The true meaning and value of friendship and family relationships often greatly varies between everyone, even those who are extremely close and vow to protect each other through any harrowing situation, no matter what happens. But it isn’t until people are erroneously placed into a challenging circumstance that they should never have been involved in that their true loyalties and connections are truly tested. That process of figuring out who you can actually rely on during life’s toughest challenges is grippingly presented in director Erik Van Looy’s new psychological thriller, ‘The Loft,’ which is a gratifying remake of his original 2008 Belgian crime mystery drama, ‘Loft.’
‘The Loft’ follows five close friends, including Vincent Stevens (Karl Urban), Chris Vanowen (James Marsden) and his half-brother, Philip Trauner (Matthias Schoenaerts), Luke Seacord (Wentworth Miller) and Marty Landry (Eric Stonestreet), who appear to be living in high society and have everything they could ever ask for in life. However, their personal and personal lives aren’t as successful as they all hoped they would be, as they’re all still struggling to achieve their goals in their careers and marriages. They also have strained relationships with their wives for various reasons; Chris’ wife, Allison (Rhona Mitra), for example, doesn’t approve of his friends, while Philip’s spouse, Vicky (Margarita Levieva), only seemed to marry him out of a business arrangement, and Vincent and Marty’s wives, Barbara (Valerie Cruz) and Mimi (Kali Rocha), suspect them of infidelity.
In order to indulge in their deepest fantasies, the five men conspire to secretly share a new penthouse loft in the city, which Vincent has arranged for them through a recent property development he worked on. But the fantasy becomes a nightmare when Luke discovers the body of an unknown woman, who has been brutally murdered in the loft’s bed, which makes the friends immediately realize one of the group must be involved. Paranoia seizes them as everyone begins to suspect one another.
Their friendships are questioned as the group is consumed by fear and suspicion, as accusations of murder are brought up by the officers investigating the case, Detectives Huggins (Kristin Lehman) and Cohagan (Robert Wisdom). As the men begin to relay the affairs they embarked on at the loft, including Vincent’s extramarital relationship with Sarah Deakins (Isabel Lucas), a woman he met while on a business trip in San Diego, and Chris’ association with Anne Morris (Rachael Taylor), a woman who works for a prominent local businessman, their loyalties and actions are also thoroughly examined by each other, as they also set out to uncover the truth.
Van Looy generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘The Loft’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the director discussed how he’s honored that his original film broke national records at the Belgium box office, which allowed the remake’s production company, Anonymous Content, to offer him the freedom to remain loyal to ‘Loft’s script and vision while making the Hollywood version; when he was casting the remake, how he knew he needed five great actors who not only wanted to throw themselves into the film’s ensemble nature, but also liked, and could play off, their co-stars while telling their characters’ story, without much direction; and how he spoke to each of the five lead actors of the remake before they arrived on the film’s set for the first day of shooting, so they were all in agreement on their characters’ actions and motivations.
ShockYa (SY): You directed the new thriller, ‘The Loft,’ which is the American remake of the 2008 Belgian film of the same name you also helmed. Why did you decide to remake the film with an American cast in an American setting?
Erik Van Looy (EVL): Well, I really liked the script for the first movie (which was written by Bart De Pauw, who also co-wrote the remake with Wesley Strick), and it was a great adventure for me. The Belgium movie beat every record, including the ones set by ‘Avatar’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ and became a national and cultural phenomenon. So it was a big part of life. When I was asked to make the Hollywood remake, the producers wanted to make it very loyal to the original. I thought, okay, let’s make a good movie twice, instead of making a mediocre movie once.
I also did it because I’m in good company. Alfred Hitchcock made ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ twice, Michael Haneke made ‘Funny Games’ twice and Cecil B. DeMille made ‘The Ten Commandments’ twice. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, or that I’m in the same league as these people, but I feel like I’m in good company.
Maybe I should think about making the film three times-that would become a world record of making your own movie three times. I don’t know of any director who has made his own film three different times. But that’s not going to happen with this film.
But I liked the script of the original film, and appreciated that 1.2 million people saw it in Belgium, where there are only about six million people. But I felt like that wasn’t enough, and the story deserved a worldwide audience. You’re never going to reach a worldwide audience with a Belgium movie, so you need to make a Hollywood version.
