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COLD PURSUIT

About The Production (Cont'd)
TALES IN THE SNOW

Screenwriter Frank Baldwin had a killer assignment: Transfer a great Norwegian thriller into America's crime subculture - and make it feel dangerous and funny

Creating the narrative scaffolding for a collection of characters to not only face each other, but face the issues and indignities they carry inside of them, was no small task. Luckily, novelist and screenwriter Frank Baldwin had a handle on COLD PURSUIT from the get-go. When producer Michael Shamberg approached Baldwin with the assignment, Baldwin's first duty was to see Hans Petter Moland's In Order of Disappearance, and then reimagine the story in the modern American West. As the pieces came together, maintaining the tone and humor of Moland's original film was crucial, as was weaving a rich, new tapestry that did justice to American characters living in complicated scenarios.

This story, and Nels Coxman's journey, has a lot going on besides a search for justice, doesn't it? "It does. It has a lot of layers in it, all of which were baked into Hans Petter's original film. For me, it was important that you not lose those layers in its transference to an American movie. And there were all sorts of things that I thought was subtle in the story that worked - including that Nels has to kidnap the son of the villain, and has to break the cycle that he couldn't do with his own son, by essentially saving the villain's son. And that's at a point in the movie when Nels appears to be a character who's almost irredeemable, and has stooped low, and yet that is the source ultimately of his redemption, if he has it."

Nels is a man who tried to redeem himself, but after his son's death is on the precipice between the good and bad sides of life.

"What helped me conceptualize the story is when I thought of Nels as a guy who has violence in his blood. His father was a gangster, his brother is a gangster, and he turned his back on that road. He shoved that down inside of him and has lived a peaceful life out in the wilderness, working his honest job and doing his simple task. He's kind of a simple guy. And so the journey for Nels is he has to take the road not taken and in this late stage in his life, go into the life that he turned his back on. And it's terrifying when someone like that finds out, 'Oh, I can do this.'"

The connection to White Bull - it's almost an emotional parallel, or maybe a matter of connected but not quite similar paths - is fascinating. In the original film, this gang that opposed the main villain were Serbians. White Bull's motivations are much more complex, aren't they?

"Well, the idea of turf and territory has special meaning when it comes to Viking and White Bull. Because here's Viking thinking, 'This is my turf, my father was here before me' - and of course White Bull's gang has a special sensibility to being screwed over, and to defending what they know is theirs. If you harken back to the old, the idea of the West, White Bull's white gang is indigenous to Colorado and has been for a long time. So you have this uneasy truce that's existed for a long time between White Bull and Viking due to a misunderstanding involving Nels' son that winds up making White Bull upset, and it results in total war."

Even Viking's nickname evokes a colonizing force coming into existing lands, and the violence that accompanies that. Whereas White Bull is a man of honor.

"That's right. And at the end of the day, he made a deal and he upheld it, and the deal was broken on him. And ultimately he is a criminal who sets out to do what he said to do - without giving anything away - but in a more powerful sense. One of the major points of Hans Petter's movie, here as in the original film, is that revenge is not worth it."

The way the film develops its sense of humor, which can sometimes be snide or edgy, is crucial to understanding their tension and especially how in this tough, often villainous world, there are barriers between people that rear up and are even used as a sort of bargaining chip, correct?

"Nels' intention, in COLD PURSUIT as in the original film, is that it's good to 'take the piss out of everybody,' to use the British expression. Nobody in the film is exempt from being made fun of, including the Native American characters, and including Nels himself. It all serves a purpose. Like when they go to a morgue and they're raising Nels' son's body up on a gurney, and it's the worst possible moment, but while it's not being played for laughs, there is also the idea that, this is taking too long to get the body up so they can see it. Throughout the movie is a sense of nobody is exempt from the perhaps awfulness of things, the folly of human existence."

It's a terrific mix with White Bull and his gang, because for instance, in a scene at the hotel, they raise their eyebrows when a hotel employee uses the word "reservation." They're using this to get what they want. It's irreverent. And later White Bull is in the hotel gift shop, and he quietly looks at Native American clothing being sold that we see is actually made in China, and White Bull looks at some of the cheesy sculptures in the shop that turn his tribal legacy into something kitschy to be sold cheap to tourists. The line between all of that is well-handled.

