Why 'Skyscraper' Director Will Never Make a Sequel to His Cult Classic 'Dodgeball'

Rawson Marshall Thurber has gone from comedy to action as he looks to make original movies among a sea of franchises.
'Skyscraper' (Inset: Rawson Marshall Thurber)   |   Courtesy of Universal; Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Rawson Marshall Thurber has gone from comedy to action as he looks to make original movies among a sea of franchises.

After making his mark with comedies like Dodgeball and We're the Millers, filmmaker Rawson Marshall Thurber finds himself in an improbable position: a go-to action director for arguably the genre's biggest star.

The writer-director's latest, Skyscraper, stars his Central Intelligence collaborator Dwayne Johnson as former FBI agent and war veteran Will Sawyer, who lost part of his leg after a hostage situation gone wrong. He and his family are in Hong Kong where he is inspecting the world's tallest building, which comes under attack from mysterious villains who set the building ablaze, leaving Sawyer fighting to save his family.

Audiences have grown used to seeing Johnson save the day seemingly every season. Skyscraper comes just three months after Johnson's Rampage, and seven months after Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, raising the question: Will audiences continue to show up, particularly if he's playing heroic characters that on the surface appear similar?

Yet Skyscraper, a throwback to movies like Die Hard and Towering Inferno, improbably gives the actor something new to do. Johnson turns in a performance that's among his most nuanced yet. This hero isn't invulnerable — he must deal with his prosthetic leg, fatigue and actually feeling pain when he's hit (though perhaps the movie does take liberties with physics).

In a conversation with Heat Vision, Rawson discusses the nerve-wracking process that is pitching your movie to Johnson (the two are reteaming again for the Gal Gadot feature Red Notice) and why he will never make a proper sequel to Dodgeball (no matter how many times fans ask him).

"I really appreciate how much people love that movie," he says of the 2004 film starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn that had a charity reunion last year. "It’s near and dear to my heart, but I feel like I said everything I needed to say in one film."

How do you keep Dwayne's characters fresh, considering folks are now used to seeing him all the time on the big screen?

In his other pictures — which are great, and he’s fantastic in them — he’s essentially invulnerable, he’s bullet-proof, he’s a hero without a cape. And that’s great, but I wanted to try to do something different, and I know Dwayne did as well, and we talked about wanting to have him be vulnerable, and have him just barely survive the film. In terms of the character, I wanted to show Dwayne in a way that he’s never been seen before. And that certainly was front-of-mind, and when I came up with the idea of having Dwayne play an amputee, I got really excited about it. I’d never seen an amputee on the poster as the lead guy in an action picture, and I thought it was just about time.

How much research did you do to make sure you were doing justice and being respectful to that aspect of the character?

Dwayne and I talked a lot about the challenge of his character is not what’s below the knees, but what’s between the ears. That he’s dealing with more of a psychological issue as opposed to a physical limitation. It was really important to me that we handled the fact that he’s an amputee fairly and rightly. And all my research talking to Wounded Warriors and talking to amputees, almost all of them to a person, felt like they were a better person after their amputation than before. They lose a leg and they go run a marathon. They lose a leg and arm and they’ll climb Mount Everest like Jeff Glasbrenner did. And, you know, most of them consider that day — the day they lost the limb — as a blessing, as allowing them to live their life in a fuller way.

Audiences at times can be skeptical about Hollywood films that cast big Chinese stars, with the worry being that these actors are included to appeal to an international audience rather than to serve the story. How much did you think about that skepticism with your film?

