Rawson Thurber Interview: Skyscraper

Rawson Thurber is a director that can bring laughs to the big screen, but he can also bring action. His earlier films include the comedies Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and We’re the Millers. Thurber’s most recent film is Skyscraper, an action blockbuster starring Dwayne Johnson.  He previously worked with Johnson on the action-comedy Central Intelligence. Skyscraper hits theaters July 13, 2018.


John McClane Die Hard Crawl

When talking about his inspiration for Skyscraper, Thurber said:

“I grew up on late eighties, early nineties action. I’ve wanted to make an action picture since I was eight-years-old. And Skyscraper is absolutely a love letter to movies like Die Hard and Towering Inferno, and we have a little bit of the Fugitive thrown in there for good measure. Cliffhanger as well, Renny Harlin’s picture. So absolutely, it was designed from the ground up to be a throwback in that way. It's the kind of movie they don't make anymore.  And I really loved them growing up and so I wanted to make one.”


One of the most important characters in Skyscraper is the building itself.  To bring it to life for the movie Thurber said:

“I had a lot of help.  I wanted to make a building, which is called The Pearl, in the film. It's its own character in the story. And basically, I took a city and I turned it on its ear. We created this vertical city, inside the tallest building in the world. And we consulted with the lead architect on the Burj Khalifa, the current tallest building in the world, a gentleman named Adrian Smith. And then I hired one of the greatest production designers of all time, a guy named Jim Bissel. He came in with his team and designed the building.

“So that's really how we did it. It was partly me saying, here are the three or five sort of action set pieces I think I want to do. What could be done realistically, talking to Adrian Smith and other architects. And how do we tie that all that together with a thematic look, that gives it the character that we want. And that was certainly Jim Bissel’s purview and he did a great job. So, it was a lot of smart people. People smarter than me helping me get this thing done.”


Dwayne Johnson plays the lead character Will Sawyer. Sawyer is a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader that is now the head of security for The Pearl.  He is also an amputee. Director Rawson Thurber explained:

"For me, I'd just never seen an amputee as the lead in an action picture before. It's never happened, as far as I know, in the history of cinema. And to me it seemed like it was about time. And I'm really proud that this is the first movie that's done that, were the guy in the poster is an amputee. The more research I did into it, the more inspiring the stories of amputees throughout the world that came to me. And what was really fascinating was that most of the amputees I talked to, in fact all of them to a person, said that they felt like they were a better person after their amputation then before. That they would a leg and start running marathons. Or they would lose an arm and climb Mount Everest as Jeff Glassbrenner did.

"It was a big inspiration for Dwayne, for the character Will Sawyer. And so that just seemed like, I don't know, it just seemed like the right thing to do. I know that's kind of a strange way of saying it. And also, Dwayne and I talked a lot about that. The challenge for Will Sawyer isn't below the knee, it was between the ears. A psychological challenge for him.  A pitcher who's lost his fastball, a guy who doesn't think he can do it anymore. And he's forced to saddleback up because his family's in jeopardy.

"If you look at a picture like Cliffhanger, it has a cold open where the hero fails. And it's that failure that opening a crisis or disaster, that haunts the hero and in the following narrative is the thing that heals the hero. The challenges that the hero faces and must overcome. So that's what we talked about a lot. And I guess the last thing I'm really sort of proud of, as it relates to Dwayne being an amputee in the picture, is that we never really pander to it. Like he never taken takes the leg off and try to swing it at somebody. It's just part of who he is. And in fact, if he didn't have a prosthetic limb, there are certain parts of that film he wouldn't have been able to survive.”


Central Intelligence Dwayne Johnson Kevin Hart Interview

While Skyscraper is the second film with Rawson Thurber and Dwayne Johnson working together, it will definitely not be their last.  They are teaming up again for the film Red Notice.  Thurber said:

"Yeah. That's coming up, we start shooting April first. So that's right around the corner. I mean I'm not the first person to say this, I'm sure I won't get the last. Dwayne Johnson's just flat out the best. He's the best collaborator. He's so hard working and he's so positive and it's so can do. He's basically spoiled me for working with any other actors. So, I think the better question is, why does he work with me? I'm not sure.”

Thurber continued with:

“I think what we share is that we both take the work seriously but not ourselves seriously. So, we both work really hard and we both-- I can't tell you the number of times in between a take or we're setting something up, that Dwayne and I'll just sort of be standing next to each other watching the shot get set up, and we'll both look at each other and just go, how lucky are we? How lucky are we that we get to do this? I know I've never lost that certain perspective. And certainly, Dwayne hasn't. And I think we both feel kind of humble and grateful and hungry to do more. So, I think that's why we sort of have a similar outlook.”


Later, Thurber talked about how he went from directing comedies to writing and directing an action movie:

“It's sort of interesting. I've wanted to make an action film since I was eight-years-old. And I tried my hand at kind of getting hired to do a DC picture or Marvel picture. I never quite-- I was always bridesmaid, never a bride.”

Thurber continued:

“And so, I just decided to write my own. I'm like, screw it, I'm doing my own thing. And then making an action film, it was so much fun. So, so much fun. In a lot of ways, it was, I don't mean to quite say it like this, but in a lot of ways it was easier than making a comedy. And that's because you have so much support. You have stunt coordinators and second unit directors and visual effects gurus and storyboards and pre-vis. And you talk about it, you talk about it, you talk about it. You plan, plan, plan, plan, plan. And then you execute. And the car either blows up or it doesn't. You don't go, you know, could that car blow up funnier? That never happens. But when you're doing a comedy, especially when I write and direct everything that I do, or at least rewrite it. And when you're doing a comedy, if the jokes not working, that's on me and the actor. We’re the only ones who can figure that out. There is no stunt coordinator for jokes. So, it's a much different challenge. You're a little bit more out on a ledge by yourself.”


Jennifer Aniston in We're The Millers

Thurber’s comedy, We’re the Millers was a box office success.  It starred Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis. A sequel is currently in the works. Thurber said:

“I hope we get a chance to make it. So far, it's just been a real challenge of scheduling. Jen is very busy and so is Jason and I just haven't stopped making movies.  I'm always writing and doing the next one, so it's really been an issue of scheduling. But we have a fantastic script written by Adam Sztykiel, who actually wrote Rampage among many others. He wrote a really funny script and it's basically a very Miller's Christmas picture. Which I really kind of love. But I can't really say more than that.  I hope we get to make it because it'd be great to get the band back together.”

MORE: Read Screen Rant's Skyscraper Review

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