I also felt like the producers at (‘The Loft’s production company,) Anonymous Content appreciated the story, as they said they wanted a very loyal remake. That’s another reason why I made the remake now. At some points, we were at other studios, and they said, “Okay, let’s make this movie again. But instead of having five guys cheating on their partners and wives, it’s only one of the guys who’s cheating, and the other four are coming to the loft to watch baseball or football.” But that wouldn’t be the same movie, so that wouldn’t be a good idea-I would never have done that. So when the producers (at Anonymous Content) asked me to make a loyal remake, and be faithful to the original film’s story and characters, I really wanted to do it.
SY: Speaking of the screenplay, Bart De Pauw and Wesley Strick co-wrote the script for ‘The Loft,’ like you mentioned What was the process of working with them both while you were making the thriller? How much did you collaborate with them on the story?
EVL: Well, the first version of the script for the original film was about 180 pages long. Since it was so long, you knew a lot more about the characters and their backstories. But it was too long; I didn’t feel like it had to be 150-minutes-it could be two hours, maximum. So for the first year, we tried to lose dialogue and character developments, without destroying the quality of the material.
On the second film, Wesley Strick came on board (with De Pauw). He previously wrote the remake of ‘Cape Fear’ for Martin Scorsese, as well as ‘Wolf’ and a few other movies. The first thing he said was that he thought the script (for ‘Loft’) was really perfect, so he don’t want to change a lot. I think that was a really good way to approach it.
The first thing I said to him was, “I think with this script, you should be loyal,” and he agreed. He said that’s what we had to do, because there have been remakes that didn’t work at all.
For example, there was the American remake of the French-Dutch film, ‘Spoorloos,’ called ‘The Vanishing.’ It starred Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland, and both films were directed by the same filmmaker, George Sluizer. ‘Spoorloos’ had a really dark ending, but he changed the ending for the remake, and made it happy. The remake ended up not working at all, because of the endings being switched. The original ending made the movie.
Sometimes it is necessary to change a lot for a remake, and it makes it even better. Like with ‘The Departed,’ it was an even better movie than the original Hong Kong film it’s based on, ‘Infernal Affairs.’
With this film, every small detail and element is so important to the story. It was clear with this movie that if it wasn’t broken, don’t fix it. Wesley was a very good collaborator, especially in that aspect.
But one of the most difficult aspects on the remake was getting the jokes right. There are a lot of funny moments throughout the film, especially in the scenes Eric Stonestreet is in. He’s not only a great actor, but he’s also fantastic at improv. He came up with things on the set
There were funny moments in the original movie, as well, because we knew they were important. Right from the beginning, both films are intense thrillers, so you need the funny moments to give the audience a good feeling. But the funny moments in the original film are really tied to Belgium culture, so they were impossible to translate. So Wesley had to find other jokes and comedic moments for the remake. So remaining loyal to the original, while also incorporating more universal jokes, was important for the second film.
SY: Speaking of Eric, he’s one of the five main actors in ‘The Loft,’ alongside Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller and Matthias Schoenaerts. What was the process of finding the right performers for the characters in the remake?
EVL: Well, one of the most important aspects is that it’s an ensemble movie. Usually, the Hollywood way is that you have one leading character, and when you find the actor to play that character, you have the movie. But with this movie, there are five leading characters, so it was a little more difficult to find all of the actors. You know they all have to split the attention, and there’s no real leading character. So I underestimated that aspect, and it turned out that casting wasn’t easy as a result.
If you have a script like this, you can go for actors like George Clooney, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, as well as other big stars. But then the budget would be so big, you wouldn’t be able to afford it for a smaller scale movie like this. Then the studio would also call a director like Steven Soderbergh, and fire me. (laughs) But I could understand why, because Steven Soderbergh is a man with enormous talent.
So we needed a ‘Usual Suspects’-type of cast, where you have five great actors who really want to throw themselves into the film. But it isn’t always that easy; sometimes you find one great actor, and then you go to the second actor, who may not like the actor who’s already attached, or wants to play a different role. So we went on an adventure with that aspect. But we ended up with five people I absolutely loved, and who also liked each other. That was important on this type of film, because it was a group effort.
As a director, you know that you’re in for a ride, even when you just have two actors on a set. Actors come with a certain energy, as well as certain questions. I’m not saying with this film, but sometimes the actors can come to the set with an ego. But that didn’t happen here, and we had five talented and mature actors who were also very confident. They had not only seen the original movie, but they also liked the actors in it. So they knew I was up to the task of telling the story, and lead them to good performances. But that wasn’t necessary, because they’re all great actors, and didn’t need me. I’m very happy with the cast that we got for this film.
