Ben Wheatley is no stranger to violence. Check out <em>Kill List</em> or </em>High-Rise</em> and any of his films. <em>Free Fire</em> is his first bona fide action movie though, and the bullets do indeed fly. Armie Hammer leads the cast of shooters, and joined Wheatley in a roundtable interview in Los Angeles.
Set in a Boston warehouse, an arms dealer goes bad leaving both buyers and sellers holed up and shooting for their lives. Armie Hammer plays Ord, the man who connected the buyers to the sellers, but even he can’t control what happens next. Free Fire opens Friday.
WLE: Were you able to construct the warehouse to your script or did you find one and adjust?
Ben Wheatley: A lot of the pillars and stuff were all built inside there. The actual warehouse, very early on we realized you couldn’t just find a derelict place and shoot in it because it would be too dangerous for the actors. So we needed to find somewhere that was clean and then build inside it so that way it would fit the geography of the script. That place did have the staircase which was always in the script, and the overlooking offices. I suppose in a factory there usually are offices that overlook the machine rooms. I must’ve had a trace understanding of that in my head that it would be feasible to find.
Q: Did you find your character through the ‘70s fashion?
Armie Hammer: I mean, there were definitely some things that were really convenient because this was based on the ‘70s, giving Ord sort of the background that is never really expressed but that we sort of decided on. That he served in ‘Nam and was part of a special forces group. That’s how he got his nickname Ord because he worked with explosives. So by his own reasoning should have died and has almost died so many times that it’s just kind of like the attitude of like “F*** it.” So when a bunch of people in a warehouse start shooting at each other, I’ll just hide for a bit, smoke a joint, let him kind of shoot each other for a bit then kinda poke my head out, see what’s going on, maybe shoot that guy if I can, go back down, let him kind of kill each other and hopefully just walk out of here.
Armie Hammer: I hated the idea but I called Ben and I was like, “Hey man, I just finished doing Birth of a Nation. I’ve got this beard. I would really love to do great big mutton chops and a mustache.” He goes, “Yeah, I know, of course you would because it’s the ‘70s. I also know that because every other actor has called me and said, ‘You know, I’d really love mutton chops and a mustache.’ You have a beard so you’re just keeping the beard.” Everybody really just showed up with as much facial hair as possible to give everyone options.
Ben Wheatley: I was excited about the beard because Tom Hiddleston had beard on High-Rise and it wasn’t a grown one. It had to be put on because of time passing. It took four and a half hours to put this f***ing beard on. The prospect of having a real beard, I was like, “Wow, that’s great.”
AH: And then you only have to put makeup on half my face. It’s perfect.
Ben Wheatley: You were much quicker out of the chair, weren’t you?
Q: By week six, how was it on the same set?
Ben Wheatley: I think the final week was a bit, we got out. We did have a little set that we had which was the corridor and the rooms and kicking through the door. So that was a set. That was exciting. We got to go shoot on that. It was quite Groundhog Day like going back and back and back. But then you can really concentrate because there’s no get ins and get outs and traveling to places, all the stuff that sucks up loads of time. I think the closest it felt like to me was like an art performance piece. The beginning of shooting to end of shooting each day, the intensity of that was always there. It wasn’t like now we’ve got to wind everyone up and do that take and then everyone go back to their trailers and text their agents about what a terrible time they’re having. They were always there doing it. I’ve had this before when I’ve talked to actors. The normal experience of making a movie is mainly waiting around and then doing your bit under loads of pressure and then only getting a couple of takes and then moving on when everyone’s cross. This is all on camera all the time.
Armie Hammer: You’d think that you wouldn’t be able to remember what you did but we’d done everything so many times, it was like, “Where were you three minutes ago in the story?” It’s like, “Oh, I was over there by those barrels.” Then what did you do? Just remember that and do that. It just worked like a dance. It was a lot of fun.
Q: Did you have to consider how much damage could be inflicted on a character and they could still function?
Ben Wheatley: No, totally. If you shoot them all through the head, that’s the end of the film. It would be like an art movie of just watching them [gasp] and blood coming out of them. No one wants to see that. We were really worried about Babou when we were casting because I knew he’d be out for half the movie. I just didn’t want him to come in every day and have to lie there. So we built the set so you could hide him a little bit so he doesn’t get caught in all the shots. Then there was a really terrifying dummy that we used for him. Dan Martin, bless him, who did all the physical effects, he’s brilliant but he’s a bit tight. Or maybe the budget wasn’t enough so the dummy of Babou Ceesay did not have Babou Ceesay’s face. The one face that Dan had lots of for some reason was Michael Smiley. So every dummy in the whole place was Michael Smiley and there’s a really, really terrifying Babou Ceesay Michael Smiley face with the afro wig on. This must never be seen by anybody.
WLE: Armie, you’ve done period pieces with guns and modern movies with guns. How did you like the weaponry of Free fire?
Armie Hammer: I like them a lot more when they’re full of blanks. That made it a lot more relaxing.
Ben Wheatley: I went on the rifle range when I was writing the thing and tried out all the different weapons that were used in it. My takeaway from it was that I hadn’t anticipated how terrifying it was holding something that was basically a firework in your hand. And wants to come back towards your face every time you pull the trigger. I fired the .44 Magnum and I was like, “Why would anyone want to use this? This is insane.” That side of it was interesting. I went with Laurie Rose, the DOP, and at target shooting I’m pretty good. He’s terrible. Just awful, off the bat. Go figure.