Absolutely. I’ve felt the same thing just as a filmgoer going to pay my 12, 15 bucks, and it feels shoehorned in, right? It feels like they just sort of cast a big Chinese star in a role that doesn’t fit him or her, and it all feels a little pushed, and a little forced, and at least for me, would take me out of the movie. And in this particular case, we’re helped by the fact that we’re set in China, but also, I wanted to write real characters in a real space, and when we cast Byron Mann to play Inspector Wu in the film, I talked to him a lot about — I basically wanted that character to be a gumshoe New York detective. And Byron was like, “I got it.” He went through all the dialogue, all the English dialogue I had written, and Byron did his own translation of it into Cantonese. But not just Cantonese, it’s specifically Hong Kong police Cantonese, which is a little bit different than regular Cantonese because there are some English phrases thrown into it, right? ... Significant sections of the film are spoken in the native dialect with subtitles. I think it’s cool, I think it makes it feel real because it is, closer to the ground, more in the soil of the space, and also, I think it gives the movie a bit of a brain. You don’t see subtitles in big sort of action summer pictures.

Dwayne just had Rampage out a few months ago. Do you think that helps or hurts your movie, the fact that audiences are seeing more and more of him?

It’s a really good question. Dwayne’s the biggest movie star in the world, and he is that for a reason, and that’s because literally everybody loves him. My grandma loves him. From 4-year-olds to 84 year-olds. I can’t really focus on the other films or worry about the other films. The only thing I can do is try to make the best movie I can make and hope that speaks for itself. I’m not worried about people not wanting to see Dwayne Johnson in a movie — everybody wants to see Dwayne Johnson in a movie (laughs) and I’m in the front of that line.

You've made multiple movies people would like sequels to. Why have you never made one?

There’s a place for sequels. If you look at the release schedule that surrounds us, you had Oceans 8, which is basically Oceans 4, and then you had Incredibles 2 and then you had Jurassic 5 and then you had Sicario 2 and then you had Ant-Man 2, and then you have us, and we go up against Hotel Transylvania 3, and then after us is Mamma Mia 2 and Equalizer 2 and after them is Mission: Impossible 6. We’re literally the only nonsequel in eight weeks on either side of us, which I think is just staggering. So I guess to me, I always focus on what’s next as opposed to what I’ve already done. We talked a little bit about a Millers sequel, we actually had a great script from Adam Sztykiel that I really loved, and it’s just a function of scheduling. You know, Jen’s [Aniston] very busy, and Jason’s [Sudeikis] busy, and I’ve just been making movies back to back, so we just never quite found the time.

You have Red Notice coming up with the Rock and Gal Gadot. What excites you about that?

It’s an international action-heist picture, very much in the vein of Oceans 11, True Lies, with a little bit of The Thomas Crown Affair thrown in for good measure. I’ve just always wanted to make a heist film, so I’m really looking forward to it. And we’ve got Dwayne and Gal Gadot, kind of a nice start, and there’s a third role yet to be cast and, you know, we’re closing in on who that person is, and I can’t say anything now, but I think people will be excited when we announce it. I don’t know, they just don’t make those kinds of films anymore. They don’t make the big, star-studded, chockablock pictures. It’s just not as common. Outside the Marvel universe, of course. Outside of Avengers: Infinity War. So I’m really, really fired up about it.

How do you keep getting Dwayne on board your movies? What's the pitching process like?

On Skyscraper, we were finishing Central Intelligence and I sent him a little five-page document and then I pitched it to him. And he got it, and he was in. On Red Notice, we were shooting Skyscraper, and I was working on the idea for Red Notice kind of in the back of my mind, it was kind of ticking away, and we all — Dwayne, and Beau Flynn, our producer, and Hiram Garcia, Dwayne’s producing partner — we all went out to dinner in Vancouver—because I had this idea. And I pitched Dwayne the idea and he loved it. And he said, “I’m in.” And I know that sounds simple, but it’s pretty nerve-wracking. And it’s not simple, I can tell you that. But the good thing about Dwayne, he has a great gut. He’s got a six-pack, but he’s got a great gut. And he knows when he can see it, and he feels it, and that tuning fork goes off, he’s in. And there’s no fear, and it’s complete commitment, 100 percent. So he doesn’t waffle, and if he doesn’t like it, he’s like, “Ehh, it’s not for me.” And you’re done. And that’s it, you move on. Fortunately, I haven’t had that happen yet. I’m sure I will at some point.  

  1. July 18, 2019 2:54pm PT
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