About The Production
HUNTER KILLER (hən(t)ərˈkilər): a naval vessel, especially a submarine,
equipped to locate and destroy
enemy vessels, especially other submarines.
Deep beneath the icy surface of the Arctic Circle, the Cold War never really
ended. Here, at extreme depths
invisible to the world, U.S. and Russian submarines continue to play
ultra-high-stakes rounds of hide-and-seek
through harrowingly narrow passages, as a constant reminder to one another of
the unthinkable costs
of sudden aggression. Peril has only mounted amid heightened tensions as a new
generation of highly
sophisticated nuclear attack subs prowl the murky depths, persistently trailing
and shadowing one another as
if a full-blown battle is about to break out.
But what if these charged war games suddenly stopped being a game at all?
What if, as chaos erupts on
land, there is only one shot to pull the world back from the brink of WWIII and
unthinkable nuclear conflict?
This is the relentlessly tense situation audiences are plunged into in Hunter
Killer, aptly named for the sleek
attack subs created to boldly approach the enemy without detection.
It all begins as a Russian sub sinks in the Arctic Ocean. Soon after, the
U.S. sub ghosting it also mysteriously
vanishes. In the midst of investigating these unsettling events, military brass
in Washington D.C. are sent
scrambling when they discover a rogue Russian admiral is attempting to carry out
a bloodthirsty coup at a
naval base in Russia. The only hope to halt a war of the superpowers lies in the
efforts of two secret crews.
First, a clandestine Black Ops team of ex-SEALs must try to sneak into Russian
territory to intercept the
kidnapping of the Russian President. Simultaneously, in the sea, Captain Joe
Glass and the young crew of the
USS Arkansas are under orders to head towards the enemy. As a hunter-killer
captain, Glass has mastered
the rules of the cat-and-mouse game but will now have to courageously break
them, as he realizes that this
time the cat and the mouse may have to join forces.
The film takes the classic submarine thriller-with all its nail-biting
tension, claustrophobia, physical and
psychological pressure-into the post-Cold War era when flash coups and
counter-reactions can alter the
balance of world power overnight. As the steely Captain Glass comes face-to-face
with his stoic Russian
counterpart, Captain Andropov (Michael Nyqvist), it becomes clear that the wary,
distrustful bond between
them may be all that stands between the world and nuclear catastrophe.
Featuring an all-star cast led by Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman and Common, the
film's action moves from deep
sea to land and back again. But most of all, Hunter Killer, authentically
captures the 21st Century world of
the so-called "silent service," the men and women who serve by patrolling the
deep, while their boldest
exploits often go unheard and unseen.
Says Butler: "When I first read this script a few years ago, I loved it
immediately. It's a classic story with a
heck of a lot of great action, a heck of an intricate plot and a whole cast of
fantastic characters who are
heroes from different walks of life. It felt like an exciting way to revive the
submarine thriller for these times.
And right now, this story couldn't feel more relevant."
Summarizes director Donovan Marsh, "Hunter Killer is about a fictional
event-but it could easily occur in
today's world. There have been many recent news articles about how Russian and
American submarines are
chasing each other under water in dangerous ways. Yet, because it's happening
under the ocean, the public
never knows what's going on. That's how our movie begins: with two submarines
ghosting each other
through the ocean ... resulting in an incident that quickly escalates to the brink
of war. I think audiences will
be thrilled, they'll be moved and they'll have a good deal of fun, all while
watching a story highly significant
to what's happening in 2018."
The authenticity of Hunter Killer started with its source material: the novel
"Firing Point," written by George
Wallace, the highly experienced, retired commander of the nuclear attack
submarine the USS Houston, along
with the award-winning journalist and best-selling author Don Keith. The book's
action-packed plot, based
on Wallace's extensive knowledge, twisted and turned through a Russian
nationalist coup, a Black Ops Navy
SEAL mission and an attack submarine captain faced with decisions that could
halt-or instantly ignite-
WWIII. Complex as it was, the story was so teeth-grittingly plausible it kept
readers up late at night. Even
more than the thrills, readers were transported into life on a nuclear sub,
immersed into the cramped, sun deprived,
nerve-shredding ambience where steadiness and honor are the only bedrock to be
The cinematic appeal of the book was so strong that chatter about a film
adaption began. For more than a
century, filmmakers have been drawn to the deepest deep. Indeed, the submarine
movie has been a popular
genre since the earliest days of commercial motion pictures. From the silent
Secret of the Submarine in 1915
to a flood of nerve-wracking WWII sub movies to the ground breakingly visceral
German film Das Boot to the
blockbuster adaptations of Tom Clancy's The Hunt For Red October and Crimson
Tide in the 1990s, the tightly contained
space inside a sub full of soldiers facing extremes of confinement, anxiety and
danger has been
rife with the stuff of drama. But in the wake of vast changes in submarine
technology-and in the world-in
the new millennium, no film had yet submersed itself into life on a 21st Century
This changed when screenwriters Arne L. Schmidt and Jamie Moss adapted "Firing
Point" into Hunter Killer.
