By Ali Moosavi.
Pay [Bruce Willis] a million bucks for one or maximum two days work…. Though you may only have eight or nine minutes of useable footage, you follow certain rules: show [him] very early in the film, use him in as many locations as you can.”
If you’ve wondered how Bruce Willis already has 11 films in the can in 2022, the answer lies in a new method of casting which in addition to Willis has found favour with the likes of Mel Gibson and even Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. It basically works like this: you pay the superstar a million bucks for one or maximum two days work. You have to be well prepared to make maximum use of their time. You also get to put the star’s name high on the film’s poster. Though you may only have eight or nine minutes of useable footage, you follow certain rules: show the star very early in the film, use him in as many locations as you can and though you obviously can’t make him the film’s hero with that much footage, you give him a role which has an impact on the story.
Australian born director Edward Drake is an old hand in this, having done four such movies with Bruce Willis. In Gasoline Alley Willis plays a detective, though the main detective is played by Luke Wilson, himself being a secondary character to the film’s hero, played by Devon Sawa. Though you know that Willis is obviously not going to end up as the do-nothing detective. The story revolves around murder of a number of sex workers. Willis is seen examining the crime location, sitting behind his desk in the police station, dancing in a disco, etc., all in the same outfit! Obviously no time was wasted in changing costumes. Director Drake moves the story forward at a brisk pace and throws in a bit of humor to balance the violence (what the three words to ruin a man’s ego? Is it in?!)
Edward Drake was a delight to talk to.
Interview conducted by Ali and Amir Moosavi:
You’ve already done three or four films with Bruce Willis, so you must have a good rapport with each other.
We were fortunate to work together on a film called Breach (2020) and it’s been a beautiful love affair ever since!
The script, which you co-wrote, is lean and mean and doesn’t waste a minute. How was the writing process?
Tom Sierchio wrote an amazing script, but with the amount of days that we had to film it and [the time we had] with some of the talent we were working with, I was asked to come in and essentially do a rewrite. But I wanted to stay true to the original vision of Tom’s script, and I think that’s where the lean-and-meanness comes in: focusing on the characters and showing them reckoning with their pasts. It was a joy to work with Tom’s ideas and concepts and themes, and his vision of Los Angeles aligns very closely with my experiences; we were able to find the truth in the moment, it was beautiful.
Gasoline Alley is also the name of a long-running American comic strip; is that where the name of the film came from?
I have to credit Tom with the name. I think it’s a bit of an in-joke, I think there’s a bit of a “meta” play; there’s an idea running through most of the film of how we are aware of this vision of Los Angeles, and how it differs from the reality, and also the legacies of some of the actors in it. And I also think it’s just a great name for a noir…
You said Tom co-wrote the script, but I was wondering whose idea it was to have “American Siege” as the TV series within the film, as that was one of your earlier films?
That was from me… Tom had originally written the concept of a TV show within the film, which is a very “LA” thing to do, to turn a film into a TV show, like The Equalizer. The original show was a parody of The Equalizer called “The Enforcer”. However, we were 48 hours out from shooting when the legal clearance report came back that we couldn’t clear “The Enforcer”, I think there were just a few too many properties made using that title.
So I brainstormed a couple of ideas, and by sheer coincidence we shot American Siege about ten minutes down the road from where we shot Gasoline Alley, and I just thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up. And I called up Anna Hindman who was one of the leads in American Siege and said, “Hey, would you like to come down and do a little cameo in this movie?” And she was absolutely game, we got to the day before she was supposed to come down, and she got her vaccine appointment. I said, “No, don’t come, go get your vaccine, that’s more important.”
Kenny’s character gets a tattoo saying “117”; I was wondering if that’s a Halo reference?
Yup, “John-117”… Every film I’ve ever done has “117” hidden in it.
I guess you’re looking forward to the Halo TV show, then?
Absolutely, Pablo bring it on! I don’t care if you’re taking your mask off, let’s go, let’s show the Covenant what’s what!
In that same “American Siege” scene the actor [played by Kenny] requests “vegan makeup”. Is that something you had come across in your filmmaking experience?
Actually, I wrote the joke because I had heard that said, but then the makeup artist reminded me that most makeup these days is actually made with vegan ingredients. So it’s a nice little nod to the “LA-ness” of working in film, but also there are a lot of cruelty-free makeup companies out there, which is nice.
Throughout the film the presence of “ACAB”, “All Cops Are Bastards”, graffiti, and was wondering how much of that was organic?
All of it was painted on, but it is reflective of LA: [Stares in the distance] I’m literally staring at a lamppost ahead of me that has “ACAB” on it. And especially after what went down in 2020, that really changed Los Angeles and the fabric of the trust between the people and the police. I really wanted to be aware of the time that we were making this movie in, and it was also a little way to foreshadow some of the twists and turns.
I read that you’re involved in making a documentary on Mandy Horvath [a double amputee climber]
Yes! That’s kind of why I do some of these action movies, so I can funnel more resources back into empowering stories that I believe can inspire others. Mandy is an incredible woman who has overcome more in her short life than most will in ten lifetimes. We got to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with her. I’m so grateful that she invited us into the experience. I actually saw the rough cut of that film over the weekend, and it’s a special thing. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever been a part of, to be quite honest, and I’m grateful to my buddy and brother-in-arms Frank Cronin, who had met Mandy. Frank and I had always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro as well, so the universe was just sending us too many signs that we couldn’t ignore.
Actually, thank you Paradise City for that; I took the pay cheque from Paradise City and from a few of these other Bruce movies and I just was like, “Cool, we’re gonna tell this story, we’re gonna do it right, let’s go.” Hopefully I can share that with the world later this year, I’m very excited.
Thank you very much for your time; we look forward to your movie version of 1Q84.
[Laughs] That needs to be on Amazon… Six episodes, to really be able to do it justice. And trust me, it’s gonna get weird.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).
Amir Moosavi is an IT consultant and cinéaste. He studied History & French at University of St. Andrews.