Movies

Steven S. DeKnight Can’t Believe ‘Pacific Rim Uprising’ Exists Either

Universal

It’s kind of crazy a second Pacific Rim movie exists at all. The first, released in 2013 and directed by the now Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro, underperformed domestically, but then surged in international markets. This surge brought about a barrage of will there/won’t there questions regarding a sequel. After writing the initial script, del Toro went on to other projects as what would come to be known as Pacific Rim Uprising was held in limbo.

Steven S. DeKnight, whose resumé includes the Spartacus series for Starz and serving as showrunner for Netflix’s Daredevil, was hired to take over the project, for which he serves as director and co-screenwriter. Del Toro’s first script was largely rewritten. Then — just when he thought he had the script cracked, with the star of the first film, Charlie Hunnam, returning — DeKnight sees a story in the trades that Hunnam is off to make Papillon so it was back to the drawing board.

So, no, there’s no Charlie Hunnam in Pacific Rim Uprising. (DeKnight goes into a lot of detail about all that ahead.) He’s been replaced in the lead spot by John Boyega playing Jake, the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Jake is not his father and spends most days at parties or ransacking junkyards looking for scraped Jaeger parts. After a run-in with the authorities, Jake has to return to military duty to save the planet from a new Kaiju threat.

Ahead, DeKnight, who is making his feature film debut with this massive movie, takes us through the painstaking process of getting this film made and gives us some details about the other scripts that weren’t used. The first thing I said to DeKnight was that I can’t believe this movie exists, and judging from DeKnight’s reaction, I suspect he can’t either. (Also, I’m not sure if it’s possible to spoil a Pacific Rim movie, but if this is something you are worried about there are probably a few plot details that are on the spoiler-ish side below.)

I’m actually amazed this movie exists.

You and me both.

After the first one, there was back and forth for so many years about if this was ever going to happen, and here it is.

You know, when they came to me with the possibility of directing this, one of the things they told me is we have to go now or there is going to be no sequel and the franchise will be dead. So, yeah, it got to the point where they had been developing it for years and they started to look at it with the idea that if we don’t get a movie in the pipeline now, it’s going to be too many years since the original and it won’t be worth pursuing it. So I’m amazed and delighted there’s a sequel.

It’s also quite a thing for your feature-length directorial debut…

Oh, you know, I decided to start with a small, intimate movie. Yeah, it was the same, but bigger. Thankfully, from the stuff that I’ve done in television, I’m used to working with action and visual effects and genre, so this was a lot of the same stuff except a hundred times bigger, you know?

So there were similarities?

Before this, the longest I’d ever shot was, I think it was 16 days on the Daredevil finale on the first season. And this was over 80 days of shooting and all over the world. So, literally, it’s just like somebody hit the “big” button. But my experience in TV was absolutely invaluable. I never could have stepped into this without that background.

I’m under the impression that this final version is quite a bit different than the script that del Toro wrote and first turned in? Is that accurate?

Yeah, there were actually three scripts when I came on board. Over the years they had developed three different stories, all vastly different. And I took some inspiration from all the scripts. There was an evil Jaeger called Black Maria in the original script. It was actually piloted by, I think in one version, there’s a pair of sisters from Tijuana. But I took that idea and I thought, well, you know, if you’re going to crack it open, why not build a mystery of who’s piloting it and then crack it open and it’s a Kaiju brain? So there were little bits and pieces like that, but we started pretty much from whole cloth. Legendary really wanted to go in a bit of a different direction.

I was wondering if it would be an evil Raleigh Becket.

[Laughs.] I love that idea.

What is Raleigh Becket doing while this movie is going on? I understand the logistics of actors and not returning, but what’s the character up to?

We actually shot some stuff that explained that. And we tested it and discovered that it just raised more questions. You know, they say his name a couple of times. And in my mind, if I ever got to do a third movie, I would love for Charlie Hunnam to be a part of it. We actually shot a version where a character talks about how Raleigh died, that there’s a form of radiation on the other side of the breach that they didn’t know about and weren’t prepared for. And because Raleigh stayed to finish the mission, he got a fatal dose of that radiation and died. But then we started talking about some ideas for Charlie Hunnam to come back for the next installment and thought, eh, you know what? Maybe we shouldn’t kill him.

