Seeing Antonio Banderas as Never Before: A Conversation with Filmmaker Simon West
See Antonio Banderas as you’ve never seen him before. A glam rock star complete with wig, strutting his stuff and punching out rock tracks as this unlikely action hero sets out on a quest to rescue his super model wife Sheila, played by Olga Kurylenko. While on holiday in chile, his wife is mysteriously abducted by a group of renegade, ship-less pirates. With little assistance from local authorities Turk is forced to embark on a mission to rescue his wife using life skills better suited to playing bass, playing the field, and partying. He is forced to navigate through deadly jungles and take on ruthless bandits in this truly hilarious, action-packed romp. From director Simon West (Con Air, The Expendables 2), writer Toby Davies (That Mitchell and Webb Look, Murder in Successville) and starring Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Oblivion, Seven Psychopaths), Ben Cura (Marcella), Aisling Loftus (Mr Selfridge, War & Peace), Antonio Banderas (Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, The Expendables 3) and David Mitchell (That Mitchell & Webb Look, Peep Show, Upstart Crow).
In our interview, Simon West tells The Fan Carpet’s Marc Jason Ali how he got started, what made Antonio and Olga perfect for Gun Shy and who aspires him…
If we go back to the beginning was there a defining moment for you to get into the film industry?
I don’t know it was so long ago, I suppose I wanted to since I was about 12 years old so I think it was seeing films on TV and at the cinema, you know, things like Bond films which where the only really sort of spectacular and certainly the only British films of the time and so it was just sitting in cinemas watching lots of films and on TV even more films and I then just tried as hard as I could any which way to get in and I actually ended up going through the BBC film training programme and that’s how I did it.
Obviously you’re known for a many number of great films from Con Air to The Expendables 2, well the last time I saw you was at the Stratton premiere. What can you tell us about Gun Shy and what enticed you to get involved?
Gun Shy is a little different, more comedic although I think there was certainly a lot of comedy in Con Air and The Expendables 2, it’s more of a balls out comedy really. It’s about a burnt our rock star who goes on holiday with his supermodel wife and she gets kidnapped by inept pirates and has to work out how to rescue her even though he’s never tied his own shoe lace.
So he’s a mixture of sort of Ozzy Osbourne and Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler all mixed into one sort of trying to be a bit of a hero, a bit of sort of action hero but failing miserably but having a good time on the way. And I read the book literally about nine years ago now and I called the author up and I said….I knew it was going to be a kind of quirky story so it wouldn’t be a studio funded film, so I said “would you give me the rights to the book bearing in mind I’m going to do it very small budget as a sort of passion project” and eventually he agreed to give me the rights for….and he said “well why don’t you get me a really good bottle of tequila and you can have the rights to the film” and he also threw in the first draft of the screenplay because he was also a screenplay writer, so I think he thought I’d probably get around to making it in six months or a year so that bottle of tequila wouldn’t be such a bad deal, but it, of course, ended up taking me nine years before I finally got round to shooting it.
You’ve assembled a brilliant cast for Gun Shy with Antonio Banderas and Olga Kurylenko, what was it about that made them the perfect fit for the roles?
Well I’ve known Antonio for quite a while and I know he’s played all sorts of roles, he’s a bit of a chameleon, but he really is quite a good musician and we where chatting and where chatting about another project and I brought up Gun Shy and he’s all “that sounds great I love the idea of that because I’ve known a lot of rockstars living in LA so I just know exactly how those guys are and how to play it” so I said “great”, so I adapted the script to be more about someone like Antonio which has this sort of Hispanic/Latino background to make it fit his persona.
And really we’ve been looking around for his ex-supermodel wife, you know I wanted someone who wasn’t just necessarily taking a risk on a model or a supermodel or someone like that but someone whose actually done some great acting work but has also crossed over a bit into the modelling world and Olga has that and she’s sort of exotic, she’s Russian but grew up half her life in France and she’s modelled but she’s also been in some very dramatic films and done some great roles, she’s not afraid to look ugly, she’s not afraid to go for it emotionally and she seemed to fit it perfectly it’s that combination of kind of, you know, stunningly beautiful but also willing to do the comedy, so they seemed like the perfect match to me.
Wonderful, yeah she’s brilliant and so is he even in voice work like with Puss in Boots he’s brilliant. Obviously you’ve done a lot of action films, do you have a preferred genre and do you have any favourite films?
Well funnily enough my favourite genre is science fiction, sci-fi, which is strange because I’ve never actually made one yet, but I’m sort of in the process of developing a couple of sci-fi ideas. But that funnily enough that’s sort of the film I sit down and watch or a really good drama, I don’t tend to watch action films because I’ve made a few and it’s sort of like going to work watching them, so I try to watch films that have nothing to do with the type of films that I make, I watch a lot of romantic comedies, sci-fi, things like that just to sort of get away from the action genre.
Are there any other aspects of the film industry that you would like to pursue?
I produce some films and TV now and I do like that it means you can get a lot more stories out there, it’s always a little frustrating not being the actual director behind the camera, I love directing the most, but I also write a little bit and produce a little bit but really I much prefer directing as my passion, so I think that’s the only job that’s the only job I really want to do.