SY: Were you able to have any rehearsal time with the cast before, or while, you were filming ‘The Loft,’ in order to help build their chemistry and working relationships?
EVL: Well, I usually tend to discuss that with the actors before we arrive on set. If you discuss that with them on the set, that leaves about 120 crew members standing around, and that costs you a lot of money. So I try to avoid having moments where the crew’s just standing around, while the director and actors are discussing the characters.
So I go to visit the actors before we begin filming. I think I saw James Marsden and Wentworth Miller about three or four times each, and Karl Urban twice, before we started shooting. So I try to get to know them as we go through the whole script and every line of dialogue.
Sometimes there are also readings, where five or six actors come together to read the whole script. That’s a good process, but I’d rather be in an environment where I can talk to each actor personally. If you’re with five or six guys, the director has to divide their attention over all the actors. But when you’re alone with an actor, you can really dig into their character. I’m happy to travel all over to do that-I live in Belgium, and the actors lived usually live in L.A. or New York. I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page right away, from the first day on the set in New Orleans. I think we had a pretty smooth ride, and we all liked that process.
SY: You filmed ‘The Loft’ on location throughout New Orleans, like you just mentioned, as well as in a studio in Belgium. Do you have a preference of shooting on location or in a studio?
EVL: Well, with the loft, we wanted to control the environment, so we knew we needed to build it. It’s such an important location, because it’s the setting for about half of the movie. We needed to be able to move the camera around in the loft, and in a real location, we wouldn’t be able to do all the shots I wanted to do. So we knew we needed to build the loft, and it would have to be big, classy and interesting, as it’s the film’s sixth character, so to speak.
But we also knew we were going to be shooting in there for a month. It didn’t matter if we built the inside of the loft in L.A., New Orleans or Belgium, but Belgium was the cheapest option. By making the actors travel to Belgium to shoot the interiors there, we made the movie for $2 million less. But every exterior was shot in the States, and then it was just the matter of bringing it all together.
The ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Batman’ movies were shot in London, for example, which shows the magic of movie-making. It seems like Mr. (Christopher) Nolan (who co-wrote, co-produced and directed the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy) likes to shoot in London because he’s English and he lives in the city. I know Stanley Kubrick also liked to shoot in London, because he didn’t like to travel overseas.
That was one reason that also worked for me, because I live in Belgium. But it also helped cut the budget, but I wouldn’t do that if it jeopardized the quality of the movie. So when we showed the inside of the loft, we were inside the studio in Brussels, and when they were walking through the corridors to the loft, they were in a real corridor. Then when they were outside, they were in New Orleans. That’s the way of movie-making, and I’m glad we did it that way, because it was more economical.
But I was afraid that the main American actors would be reluctant to go to Belgium to film. Most of the actors are based in Los Angeles, but Karl Urban’s from New Zealand. But movies aren’t always filmed in L.A., so they have to travel, anyway, whether it’s to New Orleans, Detroit or New York.
They were never in Belgium before, so I think they had a good time. While there, they went to a Prince concert, as well as the Tour de France. So it was a good summer there, but you don’t want to travel there during the winter-they would rather stay in L.A. during the winter. (laughs)
SY: Besides ‘The Loft,’ do you have any upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss?
EVL: I have a film called ‘Prime Minister,’ which is a Belgium movie. It’s about the Belgium Prime Minister being kidnapped by terrorists, and it’s like ‘The Bourne Identity’ and ‘Air Force One.’ It’s a pretty interesting subject, and like ‘The Loft,’ it’s very universal. It’s a really good story that has a lot of twists, and maybe one day someone else will remake it.
I’m not sure if I’ll be doing any more remakes. In fact, I’ve been asked a couple of times to remake my previous movie, ‘The Memory of a Killer,’ which was released in Belgium in 2003. It was actually voted as one of the year’s 10 best films by Time Magazine. It’s about a man who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
They’re aiming to do the remake right now in Hollywood, and I think Brian De Palma is trying to make it with Al Pacino. While it’s a really good story, I think making one remake in my life is good. Although, you never know-if Brian De Palma was no longer involved with the project and the producers called me again, I may consider it. I like good stories, and there aren’t a lot of great stories around. So I would be willing to make a good story twice, instead of a mediocre story once.
Written by: Karen Benardello