Olivier Megaton should be quite pleased with the first weekend box office results for his Colombiana as the film scored a second place finish behind the blockbuster The Help. The French director spoke to Movie Fanatic exclusively about his latest film that stars Zoe Saldana as a Colombian woman who escaped a tragedy when she was nine and lands in Chicago to begin a journey of vengeance that takes audiences on a roller-coaster ride of action, romance and riveting drama.
Olivier Megaton has almost by default become an action movie director. He admits that dramatic thrillers are more his forte, but when fellow filmmaker and Frenchman Luc Besson phones and asks for help with his project, no one says no. After collaborating with him on Transporter 3 and now bringing his screenplay for Colombiana to life, Megaton found he could interject his strong dramatic background to the action genre, giving it more power and presence.
Megaton sat down at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills for an exclusive chat with Movie Fanatic about his creation that is Colombiana.
Movie Fanatic: When you first got the script for Colombiana, what was it about the story that compelled you to make the film your next project?
Olivier Megaton: We had the story for a long time. Over ten years ago I met with Luc and he asked me to think of a sequel to The Professional with Natalie Portman. The story was already written, but we couldn’t do it. For ten years, we tried. Today Natalie Portman is a superstar, so we can’t imagine it anymore. So two years ago, Luc came back with another script with Robert (Mark Kamen) and that was Colombiana. When I read the script the first time, I was much more involved than in past films. For Transporter 3, I had to kind of stay close to what was before. This one was nothing before. I could take the movie and create things that I wanted.
Movie Fanatic: You must have had to really work at that opening scene as it was breathless.
Olivier Megaton: When I’m preparing movies, I want everything to be very precise. So, to make the film’s opening chase the most accurate, when you read the script, there is just three lines. The girl is running through a neighborhood and the bad guys are chasing. That’s it. Until you are in the neighborhoods you don’t know how it is going to go. But, when you are there, you see it goes from one to another to another. So, the first time I go into this neighborhood in Mexico, I thought I had to shoot a lot there because everything is just gorgeous. We created everything little by little, and then it became a huge chase. You will see on the DVD and Blu-Ray the chase will be even bigger. Originally it was twice as long.
Movie Fanatic: Wow, I couldn’t breathe during the one we saw. Can’t wait to see it twice as long!
Olivier Megaton: The only problem was when I read the script the first time, my first impressions were when Zoe is arriving, she is appearing almost 25 minutes into the movie. So, the other challenge was to find the right young actress to make everybody believe that it was the same girl. We were really lucky with Amandla (Stenberg) because we found somebody who was perfect. We had a picture of Zoe from when she was a little girl, and it was a mirror image. It’s incredible. I found someone with the same way of moving, the same way of thinking, and the way of looking around. They learned together. You don’t see that in many movies. Like, in Salt for example, the flashbacks don’t take you back to her childhood, just a few years prior. So, you can’t be attached to the character because you don’t see the character when she’s young. You don’t really understand the character from a weak position. So I decided to be longer in the beginning even if Zoe is arriving later in the movie. It could give to her much more attachment to the character. After the 21st minute, they love this girl because of what she’s doing and done. So, after that, they can agree to everything. When she’s older, everything she does is believable after you’ve seen her do what she did as a young girl.
Movie Fanatic: Obviously the whole film doesn’t work without the great work of Zoe. What did you see in her besides incredible athleticism that made her perfect for the role?
Olivier Megaton: From the beginning, it was always Zoe. Luc told me and we had exactly the same idea. From the beginning we thought she was the right person. When I met her we decided to work a lot together. We worked on the dialogue and the action. We wanted both to be as powerful as the other. Then after the script was ready, we worked together on the training and all the mechanical things of the movie. She worked for three months everyday on the fights. She felt it was important that the fighting, especially a woman fighting like this, was real and believable. We wanted to be honest with the audience. It is mostly her. There are maybe two shots where there is a stunt double. That’s it. All of this was a long process and for her it was really a challenge. It was the first time she was into the frame under the lights as the first lead and as a drama-action character. She didn’t want to leave anything out. It was a pleasure, but it was obvious from the beginning, I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the character.
Movie Fanatic: No way.
Olivier Megaton: I’m very proud of her. I hope that her performance just blows up with everybody.
Movie Fanatic: What do you get inspired by most by working with Luc?
Olivier Megaton: Before working with Luc, I was worked on two other movies before Transporter. My type of movies are closer to David Cronenberg movies or Stanley Kubrick movies, it’s not action movies at all. When Luc asked me to help him on Hitman, he asked me to direct the second unit and to make the action sequences, then I found it fun to do. The action movie isn’t my thing usually, I like to go to the theater and see a thriller or drama. I like the story of the human spirit. Then I discovered how fun it could be to direct action. After Hitman (where he worked as second unit director), I made Transporter and after that I made Colombiana, so it’s a great collaboration. I don’t want to be like Michael Bay or something. I’m closer to another class of filmmaker. It’s a great way to learn though. Kubrick said it best, “You are always learning things because each movie is always different.” The movie gives you surprises and things you could never have imagined, so creation has to be motivated by the problems — the things you need to work out on the set. If you don’t have any problems, you cannot grow as an artist. For me, it’s a big school. Colombiana is a little more personal. Even though it’s an action movie, there’s a lot of drama.