The painful mistakes people have made in their pasts can often harrowingly influence the decisions they make about their futures, and the way they interact with their communities in the present. That gripping sorrow that distressingly motivates people to take matters into their own hands, no matter what personal consequences they may later face, is intriguingly presented in actor Craig Sheffer’s new action film, ‘Code of Honor.’ The movie, which which Lionsgate Home Entertainment released today in select theaters and On Demand nationwide, was written and directed by Michael Winnick. The performer and filmmaker enthralligly present the idea that while revenge may seem satisfying in the moment, becoming a self-proclaimed defender of society can actually prove to be more harmful then beneficial.
‘Code of Honor’ follows former special-ops operative Robert Sikes (Steven Seagal), who has turned into a crime-fighting vigilante after his wife and son were senselessly killed by a gang during a random drive-by shooting. In order to overcome his emotional trauma, the military man embarks on a killing spree that targets the criminals in his hometown, in order to provide a safer environment for the innocent. While the majority of the city appears to be appreciative of Robert’s bold and apparent heroic actions, Detective Peterson (Louis Mandylor) is determined to find and stop the suspect before the vigilante hurts anyone else.
The retired special-ops operative’s former protégé, William Porter (Sheffer), is also unwavering in his own pursuit of the man who used to be his hero. After informing Detective Peterson and his team of the man they’re looking for, William, who’s now working as an FBI agent, also sets out to find Robert on his own. In the process, he inadvertently begins to feel as though he has to defend one of the witnesses at one of Robert’s crime scenes, Keri (Helena Mattson), and her young son, as he wasn’t able to completely love and protect his wife and their own son while they were married. As William tries to overcome his own emotional pain while tracking Robert, fending off the police force and safeguarding Keri, he begins to realize that the only way he can move on with his life is by accepting his own life-altering actions and emotional pain.
Sheffer generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Code of Honor’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was drawn to play William, who he described as being emotionally tortured, in the action film because he felt the character’s arc was unpredictable. He also noted that he enjoyed speaking with Winnick, who he described as a fantastic writer, as they collaborated on the versatility of Williams’s perplexing emotions and motivations.
ShockYa (SY): You play FBI agent William Porter, who was once the protégé of former special-ops operative Robert Sikes, who has since become a vigilante who kills the criminals who are ruining his hometown, in the new action film, ‘Code of Honor.’ What was it about the character of William, as well as the overall script, that convinced you to take on the role?
Craig Sheffer (CS): Well, I became involved in the film because they sent me the script and offered me the role. I read it and thought it was awesome. I loved that it was such a page-turner, and that I had no idea what was going to happen in the end. Even then, I wasn’t absolutely sure what truly happened. (laughs) I thought something that was that unpredictable was very exciting. There was a lot of room to create a character who’s a tortured former special forces guy who’s now following this madman.
SY: What type of research did you do into being an FBI agent and a special-ops operative, in order to better understand William’s mindset and motivations?
CS: Well, I picked up that knowledge from watching shows on the ID (Investigation Discovery) network non-stop. I love cop and FBI mystery shows. So those series helped key me into who the character was, and the dark path that unfolds. I had to learn how to put his torture into the souls of his eyes, as that’s not something that I carry around all the time.
But overall, the script pretty much dictates who the character is to me. That’s pretty much the way I work. If the character has special skills, you obviously have to prepare for those abilities. I’ve done a lot of action and gun work in the past, so I was pretty comfortable in this guy’s shoes.
SY: William’s past and secrets are slowly revealed throughout the course of ‘Code of Honor.’ As an actor, what’s the process of balancing keeping your characters’ mysteries hidden until they’re ready to be revealed and their public persona?
CS: That was one of the fun things about this character. To serve the script, the director and I spoke at times about the character’s development. You want to do things that at times might make the audience think he’s one type of person, and then think he has different characteristics. During that process, you’re also trying to serve the story and the mystery. At times, I would lean one way, and then at other times, I would lean another way. That way, the audience could keep the ambiguity of whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy.
SY: Speaking of the film’s director, Michael Winnick, who also wrote the film’s script, what was your overall experience of working with him? Do you prefer working with helmers who also penned the screenplay?
CS: It was a great experience. I really think Michael’s an awesome writer, so we’ve traded other scripts and shared our opinions on our other work. We’re friends, so I really enjoyed working with him. I really love that he made this film’s dark world really come alive by the way he shot it. I also thought he created a really great style that matches the story.