"Yes, and remember, the Native Americans in the film are a crime cartel too, and while they and their history were handled respectfully, it was still important at times to see that their personalities and quirks were able to provide a bit of fun, just as with Viking's gang....The film has a balance of both real stakes and irreverent humor."

A SUPPORTING CAST THAT PLOWS AHEAD

TOM BATEMAN is Trevor "Viking" Calcote

You've said that this story 'erupts' from your character, Viking. In what way?

"Well, Viking doesn't really operate on the same wavelength as anyone else. He's a psychopath. I read a book called The Psychopath Test before I started, and it looks at people who aren't on the same wavelength as everyone else, but function in society. It's very interesting to see someone making decisions, like shooting someone in the face on a whim - even if that person is close to them or works with them - because the audience never knows what's going on in that guy's head."

Viking's a slippery character to pin down, isn't he?

"Absolutely. Just when you think he's going down one road, he flips it and goes down another. So, you might think, 'Oh, he's about to be violent', and then he might be seductive and charming. Or, 'Oh, he's about to be funny,' and then he cuts off someone's head. He constantly keeps the audience guessing - and kept me guessing, as an actor. I rehearsed my scenes on my own, and I found that there were about a hundred different ways I could play this character, and each scene could be played in a hundred different ways. I could play them deadpan, as they're written, or I could play around with them and go, 'Actually, what if I make this line funny even though what I'm saying is horrible?' It's been like being in a candy store, where I can just pick and choose what I like."

What does Viking do with his days, when he's not shooting anyone in the face?

"Viking's job in this - if he has one - is that he runs a club, but really that's just a front. He likes the idea of being a club owner, but really his main job is a drug dealer. He supplies cocaine for the town of Kehoe, and he's got a lot of people who work for him. But he inherited that from his father, so he hasn't built up an empire; he's one of those spoiled brats who inherited something but wears it like a crown. He loves that he's seen as powerful, but he hasn't done anything to deserve that status."

Is Viking the catalyst for everything that happens?

"Pretty much. The whole film spins off this catalyst moment of his guys killing Kyle Coxman. And there's also this tension between Tom Jackson's character, White Bull, and Viking, between their rival gangs. Really, Nels is doing everything he's doing because he's hurting, and he thinks that the only way to ease that is revenge. And revenge runs throughout the whole film.

Revenge becomes the weight no one can shake.

"Yes. Nels wants revenge for his son, then, as soon as he starts killing Viking's men, Viking wants revenge for that, and then there's an accidental act of revenge on someone else who has nothing to do with it - and then more characters want revenge on Viking. It's this huge, big mess of a web that comes to a boiling climax, and leaves everyone really screwed."

TOM JACKSON is White Bull

This movie is tonally unique and irreverent. What was your reaction when you first read the script? "Well, I have an agent, Alicia. She reads everything before it gets to [my wife] Alison, and Alison reads everything before it gets to me. And I was sitting one night, and Alison was reading this script, and kept breaking into belly laughs. I said, 'What are you reading?' She said, 'A script Alicia sent, called COLD PURSUIT.'"

What did you both respond to about it?

"That it was a satirical piece, yet a very, very dark piece. It was really interesting to me to play a character who is in fact Native American, people who, by and large, don't get represented very often in the movies. It was also different for me to play a villain. I don't very often play bad guys in my life. So I considered all of that, and at the end of the day, I just thought this was a really nice challenge for me."

How did you find working with Hans Petter Moland?

"Hans Petter is brilliant. He's a very sensitive man, and I like that. We shook hands once. Since then, we hug. We only had one handshake."

Tell us about the cartel White Bull is in charge of.

"My comrades, they aren't a tribe, they're a collective group of Native American men who come from all parts. In the film, White Bull talks about his past, he says to the people who work for him, 'Thirty years ago, a man came to me one day and he stuck out his hand and made me a deal. It was a good deal. Not a great deal, but a good deal.' And similarly, with my fellow actors, we all shared stories about our backgrounds. You should have been in that room. That really built the character of the group. You know, we're all actors, but we still believe in each other as a group, and I think that's what you sense when you watch this movie: that there's something different and special about this group of people."

