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Dexter Fletcher’s Ghosted is quite the family reunion.
What started as a reunion between long-time friends Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson evolved into a reteaming between Evans and his Knives Out and The Gray Man co-star, Ana de Armas. When Johansson’s window of availability closed, Fletcher suggested the now-Oscar nominated de Armas for the co-lead role in the Apple TV+ action spy comedy, prompting Evans to call de Armas directly.
But Evans wasn’t done there, as he even recruited a couple other familiar faces to rejoin him on an Atlanta-based set, something this trio had done numerous times before on other films. Evans and two of the film’s producers also managed to lure another A-lister into the fold, but let’s leave it at that in order to maintain the surprise.
“Yeah, [Evans] did [play matchmaker],” Fletcher tells The Hollywood Reporter. “In fact, the last little surprise is a reciprocal arrangement [with Evans and two of Ghosted’s producers] as well, so I benefited from that. But I was very careful to make every effort to use [the four cameos] as actors. Their roles were written in a serious way.”
Fletcher, who’s also been an actor for over four decades, has a late cameo himself inside the trunk of a car, and Evans couldn’t resist the chance to play a prank on the English director.
“Of course, Evans slammed the trunk and locked me in there for three minutes while everyone milled about outside and had a good laugh,” Fletcher shares. “I knew it was inevitably gonna happen, and they thought it’d be a real hoot … It was probably 30 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. But it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it?”
The two-time BAFTA nominee has received much praise in recent years for his collaborations alongside Taron Egerton in Eddie the Eagle (2016) and their Elton John biopic, Rocketman (2019). In regard to the latter, Fletcher, like many others, remains mystified over Egerton’s Oscar nomination snub, considering his critically acclaimed performance as Elton John fell between Rami Malek’s Oscar win for Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody and Austin Butler’s Oscar nomination for Elvis Presley in Elvis.
“I’m somewhat bemused as well … These things don’t necessarily follow an understandable or regulated pattern, and taste is subjective,” Fletcher says. “So I’m not the best person to answer this because I genuinely believe that he should have been nominated, and I don’t think I’m alone in that opinion. So it’s a difficult one.”
Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Fletcher also discusses how his two weeks as substitute director on Bohemian Rhapsody benefited Rocketman. Then he reflects on his past films that would warrant a behind-the-scenes series or film a la his show The Offer, which chronicled The Godfather’s production.
Well, every movie has a first, so what was a first for you on Ghosted?
First chase sequence, first action sequence and first spinning restaurant sequence spring to mind. Action sequences are something that I haven’t really done. I mean, I’ve done a brawl in a pub before, but that was largely the extent of it. I’ve done a dance number with lots of dancers and choreography, but buses going down mountains was a first for me. Visual effects was also kind of a new adventure for me. I did some on Eddie the Eagle, but that was a little bit of face replacement, which is minor compared to Ghosted. So, a big part of the post process was visual effects.
The original leads for Ghosted were Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson, and those two have had great chemistry together for nearly two decades. When Scarlett left the film, Ana de Armas came on board, and she, too, has had notable chemistry with Chris in recent years. Was the idea to always pair Chris with someone he’s had a history with on screen?
That’s a very valid point. I never really thought about it, but there wasn’t a great deal of umming and ahhing about who that [replacement] could possibly be. Chris was attached before I came on board. He’s a producer and it’s something that he developed. So I was lucky enough to get on well with Chris and meet him, and he was like, “Look, Scarlett is a great friend. I’m just gonna ask Scarlett.” And obviously, I had no objections to that pairing, and for a while there, it seemed really positive and very good. There was something else we were juggling against, but it looked like we could do it. [Scarlett] was engaged, she was giving great notes on the script and the ideas were flowing during great meetings.
But as tends to happen, schedules change, and then suddenly, we went, “Oh no, that’s not gonna work,” which was difficult. But then I very quickly said to Chris, “What about Ana?” And he went, “I know Ana.” And I was like, “Yeah, I know you do!” (Laughs.) I’d seen her in No Time to Die, and I knew she was doing Blonde. I also loved her in Blade Runner 2049. So that became a very quick conversation, and using his friendship, Chris picked up the phone. And then she said, “Well, let me talk to Dexter and read the script,” And then she spoke to me about it, and I pitched her what I was thinking. And then we went through the process, as you do.
So, unfortunately, [Scarlett] only had that window of availability, and that was it. But we weren’t like, “Okay, let’s go out and find as many actors who are mates with Chris Evans as we possibly can and then throw a rock to see which one we hit.” It was really just good fortune that Ana had a window of opportunity, and they’re such great friends. So it was pretty straightforward.
There’s a scene that involves The Exorcist steps. Was that location scripted? Or were you scouting locations in DC and just decided to go for it?
Good question. It was down to a scouting moment, to be honest, and that’s true for a lot of the date. The date was quite a different idea [on the page]. It was actually set during the winter when I first read it, so there was lots of ice and frozen water and snow involved. And obviously, that would’ve been a ridiculous expense just for the sake of having DC in the winter, so it became spring. I went to DC with Dalia [Ibelhauptaitė], my wife and producing partner, and we spent Thanksgiving weekend there, because we’re from London and Thanksgiving doesn’t have quite the same resonance for us as it does for Americans. (Laughs.)
