Sam Hargrave is not the first stuntman to move from the mat to the director’s chair. Nor is he the first to persuade some famous friends to come along for his feature-debut ride. But Hargrave is the first stuntman-turned-director to come roaring out of the gate with as ferocious a centrepiece as Extraction’s “one-shot” action sequence – a tightly choreographed 11-minute bit of bloody chaos that elevates the Chris Hemsworth-starring thriller to something approaching high-low art.
Ahead of Extraction’s premiere on Netflix this week, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s go-to stunt expert spoke with The Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz about taking figurative and literal career leaps.
All right, so first off: What is the total body count in this film? I lost track around 70.
Oh boy, well ... listen, we don’t top John Wick territory, unfortunately. But it is spread out evenly among different factions: the corrupt cops, the drug henchmen. I think it’s around 90, almost 100, people who find their unfortunate demise in this movie. We didn’t hold back.
One thing that I enjoyed, being a fan of the action genre, is that you don’t shy away from the squishiness of it all. There’s lots of blood here – and you see, and hear, everything.
Maybe because of all the Marvel movies I’ve worked on, which are PG or PG-13, it was me finally getting a chance to pull out all the stops and go crazy. But the violence was also embedded in the DNA of the script and story by [Avengers: Endgame co-director Joe Russo]. It’s a visceral and violent world, so we wanted to capture that – to pull the audience in and not pull any punches.
Let’s talk about that extended sequence about half an hour in: There’s a car chase, an apartment-building melee, a rooftop leap, a knife fight, another car chase. Did that come from your work on Atomic Blonde, which had another extended fight sequence, or had you been dreaming of that scene for a while?
It’s a little bit of all of the above. Truthfully, I wanted to hold onto a lot of the action sequences for myself here, because that’s my forte. Usually, a chase scene like this, you’d shoot three days on it and give the rest off to a second-unit director, who would have three weeks to go have fun with car chases and all that. Not on my movie. But I also wanted to be true to the premise of taking audiences on a ride that they haven’t experienced before. And this part of the world [Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka] isn’t depicted much in Western cinema. So how does the audience get most intimately acquainted with that? What if we take them, in real-time, on a journey through this space with this character, and experience the city as he does. Make the camera a character on the chase, an avatar for the viewer.
How long did it take to come together?
We shot over the course of 10 days, which was the first 10 days of principal photography. But the prep was extensive – between three and five months. The logistics of making it handheld took a lot of time, because most times, your cars are going to have mechanically mounted cameras. We basically shot the sequence before we shot it – putting it all together to make sure that we were able to pull it off.
So if that was the beginning of production, the rest of the shoot must’ve been easy in comparison.
We did think we could’ve then done anything, yeah. But also, that’s my world: action. I won’t say it was easy – it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done – but it was in the vein of what I’ve done in the past. To go from that to taking a very sharp turn sitting behind a monitor on a sound stage directing dramatic sequences, well ... I was never short on challenges.
Can you say how many stitches, so to speak, there are in that one-shot sequence? Because obviously it’s not actually one continuous shot, there are digital tricks and cuts hidden in there ...
Ooh, I don't know if I want to give that away. But the challenge I'd love to give to people is to watch the movie, and guess how many "cuts" there are. Show us where, and the winner will get something ...
A free trip to Bangladesh, maybe? On that note, and your comment earlier on how a lot of Western cinema is not set in Bangladesh: The original source material [the graphic novel Ciudad] is set in Paraguay. Why move it?
Joe made that decision eight years ago in his draft, because the marketplace is saturated with stories from South America and close to that part of the world, with Narcos and Sicario. So I went in the summer of 2017, between the hiatuses of the Avengers films, and spent 10 days travelling around Bangladesh. It’s an incredibly vibrant place, and you couldn’t look in a single direction and not see something interesting to photograph.
Here’s the part of the interview where I usually ask anyone promoting a Netflix film, especially an action spectacular like this, what they think about their work being primarily seen at home, instead of the theatre. But now there’s really no choice ...
No one could've seen this crazy time coming. For our movie, it worked out well, but we decided to make the movie originally as if we were making it for the big screen. Those of us on the project, we love the cinematic look and feel of a big-screen action film, and so we shot it as if it was going to be projected in a cinema. Hopefully it still plays as just as enjoyable.
This interview has been condensed and edited
Extraction is available to stream on Netflix starting April 24
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