Hurray for Holly-Woo

When John Woo says 'Action!' it takes on a whole new meaning

Klein: How did they prepare for these complicated character issues?
Woo: Nick and John and I spent some time rehearsing all in one room and having a long discussion about the characters. They both created the characters and then talked to each other and imitated each other. For instance, John threw out some ideas for when he was playing the good guy, then Nick would make some suggestions for John as a good guy. Then, during the shooting, I did some experimenting: Most of their scenes were separate, so whenever I finished shooting with one of them, I'd cut his scene together fast and show the scene to the other one, so he could see how he was playing the character.

These two actors, I have to tell you, it was the most wonderful experience I've ever had: They have no jealousy. They were so polite and humble and respectful of each other. Every day, whenever they came to the set, all they talked about was the character and the scene. Even if one of them wasn't in the scene, he'd often be on the set, talking to the other to see how he worked...to learn from him. They were like two brothers...actually better than brothers, because they were no fights or jealousy. They were just happy to be working together.

Klein: The intensity of the performances is reminiscent of your Hong Kong films.

Woo: At first, they were playing the emotional scenes a little more subtle--the traditional American way. But they really wanted to do something a little more real. So, after the first day, I said "Let's try it another way--my way. You want to cry, just cry; you want to laugh, just laugh. You want to hit the wall, do it. You want to smash the table, smash the table. You want to sit down, just sit down. Just do it exactly how you feel." Wow! That opened everyone up. It made John and Joan Allen and Nick Cage very happy, so we tried it that way. Some people think that's maybe too over the top, but it gives the actors a lot of room to explore themselves.

So we only do one or two takes for each setup. And then that was it. And everyone felt great, because all the emotions were real. And it kept things interesting for me: I've already seen the whole movie in my mind, so I like to have new things happening every day. I usually see the actors move first, then I set up the cameras. But, sometimes, after I've set up all those cameras and we're shooting, suddenly they'll come up with something from their instinct. They'll just do it. Usually something that wasn't in the script or in the rehearsal. That really excites me.

Klein: How does Face/Off reflect your mood?
Woo: Face/Off mainly was about family--where a man sees his family almost falling apart and he fights to get them back. It was almost exactly how I felt at this time. Because, before I came here, about five years ago, I was working like crazy; me and my family had been separated a long time, and I had a lot of family problems. My children hardly saw me every day, so they were beginning to hate me. I was getting nervous, because my family is my whole thing. That was one of the reasons I wanted to move here. After I moved here, things were back to normal, because people don't work on the weekends, and we live pretty far from the city, and after work I could have a lot more time to spend with my family. So we got to talk more and...have a reunion. We can get together again. We're a lot more happy than in Hong Kong. That makes me feel so great.

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