So we wandered around and found the canals and looked at the museums and discovered what options were there. And The Exorcist steps, we knew they were there, so we went and looked at them. And I was like, “I’ve got to shoot this.” I just wanted to find things that were not the Capitol Building or The White House. We’ve all seen it. So then I spoke to [co-writers] Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna about these ideas; they were working on a draft. Dalia and I actually raced up and down the stairs ourselves, and she won. No, I didn’t do that. But yeah, it came from a location scout.
So I heard something years ago, and I’m dying to know if it’s true. Does Apple really not allow villain characters to noticeably use their products on screen, be it an iPhone or whatever? Adrien Brody’s villain does use an iPhone, but unless you have a keen eye, the scene doesn’t really show off any of the phone’s signature features.
It may be true, but that was not something that I encountered. There’s a scene where Cole’s [Evans] younger sister [Lizze Broadway] looks at his [locked] phone, and there wasn’t an easy way of circumnavigating the security features. So we were very careful not to do that [by having her swipe right from his lock screen to see his widgets]. But I never was told, “He’s a villain. He can’t possibly have a MacBook Pro. That would be a horrendous idea.” So it’s not something I encountered, but why don’t we perpetuate the myth? (Laughs.)
Without saying their names, there’s a fun cameo gag in the middle of the movie. Did Chris play matchmaker in a couple of those cases?
Yeah, he did. I mean, I am obviously a huge draw for these actors. (Laughs.) But there was one actor who I just really love. I was like, “Can we just reach out to him and see if he’s game for having a bit of fun?” And fortunately, he was, and he was brilliant. He’s the middle guy [in the three-person gag]. I’ve been a big fan of his for years. And Chris does have a history with a couple of the others, which you’ve spotted.
In fact, the last little surprise is a reciprocal arrangement [with Evans and two of Ghosted’s producers] as well, so I benefited from that. But I was very careful to make every effort to use [the four cameos] as actors. Their roles were written in a serious way. The script said, “If you could get someone like … ” so the producers set about to get someone like that. So that’s how we ended up with those really exciting moments, but they’re actually still serving a purpose. It doesn’t feel arbitrary to me in terms of the story.
Were some of the cameos shooting something else in Atlanta at the time? That’s a common story for how cameos go down.
I wish that was the case because it would’ve made life easier. The sequence was nighttime as well, which doesn’t make it any easier. You have to coax them out with glittery, shiny objects and food and promises. So we flew them in where appropriate, but that was really all it took. They were refreshingly down to earth and accommodating and keen. Once people agree, they go, “Yeah, I’m there.” And then they go, “It’s at nighttime? I didn’t know it was at nighttime. Oh, alright.”
Speaking of cameos, did your crew enjoy stuffing you in a trunk for that quick moment?
They did, actually. They, surprisingly, were very jovial and very happy when I ended up crammed inside it. It was a tight fit as well, because I put on a bit of weight while I was filming. I ate lots of craft services, so it was a bit of a squeeze. But I had a lot of fun. Not many people spot that it’s me, and we just thought that it would be really funny at that point. Chris and Ana really got a kick out of it, and I dressed myself in a silk robe and called myself Raoul the Arms Dealer, which I thought was funny.
Of course, Evans slammed the trunk and locked me in there for three minutes while everyone milled about outside and had a good laugh. I knew it was inevitably gonna happen, and they thought it’d be a real hoot to actually leave me in there for two-and-a-half minutes or whatever it was. It was probably 30 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. But it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it? I like to be in there with the actors, acting away.
You started acting professionally in the late ‘70s, so what was the turning point for you becoming a director?
Well, I’ve been acting for 40 years. I started as a child, and I experienced success in peaks and troughs. There are no givens, and certainly in the U.K., work can be a bit more sporadic. But I enjoyed a certain amount of success, and then I wrote a script with a friend during a down period after working with him on a BBC show. I subsequently gave that script to a producer in the hope that she would find a way of getting it made with me as the writer, but she assumed that I was gonna direct it. I then realized that if I said no, the film had less of a chance of getting made. So I said yes, and I already had some experience in directing theater workshops and theater.
And that opportunity totally changed my life, because I then got all my actor friends to be involved in [Wild Bill]. It didn’t have a big budget, but a lot of things worked to its advantage. It ended up getting nominated for a BAFTA, which was an incredible endorsement of the film and everyone that worked on it. So I got to do another film as a director, and, and I chose something that was completely different in [Sunshine on Leith], which was a musical set in Scotland. So that was well received, and that got the ball rolling for me as a director.
Did your couple weeks as the fill-in director on Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) give you the confidence to tackle Rocketman (2019)?
Of course. It informed it, and the truth was that I’d been involved with Bohemian Rhapsody a couple of years earlier when it was at Sony, with a different actor attached. I got a long way through the process, in fact, and I was pretty much in the first week of pre-production when it fell apart. So I knew that material well, and I knew that Queen knew me, which was obviously very important for them because Freddie [Mercury] was their friend and dearest loved one. So it was important to the band that they trust the people involved, and I was someone they knew.