Compressing the 700-plus-page novel into a taut exploration of the battle to
stop a war both on land and
below the water.
Comments producer Toby Jaffe, "I love any movie that transports you into a
world you don't really know-
and Hunter Killer really does that. We approached it as both a highly
entertaining dramatic thriller and an
opportunity to take the audience into the world of submarine culture in a way
that is authentic and
contemporary to our times. Our focus from the start was on making the film as
true to life, timely and of-the-moment
as we could."
Early on, action icon Gerard Butler eyed the unusual role of Captain Joe
Glass-who is more about daring
strategy than physical derring-do-which further boosted the development. "What's
fascinating about Glass
to me is that he has to make decisions that will affect the world for hundreds
of years because we're talking
about the immediate possibility of sparking an all-out World War III. So he's up
against the highest stakes
imaginable," says Butler, "and the way things unfold for him is both really
suspenseful and surprisingly
believable in today's geopolitical circumstances."
Everyone involved was drawn to the exhilarating idea of merging what would
usually be three different kinds
of thrillers-an edge-of-your-seat submarine thriller; a hazard-filled SEALs
expedition into enemy territory;
and a clashing of the minds in a military War Room-into one portrait of a world
hurtling towards war.
To make that mix come alive on the screen in a very 2018 way, the producers
went in search of a young
director with a fresh POV. They found what they were looking for in an unlikely
place: South Africa, where
Donovan Marsh had just come to the fore with his stylish, award-winning crime
drama iNumber, Number.
"We were very excited to find a young filmmaker who was ready and excited to
bring a different sensibility
to the submarine thriller," says Jaffe.
Marsh's furiously paced, hyperkinetic style seemed to lend itself to breaking
open the closed-in spaces of a
As hoped for, the script grabbed Marsh's attention and sparked a driving
passion. "I felt it was the best
military thriller I'd ever read," he recalls. "The essence of any great thriller
is that you can't predict what's
going to happen next, and as I read this script, I was genuinely on edge all the
way. Plus it had such great,
tough characters facing huge dilemmas that are too real."
In line with the producers, Marsh immediately envisioned going to whatever
lengths he could to create an
authentically 21st Century submarine immersion for audiences. "I wanted the
interior of our submarine to look
precisely like a real nuclear submarine. I wanted everything on our sets to be
so real that a submariner
wouldn't know the difference," explains Marsh. "And I wanted people to talk in
the way they talk aboard
submarines-because even though the audience might now know exactly what that
terminology is, they know
when the dialogue and atmosphere has that crack of realness."
The filmmakers all knew that the authenticity could only really be set in
motion with the support and
involvement of the U.S. Navy and Department of Defense. Driven by deep respect
for the real men and
women who defend the oceans in near invisibility, the filmmakers secured an
early agreement to partner with
the U.S. Navy in nearly every aspect of the production. "Early on, we approached
the Department of Defense
and the Navy to ask for their help," explains Jaffe. "We were very grateful to
be given so much, including the
chance to spend time on working submarines and to have Navy technical advisors
on set at all times assuring
we could recreate the latest submarines down to the knobs and dials and get all
the little details right, down
to the lingo and commands."
Before production even began, Marsh and Butler headed to Pearl Harbor where
they embarked out to sea
with the crew of a Virginia Class nuclear sub very similar to the USS Arkansas
for three eye-opening days.
The trip would have a profound impact on the both the filmmaking and the lead
performance. "Gerry and I
were actually able to re-enact scenes from the film in the sub with a real Naval
crew. That was so invaluable
for both of us," says Marsh. "When we were back on dry land and on set, we were
able to bring all that
intense realness we experienced to the execution."