In the film, White Bull has a fascinating relationship with his rival, Viking. What was that built on? "The guy my character shook hands with thirty years earlier was Viking's dad. So, White Bull made a deal with his dad establishing which cartel had control of what in this area of Colorado. And White Bull doesn't know much about Viking other than that he's maintained the drug flow from his dad. But Viking is much more violent than his dad. So White Bull doesn't really have any affinity for him and when Viking takes something from White Bull, something has to be taken in return."

Even though you're not on screen much together, White Bull and Liam Neeson's character, Nels, share an understanding. What was the process like to build that rapport?

"I only have one scene with Liam, but I dare say it's the best scene in the movie. We didn't spend much time together, but one night we worked together until 2:30 a.m. I was going on, as I have a tendency to do, about certain journeys I've had in my life, and he shared some of his. We talked a lot about this inherent ability for Native American people to live closer to the land, and to understand what that actually is and what it means. And how do you find all that out if somebody doesn't tell you? You have to go looking for it - but where do you start, right? How do you find out that the planet is alive? So, Liam and I explored that together. You know, you wonder if people sit around, drink coffee, and Martinis or whatever... or if they change the world. Well, I can say we changed each other's worlds."

Do you see similarities between White Bull and Nels?

"I don't know that the characters are dissimilar...I think when there's a gap created in your world, a gap that is founded in love, and that is removed from you, vengeance is maybe not the proper instinct, but it may be the only instinct that brings comfort."

This movie also has some great action. How did you feel about shooting that?

"I liked the shoot-em-up parts of the film! As much as I philosophize about it, the reality is that this is as entertaining a movie as any other I've been in."

Should we feel empathy for these characters, do you think?

"These are all bad guys. There are no good guys in this movie. So you have to start there, and then decipher, 'Well, how bad is that guy?' Remember THE WILD BUNCH? Remember movies like that? COLD PURSUIT in some ways is in that vein. I think throughout the film, there's a thread - it's not honor among thieves, exactly, but it's a thread that definitely gives you a perspective into all these bad guys. You feel for some of them. And that's bizarre."

LAURA DERN is Grace Coxman

How was it working with Liam Neeson?

"It's not easy, but somebody's got to do it! Somebody's got to sit there and kiss Liam Neeson! [Laughs] No - it's the greatest thing in the world. I adore him as a human, and he's the greatest storyteller. And he makes me laugh so hard that we barely got through our last scene. We started telling each other stories, then we just kept the stories going and got them into the scene somehow. I had the best time with him."

Was he the draw for you, or the script?

"Well, first and foremost, I've always wanted to work with Liam, who's a dear friend, and the gift of us working together came to me via text, with Liam seeing if it could work out if that we could be together on this. I was thrilled. And he introduced me to Hans Petter [Moland]. I had known his work a little bit, and have a great kinship toward it because I'm of Norwegian descent, from my grandmother's family. So I've always dreamt of being in Norway and I love his films, and his actors, so it was a dream to come together with this Norwegian crew and work with this filmmaker who's beautifully irreverent and, you know, a great visionary. So both things were really intriguing to me."

Had you seen the original when Liam's text came in?

"I hadn't until I was asked by Liam about doing it. And what really struck me about that film, that I feel like Hans Petter held true to - which is so important - is that the film feels so dark and desolate, and the loneliness of this man, Nels, that you feel so completely, and his inability to communicate what he's working through. And you're immersed in that, and then suddenly this really black, irreverent comedy takes over, amidst all the mayhem. And I love the theme of what can go wrong when revenge is your destiny. Or the path you choose. And in reinventing this, Hans Petter gave room to the new actors to make it their own. For Liam and I, we wanted to develop further the relationship between this husband and wife, to deepen what was at stake."

What happens to the relationship between Nels and Grace in the movie?

"There's a chemistry and intimacy and friendship between two people, but when a tragedy occurs, and two people handle it so completely differently, they can lose each other, not only themselves, in it. Grace needs to process it, and Nels needs to completely shut off. So there's no conversation, no healing, no dialogue - and the intimacy is lost. And he has a way that he's going to manage his agony. He's lost himself in this drive for revenge."

Beneath the surface narrative, what's this movie actually about?

