THE RED BULLETIN: Who is Agent 47?
RUPERT FRIEND: He’s an assassin who’s been genetically engineered to be faster, stronger, more intelligent, better at hand-to-hand combat and problem solving … The interesting thing for me about him is that, as the name implies, there are 46 less good versions that precede him! He’s seen to be the best, but he also has a freak anomaly in his genetic makeup that makes him a little bit more human – just enough to make his owners realise he’s a threat and try to shut him down.
This is your first major action role – why did it appeal to you?
For me it was a very different experience to play such a physical role. I wanted to approach it very physically. He’s not a character that says a great deal and so for me the interesting thing was the portrayal of someone who’s not only genetically modified but is also incredibly well-trained, fit and has great instincts. Those things for me aren’t theoretical – one has to actually do them. You have to be fit otherwise it just doesn’t work. I was very pleased to do as many of the stunts as insurance would let me get away with, for the same reason. Audiences are incredibly savvy – we know when a film cuts away to a stuntman. It feels so great when you realise the actor is the same guy doing the dangerous stuff.
Given the fact he kills people for money, did you have to work hard to make him sympathetic as a lead character?
I didn’t worry too much about that. I don’t necessarily mind if you don’t sympathise with him – as you say he kills for money, and the motivation for that is purely material. I would find it strange if you empathised with that unless you were incredibly greedy or psychopathic. But he’s not some kind of Terminator-esque machine-man. What interests me about this guy is his so-called ‘flaw’. I found the idea that his humanity could be his greatest strength – and also his greatest threat in the eyes of one particular group of people – very exciting.
How did you find the filming process?
It was a very physical shoot, but I think I would have coped far less if it hadn’t been. I don’t know how other people do action movies because I’ve only ever done this one, but I’ve heard plenty of stories about when the action comes up – or as I would call it the fun stuff – people kind of sloping off to their trailer and sending their stunt guy out to do it. I don’t work like that. Because I was in the thick of the action, it kept me engaged with the role in a way that was very helpful. I knew that 47 was a master of many more things than I would ever become in my lifetime, let alone in the preparation period that I had! But I trained in boxing, Muay Thai, judo and krav maga, which is this sort of no-rules Israeli self-defense system. And then there was the fact that Agent 47 is known for these two iconic ‘silverballer’ guns… I very much enjoyed working on a style of combat for this guy that was based around all of that.
Agent 47 is an established videogame character with a huge fanbase… Did you feel any pressure to do him justice on-screen?
There is pressure but I think pressure is a good thing. The fact that there is a huge, very loyal fanbase for this character sets the bar high, and that’s as it should be. He’s had a huge and rich world drawn for him in that genre and has completed a multitude of missions – I was interested in adding to the world that people have already created rather than trying to define it or create the definitive version of it. It’s more about enriching it - if you enjoy exploring this world, here’s some more of it.
The film also has some amazing car stunts. Were they fun to shoot?
We had [two-time Formula Drift champion] Tanner Foust on set. He had a version of 47’s car that had been modified just for him – they put this big metal stick down into the workings of the brakes so that he could manually lock them and override all of the computers that were telling the car not to skid. I got to sit in the car with him.
One time he accelerated at a brick wall and I saw my life flash before my eyes, then he pulled this handle, span the car backwards and parked it – from 100 to 0 mph – in between two cars parked a car’s width apart. It was extraordinary. When I’d gotten over the fear, I was just watching what his face and hands were doing while he pulled off these incredible stunts, because then it had to be me doing as much of it as you can shoot safely from the inside – which is not the full whammy, but it’s still got to feel that way. That felt like a real teamwork thing. He said the one thing that pissed him off about seeing car work in films is when you cut to inside the car you just don’t believe that [the actor is] driving it. So it was important for me to do him justice, and keep up my end of the bargain.
What was the hardest stunt you had to do?
There’s one scene where my character – who’s handcuffed to a table – has to climb up another man’s body, wrap both legs around his neck and bring him to the floor. I had to do it about 50 times – it was bizarre! You get very familiar with your most intimate parts.