This journey also led to one of Marsh's most essential, if seriously
challenging, ideas: to place the film's entire
submarine set on a massive hydraulic gimbal to forge realistic movement. "You
realize when you are on a
submarine and you get down to 50 degrees, everything starts leaning and
everything that isn't nailed down
just goes flying," elaborates Marsh. "It was quite a thrilling feeling to
experience and I wanted the actors to
be able to have that as much as you possibly can on dry land. It's traditionally
been done by tilting the camera
but that just wasn't real enough. Mounting the set on a gimbal wasn't easy but
everyone loved it. It created
a very spontaneous tension and gave everyone the feeling of being at sea."
In another coup, the Navy opened up a working nuclear submarine docked at
Pearl Harbor to cinematography
for two days-working closely with Marsh to ensure no classified secrets could
leak out. "We had one day to
shoot the interior so that we could cut a few shots seamlessly with our set. And
then on day two, we took
the submarine out to sea so we could film it out in the water. There was no way
I felt that CGI could do
justice to a submarine on the surface of the water," says Marsh. "Having seen it
up close, I knew that it
would be amazing to get that shot. This incredible 8,000-ton piece of machinery
has a certain interaction with
the water you cannot replicate any other way. There were huge challenges
involved in all of this, but we
wanted to create an amazing experience for the audience and we had the chance to
For the film's U.S. Navy consultant Russell Coons it was especially important
that the USS Arkansas looked as
diverse and dynamic as the U.S. Navy does today. "We wanted to make sure you see
women in key positions,"
he notes. "The result is exciting because this film marks the first chance for
Navy women to see themselves
at sea in a movie."
To up the training, Coons took the cast and crew into a damage control
trainer, which simulates a variety of
battle emergencies, from flooding to fire. "It was exciting for them," he
recalls. "We got them wet while
they had to figure out how to fight and fix the ship. And we also introduced the
cast to many real Navy crew
members so they could get a sense of how Navy personnel talk, the language, the
culture and especially the
bonds of camaraderie between them."
Captain Joe Glass of the USS Arkansas
Gerard Butler is no stranger to portraying badass men of action. From the
Spartan ruler Leonidias in the epic
300 to Secret Service agent Mike Banning in Olympus Has Fallen to no-nonsense
Los Angeles Sheriff Big Nick
O'Brien in Den of Thieves, Butler's intense physicality has often been on
But for Donovan Marsh, Butler reveals a very different side to heroism as the
fiercely intelligent and quietly
bold Captain Joe Glass in Hunter Killer. "He's still the action guy who makes it
all happen, but he does it from
a position of authority rather than being the guy out there pulling the
trigger," Marsh explains. "It required
Gerry to contain his performance in a different way, which he did absolutely
beautifully. He invested himself
so strongly, that you would regularly see 20 or 30 actors on set responding to
him like a real commander.
You believed him that much."
Glass knows that trust is the only sinew that can hold together a young and
anxious submarine crew with so
little contact with the outside world. But he has to forge that trust on his
boat one savvy move at a time. "At
first nobody quite trusts Glass because he seems a little nuts," notes Butler.
"But you see him carefully build
his bond with the crew as they begin to realize how serious their mission is.
They start out as young men
and women who are mostly playing at their roles and then you get to watch as
they become incredibly honed
warriors daring to attempt the impossible."
The trust issues get far more complicated when the USS Arkansas takes aboard
a group of rescued Russians
who, though ostensibly the enemy, may actually be the key to everyone's
survival. For Butler, that's when
things get really interesting, as Glass faces off with a man who is essentially
his alter-ego, Captain Andropov,
played by the late Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist.
"I see this movie in some ways as a love story of friendship and respect
between these two captains from
opposite sides of the world and opposite cultures," Butler says. "They're
enemies. But as individuals, they
each have the ability to do things differently than anybody else would-they both
can see above and beyond
the normal rules of conflict and engagement. Andropov is an old salty dog of a
warrior while Glass is a hardnosed,
blue-collar Navy man. Yet they both have respect for the other and their almost
drives the outcome of the story."
To prepare to play Glass, Butler not only took that initial trip out on a
working nuclear sub, he also spent
extensive time with a number of former U.S. Navy commanders to channel their
inner cores. "The advisers I
consulted with were indispensable," he says. "These are people who drill and
drill and drill so that when
things hit the fan, they can make the right moves, like it's in their sleep.
