HEAT VISION

Dean Devlin Fought to Cast David Tennant Before 'Bad Samaritan'

Bad Samaritan David Tennant Dean Devlin Inset - Getty - H 2018
Electric Entertainment; Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
The filmmaker previously pitched the 'Doctor Who' actor to studios execs who didn't realize the power of the star's fan base.

For director Dean Devlin, Bad Samaritan was a chance to do things his way — and that included casting a leading man he'd wanted to work with a long time.

Bad Samaritan stars David Tennant in the brutal role of Cale Erendreich, a wealthy man who hides terrible secrets. His evil deeds come to light when a small-time thief named Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) breaks into Cale's home and discovers a young woman has been imprisoned there. Sean must decide if he's going to stand up for what's right or run away and hide. 

Devlin had previously pitched Tennant for roles, but studios had shut him down, not thinking the actor was a big enough name.

"Both times I was at the studios recently, I brought his name up and they just didn't think of him as a star. Yet when I was shooting this movie, we had 30, 40 people hanging around set every single day trying to get a glimpse of him walking to set," says Devlin of filming in Portland with the actor, who has built a fan base thanks to work on Doctor WhoBroadchurch and Jessica Jones. "I felt like studios are really out of touch with how much people love this actor."

Devlin is known as the producer of movies like Stargate and Independence Day, two '90s films that helped reshape blockbusters for that era. He also directed last year's Geostorm, the Warner Bros. sci-fi action film that was plagued by delays and stalled at the box office. With Bad Samaritan, which Devlin produced through his Electric Entertainment, he was able to retain control of the project in a way that would not be possible working at a studio.

"I've come to a point in my life where I realize my personality type is much better working outside of the system than within the system," says Devlin, who adds, "I didn't want to get in an argument over who I wanted to cast. I didn't want to get into an argument over what crew I was going to use. I just wanted to make the best film I thought I could make."

With Stargate and Independence Day, Devlin and director Roland Emmerich created big movies out of original ideas — something that is a hard sell these days in a Hollywood obsessed with reboots and franchises. (The pair did take a stab at preexisting property, too, with 1998's Godzilla.) Devlin notes that while he's a fan of films put out by places such as Marvel Studios, he's also concerned about studios not giving original ideas a chance.

"When those films are done well, they are great and I'm one of the first people to stand in line to see them," says Devlin of blockbusters based on preexisting properties. "But I think there is a devastating effect on the industry as a whole — and we're seeing this in the declining ticket sales — in that if everything is based on something you've seen before, at some point, it's a little bit like kissing your sister. 

He recalls having an argument several years ago with a studio head on the subject.

"I said, 'Under this new mandate, you're not going to make E.T. or Close Encounters or Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, because they weren't based on something else…as a matter of fact, you wouldn't make Independence Day today,'" says Devlin. "That studio head said to me, 'You're right. I wouldn't make Independence Day today unless you called it War of the Worlds.' I think that's a tragedy."

Back when Devlin and Emmerich were making Independence Day, they negotiated a deal that gave them control over the marketing of the film. The marketing blitz included a now-classic Super Bowl ad showing the White House blowing up, an image that Devlin says worried 20th Century Fox's marketing team.

"They said, 'You know we can't actually blow up the White House in an ad.' And we said, 'What are you talking about?' and they said, 'Well, what's happened with terrorism around the world it could be seen as incredibly insensitive,'" says Devlin. "And I said, 'Guys, we're not talking about terrorists. We're talking about space aliens. Are we really worried space aliens are going to show up and blow up a building?'"

With Bad Samaritan, Devlin worked on a smaller scale than Independence Day, but Sheehan's character Sean fits into his mold of the flawed protagonist the filmmaker likes (see: Kurt Russell's Stargate hero Jack O'Neil or Jeff Goldblum's Independence Day character David Levinson). Sheehan, whom Devlin first became aware of thanks to the British superhero TV series Misfits, gives a performance that requires him to go to some dark, and even embarrassing, places.

"There's a lot of actors I've worked with, whose ego would not allow them to be that humiliated. To be that frightened," says Devlin. "I think it was Robert's willingness to go to such a shameful level of cowardice, that makes us root for this morally flawed character. Because we see him in this incredibly human moment, and we see his regret. And I think that's what is the engine of the film."

Devlin says he never intended to do more with the characters created by screenwriter Brandon Boyce than this one film, but he now sees the potential for a sequel. 

"If the movie is at all successful, I would certainly love to attempt to do more with these characters," Devlin says. 

Bad Samaritan is in theaters now.

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