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RAMPAGE

About The Production
BIG MEETS BIGGER

"Last night, George was 7 feet and weighed 500 pounds. This morning he's 9 feet and pushing 1000." - Davis

Like movie fans around the world, "Rampage" director/producer Brad Peyton loves to see Dwayne Johnson in terrifying, larger-than-life scenarios that require all his skill and strength, humor and charm, to overcome. Peyton has already placed his intrepid star under a volcano on a sinking island, and dropped him into the epicenter of a magnitude-9 earthquake. Now, in their third big-screen adventure-a movie that's massive on every level-scale, scope, action and visual impact-Peyton ups the ante again by pitting Johnson against something he has never faced before: an antagonist even bigger than he is.

And not just one, but three-gargantuan, genetically mutating creatures, completely out of control, on a collision course with civilization.

Johnson is up for the challenge. "Brad and I are like a couple of kids when we get together on a project like this," he says. "Art always reflects the artist, so I think fans can count on great action and great fun, and a fair amount of destruction. We always want to push things farther than we did before and to constantly raise that bar. Or possibly go over it.

"For me," he adds, "just stepping on the set every day was like, okay, it's 7 AM and my intensity level goes up to fifteen on a scale of one-to-ten, and it stays that way until the end of the day."

"There were lots of 'wow' moments, and so many sets that just blew my mind," adds Naomie Harris, who stars opposite Johnson as Dr. Kate Caldwell. "I'd never been in a helicopter or a plane that's been recreated with hydraulic effects to tilt so that I'm hanging from a wire and flying around. That's the wonderful thing about Brad and Dwayne, and the whole producing team. At the center of everything they want to make you feel that it's all happening right here, right now, and that you're really in the heart of the action. And that's what the audience will see."

Among the interests Peyton and Johnson share that factored into "Rampage" are an affinity for movies about ferocious giant creatures and an affection for the classic video arcade game Rampage, featuring a trio of supersized creatures knocking down cities and running wild over the landscape. Also, the commitment to anchor this kind of outsized cinematic spectacle with a genuine story and characters.

Though the arcade game was the original spark of inspiration, it didn't provide a lot beyond its pure and simple premise, which suited Peyton perfectly. "I was interested in the challenges and opportunities that came from the game," he says, "but the fact that it had so little narrative allowed us to make our own movie, create our own monsters and explore our own themes. We paid homage to it in a fun and respectful way by utilizing its creatures and planting some Easter eggs for fans."

In the film, what triggers the rampage is a secret bio-genetic experiment that goes off the rails, unleashing a gene-altering substance that causes animals to grow not only in strength and aggression, but in more frightening and unpredictable ways as they absorb volatile DNA from other species. The first casualty of this substance is George, an albino silverback gorilla housed at a California wildlife sanctuary. George is very special to Johnson's character, Davis, a primatologist who rescued him from poachers, raised him, taught him to sign, and shares with him an unbreakable bond of friendship. So, when George turns overnight from a normal-sized, peaceful ape to a roaring, destructive colossus, Davis is determined to do whatever he has to do to keep George safe, while trying to figure out what is happening to him.

To accomplish that, he reluctantly accepts the help of Kate Caldwell, who knows more about what's happening than she cares to reveal.

Johnson and Harris lead a strong ensemble cast, including Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a cagey government agent shadowing Davis and Kate's progress throughout the crisis; Joe Manganiello as the leader of a top-notch mercenary unit who meet their unfathomable match in a Wyoming woods; and Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy as the billionaire siblings behind the rogue experiments, who are still intent on using this pathogen for their own ends.

Producer Beau Flynn, who has successfully teamed with Johnson on numerous projects, cites one of the ways in which he feels "Rampage" stands apart from its genre: "Ordinarily, in this kind of movie you have a hero who is trying to stop the monstrous creatures at any cost and fight to the death to save the planet. I've rarely seen one where the hero is not only trying to save the world but, at the same time, trying to help and protect one of the combatants. In short, in most movies the hero is trying to destroy the creature; in ours, he's trying to save it. Davis knows George never signed up for this. And not only does Davis want to keep him alive but, he might ultimately need George's help in an epic monster battle yet to come-and that, to me, is fresh and exciting."