"It's about what happens when you don't consider what you're feeling, and you take, oddly, what you think is the path of least resistance, which is revenge. As a way to deal with your feelings, you're just going to create hell, and end up far worse off than when you started. I find that heartbreaking, terrifying, and ultimately kind of hilarious, in its brokenness, because so many people get into so much trouble with that agenda. I think through grief - which we all understand and have experienced in some area of our life - we all want revenge. And we play it out in a daydream, or seek it in subtler forms, emotional revenge on people who have hurt us, which is still potentially damaging. So any character taking on our wildest contempt and acting it out is delicious and can be quite funny, and horrifying. Perhaps it'll make us see the mess we could make, if we actually stayed true to the shadow of what we're feeling. It's a cautionary tale, but a very irreverent one."

EMMY ROSSUM is Kim

What intrigued you about your character, a no-nonsense, eager police officer, in COLD PURSUIT? "What intrigued me was seeing a young woman fight for herself and what she believes in in a male-dominated world. Not just within a criminal world but within her own workplace in the police force, too. That's just a really interesting picture to draw. In the end, it doesn't really matter if she solves the case or gets the bad guys. It's really that she sticks to her ideals. And I was really impressed by the tone of the script, the bizarre, slightly surreal dark comedy set against really intense violence. It was handled in a very kind of comic and strange way that really got my attention. I'd heard that the characters were drawn in unique ways that I hadn't seen before: bad guys that weren't all bad, good guys that weren't all good. And then I read the script, and wasn't quite sure that I was reading it correctly because I found myself laughing at things that I wasn't sure were supposed to be funny. And that had me sold. It's a movie about how strange life is, and how bizarre people can be."

What can you tell us about Kim?

"She's an eager young rookie cop, idealistic and highly moral, being shown the ropes by an older officer - played by John Doman, who I loved on The Wire - who's a little bit jaded. She's very idealistic about right and wrong. And the town she's in, Kehoe, is one where there doesn't seem to be a lot of crime. So when all these dead bodies start piling up, it's kind of exciting for her because suddenly she has something to do. So it's a great role. I felt that I had kind of a weird, bold take on the character that they were either going to like or not, and I guess they did!"

What was it like working with Liam Neeson?

"Well, l love Liam. He is tall and handsome and kind and funny. And annoyingly professional! He cares about everyone on set. He's really just everything that you could imagine him to be. He can go in and out of character completely seamlessly. He's not the kind of person that needs 30 seconds before the camera rolls to get into character. Working with him is very organic. And obviously I've been such an admirer of his work for so long that I was really looking forward to doing scenes with him. My character is initially intrigued by, and very empathetic to, his character's struggle and the loss of his child, so they have some kind of connection, until the bodies start piling up. And that's interesting, because nothing is black and white."

Did you do any preparation to play a cop?

"I did get a ride along in Brooklyn with the NYPD and that was really interesting. It was really surprising to me because I always think of the police force as being older than me because they're authority figures, and what I found was that the officers I did the ride along with were younger than me. It was so incredible to be with people who were armed and arresting people and in their quest for justice and right and wrong who were 27 and 24 years old. The female police officer reminded me a lot of my character, Kim. She was 27, and had just taken the Sergeant's test as she wanted to move up the ranks. She was a fierce driver. I'm a terrible driver! And just getting to see how powerful she was behind the wheel, it was just very inspiring and eye-opening."

COLD PURSUIT is such a unique movie when it comes to tone. How do you describe it to people? "I think all of these characters are strange in their own way. I don't think they're normal, everyday people. They're surprising and bizarre. They're weird, and I think everyone feels like a secret weirdo. In this movie there's a gangster who only wants his kid to be macrobiotic and super-healthy, and a family man who becomes a murderer, and a young cop who's eager to see a dead body because that means something to do. These are all strange things that we wouldn't necessarily admit about ourselves. It has something really tangibly bizarre that feels weirdly familiar in its specificity."

JOHN DOMAN is Gip

What kind of cop is Gip?

"He's a pretty laid-back character. I mean, this is the town, Kehoe, that he grew up in, and it's a ski town. And his idea is live and let live. His idea of community policing is to let the locals do what they want to do, and try to stay out of their way."

And his partner, Kim, is quite the opposite, right?