Everything has to be automatic
because when you've got freezing cold water coming in, the carbon dioxide is
building, there's a fire going
on, the place is full of smoke and you know your sub is about to go down, you
need to be able to act in half
a second. Learning about that was very, very enlightening. You see that it takes
certain kind of individual to
be able to lead in this very hazardous narrow tube."
Naval advisor Captain Russell Coons was thrilled to see how intently Butler
devoted himself to understanding
the submariner's mindset. "He was like a kid in a candy store excited to take in
as much information as he
could learn," describes Coons. "We really appreciated him going out to sea on
our submarine and seeing
how we act as a team, and I think he was really excited to discover how talented
and smart the people who
work on submarines are. He was very impressed."
Co-author and veteran sub commander George Wallace notes that someone like
Glass, no matter how much
of an iconoclast and independent thinker, would have an extraordinary breadth of
knowledge. "You can think
of commanding a sub as like driving an 8,000-ton sports car. It's fun but it's
also incredibly complex. You
have to know and deeply understand every system involved."
Butler took that all in, as well as exploring the psychological stresses
weighing on a commander like Glass.
"I was very interested in the way that Naval Captains think and the pressures
that play on them," Butler says.
"I talked a lot with Donovan about the idea that submarine crews face not just
death but the lonely prospect
of sinking to the bottom of the dark sea. That's something that they have to
live with all the time-and that
knowledge builds their character and also the incredible camaraderie you see on
something about knowing that on a sub, no matter what happens, no matter if
you're the Captain or a junior
officer, you're all in this together."
Working with military consultants also keyed Butler into the often sharp,
tangy and slang-filled language
spoken among submarine crew. "At first, I would hear Navy guys talk without
understanding them but by
working alongside the consultants and constantly interacting with the guys, I
became familiar with their
terminology," Butler explains.
"We found fun ways to incorporate some of the language in the film because it
makes things that much more
believable. In a real emergency situation, when you have everybody calling out
commands in the proper
form, it's incredible to witness how intense it gets, even if you don't
completely understand their slang. The
whole ship is chanting and moving together in this beautiful flow of energy.
It's a very powerful experience.
We wanted to capture that and when we'd finish those scenes, everybody would
have goose bumps."
Producer Toby Jaffe was exhilarated to see Butler transform into a commander
capable of uniting his crew
when it most counts. "Gerry was a great partner on Hunter Killer from the very
beginning. Every step of the
way, he helped to push the script forward and he was there advocating to make
the final movie more and
more authentic and compelling."
When the USS Arkansas rescues the surviving Russian crew aboard a crippled
sub, Captain Glass comes face-to-face
with a man who under other circumstances might be his most feared enemy, but who
reflects a mirror
image of himself. This is Captain Andropov-and both men will come to take
enormous risks as they wrestle
with how much to trust the other.
Playing off Gerard Butler in the role is the late Michael Nyqvist, long
considered one of Sweden's most
acclaimed actors. Nyqvist, perhaps best known for playing the investigative
journalist Michael Blomkvist in
the Swedish version of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, as well as roles in John
Wick and Mission Impossible:
Ghost Protocol, passed away at age 56 after battling lung cancer.
The chance to work so closely with Nyqvist was a highlight for Butler. "I got
so much from his spirit of
experimentation, his playfulness and how much he could give you in a single
moment. He had this childlike
willingness to just try anything and be so brave, and I saw the young cast
playing our submarine crew be so
inspired by him. I always felt the strongest part of the story was the
connection between these two souls,
these kindred spirits, and we had that kind of relationship," says Butler.
Donovan Marsh was also moved by Nyqvist's performance. "Michael brought so
much heart to the film and
in a way his character is the core of everything. The scenes between Michael and
Gerry to me are some of
the most beautiful in the film."
Nyqvist was absolutely elated to play a submarine captain. "One of my
favorite films, and I may have seen it
10 times or more, is the German submarine film Das Boot," he said in an
interview on set, "and the reason I
liked it so much is for that ingredient of claustrophobia. I actually hate to be
claustrophobic myself, so to
have the opportunity to play with it, I found intriguing."
There were also portions of Andropov to which Nyqvist strongly related. "The
craft of being a sailor for me
is interesting because nearly everyone in Sweden learns to sail as a child.
That's one part of Andropov I
really understand. The other thing is that he is a patriot in an Old School way.