The panic over George is further escalated by the appearance of two other shockingly transformed animals- first, a mammoth wolf that not only leaps great heights but is somehow able to fly, and, later, a crocodile the length of a football field and moving like a cruiser. Having had more exposure to the pathogen, they are exponentially larger and fiercer. Not only growing, but continuing to evolve, all three set off on a path of destruction toward Chicago.

Even so, the filmmakers sought to keep a fun and lighthearted tone in play, allowing ample opportunity for humor alongside the movie's thrills and Kaiju-style battles, with plenty of one-liners delivered with Dwayne Johnson's inimitable style.

Ryan Engle, who developed the story, and shares screenplay credit with Adam Sztykiel and "San Andreas" writers Carlton Cuse and Ryan J. Condal, says, "The challenge was how to tell a story about mutated animals that's emotional, action-oriented, scary, and fun, and how to create a different kind of scenario. Rather than relying on size and scale, we wanted to include elements of speed and agility, and see these monstrous beings do things we haven't seen before."

Incorporating the idea of a plot to weaponize DNA-for which these three hapless beasts are the prototypes-introduces human villains behind the mayhem, and amplifies the danger to a global priority. Sztykiel, who also makes a cameo as a C-17 pilot, says, "There's the immediate threat of more infected creatures on the loose. Were there other canisters not accounted for, and where did they land?"

As producer Hiram Garcia suggests, "What makes these creatures so interesting is that they're hybrids, combining their own genetic makeup with traits of other animals to make them tougher and more dangerous fighters-for example, a gorilla that can regenerate tissue at the rate of a spiny mouse, or a wolf that develops webbing to allow it to soar through the air. Once you ground that premise, you say, okay, now what would happen if this technology gets into the wrong hands?"

While taking great liberties with the science, the CRISPR gene-editing program the film cites is, in fact, real. Originated in 1993, its goal is curing cancer and other diseases through modifications to an organism's genetic code.

Johnson, also an executive producer on the film, concedes, "The science is fascinating. But we had to maintain that balance between delivering on a scientific perspective that makes sense and making sure we're right around the next corner winking at the audience and letting them know we're all in on this: hey, we're making a big, fun movie about a crocodile with 1118 giant teeth, and a gorilla the size of a house, who likes to flip me off."

Focusing on those stunning visuals, the filmmakers enlisted preeminent visual effects company Weta Digital to create the non-human "Rampage" cast. Their input, Peyton attests, "was absolutely essential. We couldn't have pulled off such an ambitious project without storytellers of their caliber. They are true artists. It was vital that we not only nail the design, but also the emotion and intent that comes through these creatures."

The wolf and croc, born entirely of groundbreaking visual effects, take center stage without compromise. Says Flynn, "It was very important to us not to hide the creatures with scenes that take place at night, or in rain or under overcast skies. We wanted to show them in broad daylight, mutating and rampaging over the course of the film, and to juxtapose blue skies with the kind of havoc they're causing."

With George, they took a different approach. The great ape is an amalgam of Weta's digital artistry and performance capture, with actor Jason Liles contributing the personality and humanity that will allow audiences to embrace George as a sentient being, and to ensure the credibility of his bond with Davis-who realizes he is as much a victim of his outrageous metamorphosis as the people now fleeing from him in fear. And even as the animal grows and changes, George remains the heart of the story.

"Right away, I knew the emotional core and through-line of the story was going to be their connection," Peyton relates, "Because we place so much emphasis on it, all the other elements- the plane crashes and explosions and battles-have more value because now you care if someone is going to live or die, you care if Davis and George are going to be reunited. I always want to make things as exciting as possible, but, I feel, if you have the fun without the underpinning of real emotion and real stakes, it doesn't have the same impact. You want to feel something; you want the full experience.

"The main themes of the movie are trust, and friendship," he sums up, "and the lengths you would go to save your friend." As the story unfolds, that turns out to be a formidable distance for them both.

