built our team. With Chad and I in our group, we have a short hand with our choreography and our stunt team.
Atomic Blonde is a story that can either end or it can lead to other films. Do you see the character continuing cinematically, kind of like Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt?
DL: I hope so. I think it will all come down to business at the end of the day. The will is there on our side. I think all of the creatives involved on Atomic Blonde want to do future films and it’s really… hopefully, Wonder Woman is an indication of a female, sort of protagonist action film and maybe we can latch on to some of that success and will people will see Lorraine kick ass and we can do that again.
I loved the music. Are all those your choices?
DL: Those are and they were choices that I made early on way before production started. As I started to work on my director’s draft where I incorporated my notes and thoughts and my visual style in my physical draft with Kurt Johnstad, I added all of the music. I would say 75% of them stayed and we were actually playing the songs on the set as we were shooting and some of the songs are shot, some of the movie is shot and edited for music. But there were other songs that got replaced or were filtered out and other things, as you always do in post, and you find something that is even better. There is a scene where they are crossing over and the snipers are getting ready and mobilizing in the building and they are crossing into the tunnels from east to west. It used to be a song that was The Fixx ‘One Thing Leads to Another’ and I think we ended up putting in another song that was sort of just speaking to the visuals at the time.
Is there any song that you really wanted to get in, but really quite couldn’t fit it in?
DL: No, there really wasn’t. We had a lot of support from the artists on this and I would say I pulled back a contingency about the money in the budget as it was done independently, we didn’t have unlimited studio resources. I was really frugal about keeping my fantasy music budget left because usually at the end of post on an independent movie you are like, well, we spent every penny but I was like no. What about the music? Hold it. Hold it. Hold it. So we had a significant amount left and then when I put the soundtrack in the first test screening, Focus Features came on board and sort of matched what we had left and bought the rest of the music, which was grateful and doesn’t really happen in the independent. Usually they go, score it! They understood what we were doing and that was what was great about working with them.
Is there any interest in making an extended universe? How cool would it be for John Wick to team up with Lorraine?
DL: (Laughs) It would be great! I get this question once in awhile, and I think it’s just more their time period lines. I would absolutely do it. Maybe there’s a time we see versions, or there’s uh, you know, the other real fantasy is that maybe there’s a project with both, that a new idea. You know, that Charlize and Keanu could..., a story that we could have with the same action space and we can see them either partner up or go toe to toe.
What did you learn from John Wick that may have helped you with Atomic Blonde?
DL: I think what I learned from John Wick it really pays to stick to your guns and to make these bold choices that speak to the marketplace. I mean, no one wanted us to kill a dog. It was a real fight. And no one wanted Keanu to have a beard and no one wanted him to have a suit. And like everyone was trying to take out this world building and then also want it to be the emotional heart of the story. You are constantly impeded by this advice that is against your instinct and it is okay to entertain those ideas as a director. I think that is important that you hear all the ideas and you be the filter. God forbid you wouldn’t want to hear a good idea. I think it’s also important to stick to your guns and when you have a bold and provocative vision, there is a reason for you to go for it because it’s hard for you to break through the noise in the actual space. There is a lot of programmers and they feel the same. It’s okay to make bold, original choices. If they are out of convention, it is probably a good idea.
Atomic Blonde features an empowering female character, and I know you got another one coming up in Deadpool 2, and that’s Domino. She’s an expert martial artist, she has the ability to alter probability fields - in other words, she’s really lucky. How do you plan on showing that on the screen?
DL: (Laughs) We’re excited to play with that idea in choreography. I’m not going to give you how it’s all going to play out. As a choreographer, having a character with her abilities is really a trick. I think at first it seems like a problem. Like oh my god, how do you demonstrate luck? And then you just see it like, oh, this is the coolest opportunity ever, so we’re really excited and we’re creating really great stuff for her character.
One of the big characters that’s been talked about it Cable. How much of the actual origin of Cable do we get to touch on in Deadpool 2?
DL: Look, I think besides all of the Deadpool, sort of the film universe Deadpool, you kind of have to be selective of like how you approach these characters because there’s a canon of work that’s so massive that you could never put it all on screen. So we’ve been really particular what we’re going to put in and what we’re going to leave for potential future if it goes that way and, uh, I think you’ll like it. It’s all in the spirit of canon, and also in the spirit of like what Deadpool the movie is.
There was a short film or the little short that played before Logan that you did with Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. There were a lot of little Easter eggs. Were some of those in there to toy with fans?
DL: (Laughs) I think um, the Easter egg world in Deadpool is so fun and that’s apart of the mystery, right? You can think about those favorite characters and fantasize about how they’d be portrayed in future incarnations of Deadpool and if they show up, they show up, but I don’t… I can’t… I don’t want to give you any hope either way.
Last question is a fun question. Desert island scenario - who would you want to be stranded with? John Wick, Deadpool, or Lorraine?
DL: Wow. That’s a hard question. Well, I like them all. They are all invincible. So I think if you had to fight any animal or as far as protection, you are going survive. But I think Deadpool is going to make you laugh and it’s hard to beat that. When you know you are facing impending doom, it’s fun to laugh about it.