I could see how that explanation of his death would raise questions.

And we actually developed an entire script with Raleigh as the main character. We beat it out, we wrote it. I handed it in to Legendary. They loved it. I remember going to sleep that night thinking, Eh, you know, I always hear about all these problems with features, this is easier than I thought. And I literally woke up the next day, logged on to Deadline Hollywood, and right there on my computer was “Charlie Hunnam doing a remake of Papillon.” And I looked at the shoot date and it’s exactly when my movie shoots.

And you had the small window.

Yeah. And that was Charlie’s passion project. I had met with him, we sat down and talked. Loved him to death, he was fantastic and I was heartbroken that I was losing him. And Legendary and Universal said, well, we’re still locked into this release date, we have to go. So we either have to figure out a way to do it without Raleigh or the movie’s not going to get made. So we whipped up a story about a brother and sister as the main characters. Nobody liked that, including me, and I actually co-wrote it. And then [producer] Mary [Parent] and Guillermo came up with this idea of the son of Stacker Pentecost, and that’s when I think things started to really cook.

While watching this movie, I can’t remember the last time I saw a big blockbuster spectacle that had no fat whatsoever in the movie. The first Pacific Rim, there are scenes that drag. It feels like all of that was trimmed out of this one. Was that conscious?

Yes, to a certain extent.

This is a tight movie.

I know exactly what you’re saying. The movie was a little flabby to start with. The script was much bigger. When we got into the editing room, I think the editor’s cut was about two and half hours long. My director’s cut was two hours and 18 minutes. And when I signed on to the movie, I told Legendary I love this genre, but I don’t think this story in this world should be longer than two hours. So we knew we were flabby. So we got in there and did some hacking and slashing — some of it painful, some of it less painful — to get it down. And that was exactly our goal: to trim out all the fat. For an example, we had a whole sequence where we cut back to the beach of Santa Monica where drones were being delivered. We shot the whole thing. Mary Parent wisely said, “Why are we going to Santa Monica and leaving our characters?” And it was like a light bulb went off over my head. It’s like, yeah, why are we doing that? That’s ridiculous. We should stick with our people.

It did really feel like this movie trimmed out a lot of stuff, but in a good way. Because sometimes there are movies that are 89 minutes and you know something went wrong.

No, I totally agree. I think the runtime just hits the sweet spot. And for me, moving forward, I really want to try to do that. The time crunch was our biggest problem, that I wish we would have had another month or two to kick the tires on the script and really think about certain things, but we just had to slap it on paper and start shooting.

So Charlie Day’s relationship with the Kaiju brain, I love that so much. It’s so weird. And they listen to Foreigner together.

I’ve got to tell you, that was a scene that was in and out of the movie so many times it made my head spin.

Oh, I’m glad it was in.

Charlie Day and I both originally felt that it may tip our hand.

Who cares? It’s such a fun scene.

But then we shot it and I fell in love with it. So we were delighted by it. And then we started testing it and people were confused. It raised a bunch of questions.

I bet.

So we tested it with it in; we tested it with it out. And then it was in; then it was out. And literally it went back and forth like five or six times. And then finally we decided, eh, fuck it. It’s a delightful scene. It’ll make us all laugh.

It tips the balance where you can now call this movie “weird.”

Yes, and that’s the thing that I really loved about it. It was just weird. And Charlie’s so great and I also desperately hope they make like a lava lamp Alice for my desktop, which would be just fantastic. But yeah, that scene was just so delightful, we just had to keep it in.

You were part of the Transformers writers’ room. I’m so curious: What’s a Transformers writing room like?

It was a blast.

I imagine.

It was a room full of incredibly talented, interesting, really wonderful people. I’ve got to say, my time spent in there was just, more than anything, was just so much fun. Everyone was so much fun and interesting. And we actually wrote, I think it was, I want to say 12 different movies. Every one of us took a different idea and developed it into like a full 30-page outline, so there were like 12 movies. And also, in complete honesty, my absolute favorite movie of the bunch was the Bumblebee movie that they’re making right now.

I’ve heard good things about it.

The idea was fantastic.

I still can’t believe a second Pacific Rim movie exists.

We are both stunned and shocked.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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