Why 'Extraction' Director Didn't Imagine Chris Hemsworth as His Star (at First)

Before the Thor actor expressed interest, Marvel stuntman turned filmmaker Sam Hargrave and writer Joe Russo pictured a smaller man to highlight "the physicality of someone you didn't see coming."
Sam Hargrave (left) and Chris Hemsworth on the set of 'Extraction'   |   Netflix
Before the Thor actor expressed interest, Marvel stuntman turned filmmaker Sam Hargrave and writer Joe Russo pictured a smaller man to highlight "the physicality of someone you didn't see coming."

More than a decade ago, Sam Hargrave made his first foray into the world of superheroes with X-Men Origins: Wolverine as the double for Sabretooth, and soon found himself working on some of the biggest films in the genre, from Captain America: The Winter Soldier to Avengers: Endgame.

Now the veteran stunt coordinator is stepping out in a big way with his directorial feature debut, Extraction, available on Netflix on Friday. The film stars Chris Hemsworth as Tyler Rake, an Australian mercenary mourning the death of his son when he takes a job to rescue a 14-year-old boy (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the kidnapped son of an imprisoned Indian drug kingpin.

The Marvel ties run deep in the film. The script comes from Endgame co-director Joe Russo, who produced along with brother Anthony. The Russos pitched Hargrave and Thor actor Hemsworth on the project while they were all working on Avengers: Infinity War, and Hargrave notes the original idea was to cast someone physically small — not a man built like a Norse god.

"We wanted to turn action movies on their head a little bit," Hargrave tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The physicality of someone you didn't see coming. But as soon as Hemsworth showed interest, we looked at each other and said, 'It's kind of perfect.'"

In a conversation with THR, Hargrave delves into the most challenging aspects of Extraction, recalls the time Hemsworth went back and forth between playing fat Thor and Tyler Rake during Endgame reshoots, and looks back at how John Wick filmmakers Chad Stahelski and David Leitch helped kickstart his career.

You have a big action movie coming out during a time when most films of this scope have been put on hold. It must feel satisfying, in a complicated way.

It feels good, regardless of the crazy times, which is unfortunate for all of us, but it does feel good to get it out. It's been a long time percolating in the editorial stages and now we're finally going to share it with the world.

The Russos pitched Chadwick Boseman on 21 Bridges during Infinity War, which you worked on. Was it a similar story for you?

They were wheeling and dealing all throughout Infinity War and Endgame. They pitched Chadwick on 21 Bridges, and they pitched me to direct this, and Chris to join in. I first met the Russos in 2014 on Winter Soldier and we worked together on Civil War. We had been talking and I had mentioned I was looking to direct movies. I had been directing second unit. Joe came to me and said, "Hey, I have a script I think you'd be perfect for as  a director." I said, "Wow." I read the script and it was very familiar to me, and then I realized I'd read the script [previously] — because Joe had written it many years before [under a different name.] It took place in South America but it was the same general story and characters, just Joe had updated it for this day and age.

Did you always know this would star Hemsworth, or was there a version of this where you didn't know who the lead would be?

Joe and I were looking at casting a very different feeling than Chris Hemsworth brings. We were looking for someone a little smaller physically, because we wanted to turn action movies on their head a little bit. One, with this very deep emotional topic of a father losing his son, and the other of just the physicality of someone you didn't see coming. But as soon as Hemsworth showed interest, we looked at each other and said, "It's kind of perfect." Hemsworth, what he brings to the table physically is impressive and it very much fits the character, as was on the page. He also brought an emotional depth to this performance that I hadn't seen from him before. I was just overly impressed with what he brought to this character.

Drew Goddard, who worked with Hemsworth on Cabin in the Woods and then picked up with him a decade later with Bad Times at the El Royale, has noted the actor has only gotten better with age. Is that your observation?

You can quote me. Chris Hemsworth is like a fine wine. He gets better with age. I first met him on the first Avengers. He would have been 26 and I was 27, I think. So from that time, almost 10 years later, to see where he has come from and where he has arrived in his acting career is incredible. The growth that I've seen from him and the performances that he's turning out. They keep getting more nuanced. He has introduced a lot of humor that maybe before he didn't realize he had. His emotional depth. He's a star in every sense of the word and an all-around great guy who is a pleasure to work with. He deserves it all.

Few screenwriters have a lot of say on their projects once they are in production. What's it like having Joe Russo as your screenwriter, who is also your producer and is an accomplished director himself?

I'm very fortunate to have had the relationship that I do have with the Russo brothers, because I feel like if we didn't have that foundation it could've been a very different experience. I am directing a movie Joe has written, so he has a way he saw it. He's a director who has directed the biggest movie of all time (Avengers: Endgame). And he's also a producer on the movie. You've got a guy who definitely could have made this movie, and it would've been awesome, just different. So you are dealing with the interesting landscape of directing for a director-producer-writer. I had notes on the script, and he was very open to that. If he had parts of it that he was very adamant about, he had logical, concrete reasons why. And then we'd talk through them. "Yeah, he's right." And most of the time he was right. There were things we'd work out in the writing phase, and while shooting, he was very hands on. We really put a lot of time and work into the pages, so we had a great blueprint. He was very supportive, understanding and collaborative. 

I imagine they were working on Endgame while you were filming this? How did he find time to be hands on?

