Fresh off the success of Keanu Reeves’ groundbreaking action film “John Wick,” which Chad Stahelski directed and David Leitch produced that has finally redefined the action movie for the 21st Century, the pioneering duo bring their unique vision in stunt choreography in the latest game-to-movie total reboot of “Hitman: Agent 47.” Directed by Aleksander Bach, a noted commercials director making his feature film debut, from a screenplay by Skip Woods (“The A-Team”) and Michael Finch (“Predators”) and a story by Woods, “Hitman: Agent 47” stars Rupert Friend in the titular role along with Hannah Ware and Zachary Quinto.
Known only as 47, Friend dons the custom-tailored suit of the deadliest assassin who was genetically enhanced since conception bent on breaking the syndicate out to unlock his secrets as the undefeated killing machine the world has ever known. With two mysterious characters in tow, Katia van Dees (Ware) and John Smith (Quinto), 47 is on a race against time to fulfill his mission while he stealthily dispatches an entire phalanx of soldiers and unknown operatives in a series of split-second action sequences before they even realize he’s there.
“I’d say the action is heightened,” says Leitch, who doubled for Brad Pitt earlier in his stuntman career. “A term we use a lot is hyperreal, so I mean we might be using real techniques and practical techniques in terms of training the actor, but then when it becomes him killing 25 guys, you realise that’s a little bit more fantasy than reality.”
“They understand action in the best way that I’ve ever seen working on set,” enthuses Friend. “They call it Gun Fu, which is basically kung fu, but with guns in your hands. So as you saw in the trailer, I’m breaking people’s necks with my legs, which I did about 65 times. It’s full on, and they want full contact.”
Action unit directors Chad Stahelski and David M. Leitch, stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio and fight coordinator Jon Valera – all from 87-11 Action Design, one of the industry’s premier stunt teams. 87-11 has also overseen the stunts and action for “Jurassic World,” “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “John Wick.”
Among the company’s fans is Rupert Friend, who notes, “87-11 doesn’t just create arbitrary fighting styles. Each character has a distinctive style.” To that end, Eusebio, Valera and stunt coordinator Chris O’Hara made John Smith a brawler with a big haymaker-punching style. He’s very much a bull-in-a-china shop, while 47 is a far more tactical fighter.
Their final confrontation highlights each man’s fighting style and strengths. “It features a close quarter gun battle, the likes of which you haven’t seen before on screen,” says Valera. “We’ve been trying to do something like this for a few years. It’s hand-to-hand combat with contrasting styles. Smith is stronger, but 47 tries to outsmart him.”
“47 is the opposite – he’s more linear and efficient in his movements,” Eusebio continues. So we trained Rupert in Malaysian Silat and Filipino Kali martial arts ‘empty hands’ styles.”
Adds Eusebio: “When Rupert grabs a weapon, he looks like he’s handled it for a long time. And I’m not just talking about 47’s signature weapon, the silver ballers handgun. We wanted Rupert to be able to use anything he could find – like a broken bottle, a plate, a pen, or a lamp – and turn it into a deadly weapon.”
But Friend made sure he was more than adept at wielding the silver ballers. “I spent weeks with a fantastic lead armaments team that trained me to the point where I could put a bag on my head and take the gun apart, and then put it back together.”
“Hitman: Agent 47” opens August 19 in cinemas nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.