Taylor Hackford

Academy Award nominated director Taylor Hackford has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, and is also often seen in the spotlight thanks to his Oscar-winner wife Helen Mirren. The director’s career has taken several turns in terms of the genres he chooses. From soulful dramas like Ray, to his latest gory action flick Parker, starring Jason Statham, Michael Chiklis, and Jennifer Lopez.

Mr. Hackford talked about the inspiration for his latest movie, and how the source material by Donald Westlake helped him during the casting process. He discussed his relationship with the “real” Jennifer Lopez, his visceral approach to directing action sequences, and his passion for finding truth in every scene.

What was the main point you were trying to get across in directing Parker?

I take inspiration from the source, Donald Westlake/ Richard Stark the same guy, created this very interesting character, Parker is different, he is a criminal, unapologetically so. As I said before, he wants to steal as much money as possible and has not one iota of remorse about it. So that’s interesting. He operates pragmatically for self-preservation with a set of rules because he doesn’t want to go to jail, and that makes sense too. His problem is that he works with those rules; he never cheats on those rules, he tries to accomplish it, but when he happens to work with people who don’t follow the rules, his problem is that he can’t stand it. Probably the smartest move would be for him to walk away. I mean come one, he gets thrown out of that car, he get the s**t knocked out of him, and he is going after these guys, and also the mafia is involved. Better to say lick my wounds, walk away, live to fight another day, does Parke do that? No.

Now, the thing to me that’s great about it is that in our world of compromise, in our world of loss of integrity, in our world where everything can be bought, and you can walk away from anything; having somebody like Parker is in its own way refreshing, because he won’t do it. That’s what I can get out of the character, that’s what I got out Lee Marvin and John Boorman’s Point Blank, I get it, but this is my version of it. What I set out to do is not invent, ‘cause you can’t invent, there are millions of readers of Parker, is try to take the inspiration, be true to it, and at the same time do it in your own unique way, and I did.

From the action, I had a very specific desire to say, “Parker is not a superman, he can be hurt”. He can be hurt, and he also doesn’t just jump up, he heals himself. Things that I added, because I believed Westlake had it in the piece, and a lot of people asked “Why are you spending the money to have him in the woods and have him steal that EMS vehicle?” because Parker is smart. He takes that vehicle, he knows he can’t go after him, he’s gotta heal himself, he can’t stay in the hospital, you see him giving himself the Demerol, he lies down, we come back and he’s got the beard. You know he’s been out there for two or three weeks, and he is now able to go on. That, I think, from an audience point of view, I jump cut it, I wanna feel it, ultimately you know this guy is smart, and he survives because he’s smart. I think that’s what my philosophy was.

 

On the Casting

Again, Donald Westlake, he created those characters. Asuncion is not called Asuncion in the book, I gave her that name, but she is there. By the way, credit where credit is due, John McLaughlin, who was the screenwriter, did a fantastic adaptation. I mean, John is a wonderful writer, he and I got along beautifully. Once I came on board we went through two drafts of the script, I said to him “Listen, I don’t read your screen direction, that’s what I do”, but we really got along, we didn’t fight because he is smart, and I’m hopefully smart, we worked together on this.

But going back, when I read his script that’s what attracted me, I read Westlake/Stark, I read those guys. I had never read Flashfire, so now I’ve read the book, and I went to John and said “I want to incorporate this, this, and this because you did a brilliant job and I like these things.” Jason Statham was sniffing around the periphery, and you know, when you are stepping up to a literary work that’s had some really interesting actors that have done it, you can’t do this work without somebody who truly can embody Parker. So I’m going “Jason Statham, you know what, he is English, Parker is not, but he is the right guy, he really is the right guy”, and then I met Jason, we talked about it, and we both committed at the same time. I can’t say that he was not looking at this script before I was; we both about the same time looked at it, looked at each other and said “We wanna go forward.” To me it’s the real thing. What I wanted to do style-wise was say that Parker is not a superman, see him hurt, and at the same time I wanna be in there, I wanna do the real thing, so to have not just him, but for that big sequence of the fight I cast Daniel Bernhardt. Daniel Bernhardt has starred in action movies, and he is a Swiss actor.

I look at every scene whether is a dialogue scene, a sex scene, or a fight scene, as something you want to go into and discover the characters. In that instance, by casting those guys, who are doing it themselves without stuntmen, I’m defining that fight, and on my camera I’m able to go for one, two, three moves in a fight without cutting, by the way, twenty or thirty times. Because what you don’t wanna see is “POW!” and then you see somebody’s face and “OOH”, no. Those guys are really in the fight, you believe it, when he pulls out that television down on Jason, and then Jason stands up, it went down. So all of those things were integral part of casting to me. Again, I gotta pay homage to the source, Donald Westlake wrote some great characters.

On Jennifer Lopez

Leslie is a great character, she is in the book. Jennifer and I developed a film together that didn’t happen, we couldn’t get the financing. I know her, never worked with her, but I know her. I know who she is down deep, she is a diva, she is famous, she is rich, she is glamorous. She is a girl from the Bronx, she was a dancer, I know the real Jennifer Lopez, but still she is who she is and I respect that.

I called her up I say “ Jennifer, I’m doing a film called Parker starring Jason Statham” now that statement right there “You don’t got the lead Jennifer” number one. Number two: ”This character doesn’t come in for a while. We discover her, and when we met her, she is not anything like you. She is not glamorous, she is not gorgeously beautiful on top of the world, rich and famous, she is sad.  All her dreams have not happened, she met prince charming and he f***ed her over. He went bankrupted and left her with the debts. She has the ultimate indignity that a woman has to face, at 40 years old she’s gotta move back in with her mother, who is difficult” I mean who wants to do that, I don’t. And I said, “She is messy. She is trying to get a job now at 40 as a real state agent, she is trying to dress right but she sweats” I’m telling her all this over the phone. Does that sound like something you want to tell an actress? Jennifer goes “I’m in.”

The thing that was great was that at this point in her life, things were not so easy for her. She had a couple of kids, she had had a lot of experiences, and she recognized this was something she wanted to do and could do, and she was ready, after all those romantic comedies, to go for somebody real. Those are things that happen.