So when they had issues there, that opportunity came. I had just made Eddie the Eagle for Fox, so Fox also knew me and understood how I worked. My friend Matt Vaughn brokered that idea as well. Matt had me in pre-production on Rocketman, and he candidly said to me, “You should go and do this, because then you can see what they’re doing and make sure we don’t do it on Rocketman.” I knew they were different films, but the opportunity to stretch my legs as it were and have a foot in that world was too good to be true in a lot of ways. It was a real gift.
So I committed as much as I could and took the time out of prep for Rocketman, but Matthew Vaughn really gave me the trust and the faith to do that and not undermine what we were doing so importantly on Rocketman. I had to have a get-out date that I kind of stuck to, but I still went back and did some reshoots and skirted the line. So it’s really a testament to Matthew Vaughn’s faith in me, and you could argue that he’s the unsung hero of it.
Had you and Taron Egerton talked about Elton John as far back as Eddie the Eagle?
No, but I’d heard talk of it from Matthew Vaughn, who also produced Eddie the Eagle. Towards the end of Eddie, there was talk of Elton being in Kingsman 2, and then I heard talk of Taron playing Elton, which I thought was a fucking brilliant idea. I knew that was genius casting, and then after Eddie, I sat down to dinner with Matt Vaughn who said, “How would you feel about directing it?” I tried to remain calm and cool like I was interested, but inside, I was like, “This is just a stroke of genius.” I just knew what Taron could do. So Matt Vaughn is not only a great filmmaker but a great producer as well. He was the brains behind that. Taron and I actually have an agreement that we’re gonna do three films together, so we’ve gotta find a third one. We don’t know what that is yet, but there’s something out there for us.
Considering that Rami Malek won an Oscar for Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and Austin Butler earned a nomination for Elvis (2022), how in the world did Taron not get an Oscar nomination for Rocketman (2019) in between them?
I don’t have the answer for that. I’m somewhat bemused as well, but that’s the nature of it, isn’t it? It’s what the competition was that year, and what other things were going on at the time. These things don’t necessarily follow an understandable or regulated pattern, and taste is subjective. So I’m not the best person to answer this because I genuinely believe that he should have been nominated, and I don’t think I’m alone in that opinion. So it’s a difficult one. Look, he did win a Golden Globe, which is not to be sniffed at by any means. So a nomination would’ve been understandable, but that’s the vagaries of it. I’m sure he’ll be nominated for something else in the fullness of time.
You directed a couple episodes of The Offer, which was about the making of The Godfather. That series also helped inspire one of my favorite questions to ask interviewees. So, of your many projects over the years, which one has the most compelling behind-the-scenes story that would warrant The Offer treatment?
Wow. I don’t know what’s had the most difficult birth like The Godfather, but The Bounty (1984) was an interesting movie I worked on years ago with Tony Hopkins, Mel Gibson, Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson. I was only 17, but from my perspective as a 17 year old, it was quite an extraordinary and exciting time that might warrant that treatment, with the same sort of light touch, I suppose.
The other one would be The Elephant Man (1980), which really sticks out in my memory as a kid. It had an incredible director in David Lynch on his second film, and after Eraserhead, he was not the obvious choice for a studio movie that was being produced by the comedic genius, Mel Brooks. When the credits rolled on that film, a lot of people were like, “That’s a Mel Brooks film!?” To my mind, The Elephant Man is one of the most human, heart-rending, touching films arguably ever made, and it’s certainly an artistic powerhouse of a film.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) might be quite funny, because that film was meant to go and then it wasn’t, and then we made it for half the money we were meant to. There were people sleeping in trailers overnight rather than going back home. People were getting arrested before scenes and turning up in paper suits from being in cells the night before, and fighting. So it was mayhem. You wouldn’t believe that the film that came out of all that, could, but it did.
All films have their crazy anecdotal provenance stories, and I’ve been lucky enough to be around a few of them. There’s also Bugsy Malone (1976). Who’s the kind of maniac that makes a musical with all kids playing gangsters in it? You couldn’t do it now. It had Jodie Foster, who’d just come from working with Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver (1976) to dancing around with a load of kids in England. You couldn’t write it.
Lastly, when you eventually reminisce about your experience on Ghosted, what day will you likely recall first?
Being locked in the trunk of a car was certainly quite a moment, but the bus stuff was really quite exciting and memorable for me. Or that night when all those [cameos] turned up in Atlanta. We’d built an amazing set that was pretending to be a market in Pakistan, and we had all those people together at one time, in one place, being so brilliant and so funny. And then Chris and Ana sliding down the side of a mountain, in the dust, was pretty funny. There’s a lot of good stuff in Ghosted, so I hope it stands the test of time. I think it stands up to repeat watching, and if it’s just good enough for people to recommend it to their friends, that would be my hope, as entertainment.
Ghosted is now streaming on Apple TV+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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