Navigation Bar - Text Links at Bottom of Page

THE FOREIGNER

About The Production
FROM PAGE TO SCREEN: THE FOREIGNER'S JOURNEY

Based on acclaimed crime writer Stephen Leather's 1992 novel, "The Chinaman," The Foreigner gets a present-day update by screenwriter David Marconi (Enemy of the State, Live Free or Die Hard). While the novel was set in the early 90s during "The Troubles" - the period when the IRA were bombing the UK and Northern Ireland - the film's producers felt that the main themes could be equally powerful in a current setting.

Producer Wayne Marc Godfrey recruited Marconi to adapt Leather's novel, given Marconi's track record of success in action thrillers. Producer Arthur Sarkissian subsequently gave the script to Martin Campbell as a potential directing assignment. Together they worked with Marconi revising the script. STXfilms, a division of Robert Simonds' STX Entertainment, later optioned the script from Godfrey and Sarkissian, with Chan attached to play Quan. STXfilms' then head of production Cathy Schulman oversaw a new draft of the screenplay, focusing on designing it as a "two hander". Both Quan and Deputy Minister Hennessy were battling similar demons based on their shadowy backgrounds. Schulman suggested that Hennessy's role be fine-tuned to attract Schulman and Campbell's mutual friend and collaborator Pierce Brosnan.

"While we were working on it, we knew that Jackie Chan would be playing Quan and we had Pierce Brosnan in our sights too," says screenwriter David Marconi. "So, when I was doing the script, it was with these actors in mind."

It was a lengthy process, which included contributions from director Martin Campbell, once he came onboard the film. "We worked on the script together for about four or five months," recalls Marconi. "We had a great working rapport which is essential, and Martin's ideas were spot on. Martin elevated the script to another level, his notes and suggestions were very clear. He was as concerned about character as am I."

"This is a story of revenge where the main character is a man who's had a tragic past. Two of his daughters were killed in terrible circumstances several years ago, and his wife dies soon after they have established a new life of safety in the UK, and now 15 years later, his only daughter is killed, so he has nothing left to live for," explains Marconi. "His journey of revenge ultimately becomes one of redemption. It took me about 2 1/2 years of writing and rewriting. I had to break the book down. Stephen wrote a very good book that I was able to do an adaptation from."

"One of the biggest challenges was updating it from the 90s to present day. It was very important to take the issues of today and put them into this novel that was set in the past. We had to reinvent and update certain things so the technologies and the threats were more contemporary," says Marconi. "I didn't want to make the IRA the bad guys, because they've made peace. But there are upstarts in the organization who haven't signed up to peace that are out there still trying to do things. I had to find the different shades of the villains and try and present all sides so the bad guys weren't all one color and the good guys weren't all one color. It's about various shades of greys because the world that we live in is a very grey world. You have to get inside the heads of all the characters, including the villains, so you can understand why people do what they do."

The Author Stamps The Foreigner's Passport for Journey to The Silver Screen "I wanted to do a story about a man who was underestimated by people," says novelist Stephen Leather. "A man who nobody took seriously, who isn't considered a threat." All too often, screen adaptations of novels bear little resemblance to the source material, leaving authors disgruntled. Thankfully, that isn't the case. Although the film has shifted the story to the present day from its early 90s setting, the original themes and foundation remain. "It's my book and it's the filmmakers' movie," says Leather. "David is a brilliant writer and he's done such a great job of writing the script. He's changed a lot of elements. We had to update the technology. And it's very true to the story and to the characters I wrote. So, I'm very pleased that David's given it an extra edge. Martin's action scenes improve it. And he's put more intensity in it. I think it's brilliant, absolutely brilliant. And to be on set surrounded by 100 people filming a story that I wrote in my little room 25 years ago is thrilling."

COMPLEX MEN WITH TROUBLED PASTS: CASTING THE LEADING MEN

From Action Star to Dramatic Actor: Another Side of Jackie Chan Jackie Chan is legendary for his explosive martial arts action sequences and larger-than-life performances, so playing a character with the quiet, almost solemn intensity of Quan was an exciting new challenge for Chan. "I wanted a change," says the action legend. "I don't always want to do the same kind of film - Chinese Zodiac is an Indiana Jones-type film, Shinjuku is a tough film, Skiptrace is a comedy - so every year, I try to do something different. I want to be an actor so this is a big change and it will give audiences a chance to see another side of Jackie Chan."

