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Exclusive Interview: Joel Wyman Discusses Dead Man Down

You’re probably familiar with writer Joel Wyman, even if you don’t recognize the name. While he’s starred in various films and television roles throughout the years, Wyman’s first big screenplay was 2001’s fun romantic comedy The Mexican. More recently, he’s been one of the key writers and co-executive producers of the hit show “Fringe”, which just recently wrapped up its run.

That seems like perfect timing, as Joel Wyman’s next scriptures are the blueprint for Dead Man Down, a film that’s pretty smartly written. Wyman seems to be trying to add different spins on the action genre, but without sacrificing what action fans love about the genre. He also seems more concerned with adding some meat to his characters bones, and not aping the typical tropes of the genre.

I was very lucky you have a wonderful chat with Mr. Wyman about the film, and try to pick his brain about what he does when he writes.

Where did you get the idea from?

Whenever I’m talking to younger kids that are coming out of school, they always ask questions about writing and how to do things. I always start with the basic questions. One of my favorite novels is “A Tale Of Two Cities”, and if I say to them ‘what is “A Tale Of Two Cities” about?’ they’ll always say it’s about a guy in the French Revolution that falls in love with this woman. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about the ever present possibility of change. You’d think that [Charles] Dickens didn’t sit down and say ‘I have a great hook! It’s about a guy who’s going to take the place of another guy! Now I’m going to write a movie to support that!’ No, I don’t believe that. I believe that he had something important to say, and that he really believed that humans can change. He believed that humans were inherently good, and that the most disinfected human being could turn from not doing anything for anybody to doing the most selfless act for somebody. That to me is a journey.

To use that as an example, I have to figure out what I’m trying to say when I write a movie. It may not be the popular way to do it, but that’s how I do it. I’m very concerned with the idea of that violence, and I’m very concerned of bad things happening to good people, I don’t like that. I don’t know how people go on when they’re faced with this terrible things. I wanted to try to tell the rest of the people in the world that even the most damaged heart can be mended, and you have to make connections with people. Even though they can be ripped from you, your job is you have to connect, and build a plot around it. I sort of figure out what the movie is about, and then figure out what’s the best way to tell it. The setting in New York is very logical, and there was a little melting pot there, and it’s the city of freedom, it’s the city of liberty. You’re supposed to go there to follow your dreams, and these assholes take it away from you. That’s how it sort of came about. Then the real stuff comes in, with the moving around the plots and trying to figure out what I’m going to do, and that’s where the drafts come in, which took a long time. It took about six years to get that down. Some people are faster, but this movie just took a long time to find itself.

How many drafts did you go through?

A lot. Twenty? I just lost count. I produced the movie as well, so I knew that it was going to be at a certain budget. But I kept writing until I felt that it was right. Because I wasn’t on anybody’s schedule, I could set it aside and say ‘Ok, I don’t have the answer, I’m extremely frustrated, and I want to just kill every idea.’ I’d just walk away from it for a little bit, then come back and look at it. There were some significant plot things that I needed to figure out, so I’d go work on other things, and come back to it. Then I’d hit another wall and do the same.

I liked the complexity of the characters. How long did it take to get those characters where you liked?

Really, Victor (Colin Farrell) is a guy that’s so injured that all he sees is black. To go in there, to use that hatred as gasoline to lose an accent, in order to get in there and stand in the same room with the people that have done this. I think there’s just kind of a profound, strange thing to want to be around the people that caused this violence. We don’t know how we’re going to react to it. He’s a guy who’s bent for revenge, and along comes this girl and it works, and ends up being a very unpredictable thing to a guy who’s only used to predictable things. As an engineer, you really can’t get more predictable than that, and here’s this loose cannon who’s going to do I don’t know what. He was really fun to write, and he sort of came into fruition really early, and Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) soon afterward.

With Beatrice, it seemed like there was some subtext to her character, in terms of what happens to her face and how she reacts. Was there any inspiration for that?

I hate to write women who are defined by their male counterparts. I like to write women that I would love, and I would love her, or I could love her. She has such a soul and an integrity. She’s so injured, and she’s so hurt and confused and lost. Being a woman today is really tough, because you’re expected to be so much; a business person, a lover, a mother, a friend, everything, everything in the world. And then on top of that, you’re supposed to be a perfect ten all the time. Women are supposed to have a bit of something. It became clear that a woman is her face. It’s nice to say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, it’s nice to say ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts,’ but what attracts people are chemicals. If you’re detoured, even by the look of someone, the truth is she can’t walk down the street without someone looking at her face. That’s who you are, that’s who you’re presenting. Not that anyone who has a face injury would resort to this, but for her, it wasn’t so much what happened to her face, but it was the injustice of who did it to her. That leads back to the big theme of the evil doers in the world trying to have good decent lives. She just couldn’t believe that the judge would look at her face and give the guy three weeks for drunk driving. It was that injustice got her going.

I wouldn’t classify her as being vain in the way that’s distasteful for me. Vanity sucks really, when you think about it. You should always be able to laugh at yourself. It’s about injustice. Yes, that was sort of a way that we told that facet of the story, with her facial reconstruction. But really what it was about was the injustice, and that there are so many ways to destroy the apple carton. But it’s OK because you don’t know what’s around the corner.

You mentioned how “A Tale Of Two Cities” is more about a person changing. In this film, this seems to be more of a love story than a straight up thriller. How did that come to be?

There’s always a love story. I love Luc Besson, and The Professional was a big influence for me. The Professional was a love story. It was an action movie sure, but it was a platonic love story. It was about love, it was about connection, and that’s why I think that movie did so well. That movie is still remembered fondly because it had a connection with people. I wanted to tell a movie that was inspirational, because I’m a romantic. And these two people made something absolutely beautiful, out of something that was absolutely terrible. Again, that goes back to the theme of even the most damaged heart can be mended by connection. Everything you saw was about illuminating this theme.

Dead Man Down opens this Friday.

Joel Wyman Dead Man Down

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