What happens to him is a
betrayal by his own country and he finds it unbelievable and that is very
relatable. That is what I, as an
actor, always go for."
Nyqvist, too, said he felt inspired by the rapport with Butler. "As an actor,
you feel instantly if someone trusts
you or not and Gerry did trust me which meant that I had a lot of freedom. Glass
and Andropov trust each
other as sailors and at the end of the day, these two captains find they are in
the same situation. They have
to help each other and that becomes a key theme of the story: trust."
For Nyqvist, that theme had a lot of resonance. "We live in a time now in
which a lot of people are afraid-
but maybe we can trust more and we can talk to each other more. If you don't
believe in your prejudice and
your fears, we might have a better world," he said.
On Land: Chiefs In The War Room And Black Ops In The Field
While Captain Glass wrestles with the right moves in the deep blue, the
military brass in Washington D.C.
race to figure out the best response to the imminent global crisis for the
United States. The man leading the
charge towards military action in the War Room is the resolute Admiral Charles
Donnegan, Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff-and taking the role is Gary Oldman, fresh off an Oscar
win for his nearly supernatural
embodiment of a very different leader, portraying Winston Churchill in Darkest
"Gary is a legend and it was a dream come true to work with a man who is
literally one of my film idols. He
brought so much gravitas to the role of Donnegan," says Marsh.
Oldman was intrigued by playing a man who must face split-second decisions
where there is zero margin for
error-and who steadfastly believes it's his duty to respond to fire with fire,
no matter the consequences.
"This rogue Russian Admiral has a master plan. He thinks that, sort of like a
magician's sleight of hand, that
while the U.S. is preoccupied with preventing a nuclear war, he'll pull off his
coup without resistance," Oldman
describes. "But Donnegan feels his job is to respond to any threat with strength
Oldman especially enjoyed working closely with the military experts who were
present on set each day. "For
this kind of movie with so many technical elements it was an absolute necessity
to have experts on military
protocol. It was just invaluable for all of us," he says.
Opposing Donnegan in the War Room with a more cautious POV is Rear Admiral
John Fisk who oversees
Naval operations. The filmmakers went in a fresh direction with Fisk, casting
Common, the Oscar-winning
songwriter, rapper, poet and film producer who has also been building an
exciting and eclectic screen career
with roles in Selma, Wanted, John Wick: Chapter 2 and The Tale, among others.
He was a revelation on set. Says Marsh, "I personally knew Common more from
his music but it was quickly
clear that he has so much innate talent as an actor and he came at this role
with a great attitude and a very
open mind. We had a wonderful collaboration."
Long fascinated by submarines, Common was elated to play a man steeped in his
love for the Navy. "The
Navy is the first line of defense when it comes to war or any threat to national
security," Common points out.
"So my character, Fisk, has to make decisions that are complex and have huge
consequences in the world.
He knows that the information he provides to his Commander-in-Chief can start or
stop a war and he has to
take every moment of his job very, very seriously."
Captain Russell Coons, the Navy consultant, points out that a man like Fisk
would have a vast amount of
experience to bring to the table and his decisions. "As a two-star Admiral, Fisk
would have needed 25 to 30
years to attain that rank," Coons explains. "He likely would have had four or
five tours overseas, each time
being gone for six to nine months. He would have had to leave his family to go
into war zones. So all of that
had to be resident in how Common portrays Fisk."
Common did all he could to immerse himself in that mindset and, in the
process, he says he gained an even
deeper respect for members of the military. "I learned a lot more about what
people in the Navy really go
through. I came to really appreciate the mentality that there are no
individuals, everybody is in it together.
And I think that idea lies at the core of Fisk and what he believes."
Fisk also has to counter his boss, Donnegan. "Donnegan is quick to believe
that World War III is already in
motion," explains Common. "He has a certain way of thinking about conflict that
I think Fisk sees as rooted
in the past. Fisk is from a generation that is more open-minded and about
seeking peace. So they represent
opposite strategies at the Pentagon."
That real-life conflict is part of what Common most loves about Hunter
Killer. "As much as it is a piece of fun
entertainment with a lot of action and suspense, I like that the story speaks to
the issues and themes we are
dealing with today," he says.
Ultimately, Fisk joins forces with senior National Security Agency analyst
Jayne Norquist in a last-ditch bid to
avoid all-out war. "Fisk and Norquist share a way of thinking that's about
trying to strategize past a shooting
war," Common explains.