Even more than the action, it was the heart-rending poignancy of the story that appealed to Chan. "Quan is a lovely father," he says. "After the terrible tragedy of his life in Vietnam, having seen his two daughters kidnapped and raped by Thai pirates, and then his wife dies when their youngest daughter, Fan, is born in London, his life is all about loving her and protecting her. When she is killed, he has nothing left. He is desperate for revenge, not only for Fan's murder, but for the innocent who are killed by bad people."

Chan embraced the opportunity to break out of his typical action-hero persona and tackle a serious dramatic role. "He immersed himself into the character of Quan. It's a character we haven't seen him play before. We all expect Jackie to come in and start 'kung fu-ing' everybody, but Jackie's approached the character from a cerebral perspective," explains Lumpkin. "The character is all about thinking through his actions, he meticulously plans how he's going to approach his antagonists, he plans how he's going to get revenge for his daughter, he meticulously looks for justice. And you can see that in his mind as the character develops."

"He is obviously completely and emotionally wrecked by the death of his daughter. And he very quietly goes to the police to ask who did this. He is a quiet man with a simple life; he makes a living from his Chinese restaurant. He is dignified," says Campbell, discussing Quan's journey for justice, "He even, at one point, in his naivety offers the police chief all his life savings in order to at least get a clue- a name- about who could have done this atrocity."

"Quan has a history. He was a Nung fighter in Vietnam, so he worked with the US soldiers, in training, in guerrilla warfare, so he's got a real history of how to be a badass," adds Lumpkin. "He knows how to defend himself; he knows how to protect himself; and he knows how to find the answers. And that's really his mission: to find answers and to seek justice."

After being dismissed by Hennessy when he asks him who killed his daughter, Quan realizes he must draw on the skills and training from his secret past to convince Hennessy to take him seriously. "Quan does little things - he puts small bombs in his office and in his car which are not meant to hurt or maim - but Hennessy knows if Quan wants to, he can kill his whole family," says Chan. "Quan just wants Hennessy to give him the name of the bombers. He's stubborn and he wants revenge." As Quan's frustration increases, so do the demonstrations of his capabilities. As Campbell puts it, "Quan has nothing to lose. And he doesn't think for a minute he is going to live through this," states Campbell. "And he doesn't care. It's just morally what he has to do."

"The most surprising thing for me with Jackie was how quickly he became Quan," adds Producer Jamie Marshall. "We were a little anxious about Jackie, who has so much energy and youth, playing an older man but after hair and makeup and three hours of rehearsals with Martin, he came in on the first day of shooting as Quan. I was blown away. And he's brilliant to work with, a lovely man with a very generous spirit. For me, no one else could have played this role." The result is a complex and compelling performance, which may surprise audiences and Jackie Chan's fans alike.

Chan also gets to show off some serious acting chops. "In the opening scene when the bomb goes off, you really feel that shock in Quan as he's blown across the car," says Lumpkin. "He gets up with glass in his face, and there's smoke and fire and blood everywhere. And watching the scene where Jackie's holding his daughter, it was really moving. Jackie really brought his A-game for this role. Even watching the dailies, it's choking."

Of working with Chan, Brosnan says, "I was a huge Jackie Chan fan and am even more so now having worked with him. He's just one of these legends of the cinema, someone who has fantastic comedic timing, wonderful alacrity on his feet, and for him I think this movie is a great departure and one that will surprise the fans who love him. We had a good time. I'm really proud to have worked with him. I love saying 'I'm working with Jackie Chan.' It always brings a smile to people's faces."

"Jackie Chan is single-handedly one of the coolest people I have ever met in my life!" says Lumpkin. Campbell recalls the story of visiting Jackie in his dressing room, "I remember the first day of shooting, I went to the makeup trailer, and there he was sweeping out the trailer. You know, like cleaning it out. And that's just Jackie."

Stephen Leather concurs: "Jackie Chan is great. It's a side of him we've never seen before. We're used to seeing the Kung Fu and the slapstick fighting, but here he's acting with depth and emotion and it's superb! A lot of the time he doesn't even look like Jackie Chan - the way he moves his face, how he talks, is so different. And you feel the raw emotion the guy's putting out. It's a great bit of acting."