Framing it in a way anyone can relate to, producer John Rickard observes, "Davis doesn't understand why George is becoming more dangerous, to himself and the world around him. So, what's he going to do? What would anyone do? I have a dog, myself, and if that dog got sick or lost, you couldn't stop me from trying to find him and make it better, because he's my family. That's how Davis feels about George, and that's the emotional factor that really grounds the story in a way that should ring true for a lot of people."

Overall, in the story's reach, in the sheer size and scope of the action and visual feast, the massive sets, massive creatures, everything about "Rampage" echoes the idea of "big meets bigger." It was the director's intention, he says, "to imbed the audience in the events, as opposed to having them witness something that's happening 'over there.' With this, I wanted people to feel that these scary things that are so big and move so quickly are all around them, all the time. I want to put them right into the action as much as possible."

"What got me excited about 'Rampage' was the opportunity to create something epic," adds Johnson. "What I mean by that is, we have not just one gigantic, amazing gorilla, we have an immense crocodile that comes out of the swamps of Florida, and an insanely big wolf from the Northwest…and then this big, bald, brown, tattooed guy running around with them," he laughs. "The game was built on playing and tearing things up, and I think this pays homage to that idea. We set up the story and then suddenly, bang, you're off; you're on this ride and it's all adrenaline."

CAST AND CHARACTERS

"It's weird that you like to hang with animals more than people." - Nelson

"Yeah, well, animals get me." - Davis

We meet Davis Okoye as a respected primatologist overseeing the ape habitat at the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. Although devoted to his work, generally easy to get along with and happy to share his knowledge with aspiring students, Davis makes no excuses for the fact that he prefers the company of animals to humans. He particularly abhors the self-serving deceptions with which he feels most people conduct themselves.

Johnson describes Davis as "a phenomenal character I loved playing. His history is that he led an anti-poaching unit of the United Nations, and that was after years of serving in multiple conflicts around the world as part of the Army Special Forces. So, considering all the things he's seen in his life, he's lost a lot of faith in mankind."

Davis's singular bond with George began when he found the baby gorilla hiding from poachers who had just killed his mother. As George was too vulnerable to survive in the wild, Davis brought the youngster to a new home in the sanctuary, where he has grown to maturity- a magnificent and stately ape with a deep well of compassion, a playful, communicative nature…and a wicked sense of humor.

"They're a lot alike," Peyton says, "They're both funny, they're both alpha males, and they're both the biggest guy in every room."

Knowing Johnson was cast as the hero was a boon to the screenwriters as they developed both characters, especially Cuse and Condal, having written for him on "San Andreas." Condal relates, "We had his voice pretty well dialed in. He literally has an aura of charm around him and can do anything, so that gave us a lot of freedom. Dwayne brings incredible warmth to the relationship and helps make George a sympathetic character, which is so important." As for George, he was never treated as anything less than a living being. Says Cuse, "Knowing that he was going to be a combination of CG and performance capture liberated us to go all out, to give George a really big, complex personality and actions."

"I love working with Dwayne," the director states. "He's one of the best creative partners I've ever had; endlessly enthusiastic and inspiring. He's always looking for ways to take a more active role and challenge himself, always looking to give his fans something more than they're used to seeing. This time, he said, 'I want to be more scared and beat-up than I've ever been in any other movie,' which is not easy, considering the kinds of movies he makes."

When his best friend is in trouble, Davis doesn't enter the fray with a plan or even any confidence that he will prevail. Quite the contrary. He has no idea what he's up against or how he's going to do it. He just knows that George needs him, and it's a call he can't ignore. "Davis will go to any lengths to save George," states Garcia. "It's a journey that might ultimately bring him some redemption, too, as far as being able to trust people again, and that journey begins with his meeting Dr. Kate Caldwell.

"Kate has had her own tough experiences," Garcia continues. "A brilliant scientist who tried unsuccessfully to save her brother's life through genetic editing, she has seen her research applied in a way that has created monsters, so her emotional ties to this situation run parallel to Davis's. They're both trying to do the right thing, but taking different paths to get there."