To play the savvy Norquist, the filmmakers cast Linda Cardellini, who got her
start on television's Freaks and
Geeks and has rapidly risen with roles in the acclaimed Mad Men series, as Laura
Barton in Avengers: Age of
Ultron and in this year's A Simple Favor opposite Anna Kendrick and Blake
Cardellini could not resist the opportunity to play a woman who is among the
most skilled minds in
Washington. "This is very different from anything else I've ever done," she
says, "and the idea of being a
player in the War Room was exciting. I love that Norquist is also a working mom,
a woman who splits her
time between the standard worries of the world and keeping some of the world's
most dangerous secrets.
It's very subtle but it's there and I think it informs the decisions that she
Rounding out the main cast on land is the hard-bitten, sharp-tongued quartet of
Navy SEALs tasked with
going underground in Russia to try to the rescue the legitimate Russian
President from his own military.
Taking the roles are Toby Stephens (Die Another Day, 13 Hours, Lost In Space),
Michael Trucco (Hush), Zane
Holtz (From Dusk Till Dawn) and Ryan McPartlin (J. Edgar).
Says Gerard Butler, "I love the Navy SEALs in Hunter Killer. They bring great
action to the movie, as well as
humor, fun and badassery, the kind of stuff I normally do, and they did a great
Stephens plays the leader of the Black Ops team, the sarcastic but
no-less-devoted Lt. Bill Beaman. He saw
the role as a fun opportunity to dive headlong into the world of elite commandos
and relished the boot camp
training. "I did a lot of research on the SEALs, what kind of training they do
and what they are expected to
do in the field. But research is one thing," he points out. "When you actually
experience it, even at a minor
level like we did, you really can't believe what they go through and how tough
they must be. When you have
a full pack on, a full weighted gun and all the equipment, simply running 100
meters is exhausting, let alone
running on rough terrain while evading gunfire. What they do every day is just
incredible to contemplate."
The training, if not quite at the level of real Navy SEALs, paid off. "When
you work with real Special Forces
and military guys, you don't want to be the one that lets them down. You know
you can never be as smooth
and efficient as these guys who have been doing it for years but you want to at
least be good enough to pay
homage to their abilities," he says.
While throwing himself into Beaman's very specific world of covert
operations, Stephens notes that it was
easy to forget how many strands are woven into Hunter Killer's taut structure.
"What I think audiences will
find really cool about Hunter Killer is that you have these really contrasting
spheres of action. You have all
the claustrophobia and contained anxiety of being on the sub and then you have
our Black Ops team operating
amid gunfire in these big, wide-open spaces. That combination keeps things
Les Weldon notes that Stephens provides a counterpoint to Captain Glass, who
operates so effectively in a
confined space, as a man who cannot be contained by walls or even armed
militias. "Toby just has this
wonderful grit about him. He keyed into Beaman's witty, sardonic take on the
dangers of his life and gave
him a real edge," says Weldon. "At the same time, Toby has an ability to connect
on a human level, despite
being this very hardened character. I think audiences are going to be very
surprised by his performance."
With action unfolding in three disparate realms-a hunter-killer sub roaming
the ocean's bottom at the top of
the world; a Black Ops operation at a Russian base; and the urgent response
inside the halls of the Pentagon-
Hunter Killer called for essentially designing three films in one.
To accomplish this, Donovan Marsh worked with an inventive crew that included
South African director of
photography Tom Marais (Avenged), production designer Jon Henson (Criminal), and
Caroline Harris (Legend, 42, A Knight's Tale).
Two of the film's most intricate sets were built at London's Ealing Studios,
the oldest continuously working
studio facility for film production in the world. It was here that, under the
aegis of Henson, the crew
painstakingly recreated the inner workings of a Virginia Class submarine, the
advanced, multi-mission nuclear-powered
attack sub that has become renowned for its versatility and agility, on a
massive moving gimbal.
The Virginia Class subs-first introduced in the 1990s-are today outfitted
with the latest in stealth
technology, intelligence gathering equipment and weapons systems, and are so
effective they will continue
to be a staple of the U.S. Navy fleet until at least 2043.
