Movies

David Leitch Takes Us For A Ride On His ‘Bullet Train’ And Tells Us Why He’s Not Directing ‘Deadpool 3’

It was kind of surprising to learn David Leitch, after his Deadpool 2 made just under $800 million, would not be directing Deadpool 3. (Shawn Levy has been tapped for that assignment, whenever that may even be.) Then again, it’s also actually kind of surprising Leitch, to this point, has never done a second movie in a franchise. He’s done successful stints with John Wick, Marvel, Fast & Furious, then moseyed on to something else. He certainly doesn’t seem against the idea – he gets excited talking about a possible sequel to Atomic Blond – but also admits, yes, he’s drawn to new things. So maybe it’s circumstance, but there’s probably something to this. (Ahead he does explain why he’s not doing Deadpool 3.)

Speaking of new things, here comes Bullet Train. Brad Pitt stars as Ladybug, a self-conscious hitman in a movie that plays out more like an episode of Three’s Company than a traditional action movie. (There are a few instances of characters with mistaken information that leads to hilarious hijinks. I mean this as a compliment.) It’s basically a full-on comedy in the body of an action movie. And this is by design, as the original script, based on Kōtarō Isaka’s novel, is a much darker story but Pitt decided people were in the mood for laughs, so the movie takes a different direction.

Speaking of different directions, Leitch’s next film will be The Fall Guy, based on the 1980s series, and starring Ryan Gosling as a stuntman named Colt Seavers (Leitch doing a movie about stunt people should be exciting on its own) who, if it stays true to the series, also learns how to become a bounty hunter. Leitch gives us a preview of The Fall Guy and, perhaps, teases if Ryan Gosling will be singing the theme song just like Lee Majors did on the series.

Last time we spoke was, I believe, Hobbs & Shaw.

Yep.

Like I said then, Hobbs alone, you’ve got yourself a movie. Then you throw in Shaw for free? Come on. That was a deal.

Yes. That movie, you paid for the whole seat, but you only need the edge, I guess. It was a riot. And wildly appreciated. Man, maybe we get to explore that world again someday soon.

So I’m watching Bullet Train, and I mean this as a compliment, it reminded me of Three’s Company.

Oh, awesome. I love Three’s Company.

Because there are a few instances of mistaken information that leads to hilarious hijinks.

I love that. I love that. I think, ultimately, the tone of the movie is so important. And we went for … Brad and I had a conversation early on of, comedically, how far do we want to go because there’s a little more darker sadistic version of this movie.

What was the change in tone? Because this movie is very funny.

Oh, good. Good. I’m glad. Because that was what we set out to do. Look, the novel is … It’s beautiful. Kōtarō Isaka’s work is obviously prolific. In Japan, he’s a rockstar of an artist. And to even be able to have an adaptation of his work is a beautiful thing. But it’s dark. His vibe is a little bit more sadistic and those characters are maybe less relatable. And it’s really hard boiled genre stuff that’s rigged and that I love. I had these conversations with Brad. And he’s like, “Dude, I’m laughing my ass off at Zach’s adaptation, and I think we go for the laughs and we go big and we go broad and we go unapologetic. This is what people want right now.”

I think, right now, that’s true.

And I’m like: Okay. You and me, holding hands. We’re jumping off this bridge, and we’re doing it. So we went big. And even when Aaron and Brian came to set, I don’t even think they knew already what was already in my head and what Brad and I had been discussing. Like, we can be broad. So the minute I unleashed them in that first scene where they start to have banter, and they’re like, “You mean improv?” And we’re like, “Yeah. Have fun.” I already got stuff that’s great. Now you want to try some bigger things? Let’s go big. And then that became the process through the film. We were all trying to have fun.

So I’m curious. So let’s say, for whatever reason, this starts filming before the pandemic starts. Do you stick with the dark version then?

No… I don’t know. I mean…

My opinion is it’s been such a dark time anyway, people are in the mood to feel good at a movie theater and laugh and have fun. And if this was a dark movie, I’m not sure I’d respond to that as much as I maybe would have four or five years ago.

Correct. I think pandemic, no pandemic, wherever we are in the world right now, I think we want to go to a place where we can escape and have fun and laugh and feel good and share sort of this fun, cathartic experience communally and then go home. It’s not to say you can’t explore that in a drama.

Oh, sure. Well, I’ll use an example. I wasn’t in the mood, at this point in history, to watch James Bond die. I wanted to see him win and save the day.

And I think as filmmakers and storytellers, you want to create things that the audience can respond to and enjoy. At least I do. And I want to take the audience on a ride of fun and thrills and feels, but ultimately leaving the theater feeling good.