At first, though, Kate is the perfect example of what Davis means when he tells her that people will do anything to get what they want. She misleads him about the extent of her involvement, and her true interest in tracing this pathogen to its source. "He values honesty above all, and trust, so as soon as he discovers she's been lying to him, he completely shuts her down and doesn't want to have anything to do with her," Harris says. "But then she tells him the awful story of what happened to her, and why she's here, and it touches something deep inside him. That's why he agrees to help."

As an idealistic young scientist, Kate was courted by a bioengineering company called Energyne. Her employers, however, were secretly diverting her results into their own program of weaponizing DNA, the results of which have come to horrifying fruition. Kate is now convinced there must be a way to control these creatures, a kind of "off" switch, that she might find it if she can reach her former lab in time. For that, she needs Davis.

Says Rickard, "Casting the Kate role was crucial in many ways. We needed someone who could really step up and be a strong and able partner for Davis, someone who could bring a depth of compassion and understanding, and, most of all, someone who had the natural gravitas so that when she talked about the scientific and technical aspects of the story, you immediately believe her. Naomie brought all of that and more. She and Dwayne made a great team."

"Her performance is really the glue that holds everything together," Peyton adds. "She did a phenomenal job of leaping into the action showing equal parts fear and determination in the face of each new obstacle."

For Harris, it was partly Peyton's enthusiasm for the project that convinced her to take a role unlike anything she's ever done. "I didn't know what to expect, but the first time we talked about it, by the time I got off the phone I felt like I could rule the world," she says. "And it was like that every single day on the set. I absolutely loved the script. I think part of it was that I fell in love with George, and the fact that you have this man who's shut down when it comes to dealing with people but can open his heart to this extraordinary animal. Also, I liked how strong and intelligent Kate is, and overall just the playful tone of the action."

But even as Davis and Kate join forces, George is already in custody: sedated and loaded onto a military transport plane, by order of Agent Russell, under the ambiguous umbrella of the OGA, or "Other Government Agency." He invites them to join the party, with a congenial manner that does absolutely nothing to conceal his unquestionable authority.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who stars as Russell, says, "He's so deep and well connected and powerful that no one has officially heard of him, and yet Agent Russell is the ultimate fixer. He's the genuine article, just a big, undercover badass."

"I love how Jeffrey played him so you don't know if he's a good guy or a bad guy; you can't pin him down," says Peyton. "He wears a perfectly pressed suit with a Texas-style silver belt buckle and carries a gold-plated .45 with a pearl handle. He has an easygoing drawl but all the while he's observing everything with a keen eye."

"The belt buckle came from Brad," Morgan concedes, though he was fully on board with the idea, and how it factors into the agent's overall persona. "Russell is definitely a cowboy. When Russell walks into a room, he owns it. He has manners, like a good Southern gentleman, but also a sarcastic humor that he uses to cut people down, and a way of saying things that makes you sometimes wonder what his meaning really is."

It was vital that Russell stand up to Davis and match his attitude, as their big personalities come into close conflict more than once and their interactions are always charged. "Dwayne is a formidable guy," Morgan understates, "and I remember thinking, 'The first time our characters meet, the best way for me to get up into his face. Go right up to him and lean in.' Like poking the bear."

Johnson agrees, saying, "Jeffrey brings that same swagger and machismo, but he does it with a smile and a cool wink, which is always more dangerous…and more entertaining."

As unflappable as he appears, though, Russell is in for a Texas-sized surprise when his two-ton cargo suddenly awakens and decides he wants out. Now. In fact, all three gargantuan creatures are being called home by a high-frequency beacon and there's nothing anyone or anything can do to stop them from getting there-whether they're on the ground, in the water, or, in George's case, 32,000 feet in the air.

Their target is Chicago, to the top of a tower in the downtown district. It's the location of the fictional Energyne lab, in the Wyden Technologies offices of Kate's former bosses, Claire and Brett Wyden, played by Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy. Claire is calling her warriors home, believing she now holds the key to controlling them.