After riding on a Virginia Class sub with Butler in Pearl Harbor, Marsh knew
he wanted the set to reveal to
audiences some of what he learned on that trip that took him aback. "What was
interesting to me is that sub
was not at all how imagined it-and maybe submarine movies are to blame for
that," he muses. "So often,
the inside of a sub looks like a Corvette, where everything is chrome and
spotless. But a real working
submarine is not made for beauty. It's a practical war machine. The Navy spares
no expense in terms of
the technology, but they don't care about how beautiful it looks. In fact, a
real submarine looks and feels
quite industrial. There are wires and pipes and things just nailed to the wall
wherever you look. So that is
what I wanted to capture, because it has a certain energy and power to it. And
it's quite surprising as well."
Using Navy-approved photographs from the classified sub and 3D printing
technology, the design team was
able to forge a facsimile that felt real enough to inspire camaraderie and
courage. "We all got really excited
by the set, and especially by having the chance to show off a submarine that has
never been seen by the
public or at the movies before," says John Thompson.
Thompson continues, "In our agreement with the US Navy we actually pledged
that everything about the sub
would be authentic. They were gracious enough to let us reveal this submarine
for the first time ever, so Jon
Henson spent a couple of weeks with Navy designers and engineers and came back
with the most
extraordinary details, right down to the color of the cables. The US Navy also
provided someone to guide and
aid Jon and his team through the build. We wanted it to be so accurate that if
someone who'd served on a
real Virginia Class sub came to the set, they would recognize it immediately."
Indeed, when former sub commander George Wallace stopped by the set, he was
stunned. "The set truly
had me feeling like I was on a Virginia," he says. "Of all the submarine movies
I've seen, this is by far the
most realistic set I've ever encountered."
While the set had to be wider than an actual submarine to allow for Marsh's
love of camera movement, it was
tight enough to give a sense of the claustrophobia and lack of escape that the
men and women who man
submarines must cope with daily. Adding to that realism was the yawing motion of
the gimbal, which could
literally turn everyone upside down when activated. The whole thing awed Butler.
"I couldn't believe what
they created," he says. "The sub we were on in Pearl Harbor was recreated so
beautifully, just a tiny bit
wider to allow the cameras through. It had all the same periscopes, sonar
screens, navigation charts and
controls. I truly felt like I was there."
The exterior of the USS Arkansas was built in Pinewood studios' famed paddock
tank, where many famous
movie water sequences have been shot. This is where Captain Glass and his crew
are seen readying the
vessel for their mission into Russian waters. It is also where the Russian
Zodiac is pulled up alongside the
Arkansas and Glass meets his unseen Black Ops partner Beaman for the first time.
(The underwater scenes
in which Beaman attempts to rescue the Russian President were shot in one of
Leavesdon Film Studios' giant
Meanwhile, on another stage at Ealing, Gary Oldman, Linda Cardellini and
Common were tracking events in
a carefully re-created War Room from the National Military Command Center at the
Much of the action in Russia was shot in Bulgaria. Standing in for the Russian
Naval base at Polyarny-the
closed city in the extreme northwest of the country where the rogue Admiral
Durov takes his own President
hostage-was an actual Bulgarian Navy base in Varna, on the Black Sea Coast. The
interior of the imposing
command center at Polyarny was built at Nu Boyana Film Studios in Sofia, as were
the interiors of Captain
Andropov's Russian submarine and the sonar room of the USS Arkansas.
With such amazing sets and locations to work with, cinematographer Marais
collaborated closely with Butler
to maneuver nimbly through both insanely narrow and perilously exposed spaces,
keeping the focus on
constant flow and constructing unbearable suspense. Says Butler of the
photography, "I just love how kinetic
everything is, and how much energy Donovan and Tom gave the tensest moments.
They brought so much
imagination to it."
Meanwhile, military advisors worked not only with the production designers
but also with the entire crew to
ensure accuracy in everything from uniforms to submarine bunks. Says Coons, "We
assisted with props and
wardrobe as well as laying out scenes to align with how the Department of
Defense would actually do things.
There was a lot of give and take and some trade-offs, but in the end, we had a
chance to show the military
in action very close to the way things would really be."
The authenticity that had been so important to Butler, Marsh and all the
producers from the very start seemed
to infuse the set, which in turn, served as a constant inspiration to cast, crew
and consultants. Muses Coons,
"I had subject matter experts on the set tell me they felt like they were
actually out at sea on some days. So
I hope that audiences will also really feel that. Hunter Killer is chance for
audiences to experience a lot of
realistic military action but you also will get a chance to see another core
part of Navy life-honor, courage
and commitment being demonstrated against all odds."
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