How Bullet Train Became This Summer’s Biggest Action Movie
Director David Leitch had to be convinced to board Bullet Train. The new action flick sees Brad Pitt’s assassin Ladybug collide with several colorful and quirky assassins after a simple job goes horribly wrong on a Tokyo-bound bullet train – but it was almost the end of the line for Leitch before Bullet Train even started rolling. .
“He almost didn’t make the movie! ‘How am I going to do a big action? I’m stuck on this train!'” producer Kelly McCormick recalled as she sat down with Leitch for an interview in London .
Leitch, a stuntman-turned-director who cut his teeth co-directing John Wick, a graduate of franchise blockbusters Deadpool 2 and Hobbs & Shaw, wasn’t convinced the tight interiors and cramped cars of a train would make for an interesting action game. -rooms.
“It was Kelly who really convinced me that the restraints were going to be the special sauce of the movie,” Leitch said. “She’s right. At the end of the day, as a choreographer, you want to give yourself problems and making the fights interesting in that little environment was really fun. We got inventive: we put the silent car in there, we We put the mascot car in there. in different parts of the car to make it interesting. It allows you to have all those accessories that you wouldn’t normally have.
All aboard the Bullet Train
With that first bumpy ride out of the way, Leitch and his cast of hitmen – Pitt are joined by Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s vaudeville-style double act Lemon and Tangerine, plus Joey King of The Kissing. Booth, Warrior’s Andrew Koji and rapper Bad Bunny – set about turning what was originally envisioned as a dark, vicious tale of revenge into something that mixes drama with laughs and bigger-than-life personalities. nature.
“When we got on set, it was infectious. We were having a really fun time,” Leitch said. “Lemon and Tangerine, in particular: we were exploring these characters and they were getting bolder and bigger and bigger. We saw how brilliant it was and we embraced it. I remember taking Aaron behind the monitor, he was a little anxious – it was day three. He thought he was getting too big. I was like, ‘Sit here and watch this and tell me this isn’t funny.’ ‘ He would laugh at his own jokes [and] we knew the tone was right and we all leaned into it.”
Series star Brad Pitt has led the way in this – though some of his outfit choices (Pitt has been sporting a bucket hat and chunky glasses since the start of Bullet Train) haven’t been to everyone’s favourite. . “Brad came on fire for the big and wide,” Leitch said. “He was leaning on Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan from the start. He was leading the way.”
McCormick continues, “He brings something extraordinary to every character. That’s exactly how he felt when he got on the train, so to speak. He saw [Ladybug] like an idiot and an outsider. He drove this house with the bucket hat and goggles, which the studio wasn’t too happy about! Why cover that beautiful face, you know? He is such a big personality and is known all over the world, how are you doing [him] an outsider from the moment ‘go’? It was a brilliant choice, really.”
It was Tyree Henry’s Lemon, however, that benefited the most from the detour into lighter territory. The Thomas the Tank Engine-obsessed hitman (“He didn’t go the full way on Thomas,” Leitch jokes) played “second fiddle” to Taylor-Johnson’s Tangerine during the scripting stages. The matched and booted pair were on a much more even keel in the finished product, all thanks to Henry’s input. This collaboration is something Leitch calls “the highest marks he’s ever gotten from an actor.”
“We had to do a bit of balancing at the start,” adds the filmmaker. “When [the script] first happened, Tangerine was a bigger character… When we talked to Brian about it at first and he was like ‘I want to play Tangerine. We’re like, ‘Why?’ and he says “Because he actually has more to do as a character, he’s a more interesting character, and here’s why.” He raised some really poignant points. We went back to hardware and worked on Lemon to even out those characters.”
On Tangerine’s concern for Thomas, Leitch was drawn to the character’s warped moral compass and Tyree Henry’s performance which – although played for laughs – is still fundamentally part of the character’s psyche.
“I love characters that have a code. I think it’s kind of fun and fascinating,” says Leitch. “It could have been kind of a satirical version of that, but having that character trait in a movie like this can go south really fast. Brian brought it in and really embraced it in that really serious way and adult.”