I’ve noticed this summer there are movies like Top Gun and Nope that have defined characters and a clear plot. And your movie does that, too. Over the last few years summer movies have tended to be unnecessarily convoluted.

I think that that’s sometimes the special sauce. I think too much plot can undermine an experience or undermine a great character. You’re servicing all these different masters, and you have two hours to tell the story. We want to spend time with these characters that are sadistically fun, but ultimately relatable. Ladybug is relatable. The brotherhood between Lemon and Tangerine is relatable. Joey King’s character with Michael Shannon, even though she’s so sadistic, that scene with her and her father, there’s a moment of empathy for her like, “Of course she’s a sociopath. He ignored her her entire life.” And I just love telling that stuff. And the simplicity that was there on the page and that we tried to amplify with the performances made it a special one for me.

Speaking of a sadistic character that we like to spend time with, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Tangerine. When I see him in interviews, he seems like this jovial fellow. But a lot of movies have him doing an American accent and playing a stoic character. You just let him run loose in this thing and it looked like he was finally having the time of his life in a movie.

I do think he was and I think he was feeling in his wheelhouse. It was the pandemic when we shot this, so everyone was raising their hands to be in it and I had the blessed opportunity to have people read that wouldn’t normally read. Aaron Taylor-Johnson doesn’t need to read. But he wanted to, and he’s like, “I want to show you.”

So he had this character in mind.

Right. “Awesome. You want to read? Let’s hear it.” And he really did come with that character fully fleshed out in this West Ham, East End thug that he knew from growing up in London and he could just turn on at a switch. And he was chaotic and unhinged, and he felt dangerous but also funny. It was instant. Within five minutes of him riffing with the character I was like, “I want him to play this guy.” And so look, I’m glad that fate brought this character to us. He got to show what he’s really capable of. And I think there are a lot of people in Hollywood who know, but he just doesn’t have the right roles where he can really let it go. And thank God that Tangerine was that.

I’m curious what your relationship with Brad Pitt was before this movie. You used to be his stunt double?

Yeah. I was Brad’s stunt double for four or five films.

Okay. So Fight Club, The Mexican

It was Fight Club, The Mexican, Troy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

So you had a pretty good working relationship before this.

Yeah. We had been around the world together and run a show. Troy was six months, and there was a lot of training involved and choreography and wearing skirts together….

You actually just made a wistful face. Like, “What a time that was.”

I look back on that time in my life, it was early on in my stunt career. It was five, six years of back-to-back movies working with Brad. And it was really influential in my development as a filmmaker. I was working, observing these big directors in these big movies like David Fincher, like Wolfgang, Doug Liman, Gore Verbinski. I got to see them all work for the run of the show. And for a guy who wanted to make movies who was a stunt man who had an eye on the director chair, what a great sort of playground to be there every single day and watching these directors make movies.

Well, I’m curious. When I was joking about Hobbs & Shaw when we started and you mentioned exploring that world again. But you haven’t made a second movie in the same franchise yet. And I’m curious why you’re not going to do Deadpool 3. Is that just circumstance, or is it what you’re doing on purpose?

It’s probably more of what I’m doing and some circumstance. I love all of those worlds, and they’re all precious to me. Starting with John Wick. Chad has taken over that franchise and executed it beautifully. And Deadpool is amazing. And Atomic Blonde, I would love to go back. When I look back, I would love to go back to those worlds, but I think the way it’s worked out for me, or fate has brought me to this place, is that I get new opportunities and they’re really awesome, interesting, as well. Now moving on and doing The Fall Guy with Gosling, we’re prepping right now.

So is The Fall Guy the reason you’re not doing Deadpool 3?

No. Look, we had conversations about Deadpool 3, but I just was … I had things in the pipeline, too. And it was never, “Hey, do you want to do it or not want to do it?” or whatever. I think it was more we knew our dance cards were kind of full on both sides. And we have a window. And Marvel has calendars.

I do love The Fall Guy. I still have a The Fall Guy board game and a The Fall Guy lunchbox. So is it Colt Seavers?

It’s Colt.

Is there a Howie? Is it the same thing, or is it different?

Well, it is definitely a re-imagining. I think it’s contemporary idea. I mean, I think that the DNA of him, there’s going to be touchstones to the original. But it’s an origin story and it’s about a stuntman who goes on location and some things happen. And I think maybe through that process, he might discover he’s got a really impressive skill set of things that could be used for not only just stunts.

But also bounty hunting.

Maybe. Maybe.

Will Ryan Gosling sing the theme song?

[Laughs] TBD.

‘Bullet Train’ opens in theaters on August 5th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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