In a story centering around DNA, it's laughable that these siblings could not be less alike. Claire, the brains of the outfit, is a laser-focused, self-serving paragon of evil and ego, while Brett is a queasier mix of greed and whining cowardice. He's the kind of guy who'd like to rule the world so long as it doesn't take him outside his comfort zone.

"Claire is smart and manipulative, such a wonderful character to play," says Akerman. "She has her eye on the money and is really a little bit insane, especially when the creatures start to destroy the city and she couldn't care less. Project Rampage is her baby, its success is what she lives for, and anyone or anything that stands in her way will die."

Akerman further acknowledges, "Jake and I wondered why Claire hadn't killed him off already because he doesn't have much to offer the project or the company, but, I guess he's the only family she has."

In his character's defense, Lacy says, "Brett grew up with money, which allowed him to behave as he wanted to behave, buy whatever he wanted and do whatever he wanted. He likes to party and buy yachts. As for Project Rampage, it's not his hand on the controls. If he has any qualms about what they're doing, apart from possibly going to jail, he likely wouldn't do anything about it because he's genuinely afraid of his sister."

"Our villains are cold and depraved, but also fun," says Peyton, who calls the pair "the ice queen and the bumbling brother. I had a real blast with them. She thinks this DNA thing is going to make her famous-her vision, her pride and joy. Meanwhile, Chicago is falling down around them and Brett is like, 'Can we just get on a helicopter and get out of here?!'"

To stay outside the law, the Wydens have been conducting their covert research on a private space station, where they have absolute authority and the occasional misfire won't come back to bite them. Literally. This time, when their latest experiment goes horribly awry, and the station explodes and crashes to Earth, raining down canisters of the latest-generation pathogen, it's just the proof Claire needs to know that Project Rampage is a success. All that remains is to retrieve the samples.

Claire's first call is to Burke, the confident, seen-it-all leader of a team of mercenaries Brett refers to as "Killers R Us." Joe Manganiello, who plays Burke, says, "He's been sent out to search for this object, so, to him, he may as well be going out to look for a milk carton; hardly a job worthy of his and his team's skills. What he doesn't know is that inside this thing was an experimental, pharmaceutical-grade mutagen, and that it opened on impact and has already caught the attention of an animal."

What ensues is a frantic encounter in the Wyoming woods between Burke and his top men, armed to the teeth with advanced military gear, and a wolf the size of two double-decker buses and fast as a cannonball. To prepare, Manganiello and his castmates spent days jumping out of hard-banking helicopters, literally hitting the ground running, as their characters embark on what turns out to be the deadliest assignment of their careers.

"It's really interesting working off of pre-vis. A lot of the big action sequences were done preliminarily on Brad's iPad," Manganiello reveals," so, it's like a video game from the 90s. You're watching the team interact with this giant wolf and you can see it all, right down to the camera angles and the timing, per reaction, per shot. Our job is then to breathe life into what Brad has pictured in his brain."

P.J. Byrne plays Nelson, Davis's colleague at the wildlife sanctuary, who tries to help George in the early, bewildering stage of his transformation. "George has gotten into the grizzly bear enclosure and the bear-the most dangerous land animal in the world-has been killed, which is a scary thing for them to consider," he details. "The walls are 20-feet high and that's twice the height a gorilla can jump, so it seems impossible…until we see him, and realize he's a lot bigger than he was a few hours ago."

Rounding out the main cast, Marley Shelton turns in a physically demanding performance as Dr. Atkins, a research scientist aboard the Wyden's doomed space station who fights to stay alive while her latest test subject runs dangerously amok, in a breathless opening scene that sets up the story. Breanne Hill and Jack Quaid appear as the center's primatology students, Amy and Connor; Demetrius Grosse is beleaguered army colonel Blake, defending Chicago against elusive and unstoppable enemies that a day ago he could only have seen in his nightmares; Will Yun Lee is FBI Agent Park, closing in on the Wyden facility; and Matt Gerald is Zammit, one of Burke's best men, tracking an animal whose pawprint is wide enough for a man to fall into.

"Every actor we cast brought great flavor and energy to their performances, from Dwayne and Naomie and the whole main cast, to every supporting role. Everyone really pops," says Peyton.

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