When attending South by Southwest every year, there’s at least one press junket that goes above-and-beyond. Food, activities – the works. This year, it was for Free Fire – Ben Wheatley’s feature-length shootout where a gun deal goes butts-up. I’d already caught his masterpiece at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it quickly become one of my favorite movies of 2016 (and now, by release date scheduling, 2017). Such a crazy concept billed on 70s action sleaziness, but Wheatley executes each trigger-pull beautifully. Read about my love for this maniac shoot-em-up right here, or accept the following blurb as gospel:
Free Fire is a relentless genre assault of bullets, laughs and personality, like a pseudo action movie that cranks intensity to 11 and rips off the knob.
Needless to say, the only thing better than watching Free Fire would be participating in a non-lethal shootout with the film’s cast and creators. Sounds like a dream, right? Or a reality, when journalists were invited to a stunt ranch for some pre-interview paintball with Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer and Ben Wheatley. Unfortunately, Armie was recovering from an injury and couldn’t participate, but to look left and see Sharlto army-crawling across the battlefield is something else. Sorry, this isn’t even a humble brag. Sometimes I love my life, and yes, this was one of those times.
Post warfare shenanigans, I had the opportunity to sit with the trio and chat about Free Fire. We get into the massive undertaking of plotting such a meticulously paced film, how Minecraft played a roll and, of course, facial hair competitions. You know, the real heavy-hitting stuff. Enjoy!
Sharlto, you were a beast out there on the paintball “battlefield.”
Sharlto Copley: I was just acting like a beast.
Armie Hammer: I believe it.
Only acting like a beast?
Sharlto Copley: Yeah, yeah.
Armie Hammer: He was back in Rhodesia. [laughs]
That’s fair. So I want to start with your first reactions to Free Fire. When you get a script about an hour and half long shootout, what’s the first thing that goes through your mind?
Armie Hammer: I wish I could play Vern [Sharlto’s character]!
Sharlto Copley: I was wondering of you could sustain it. I thought it was an interesting challenge for [Ben Wheatley].
Armie Hammer: Yeah. I mean it’s lofty aspirations to shoot a movie like this all in one location, in real time. It’s a challenge. Especially now with the amount of ground and territory that a movie may cover, especially like a superhero movie where you’re on other planets and whatever. We’re in one location with one group of people going through this in real time. It’s amazing. You don’t see a lot of movies made like that anymore. The fact that Ben was going to do it was a great treat. Then to have such a great cast and crew all involved in making this – it was a lot of fun.
Free Fire calls back to a lot of classic shootout films. Do you have a cinematic shootout in your head that you really love? Maybe that you drew inspiration from?
Sharlto Copley: I love the end of True Romance. That’s probably my favorite. Where all the guns are coming out. “Put it down! Put it down!” Crazy Tony Scott at his best.
Armie Hammer: Nostalgically, I’d probably say the final shootout in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. You know, run out of the bank. “Buh-buh-buh.” Then freeze. It’s the gunfight you don’t see that means more.
You already mentioned the giant warehouse and how important location is in Free Fire. Was there a strict blueprint that you guys had follow? There are so many places you can hide. There’s so much rubble. How did Ben keep the continuity flowing?
Armie Hammer: Oh man, I wish Ben was here. [Ben was wrapping up another interview and joining shortly.]
I know. Sorry to put you on the technical spot here!
Armie Hammer: It’s funny because since finishing Free Fire, I’ve seen a lot of pictures and material that [Ben Wheatley] has put on Twitter or Instagram or whatever, specifically showcasing the amount of detailed mapping…
[Ben Wheatley enters, stage right.]
Armie Hammer: [To Ben] I was just saying that since we finished the movie, the amount of shit I’ve seen on Instagram and Twitter of the detailed location mapping and the world of this warehouse – it felt like while we were on set, we had a lot of freedom to go wherever we wanted. Now looking back, it seems like you were actually manipulating us the whole time.
Ben Wheatley: I was. [laughs]
Armie Hammer: By the way, it was so precise. It felt like we had a lot of freedom to move around wherever we wanted.
[To give you a taste of the comfortable banter that made these three such a lively bunch, see the next few lines.]
Ben Wheatley: [Squeezing next to Armie] I don’t want to sit close to them, but there’s a thing here. [Points to picnic table jut-out.]
Armie Hammer: You can sit on my lap?
Ben Wheatley: I could just straddle it.
Armie Hammer: It’s really wide. It’s really wide.
Ben Wheatley: I’m an old man, I can’t.
Sharlto Copley: If those pants had ripped. That would be great. [laughing]
Armie Hammer: Hear that? Yup.
Ben Wheatley: What what what what? Holy fuck. Don’t scare me.
WGTC: Do you want me to give you a minute, or…?
Ben Wheatley: I’m good.
Armie Hammer: Where were we?