7:15am PT by Hilary Lewis
Dwayne Johnson, 'Skyscraper' Director Talk Partnership and Neve Campbell's Strong Character
Action thriller Skyscraper marks the second of three collaborations (so far) between Dwayne Johnson and writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber. The pair previously worked together on Central Intelligence and are set to continue their partnership with Red Notice.
When asked why they keep working together at Skyscraper's New York premiere earlier this week, the two friends both made the same joke: They're each trying to get rid of the other. In all seriousness, though, Johnson and Thurber praised each other for being at the top of their game.
"He's a very ambitious writer-director and one of the few writer-directors in Hollywood who is the sole writer of big movies of this scale," Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter of Thurber, likening him to James Cameron.
For his part, Thurber called Johnson "the best collaborator that I've ever had the good fortune of working with."
Skyscraper producers Hiram Garcia and Beau Flynn explained that the relationship and shorthand that Johnson and Thurber have developed help with the moviemaking process.
Garcia said that Skyscraper was sold on a pitch; Thurber turned in a first draft of a script that got it greenlighted and they were in production a year later. "He executes and he's so talented," Garcia said. "He and Dwayne have a shorthand. In our opinion, this is one of Dwayne's greatest performances, and Rawson is the one who's able to pull it out of him."
Flynn added, "Once you establish a relationship and shorthand with movie stars and directors and writers, we really want to keep doing that and keep working together. It's so hard to make a good movie, so if everything is taken care of on the personal level, it feels like it just frees you up to make the best movie you possibly can."
In Skyscraper, Johnson's character plays a former FBI agent, with a prosthetic leg, who has to rescue his family from a burning building. Johnson, who also produces the film, and the other producers tried to ensure that Skyscraper provides an authentic and sympathetic portrayal of amputees, even working with real-life inspiration Jeff Glasbrenner, whom Flynn found on Real Sports.
"I was so incredibly taken by him because he lost his leg when he was eight years old, but his spirit is so positive — I think we can all be too negative or down or whatever," Flynn told THR of Glasbrenner. "I'm watching this man who lost his leg and he's scaled Mount Everest, he's a three-time Paralympic champion, and I said 'This is who Dwayne's character needs to become by the end of the movie.' So I contacted him, flew him out; he spent a lot of time with Dwayne. He came to set, spent a lot of time talking about his hitch, how he walks, how he runs, and I think it really pays off in the movie."
Glasbrenner, who was at the premiere, where he saw the finished film for the first time, said he and the Skyscraper team, "talked about what it's like to be an amputee — physically, emotionally. They watched my gait. I watched The Rock do some of his moves and how he handled it — being an amputee. And so it was really neat to see that he studied the role, he prepared for the role, he listened and it was really great to see."
While the film features Johnson's character engaged in some jaw-dropping stunts, Glasbrenner didn't hesitate when asked if he thought he could do the same.
"I know I could," he said. "You put my family in danger and I'll go for that just the same as he would. I don't think the leg would hold me back."
While Johnson's character works to save his family, his wife, played by Neve Campbell, isn't waiting to be rescued. As seen in the Skyscraper trailers, Campbell's character fights back and is far from a damsel in distress. When asked about why they wanted to have a tough female character opposite Johnson, both Thurber and Garcia attributed the decision to strong women in their own lives.
"[Neve's character is] sort of based off of my wife," Thurber said. "And I know that if my wife and daughters were trapped in a burning building, she's not going to wait for me to save her, because she knows I'm a moron. And she's going to take action."
Garcia added, "For Dwayne and myself, we come from very strong, female-driven families. We're always pushing to have the female kick-ass roles feel a little stronger, take more command because it's a world we live in. To get a star like Neve Campbell, who's amazing, we had so much fun just writing more, giving her more, and what she's able to do in the movie, it's special for us because we want to be able to set that table. That's a place we're playing and something we're doing in Jungle Cruise with Emily Blunt's character and Red Notice, the character we've created for Gal Gadot is unbelievable. We really get excited about that, and it only elevates the movie. It was a no-brainer for us."
Skyscraper is set in Hong Kong and has secured a rare summer release date, for a Hollywood film, in China's lucrative summer window. While Johnson remains a box-office draw in China, with his latest movie Rampage pulling in more money at the Chinese box office than it did in North America, Garcia is trying not to worry about a trade war between the U.S. and China affecting business.
"The markets are always going to change. Things are always going to fluctuate," Garcia told THR. "For us, we go into movies always with a goal of trying to make a global film. We want to make a film that can play everywhere, whether it be China, Latin America, U.K. You can't control what's going to happen. All we can do on our end is do our best to make films that appeal to the globe. We try to make four-quadrant films, so fingers crossed everything works out. All we can do is try to make films that play."