"Yeah, my partner, Kim - played by Emmy Rossum - is this hard-charging, aggressive young police officer, and she wants to make her mark. She's dying to pull out her gun and shoot somebody, I think. And it kind of makes my character a little nervous. He's constantly trying to put her back in her box. And Emmy is a terrific actress. She has a great sense of humor." What appealed to you about the role of Gip?

"What I liked about the Gip character was that he provided a little bit of comic relief, I think, in the midst of a lot of murderous things going on. I don't get a chance to play comic relief very often, so I thought this would be a wonderful chance to do just that. Also, the first thing that appealed to me about it was the fact that Liam Neeson was going to be the lead. I had never met Liam or worked with him, but I admired his work and I've heard through people who do know him what a great guy he is. So that right off the bat made me very interested in doing it. And the script was really well written, the characters are very well-drawn. And there's a lot of action, that was interesting, too."

What was your experience working with director Hans Petter Moland?

"Hans Petter has a very light touch as a director, which is wonderful. There's no shouting or yelling or screaming, he just comes over and gives little touches here and there. He knows what he wants. This is a remake of his own film, so he has a lot of insight into the characters, which is very helpful!" What's Gip's take on all the bad guys in town? Does he care?

"I'm aware of the criminal element in town. In fact, I'm also aware that Nels' father and grandfather, I believe, were both involved with the crime in town. But it's always been a very low key, behind the scenes, nobody gets hurt, kind of crime. Basically dealing with the drug trade, and servicing people who come there to 'ski, to have sex and get high,' as Gip says. And his philosophy has always been to let them do what they want to do, and now the bodies are starting to pile up, and he's still trying to not deal with it."

JULIA JONES is Aya

How would you describe your relationship with Viking, Aya's ex-husband?

"Well, Viking is a raging lunatic. And they were married, and when, at a certain point, she wanted to get out, everything went to hell. And now she still has to deal with him because they have a kid together, Ryan. Her whole objective is trying to get full custody of Ryan. And it's a challenge because with her and Viking, it's almost like a tennis match, the power goes back and forth. But she wins all the time, and that's her whole point - every time she sees him, she goes in to try and win a battle. And each fight makes Viking get more and more angry, until he just goes over the top and does something so horrible that she will be able to get full custody. That's her goal. But it's hard, because he's a nightmare. Going to see him is like going into the lion's den, and it takes a toll. So, for me, it was a challenge to show the toll that it takes, but also be in control and win the battle at the same time. It's like two very different things going on at the same time, in every scene."

What do you make of Viking, as a character?

"You really want me to answer that? I mean, Viking's a mobster, Viking's a psychopath. Viking kills people, Viking is a drug dealer, Viking is a very, very bad man. He does whatever he needs to do, he doesn't think twice about it. In fact, he doesn't think once about it."

In the movie, pretty much everyone seems to be scared of Viking, except you.

"It's interesting, because I do think that the two characters that are not afraid of Viking are Mustang, his longtime henchman, and Aya. And they're like, 'I've already hit my breaking point, I'm out.' And I think that Mustang's journey is to get out too, and that he helped Aya get out."

How about your character? How would you describe her, as a person and as a mother?

"I think Ryan, her son, and her are really close. I think she's a very conscious, loving, attentive mother. And I think she's trying to be smart, and that dropping Ryan off every week at Viking's house is something that she can only think about to a point, because there are points where Viking is in one room shooting somebody, and Ryan is literally 12 feet away, watching his iPad. So that's what drives her to be as crafty as she is; the pain of having to go into that house and deal with that psychopath every day. And I think there's an element of shame or guilt that she carries with her, because she was involved with Viking, and she was a part of that for a long time. So in a way, as a mother, it's partly her fault. Yet she has a mother's instinct to protect her child. Her battling with Viking throughout this film is a manifestation of that."

How would you describe this film?

"It has so many different worlds and different characters. And what makes it unique is when those worlds - White Bull's gang and Viking's gang and Nels' world - collide outrageously. They're just totally different, they would never in the real world have the amount of interaction that they do. So there are so many crazy variables. There's a lot of mayhem. And it all leads to this sort of wonderful, ambiguous, comedic, serious ending. It's like everything at once."

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