Dean Parisot is something of a journeyman director. He helmed one of Vince Gilligan’s early scripts (Home Fries) and directed the masterpiece Galaxy Quest, but has more time doing television than making movies. But he returns the to big screen this weekend with Red 2, which picks up where the first film left off in the adventures of Frank (Bruce Willis) and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). We got a chance to talk to Parisot about the film and his interesting career. Beware, there are some spoilers.
You’ve done some episodic television, but this is your first sequel. As you didn’t direct the first film, is that sort of like doing a television show after the pilot?
Dean Parisot: It is, sort of. I’ve always jumped back and forth between movies and television and I enjoy television. When you come into a franchise like this it is like a television series in that the characters have already been established and cast, but the difference is that you’re still making a movie that has a beginning middle and end, and you’re doing all the other stuff you do normally. The only similarity is you have an established set of characters, a backstory, and a tone, usually. I’m trying to match that tone a little.
That’s interesting, because I think with television, it’s a little more rigid, whereas with a movie sequel you can find your own way.
You bend it. I bent it more in my direction, it’s my taste being applied to it. It’s also the reason I showed up, I love these characters and I love these actors, and the first one was fun for me. It made it easier in some ways and harder in others (laughs).
You did some episodes of Justified, is that why Neal McDonough was cast?
It was because I cut Neal’s arm off in an episode of Justified.
With a film like this, you’ve got Anthony Hopkins and Byung-hun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones, is the script writing process more chicken or the egg, do you have your cast first or do you have the script first?
Casting, as you probably know, is one of the most important parts of the process, and here we have to have bankable stars, but also actors who are right for the part. In this case we had both, so the part Catherine Zeta Jones plays, she’s perfect for it, and she loved it and that’s why she showed up for it. The same with Tony Hopkins, but with Tony we adapted more to the direction he’s heading towards. (SPOILERS START HERE) So Tony’s part was adapted to Tony and some of the ideas he had about these guys who defected during the cold war. You always adapt to some degree, but they’re playing the parts that were written.
I think one of the pleasures of the film is seeing Anthony Hopkins play a little nutty. Was that something you encouraged?
It grew once he got involved, the character was kind of nutty, but not like Tony was playing him, he really came up with that character. He’s a crazy guy playing a crazy guy. But it was also fun, everything he would come up with, we were just having a good time. I was having a great time because I was watching him invent all of this stuff.
I thought his schoolboy impression was a charming way to take the character.
He was basing on a professor, a double agent, and they were all very smart and professorial, and they went over to the soviet side during the Cold war from England, and that was his starting point. He’s been locked up for 32 years in the room, so screws are loose everywhere.
(END SPOILERS) I’m a huge Mike Leigh fan, and I especially love Naked, how was it working with David Thewlis?
He’s fantastic, he’s unbelievably collaborative, and fun and smart to be around, and was just having a great time. I think for all of us, the movie is meant to be an entertainment, it’s meant to be fun, it was fun for the people making the movie as well, and I think David had a great time.
You’re shooting a car chase in France, there’s London, there’s the Kremlin, it seems like it’s a vacation for everyone but you.
It wasn’t so bad for me. Look, there’s a lot of work, there’s 170 scenes, we’re in three different countries, there’s big action set pieces, but I had an incredible cast who are entertaining to be with and to watch, it’s fun to build scenes with them. It’s hard work, you don’t sleep very much as a director, but it’s okay, you sleep when it’s done.
As you were directing the sequel, how did you find your way in? How do you feel that you made it your own.
I had a lot to do with developing it with Lorenzo (di Bonaventura) and (the screenwriters) the Hoeber brothers, and bringing the relationship between Bruce (Willis) and Mary-Louise (Parker) forward in the script, and also continuing to build on the characters and the story. And I have a particular sort of tone or sensibility that applied to this. I like these movies that walk the razorblade between drama and comedy, or in this case action and comedy. So it was already my taste, the first Red, so it wasn’t that hard. Hopefully I brought a little more absurdity to it, and a little more scope and action.
You mentioned Mary-Louise Parker, it seems that she’s the key to the sequel.
It’s pretty equally matched, the adventure is the other side of it. I think that the relationships are strong. There’s the relationship between Brian Cox and Helen Mirren’s characters, Marvin (John Malkovich) is giving relationship advise, there’s Sarah and Frank, and even Byung-hum Lee comes in with a bunch of advice, that is a central element that’s played out. There’s also an aspect of these movies that it’s wish-fulfillment as we grow older that we can still do this.
It’s been a while since you’ve done a feature film – obviously you kept busy in television – but in dealing with an older set of people consider past their prime, do you think you got this job because of Galaxy Quest?
I think that’s something to do with it. The first feature I made was Home Fries with Lorenzo when he was at Warner Brothers. And so I’ve known Lorenzo socially for some time and I think Galaxy Quest had something to do with it, but also the television work had something to do with it.
I’m glad you brought up Home Fries, because I was going to. You worked on one of Vince Gilligan’s early scripts, so have you been watching Breaking Bad?
I was going to do one of the first ones, but I was working on something else. Vince and I still keep in touch. We occasionally read each other’s stuff.
So you would have done an episode if you could have worked it out.
Yeah, I think that show is brilliant. I can’t believe it’s on television.
When did you start hearing that people were referring to Galaxy Quest as a masterpiece?
God, I hope that’s not what I’m hearing, but that’s great. I think there’s other things that would qualify more as masterpieces than that.
Well, wasn’t it David Mamet who said that the movie was perfect?
I have heard that, I’ve never met him. That credit should go… well I’ll take some of that credit, and also Bob Gordon who wrote it, he’s quite a brilliant guy.
I think it’s a sneaky masterpiece, it’s one of those film that the first time you watch it you may think it’s just good, but every subsequent viewing you can see how everything is on point and all the pieces fit together.
That movie was the closest to what was in my head that I’ve pulled off so far, that everybody on the movie was on the same page.
Do you feel this is a one-off, or do you feel you’re now the custodian of the Red franchise?
Wow, I’ve never heard that used before, custodian. I have no idea, I just take every one as it comes. I’m like every other director, I have lots of projects in various forms of I don’t know. I love this group, I like working with Lorenzo, and the cast is phenomenal. I enjoyed myself, and I’d like to keep having a good time.
What is next for you?
I can’t really say yet. We’re rewriting Bill and Ted 3, because they couldn’t afford it, Slap Shot they put in turnaround, I have a project at Summit that might happen that’s about Houdini, and I have another project which is Out of Sight-ish
Red 2 opens in theaters this Friday, July 18. Check it out.