He was in the middle of finishing shooting Endgame while we were prepping to shoot this. During production, we started shooting and they were shooting their additional photography, but he would still be available for notes. I don't know how he did it. It was unbelievable. He was always just a phone call away, and I always felt supported. 

So underneath that fat Thor suit, Chris looked like Tyler Rake in some Endgame shots?

Because we started shooting in October [2018], he shot with us for a while. He was with us prepping, getting ready, getting in shape. Working with the stunt team in full Tyler Rake mode. And when we had our hiatus, he left us a week or so early and went and shot with them on Endgame to finish up his scenes. So he was jumping back and forth between Fat Thor and Tyler Rake. We had him on the front side and on the back side of that additional photography for Endgame.

There is a moment where Tyler turns the tables on some people in a small apartment. That's when audiences will really get what kind of movie this is. How far into shooting did you accomplish that moment, which was so key?

We planned it as the first time you really see Tyler do his thing and show his skills. It was about halfway through our schedule, when we first got to Thailand at the end of the calendar year 2018.

Day one of shooting [on the film], was the oner [immediately following the apartment scene in the film], where they got the kid out and they are doing the car chase and they are running out. The first 10 days of shooting was that sequence. Talk about "welcome to India." It was full on for the first 10 days. We bookended the first part of our shoot with action. We started with that. When we were winding down to our Christmas hiatus was when we shot four days in that apartment when he is kicking butt again. We did try to be aware of the style and how we first introduce him. It also leaves room to build narratively and actionwise to build to that oner, which comes later in the movie. We just happened to shoot it first.

How often do ideas stick with you that you couldn't put into a David Leitch or Chad Stahelski movie that you might want to use later?

You will come up with ideas through the years that won't make it, even into shooting. You hold on to it. Put it into your back pocket for later. Even things you shoot get cut out of the movie, so people will never see it. You've always got those in your back pocket, but I hire teams that are always trying to think of new things and pushing the envelope. Bringing on Daniel Stevens and Michael Lehr, our fight coordinator and choreographer, we tried to infuse new things into that. That's the cool thing. When you hire other people, they've worked on projects and there's moves and choreography that they have been unable to use, so they bring their bag of tricks and you just kind of shake it all out on the floor and go, all right, "What's the best stuff for this character and this moment?"

There's a lot of fight choreography you could single out in this movie, but one that I haven't seen before is a moment in which Tyler has to go up against a gang of teenagers. What do you remember from coming up with that premise?

That was always a scene we were very excited about when we saw it on paper, because it was new. It was fresh. How do you do that, safely? That was one of the most difficult sequences of the movie. It's a night shoot and you are working with minors, so there is a time limit. So you don't have the normal 10 to 12 hours. You have to schedule your day around getting all of their stuff. And once it gets late, kids aren't used to staying up. By midnight, 1 o'clock, the kids are dragging. It's hard to focus. You are trying to do an action scene with them swinging around machetes and doing choreography. It really was a challenge to keep everybody focused and energized and safe. It's the challenge of finding doubles. Often [child] actors are 5 feet tall or shorter. If you are going to do a stunt with them — part of the fun is a guy tossing them around — you can't do that with the kids. So you've got to double them. So you've got to find smaller men or women of a legal age for performing stunts on a movie like this.

Extraction gives audiences the chance to see international stars they may not be familiar with. Even people who have two lines in the movie are memorable. How did you assemble this cast?

We really wanted to make sure and provide the movie with top-notch acting. Even if they were delivering a line or two lines. It could easily fall off into — I don't want to say genre movie, but a typical movie where, "We just need one line from him, just get anybody." We were very diligent with our casting department about finding talented actors.

Casting Ovi must have been a challenge.

Our search for Ovi took us literally all over the world. We had casting looking London, the U.S., all over India, Bangladesh. He had to have the innocence and the emotional maturity. So we found Rudhraksh [Jaiswal]. As soon as we saw his tape, everybody else fell away. It's amazing to watch his growth. Both as an actor, emotionally, but physically. The kid grew, I think it was almost 6 inches from the time we started shooting until we wrapped.

Randeep Hooda, who plays Saju, the kid's caretaker, is a well-known actor in India and someone who throws himself into character parts and goes there. You absolutely believe Hemsworth would be in trouble going up against this guy.

A lot of people who see this may have the same feeling they had watching John Wick the first time. It feels like a new directorial voice in the action space has arrived. Did seeing David Leitch and Chad Stahelski succeed empower you in a way?

I came to L.A. knowing I wanted to [direct] and that I was going to. Aside from the Russo brothers, Chad Stahelski and Dave Leitch have been my two biggest supporters and best mentors in the business. Any questions I have, they've been there. They've given me jobs along the way. They helped build my career and given me the confidence to know that I could step out there and do the work that I'm capable of. They were frontrunners in showing people who design action, who come from a stunt and fight background, have the ability to tell story. That opened the doors for people like me.

What comes to mind when you think of X-Men: Origins — Wolverine? I imagine that felt like a step up to the next level at that time in your career?

It was. It was a lot of big moments in my career on that project. It was my first introduction to the Marvel Universe. Dave Leitch and Chad Stahelski put a word in for me to get that stunt doubling job [for Sabretooth], which was amazing. On that job I met Daniel Stevens, who is one of my best friends and is now the stunt coordinator on Extraction. He was doubling Hugh Jackman on that film. We met and became good friends and kept in touch. In many ways, that film was integral to my career and a jumping off point.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.