Fearlessly fighting to achieve their emotional and physical goals can be an equally liberating and daunting experience for anyone, even the most seemingly tough and resolute soldiers who have committed to not allowing any obstacle hinder their progress. The two lead mercenaries in the new action thriller, ‘Tiger Raid,’ are the prime example of courageous men who daringly and willingly put their own lives in danger in order to fulfill a dangerous mission. The cast and crew of the drama, which was directed by Simon Dixon, who co-wrote the script with Gareth Coulam Evans and Mick Donnellan, also commendably conquered a sentimental milestone when they attended the film’s World Premiere during the Midnight section of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
‘Tiger Raid’ follows two cold blooded mercenaries, Joe (Brian Gleeson) and Paddy (Damien Molony), who are hired to lead a covert kidnapping mission. They’re chosen for the job by the mysterious Dave, who demands absolute loyalty from his men. The mission’s leader organizes the kidnapping of a wealthy Afghani’s daughter, Shadha (Sofia Boutella), and arranges to have the ransoms delivered once his soldiers obtain their target. Joe and Paddy forge an unlikely connection as they travel across the Iraqi desert during the middle of the night, in order to secure their target, and their mutual trust is the only thing that protects them on their mission.
While the mercenaries’ goal is to profit from the unruly locales as they set out to take Shadha hostage, unforeseen chaos erupts. As both men try to make sense of the situation, mistakes from their violent and desperate pasts threaten the trust they were able to establish in their relationship so far. Seemingly secure loyalty becomes an unpredictable and unreliable concept to Joe and Paddy when their past mistakes and violence threatens to tear each of them apart.
Dixon, Evans, Gleeson and Molony generously took the time to sit down for an exclusive interview at The Cutting Room in New York City. The group talked about co-writing, directing and starring in ‘Tiger Raid’ several hours before the thriller had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this past Sunday, April 17. Among other things, the filmmakers and actors discussed the process of developing the script with Donnellan, and the kind of research they all did into tiger raids before they began filming the drama. They also mentioned how they wanted to make the traveling mercenaries feel very visceral and alive, so they felt that filming on location in Jordan helped make the characters’ emotional and physical arcs appear more authentic.
“The project actually originated with a stage play, called ‘Radio Luxembourg,’ which was written by Mick Donnellan, who’s also a co-writer on the screenplay,” Evans revealed when he started the conversation about how development on the film began. “Simon and I read the script and really responded to this amazing world of these two guys who were doing a tiger raid. The characters of Joe and Paddy had this fantastic twist to their world views. They also had this surprising way of talking about their ways of criminality, and the way they made their decisions.”
The co-writer also revealed that he and the drama’s director thought there was “something really magical” in the way that Donnellan had presented the characters and story in his initial draft. “Through that development process with Mick, we decided that what we needed to do in order to turn it into a story that could really engage a broad international audience was to take them out of that context, and put them into another space that we were fascinated by,” Evans also noted.
That area “was the world of private security mercenaries who were operating in the Middle East. We were looking for a story to tell in that space, and these two concepts joined up in a really strong space for us. This story allowed us to give them a cinematic scale that had a relevance to broad themes in more of a historical context.” The co-writer-producer then explained that the story and characters “really started to click from there, and move really quickly. Then before we knew it, we were in Jordan, and it was 50 degrees (Celsius, which is approximately 122 degrees Fahrenheit),” the write, who also served as a producer on the film, said. He then garnered laughs from the group when he added, “So we were sweating away as we were shooting this strange world that Mick had sparked.”
The actors also offered some insight into what attracted them to ‘Tiger Raid,’ particularly their roles of the two main mercenaries. “I think the character of Joe was originally older,” Gleeson admitted. “But I auditioned for it anyway and had a discussion about it with the lads, and they said they might make Joe younger. They were considering making the two be more of teammates, as opposed making them a mentor and protégé, which I thought was very interesting.” He added that there were some aspects of the two Irish characters that was recognizable in what he described as a “crazy world, and the experience of playing them was incredibly exciting.”
“I was filming with a lot of Irish actors when I was sent the script,” Molony divulged when he began discussing how he was cast as Paddy in ‘Tiger Raid.’ “There was a huge buzz among Irish actors about the script for this film. So I read it and loved it. I was drawn to the fact that the relationship between the two characters is constantly shifting.”
The actor described the two mercenaries as “two fish out of water in this violate environment, so things could go wrong and become very dangerous for them. I loved the character, and developed an innate feeling of who he was.” Molony then described Paddy as being arrogant and incredibly naive.
The group then began discussing what kind of research they did into tiger raids before they began filming the drama. “From my perspective, I created a playbook, which is about 240-page document, in which we looked into all aspects of the film,” Dixon revealed. “We included the visual look, the history of the characters, the locations (in Jordan where the thriller was filmed) and the production design. We also discussed how the film would sound,” the director then divulged. Dixon also noted that he and the rest of the crew wanted to create a rich landscape “that was incredibly beautiful while we were dealing with these ugly things.”
“We met with a couple of guys who had worked in the private security contract business. One of them was a physical trainer, as well, and he put us to work on a training regime. There was also a guy who had been living in Jordan for the past few years, but he had previously been in Iraq, working as a contractor,” Gleeson revealed, before adding that the training the cast did really helped in connecting with their characters.
