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Interview: Rawson Marshall Thurber Talks Skyscraper (Exclusive)

Rawson Marshall Thurber Directing Skyscraper

(L-R): Dwayne Johnson and and writer-director-producer Rawson Marshall Thurber on the set of the action thriller, ‘Skyscraper.’

Fearlessly fighting to capture and maintain an unwavering bond and sense of pride, no matter what adversities they face, is a powerful characteristic of the characters in, and filmmakers behind, many action movies. Such is the case for the protagonist and his family and foes, as well as the writer-director and main actor, of the new drama, ‘Skyscraper.’

Filmmaker Rawson Marshall Thurber, who penned, helmed and produced the new movie, reunited with his ‘Central Intelligence’ star, Dwayne Johnson, to create an electrifying new action-driven thriller. Their latest film endures their continued vision to bring to the screen another fearless and courageous hero, who boldly does whatever it takes to defeat his enemies and achieve his dreams. Universal Pictures is set to theatrically release the emotionally daring and visually stunning ‘Skyscraper’ on Friday in RealD 3D.

‘Skyscraper’ follows Will Sawyer (Johnson), a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader and U.S. war veteran, as he now works as a consultant who assesses security for skyscrapers. He’s hired by Hong Kong developer Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) to protect a building he designed that’s called the Pearl, and is billed as the safest and tallest structure in the world.

After arriving in China, Will and his best friend and colleague Ben (Pablo Schreiber), meet with Zhao to assess the Pearl’s security. After leaving their meeting, Will discovers that the building, where his family is staying during their trip, is suddenly ablaze, and he’s been framed for it. Now a wanted man on the run, Will must find Zhao’s true enemy, whose crew steals control of all of the Pearl’s systems, and clear his name.

The security consultant must also somehow rescue his family, including his combat-surgeon wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their two young children, who are trapped inside the building, above the fire line. Will determinedly sets out to find anyway possible to break back into the building, and protect the one thing in life that he holds the most dear.

Thurber generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and producing ‘Skyscraper’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he considers Johnson to be the best collaborator that a filmmaker can hope for, especially on action-driven movies, as the actor is devoted to perfecting his stuntwork and the emotional dynamics of his character. Thurber also mentioned that ‘Skyscrapper’ pays tribute to the action genre films that he has loved since he was young, but it’s also a unique film that stand on its own.

The conversation began with Thurber explaining why he was inspired to write the script for ‘Skyscraper.’ He shared that he has “wanted to make an action movie since I was about eight-years-old. My mom brought me to see ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ in this little two-screen theater in North Carolina, and I just fell in love with movies in general, and especially with action pictures.”

The ‘We’re the Millers’ helmer then pointed that he started his career making comedies, “which is a genre that I dearly love. But I also always wanted to make an action movie. When we were in post production on, and editing, ‘Central Intelligence,’ I came up with the idea for ‘Skyscraper.’ I pitched the idea to Dwayne, and he loved it. We developed the script together, and then went out and shot and cut it.”

Thurber added that he “loves action movies, and I grew up on late ’80s and early ’90s films like ‘Die Hard,’ ‘Cliffhanger’ and ‘The Fugitive.’ Without question, (‘Skyscraper’) is a love letter to those films.”

Calling back to the fact that he began his filmmaking career in creating comedies, the filmmaker added that he feels that it’s important to include some humor in such action-driven dramas as ‘Skyscraper.’ Thurber emphasized that ‘Central Intelligence’ is an action comedy, but ‘Skyscraper’ is “definitely a straight-up action picture that has moments of levity. I think those moments of levity are incredibly important, especially for a movie that’s as intense as ‘Skyscraper.'”

Thurber added that “those moments of levity are important, because they shake out the tension. So it was really important that we got those moments right. But you don’t want to go too far with them, as they can break the tension.”

Also following up on the fact that he first directed Johnson in ‘Central Intelligence,’ now again in ‘Skyscrapper,’ as well as the upcoming 2020 action movie, ‘Red Notice,’ Thurber called his collaboration with the actor “an joy. Dwayne is the absolute best collaborator that a filmmaker can ever hope for. All he cares about is the movie; he doesn’t care about looking cool. We also share a very similar value system, as well as taste in movies and what we like to experience in theaters.”