Okay fair enough. You’ve worked with a great crop of talent not just in this film but in your career, do you have a wish list of who you’d like to work with?
Yeah, I mean you always want to work with the great actors and fortunately by the time they’ve built this huge body of work and respect and have got such knowledge there seen as quite senior so quite a few of the ones that I’ve always wanted to work with are passed away now unfortunately, so that’s always the race to try and get to work with your favourite actors who have got huge experience but getting them before they stop working or pass away, so I definitely have that list in my head of who I’d love to get round to working with as soon as possible.
Who inspires you within the industry?
I like directors that are sort of change their style a bit and also it depends on a particular film they’ve made, sort of Ridley Scott I’ve always, I kind of grew up watching his films so he was always a great craftsman and of all the directors that are working now I always love watching his films because he is such a great craft about it.
And then I love Coen brothers films because I think they have a bizarre sense of humour about them so I love their films, and then there’s other directors who will sort of do a film now and again that you just go “that’s fantastic” this year I loved Dunkirk I thought that was a brilliant film, and you know there’s directors that have passed obviously that where very influential like Kubrick and people like that, but quite often it’s directors that will have a moment of genius and (be on?) the sort of 4th or 5th film so those are the ones you watch and get inspiration from, you know, the great ones that come along every few years.
Other than Gun Shy, what else are you working on?
Well I’m just working on developing a film called Thunder Run which is about a particular incident in the Iraq War where a tank battalion, it’s a bit like Black Hawk Down but with tanks, again it’s a true story based on a Pulitzer Prize winning book of the same name Thunder Run and again it’s one of those books I have had for quite a few years and I just got round to sort of moving to the top of the pile and so I’m hoping to get that going later this year.
When working on something like that do you have an actor in mind to head the film on or does it come naturally?
Not really, I mean when, especially if it’s come out of a real incident like a real book with real characters, it’s really basing it on the people who really where there because there are people I can actually talk to and have access to and have quite detailed descriptions of characters in the books, and so I sort of based the script on the real people and then find actors that could fit that character or want to transform into that character because they don’t necessarily have played that kind of part in the past, but once it’s all set in stone in the script then I look for the actor rather than thinking of the actor first, I mean once the actors signed on then, as I said with Antonio in Gun Shy then I might adapt the script to the actors strengths or something that will make it easier for them to be accepted as that part, but I keep the processes quite separate; screenwriting and then afterwards looking for the actor.
Fandoms are a big part of the industry, who or what are you a fan of?
Well as I said I always look out for the new Ridley Scott film, I’m a big fan of sci-fi, I love fantasy, so whether it’s magical fantasy or surreal fantasy or whatever, I find sci-fi is sort of fantasy. So anything that takes you literally to a different world or a different place that isn’t too realistic I’m a big fan of anything that isn’t, watching it, isn’t too realistic, even though some of the films that I make are pretty realistic, I actually prefer to escape when I watch a film.
Yeah absolutely, well that’s what they are, they’re escapism at the end of the day, like the new Star Wars film…
Yeah exactly, that’s the kind of great world where there’s absolutely no way to do with anything that you can see in everyday life so I love that stuff.
Yeah absolutely. We’ve spoken a lot about books, are there any other books that you’re a fan of that haven’t been adapted to film yet that you would love to be a part of?
Oh yeah there’s quite a few, I’ve got a shelf full of them that I’m going to work threw. There’s another book in the series by Mark Haskell Smith who did Gun Shy, the original book was called Salty, I’m just adapting another book of his which is called Raw which is set in the TV world and I’m just adapting that, and then, like I said I have a book shelf full of great books whether they’re kind of French books, English books, American books, I’ve got more material than I can ever hope to get through, books are a great source.
What advice would you have to someone embarking upon a career in the film industry?
The first thing I would say is never give up because everybody I know that never gave up have eventually made it and the only people I know that didn’t make it where the ones that gave up, so just stick at it, it’s such a broad industry with so many different types of jobs and careers that if you want to be in the film business there’s going to be something for you in it so definitely keep trying and never give up because it may not happen as quickly as you want to and I’m sure, usually as far as I know it will happen if you never give up, because people reward tenacity as people can see that you’re passionate and don’t give up then eventually you’ll get rewarded.
Absolutely. Just before I let you go, what do you hope audience are going to take away from Gun Shy?
I think, hopefully, they’ll just have a lot of fun and want to watch it again, because that’s something I always try to make with my films, I hope I make them with a hope that will watch it again because that’s the kind of film that I like, classic films that you don’t just watch once and go “okay I’ve found out what happened but I’ve no desire to go through that again” and I hope people want to watch Gun Shy several times and see Antonio in a role that he’s never been seen as which is this sort of quite hilarious, outrageous rock star character, so I think they’ll be some fun in seeing him in that role.
Gun Shy is available in the UK across all major platforms including iTunes, Amazon, BT, Google Play, Microsoft Store, Sky Store, Sony PlayStation Store, Virgin Movies