Campbell states it more succinctly: "He's simply excellent."

Pierce Brosnan: From Secret Agent to Government Agent with Secrets Playing Liam Hennessy, the former IRA-commander-turned-British-government-official is Pierce Brosnan. For Lumpkin, Brosnan is a man who "oozes class. He was James Bond, he was Remington Steele, and he's everything that we have always wanted to be when we watch a movie. Pierce brings a sense of balance, coolness and class to the character of Hennessy. You look at Hennessy at first and you think 'what a classy cool guy.' But he's got a dark past. And there's really no one else who could play that role like Pierce."

Says Brosnan of his character, "He's someone who was born of war, really, he grew up in The Troubles in Ireland. He's very bright, very articulate, and someone who is trying to hold onto his own position in government and within his own people in the north of Ireland."

Reuniting Martin Campbell with his former Bond was an easy sell. "Well first of all, Pierce is Irish, which helps. I think this one of the best things he's ever done," says Campbell. "He threw himself into that role. I remember him saying to me [he] was a little worried about the IRA, being Irish and doing a story like this. However, he went into it with his eyes open. And for once, I got some rehearsal time with him before we started, so that helped. I think the character he finally came up with is absolutely fascinating."

"Hennessy is as we would expect a politician to be, withholding answers and information," says Lumpkin. "He sees Quan as simply a foreigner and doesn't pay him any attention - until Quan shows what he's capable of. Hennessy realizes this is serious, but he has a lot of other things going on. He's got to build up his power base, which is beginning to dwindle. He's got to handle [former IRA colleague] McGrath and his rogue forces. Pierce does a fantastic job of playing Hennessy. He's got a really solid sense of style in what he brings to the role. Hennessy is completely believable - he's got a great charm at the beginning, but slowly he reveals how much of a bad-ass he is."

Jackie Chan was also thrilled with his co-star, both personally and professionally. "I'm honored to work with him," says Chan. "He's one of the biggest movie stars and he's so good. He helped me a lot on set, not just with my acting but my English as well. I wasted a lot of time because my English is not so good, and also, I have to pretend I'm a British citizen - and he helped me a lot. He was very patient. At the end of shooting he gave me a painting he had painted, he's a true artist."

"Pierce is fantastic," agrees Marconi. "Martin and Pierce had worked together on Goldeneye and for Martin to bring him on was a tremendous choice. He brought a real gravitas to Hennessy. This is one of the strongest roles I've ever seen him do."

Leather was also very happy with the finished product. "I couldn't ask for a better director. Jackie Chan in the lead role - you couldn't ask for anyone better. And Pierce Brosnan - when I wrote the book 25 years ago, I had Pierce Brosnan in mind for Morrison, the Irish guy who gets called over from the United States to hunt down Quan. It's funny that 25 years later he's grown into the role of Hennessy, who is the other great character in the book. So, I'm absolutely thrilled that he was in it."

ORLA BRADY

As Hennessy's wife, Mary, Orla Brady is a ticking time bomb of frustration. It was a role the actress found appealing for a number of reasons. "I was very intrigued by the notion of a vengeful woman," she says. "A woman who, instead of internalizing her disappointments and accepting them, turns her fury outwards and lashes out at the very person who she sees as the object of her pain and distress: her husband. I've often played women who destroy themselves, and they're all interesting to play, but I liked the unleashed fury of this role."

Brady did a lot of research into the role, reading first-hand accounts of women who went on hunger strikes during the height of "The Troubles." "Martin really wanted to find the truth of this woman," says Brady. "He wasn't interested in creating crude stereotypes. He's very interested in story and the fact that good people can have bad moments and bad people can rise above themselves sometimes. In other words, there isn't such a thing as a good or bad character. A lot of people become very compromised and Mary is certainly compromised. She begins to see her husband isn't the strong leader she hoped he would be and she feels the cause has been betrayed, so she switches allegiances."

