July 12, 2018
Yes, ‘Skyscraper’ Director Rawson Marshall Thurber Knows It’s “Die Hard in a Building” [Interview]
/Film happened to interview Rawson Marshall Thurber at TCA last summer as he was getting ready to film Skyscraper. Based on the premise, we asked him if it was “Die Hard in a building” and he jokingly agreed it was.
Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a security analyst helping to launch The Pearl, the world’s tallest building, in Hong Kong. When terrorists set fire to The Pearl with Will’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and children (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell) inside, Will has to get back into the building and rescue them while the Hong Kong police think he is involved in starting the blaze. It’s The Rock’s most heroic role yet, full of hold-your-breath action sequences. It’s the perfect summer movie.
Thurber spoke with /Film by phone out of New York for a full interview on Skyscraper to talk about how he made a big movie worthy of a big screen. Skyscraper is in theaters this Friday.
Now that Skyscraper is coming out, everyone is noticing it’s Die Hard in a building. I hope I was the first one to make that joke to you last summer.
I remember when you did that. You were the very first, exactly. Yes, that’s one of my favorite jokes. It made me laugh then. It makes me laugh now.
Good. I don’t know what’s worse, my joke or the people correcting us, “Actually, Die Hard was already in a building.”
I know, there’s nothing you can do to help those people, Fred.
But really, is it also Die Hard meets Backdraft?
That’s not too far off. I think it’s definitely Die Hard meets Towering Inferno with Cliffhanger thrown in for good measure I hope. And The Fugitive.
What part of The Fugitive?
Well, Will Sawyer’s on the run. He’s wanted for a crime that he didn’t commit so there’s a little bit of wanted man on the run that you certainly have in The Fugitive. There’s this moment in The Fugitive where Dr. Richard Kimble has to make a choice when Tommy Lee Jones pulls a gun on him about whether he can be arrested, go to prison for the rest of his life or take a leap of faith. We certainly have moments like that in Skyscraper.
Was it important to you that every action sequence has about three or four things Will has to do? It’s never just one thing.
I’m glad you noticed. Yeah, I think whenever you’re creating an action sequence, obviously this is my first action picture so I’m still learning, you want an escalation of problems. You want an escalation of tension. You want small moments of success and failure and challenge all the way through, the more the better.
Dwayne loves to undercut his hero persona, which you did in Central Intelligence with him. Was it any kind of a tough sell for him to be more of a straight heroic action hero in Skyscraper?
Oh, what a great question. No, we’ve seen Dwayne in action pictures for a long time now. He basically is invulnerable. He’s a superhero without a cape. He’s essentially bullet proof. I wanted to show a different side of Dwayne. I wanted to see him as vulnerable, as someone who’s struggling, who’s fighting, battered, broken, bloody, who just barely survives. He can’t punch his way out of a problem. He has to think his way out of a problem. We talked a lot about that. Dwayne was excited to do it. It’s been so gratifying, early audiences who’ve been watching the picture just say it’s the best performance he’s ever given. They’ve never seen him like this and I couldn’t be more pleased as a filmmaker. I’m mostly just so proud of Dwayne for being willing to show that kind of vulnerability. When you’re the biggest movie star in the world, you don’t have to.
Was that vulnerability what really sold Dwayne on the movie?
You’d have to ask him but I think my read on it is if you know Dwayne at all, you know there’s one thing he loves more than anything and that’s a challenge. With Central Intelligence we’re doing basically a straight up comedy. And then he goes and does a musical with Moana. I just don’t know anybody who has that kind of guts and that kind of range. Dwayne is fearless. I think he was really excited to take on an action role that was different for him, that was challenging for him because he plays an amputee in the film and he’s dealing with a lot of psychological demons. He’s haunted by an opening failure that he blames himself for, and he carries that through the story.
In that opening scene, did that blast kill the children in that scene?
It’s not actually explicitly said in the film. I hope not. We never really say one way or the other.
Of course, I know you can do more than one thing but I know how Hollywood likes to put people in boxes. Was it a hard sell for you to get to do a straight action movie?
Oh, that’s a great question. No, it’s a lot easier to get to direct an action film when Dwayne Johnson is the lead in it and he believes in you. The studio doesn’t really second guess a guy like Dwayne when he’s done it so many times. For me, I’ve loved action movies since I was about eight years old and my mom took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark at a little two screen theater in Hatteras, N.C. and I just fell in love with not only movies, but action films. I’ve made a bunch of comedies and I love that genre. I hope to make many more, but I’ve always wanted to make an action film. I got close on a bunch of Marvel movies and a DC movie here and there. I was always sort of a bridesmaid but never a bride. I just sort of said, “Screw it, I’m going to write my own thing” and came up with the Skyscraper idea while we were in post on Central. I called up Dwayne and said I had this idea. I pitched it to him. He said, “I love it. I’m in.” We worked on the script together, finished it, sold it, shot it, directed it, cut it and now it’s in movie theaters.
Which Marvel movies did you pitch for?
We talked about Ant-Man and talked about Thor: Ragnarok. Those were a couple of them.
They tend to come back to filmmakers. Are you still talking with Marvel?
Oh, I have an open door policy with Marvel. Kevin Feige has my number. If he wants me, all he has to do is call.
How did it feel to see mathematicians analyzing Will’s crane jump?
Oh, I loved it. I loved it. I was tickled by it. What’s funny is that teaser poster, our friends at marketing, they exaggerated the distance of that leap. It was kind of fun to watch people do the math on that. Certainly in the picture, the jump is much more plausible and really fun because just recently this professor at the University of Central Florida just literally did the math and said this is 100% possible given a few factors. So I feel vindicated by science but I think it was super fun to see people rib us about it.
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