“There are versions of that where he’s a simpleton or he’s childish, but that’s not the case. He’s a grown-up assassin who’s badass. He makes that kind of philosophy scary and intimidating, then it ends up being his kind of superpower. He knew exactly what to do with it.”
Make your own luck
A major theme of Bullet Train is luck – both good and bad. It’s also an apt guideline, given how much filmmaking is a continual collision between meticulous planning and on-the-fly improvisation. Leitch flirted with chance in his inimitable way – which led to the fortuitous birth of the film’s cute Japanese mascot (and now minor TikTok star) Momomon.
“Making a movie is just like riding a bullet train. You get caught up in a current of things that you can’t control,” says Leitch. “You have to seize the positive things and you have to look at the opportunity of the problem. What worse luck has your bad luck spared you? A great lucky moment was when a costume designer showed us a picture of a conductor pushing this mascot on the train…”
“It’s a giant thing,” McCormick interjects. “They don’t like to be late, so he steps in. Our decorator David Scheunemann had already shown us themed cars in Japan, Pokemon, Hello Kitty, that sort of thing. He was already preparing this mascot for some panels and we saw this picture of this giant stuffed animal and we were like, ‘We have to make this our mascot.'”
“Then Momomon created more and more ideas,” says Leitch. “We started adjusting the script [so it became] an integral part. We were looking at a costume and there was something else that triggered us.”
The criss-crossing of mascots, assassins, and Brad Pitt feels like a trip as packed and packed as any early morning commute. This pressure is eased by a structure that spends time with each new assassin who boards the high-speed train, telling their story through flashbacks. This, in turn, ups the ante and raises the stakes when they all eventually collide. In an industry punctuated by spin-offs, this gives a refreshingly reverse-engineered feel – each killer steps into Brad Pitt’s gravity having already felt like they’ve appeared in their own standalone film.
“I was really excited about the script, because it’s unconventional,” Leitch said. “What was fun and subversive in [it] it’s that you went on these crazy journeys and that I wanted to revel in it.”
He points to a moment involving Bad Bunny’s assassin Wolf as proof of concept for the film’s storytelling philosophy. “You can see it in the Wolf sequence,” he says. “It’s really fun to tell this story in four or five minutes and it’s active viewing for the audience. When you come back, you’re still learning. It’s not navel… there are things you have to know but it’s also that great story about a character that you can finally relate to, so hopefully you care about him when he’s in danger.
A late decision helped merge that rigid structure (“Everyone had a beginning, middle, and end to their chapters, and then they intertwine from there,” McCormick says of the initial cut) with the experimental energy that ran through the veins of the production.
“The original draft is in chapters,” reveals McCormick. “We shot it this way, we cut it this way once, and then our editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir and David got to a point where it felt like these guys were a lot more intertwined than we think. and so is the world. So let’s separate it and see what it feels like. There was a flow, that was undeniable.
From being the director who needed a little push to get on the platform, Bullet Train – based on a 2010 novel by Kotaro Isaka – helped Leitch head into more uncharted waters with Ryan Gosling. in The Fall Guy, a 1980s television series adaptation that starred Lee Majors as a moonlit stuntman as a bounty hunter.
“The great thing about Bullet Train is that it’s not beholden to franchises. I was grateful to be part of the continuation and expansion of Deadpool 2, what a great experience. Bullet Train was completely to us,” Leitch said.
McCormick adds, “I call it legacy IP, it’s identifiable by some people, but not all the way through. So you can kind of get past that and create your own mythos, but have that beginning of a story that you can develop. We’re really excited about that. It’s going to be really fun – a lot more action in that one!”
With the way the high-speed train derails, this can take some time. This budding chapter of Leitch’s career may be coming to an end, but it’s clear he’s ready to continue his journey as one of Hollywood’s leading action directors.
Bullet Train will be released exclusively in cinemas from August 3 in the UK and August 5 in the US. For more, check out the most exciting upcoming movies that are waiting for you soon.