The film's leading men and director were major reasons Brady was drawn to the project. "I very much wanted to work with Jackie Chan. It's been revealing seeing him play a very dramatic role, with no comedy at all, and his performance will really surprise audiences. He's the moral heart of the film really whereas my character is the opposite - she's a venal person who is compromised, who is about an ideology rather than compassion. Pierce Brosnan and Martin Campbell were also incentives. "Pierce is a bit of a legend - especially in Ireland - and Martin Campbell has an extraordinary sensitivity around the subject matter, so with all these elements, I really couldn't say no! Pierce makes it as easy as it can possibly be to be on set. There was a scene where I am talking to him on the phone. A lot of actors will take a break if they're not going to be in the scene and do the call from their trailer but Pierce stayed in the room and that was really great. And he did it without any hoo-ha."

RORY FLECK BYRNE

Rounding out the leading cast is Rory Fleck Byrne as Sean Morrison, Hennessy's nephew and a former member of the Royal Irish Regiment who is brought back from New York to track down Quan in the Irish countryside. "Morrison understands loss. He would have lost the majority of his family along the way during "The Troubles." And Liam Hennessy took him under his wing and looked after him over the years and it's become this father-son relationship," explains Byrne. "There is trust and loyalty. And that's what makes it such a great and complex relationship, because as the story unravels, you realize there's some hidden secrets there."

The actor was immediately impressed with the script. "I could see the story in my head and it was visually stimulating. And the idea of intertwining IRA themes with someone like Jackie Chan was very unusual - I'd never seen anything like that before."

The producers had to find the right actor that could handle the physical and emotional integrity needed in the scenes between Quan and Morrison. Marconi says, "If there are two people who really connect, it's Quan and Morrison, because of their shared past as soldiers. Quan sees Morrison as a kindred spirit, as both men are conflicted: Quan because he switched sides during the Vietnam War, and Morrison because he's an Irish Catholic who fought with the British army in Iraq."

Byrne also bonded with Pierce Brosnan in an unexpected way. "Pierce is fantastic - he just operates on another plane somewhere. I had only met him once before and as we were preparing for a scene he just started telling me about his past, and my jaw dropped because I wasn't expecting him to say something about himself so openly. We're both only children, a bit of a dying breed, so we high-fived about that. You can't help but want to listen to him. You can't help but want to lean in. He's got a little glint in his eye. It's just magic working with him."

MICHAEL McELHATTON

Michael McElhatton was cast as Kavanagh, Hennessy's fearsome consigliore. "I thought it was a great script," says the actor best known for "Game of Thrones." "It's very much in the classic genre revenge movie, but there's lots of things that unfold towards the end of the story that turn it into something other than a traditional linear narrative. And I wanted to work with Martin Campbell, who's a fantastic director."

Campbell and McElhatton spent a good deal of time discussing Kavanagh's backstory. "Martin wanted Kavanagh to be a kind of consigliore to Hennessy, a trusted ally as much as a heavy," says McElhatton. "Kavanagh has probably been with Hennessy for quite some time, all through "The Troubles" in the 1970s, and Hennessy is now on the legitimate side of the IRA. And he has adjusted accordingly. But as we see the movie progress and things start closing in around Hennessy, he relies on Kavanagh more and more and we realize that Hennessy hasn't quite changed as much as his public persona suggests."

McElhatton also relished working alongside Jackie Chan. "All my scenes with Jackie are action scenes and that's pretty exciting for me," says the actor. "But he's not just doing action here. He does the action guy and also the very submissive, quiet, nondescript guy and he does both incredibly well. He's such an instinctive actor and it's been fascinating to watch him."

It was also a pleasure to work with Martin Campbell: "He's so accomplished," says McElhatton. "Every day on the set, he would be completely running the show. He has his shots worked out, he knows exactly where the cuts will be, he would tell us actors where the cuts would be, which is incredibly helpful because it means you're not asking where the camera is or why it's being shot in a particular way. He knows exactly what he wants and he's great in the detail and he gave us great notes. He's also very fast and his energy is quite infectious so he's an absolute joy to work with. I think Martin has brought a great degree of tension and drama and excitement to this movie. And the story has lots of complexities and plot twists, so it'll have a very broad appeal."

Next Production Note Section

TOP

Home | Theaters | Video | TV

Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
Contact CinemaReview.com

2017 114,  All Rights Reserved.

Google

Find:  HELP!

Google