The filmmaker then further delved into the fact that not only did he pen the screenplay, but he also directed ‘Skyscrapper,’ and how he approached balancing the two jobs. “I’ve always written the projects I direct, even the ones I didn’t get a writing credit on, as I would significantly rewrite the script. I never really separate the act of writing with the act of directing, as they both service building the story. I really enjoy the writing process, because it’s my first chance to direct a movie. I really love the writing process,” Thurber shared.

“The directing process is then its own challenge,” the helmer also revealed. “I’ve done it enough now though to know what I have to hold onto, and what I can be open about changing. It’s not always easy, but it’s the best job in the world.”

In addition to writing and directing the drama, Thurber also served as a producer on the movie. He revealed how he approach balancing helming and producing the action film, especially once principal photography began. “I mainly worked as a producer during the pre- and post-production phases. The good news is that we had Beau Flynn and Hiram Garcia serving as producers throughout the entirety of the production, and they did the bulk of the work. They’re incredible producers,” the producer noted as he praised his colleagues.

In addition to Johnson, who also served as a producer on ‘Skyscraper,’ the drama also stars a diverse supporting cast that includes Campbell, Schreiber, Roland Møller, Hannah Quinlivan, Chin Han and Byron Mann. Thurber then explained what the process of casting the supporting actors around the lead performer was like. “I’m absolutely in love with this cast. Neve Campbell, who plays the wife of Dwayne’s character, is fantastic in the picture. She’s so strong and smart, and is anything but a damsel in distress. So it was a pleasure to work with her,” the filmmaker revealed.

Schreiber is one of Thurber’s favorite actors. “So it was a pleasure to get to work with him, even for a brief period,” the director admitted.

“I think Roland Møller plays such a great villain” in ‘Skyscraper,'” Thurber revealed, and added that he recently watched one of the actor’s previous movies, the 2015 war drama, ‘Land of Mine.’ “I couldn’t take my eyes off of him in that film.”

The filmmaker also applauded the performances given by “Hannah Quinlivan, Chin Han and Byron Mann, all of whom acted beautifully. When the movie being set in Hong Kong, I think they did such a great service to Asian cinema. I’m super proud of the cast.”

With the majority of ‘Skyscrapper’ taking in Hong Kong, like Thurber just mentioned, he relished the opportunity to shoot there, as well as in Vancouver. “We shot some second unit, as well as some aerial, shots in Hong Kong. It’s an incredible city. Hong Kong’s one of the few cities in the world where you could build the tallest building, as it’s an incredibly vertical-and beautiful-city.”

The helmer emphasized again that he also “wanted to make sure that we paid respect to Hong Kong, and Asian, cinema. That’s why there are significant portions of the film that are spoken entirely in native Cantonese, and is subtitled (in English). You don’t see that a lot in big American action films.”

Collaborating with Johnson and the rest of the cast to create their characters’ action-driven physicalities and stunt work while they shot ‘Skyscrapper’ was another element of filmmaking that Thurber enjoyed. “I know Neve worked incredibly hard on the physical side of her character. She’s a former ballet dancer, so she loves that aspect of filmmaking. She worked with our stunt team, in order to make sure she got that part of her role right.

“The same thing is true for Hannah. She’s a petite woman, but just went after the fight choreography, and I think it shows,” the director shared. He added that “with Dwayne, you don’t have to worry about the stuntwork, because he picks up on it on his own. But he did want to make sure that he got the walking and running styles right, and I think he did an excellent job.”

‘Skyscrapper’ is the only film out of the eight movies that the major studios are set to release this month that’s not a sequel or part of an already existing property. While Thurber is proud that his drama is the rare big-budget summer tentpole that’s based on original material, he did also pay tribute to some of his favorite action films, such as ‘Die Hard’ and the other genre movies he mentioned earlier that he has loved since he was young. ‘Skyscrapper’ “is certainly a love letter to those films, but we also wanted it to stand on its own. It’s sort of an old-school film with new-school technology.

“It’s been such a long time since an original movie in this budget range has been released, as they’re just not made anymore. I think there 11 sequels on both sides of this film’s release, within about a five-week period, which is a scary thought,” the filmmaker confessed. “But I’m so proud to bring an original idea to the theater, and hopefully people still want to see those” types of movies.”

Photo ofRawson Marshall Thurber
Rawson Marshall Thurber
Job Title
Writer-director-producer of the action thriller, 'Skyscraper'
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As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.

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