Molony also mentioned the exercise regime he and his co-stars took on, in order to “get into the bodies of these guys. To play a mercenary, you have to look like one. What was just as important as the physical aspect was our time” with the contractor. “He had some amazing advice, including how a former soldier, who’s now a mercenary, would” carry himself. They also discussed how a mercenary “would act if he was dropped into the center of Jordan, where it was 45-50 degrees Celsius heat, while covered in this military gear. The heat and noise of the world we were dropped into was just as important as all of the script work that we had done.”
Gleeson echoed his co-star’s testament of how immersive the filmmaking process was on ‘Tiger Raid,’ and added how helpful Dixon was while they were shooting the action drama. “It was almost like performing in a play, in a way, because we’d do these long takes. We had such rich dialogue that we’d film, and then we’d ad-lib for a bit,” the actor explained. “That process was very liberating, in a sense. We just dived in, and the three weeks that we spent on filming just went by so quickly.”
“Gareth and I are great believers in being experimental. Certainly, that’s helpful if you’re trying to find the truth of an idea,” Dixon then said as he began emphasizing the importance of fully exploring the possibilities of every situation in the script. “The shadows that we paint around the story can be very polarizing, but they can also be very broad. So there are ways to move around, in terms of what you think is happening in a scene. I think letting an audience enjoy that is really interesting,” the director added.
The filmmaker also mentioned that he hoped to make the traveling mercenaries feel very visceral and alive, as he felt that was very important. “We tried to find the space in which every one could create something on the behalf of ‘Tiger Raid,’ whether it was a sound or the physical experience. How we performed those aspects didn’t really matter; the film is about the vision of what filmmaking should be, instead of just the routine of filming.”
“An amazing thing about being in Jordan was that it really allowed us the flexibility to create a big space, whether that was in terms of time or vision,” Evans also noted when he began talking about shooting on location. Wherever they pointed the camera, “the road’s not going to stop looking like Iraq. It was a really simple and mundane thing, but it was so helpful, in terms of creating the flexibility.” As a result of that expansive environment they were in, the cast and crew were “able to shoot these long takes, and be reactive to the environment. That allowed us to create something very singular.”
Further speaking of filming ‘Tiger Raid’ in Jordan, Molony mentioned that he “couldn’t imagine shooting it anywhere else. Jordan is the character in the movie. It was vital for us to be in the sand there.”
“We were only 100 kilometers (approximately 62 miles) from Iraq,” Dixon revealed about the thriller’s filming location. “So when we were driving to the locations in the morning, we’d see signs that say, ‘Baghdad 100 miles.’ There was also a three-mile exclusion zone in each country, in which stray bullets could fall into. So there was a visceral feeling that was created before we even got to the set.”
The director added that he doesn’t know a different form of shooting, and his belief is that “you just do it. If you use visual effects and green screen, you have a mechanical process that delivers a different film. But with this movie, which is very much about real moments, and capturing the intensity of the story, the more real it is, the more likely we’ll be able to capture the feeling that we wanted to achieve.”
Filming on location was beneficial “not just in terms of the performances, but also in terms of everyone on the set being inspired, and not just when we were working, but also when we went home at night,” Evans added. “For everyone, from the heads of departments to the second camera unit, was inspired in an intangible way that you can’t eve measure. So I’m totally convinced that putting everyone in this unfamiliar world changed the film we made.”
“Gareth makes a really good point,” Dixon then quickly jumped in to say. “A large portion of our crew was Jordanian. That gave the set a completely different feeling than if we shipped in 200 people from the U.K. and Ireland. We did have British and Irish heads of departments. But the fact that the crew was Jordanian really made a difference. So the experience was really inspiring.”
Dixon also explained that talking about the filming methodology was also an essential topic for the cast and crew as they were preparing to shoot the drama. “For example, we wanted to film chronologically, for most of the film as possible,” the helmer noted. “We wanted the filming methodology to liberate the filmmaking as much as possible, so that the space could allow the actors to really connect with the dialogue, as there’s very rich language…So I created a book that gave me a handle on all of the various levels of the film, from the script to the visuals.”
‘Tiger Raid’ marks the first feature film Dixon directed, after he previously helmed commercials. So in addition to speaking about the thriller’s filming methodology, he also explained that he was “anxious to not be one of those commercial guys who came in and says, ‘Let’s make everything red, blue and shiny, because that’s awesome,'” which garnered laughs from the group. “I’m not a big fan of talking about systems, lenses, technology and things like that. I care about them, but I really care about the story and characters,” Dixon explained.
“So I wanted to find a filming methodology that shows as much truth as possible, so that these guys can do what they do amazingly, which is to bring the characters to life as truthfully as possible. We deal with a lot of dark themes, and finding the right space when you’re in the right temperatures” was essential to Dixon’s way of filmmaking. The director added that “filmmaking is really manufactured, so I wanted to try to loosen it as much as possible. It was about the rhythm of the story. So when we were shooting, we tried to make a funnel for the talent, so that they could be awesome.”
Dixon ended the conversation by adding that he was extremely excited to finally be able to show the action thriller to an audience, particularly at such a renowned film festival as Tribeca. “I’m definitely interested in hearing what audiences here in New York, specifically Irish Americans, think about the characters, story and overall film,” the director emotionally noted.
Written by: Karen Benardello