Roger Donaldson is one of the most underrated directors out there. While he’s not a household name, his films certainly are, ranging from ‘No Way Out’, ‘Dante’s Peak’, and ‘Thirteen Days’. One Donaldson’s best strengths is that he never allows himself to get in the way of the movie, but guiding it like a true master.
Donaldson is back with ‘The November Man’, reteaming with his ‘Dante’s Peak’ star Pierce Brosnan. I was fortunate enough to sit down with the director to discuss the film, his penchant for political thrillers, and working with Brosnan once again.
Political thrillers seem to be your calling in life. Is this your favorite genre?
It’s why I came to America. I wanted to be at the epicenter where politics collided.
Is that what attracted you to ‘The November Man’?
There’s a number of reasons. I haven’t made a film in Europe and I love Europe and I wanted to have an excuse to be there for an extended period of time. My grandfather was in Serbia during the First World War, and I didn’t know anything about it. So there were just a lot of things that collided. I love spy stories, I love the sub-defusion and keeping secrets from each other. It’s a genre that has a lot of interesting things that you can do as a director.
Did Pierce help you get on the project?
Oh yeah. It’s Pierce’s film. They found it and they came to me. I’ve known Pierce as a friend, and in fact we’ve known each other from Brian Browning. I was at his place for a barbecue and Pierce was there too. We sort of became friends, and Pierce lived close in the Malibu way. Then we did ‘Dante’s Peak’ together and had a great time.
There’s a lot of twists and turns in the script. How do you handle that when you’re shooting the film?
The challenge in making a thriller is the same challenge when you’re watching one; you always want to be ahead of the story, and say ‘Hey, I know who the bad guy is.’ And the challenge as the filmmaker is to say ‘No you don’t!’ You want to create a pretty Rubix Cube twist, where you see it from angle and then you’re seeing it from this angle. It’s real challenging because of the way it looks, and you always want to lead one way then go the other, in terms of making it work. When you’ve got good people who’ve got good ideas you just know, and you have all these different ways of going with it.
Can you talk about your method for shooting action? How do you interpret these scenes from page to screen?
I don’t like the action films that are done in computer. I like to do it all real, with the cars really crashing and people being pulled by wires. We had some very talented stunt drivers on the film, and everything got done for real. There’s a certain sort of pleasure in doing it for real because you know if you’ve got it. You know it’s not gonna be done in the computer. And then Pierce is a really talented driver. He’d be driving flat out you know, he’d do the acting and the driving, and it really came together.
Talk about the location shooting and why you selected Belgrade.
There’s a number of reasons. The reason it appealed to me was because of all these different cultures clashing that’s happened there over the years. Y’know, it’s always been the center of all that! and it still is. The Americans just put this epic consulate over there, it’s one of the biggest in the world. Geographically, it’s in an interesting part of the world, and you really have to have this place nailed. That appealed to me to make it the epicenter of our story. The surprise was that it was a big city.
Did Pierce do all of his own stunts?
Well he never really crashed cars [laughs.] But he was going flat out in the cars, that if you muck it up, it wouldn’t turn out too good.
Do you storyboard?
I like to shot list it out and storyboard. The storyboards are really only for showing other people what you want. I mean, I put the cameras where I want and get the details.
How many cameras did you work with?
Well, we had two main cameras that we worked with. Then we had all sorts of cameras.
‘The November Man’ opens August 27th.