We did most of our work a few days before we started shooting the film, and we were pretty much in sync. He just helped me in some of the ways that he saw the character, which was different from how I viewed him. A lot of times I play characters a little more emotionally. But Michael told me, “Let’s keep this guy sturdy and heroic.” So that was a fun process, but it was also different for me. We just worked together on all of the little intricacies into the darkness of the character.
SY: The drama features a diverse supporting cast, including Steven Seagal, who plays Robert, and Helena Mattsson. How did you build your working relationships with your co-stars on the film?
CS: It was a very interesting process. I thought it was very fun to watch Steven during the action scenes, which he also helped me out with. While we were filming some of the fight sequences, he was helping me with some of my hand positions, because he’s so good at what he does. Since he’s also so fast in these types of scenes, it was fun to see the speed of his hands, and his mastery of the action drama. So I found those scenes to be really interesting and fun, and I think he did, too. It was great to have the back and forth of these two guys.
SY: Speaking of the action sequences in the film, what was the process of creating those scenes? Did you perform your own stunts while you were filming?
CS: I’ve always loved doing the action sequences. I’ve always done a lot of my own stunts, so the process isn’t that difficult for me. But as you get older, your body can no longer do everything that you want it to do. But the experience is still fun, and I enjoy it. I can still do most of the stunts myself, unless it’s pretty extreme. The choreography is pretty much like a dance
SY: What was the experience of shooting ‘Code of Honor’ on location in Salt Lake City? Does filming in authentic locations, particularly outside of Los Angeles, help you better connect with the story and your character overall?
CS: Salt Lake City is actually one of my favorite places to film, and I don’t say that very often. I’ve filmed in Vancouver a lot, but I haven’t shot in Utah in about 20 years. I didn’t work in Salt Lake City at that time-I actually filmed in Park City. But I went down to Salt Lake City, and I thought it was really cool, and had really nice people. Everywhere I went was really safe and welcoming. I visited the city in the winter, but there were really nice, sunny days. Everyday I got to wake up and be surrounded by these beautiful mountains. It’s a really awesome place to work, and I would love to work there again.
SY: What was the process of also filming the action movie independently? Did it pose any creative challenges while you were shooting, especially the action sequences?
CS: Well, when you make a smaller film, you have a little less time. I think Steven was on set for maybe three out of the six weeks we were filming, so we had to work around his schedule. There were times when I was filming a scene that both of our characters were in, and he wasn’t on the other side of the camera, as he would be shooting something else. But I didn’t feel uncomfortable about that, as I have done it before for other films.
I actually like those kind of challenges. You think, okay, there’s an actor who’s supposed to be on the other side of the camera, but he’s really not there. It’s actually a script person who’s there. So I would look at how Steven played the scene on the monitor, and would have to play that back in my mind while I’m acting. I would have to react to something that wasn’t right in front of me, and was only playing through my mind.
I like that kind of acting, which is why I really like the independent world. It’s so much funner than just being camped out for four months, and you only shoot half a scene a day. Those challenges also make filming a little more rigorous when you’re playing the action scenes.
SY: ‘Code of Honor’ is unique in the fact that it doesn’t solely focus on the story’s stunts; it also delves into William’s past, and explores his growing connection with Helena’s character, Keri Green, after she becomes a victim to one of Robert’s crimes. Did you feel that including that emotional connection and his past was an important aspect to the story?
CS: Yes, I found that aspect to be interesting, as it’s something that I can relate to in my own life. I also have a child and an ex. But William wasn’t a present father, and I think he carries around a lot of shame about that. A lot of his darkness comes from that failure.
That’s also where a lot of his ambition and desire to protect innocence comes from. He’s really trying to make up for the things he didn’t do when he thought he should have done them. So he’s now trying to fix that, and I think that’s why he’s doing what he’s doing in this particular situation.
SY: The action film ends in a way that sets up a potential sequel. Would you be interested in reprising your role of William in a follow-up movie, and showcase what truly happens to him at the end of this story?
CS: Yes, I would absolutely be interested in returning to this role. I would find it really interesting to see where he immediately went, and where he is now. I think he established something with Helena’s character. It’s simple, as there’s no real big love story, but there’s something between the two of them. They bonded over their damaged pasts, as well as the fact that they both have children. So she serves as someone who can offer him some kind of redemption. I think their relationship would be a really interesting thing to explore somewhere down the line.
Watch the ‘Code of Honor’ trailer below.
Written by: Karen Benardello