Allen Hughes, one half of the Hughes brothers who gave us Menace II Society and The Book of Eli, goes solo with Broken City, a crime drama he directed which stars Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe. The film follows an NYPD cop named Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) who follows the Mayor of New York’s wife to find out if she is cheating and while doing so, stumbles upon a much larger scandal.
At the film’s recent press day, Hughes showed up to discuss all things Broken City. He spoke about his evolution as a filmmaker, making his first film without his brother, how Mark Wahlberg got involved in the film and more.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: Alan, can we ask you about your evolution as a filmmaker from Menace II Society to this movie? There seems to be a through line with the material that you choose.
Allen Hughes: Albert and I were 20 when we made that and we just turned 40, so no one warned me about the introspective and retrospective stage you get in. The theme has always been the disenfranchised character, the underdog, the underclass, the misunderstood psychologically and the renegade outlaw, so it’s been the character or the person who is always marginalized by society and cast aside. With Book of Eli not being the exception, it’s just a different kind of version where this guy’s by himself and what is he going to do? When the world’s over, what do you do? And it dawned on me, you must have a purpose. It doesn’t have to be as grand as Eli, but you’ve got to have a purpose to survive. In that movie, he was a renegade and an outlaw. He was different from everybody else and he didn’t conform to a community because he was different. I think that’s a theme because I was that my whole life and mostly psychologically misunderstood, mentally misunderstood, racially misunderstood and I slipped through the cracks of the public school system on top of it.
We Got This Covered: And is that the same idea with Mark Wahlberg’s character of Billy Taggart in this film?
Allen Hughes: Yeah. The thing that’s interesting about Billy is… I call this guy like Joe Lunch Pail because he’s that working-class mentality that is similar to Mark and he’s disciplined. But he’s not this intellectual wonder, he’s not the politician, he’s just a soldier, you know? And at some point in the movie he gets marginalized and they cast them out because of this event. They cast him out so far that he’s no longer a cop in Manhattan. He’s in Brooklyn working as a private detective investigating these tawdry affairs now in the shadow of New York, so he’s not in the big time. So when the mayor calls him after seven years, he goes “oh I’m going to get my job back!” He gets so excited, goes to the Mayor’s office only to find that the Mayor tells him “I need you to… I think my wife’s cheating on me” and he deflates. Even at the beginning of the movie he’s an outlaw, he’s a renegade, but he is the common man and that’s what I relate to: the common man and woman, and I don’t just say that.
I was raised by a feminist. My mother was a radical feminist, the head of her chapter at the ERA, the head of her chapter at the National Organization of Women, President of the rape crisis hotline in the 80s, and we were marching with Gloria Steinem at nine years old and Jane Fonda for women’s rights. My mother was f**king radical! So I came up under that type of woman, and she would always talk about men in society and what they’ve done with women, let alone blacks and Native Americans. So I have always identified with that and that’s a full-bodied answer to that question because it’s very personal.
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We Got This Covered: Catherine Zeta Jones plays the wife of the Mayor in this movie. Does she play that role in regards to what you were just talking about? Could you tell us more about what she does in the movie? Is she like the seeker force of what’s going on here?
Allen Hughes: She’s a throwback one because of her presence, her obvious beauty, and I didn’t know that depth she had. The whole movie hinges on her. This woman’s having an affair allegedly or whatever, and she’s a mysterious woman. It’s not a political movie; I don’t look at it that way as far as politics and whatever. But it is an applicable movie where corporate America and certain sections of our society where you’re saying A but what you’re really saying is B-C-D. Catherine‘s character is that also; she’s an illusion as what Mark is seeing is not what it seems.
I had three women from different backgrounds in this movie which was interesting for me because there all so fully realized in Brian Tucker’s script. They are all very dynamically different and strong women and I’m very proud of that. If you look back at the films I’ve been involved in, outside of American Pimp, there’s always a strong female in there and we’re trying to fully realize them. I think this is the first time I’ve accomplished that so I’m proud of that.
We Got This Covered: This is the first movie you’ve directed without your brother Albert. Is this a big deal for you and at some point did you feel your arm was cut off with him not being there as a co-director?
Allen Hughes: I didn’t realize that. When me and my brother did rounds of interviews there was always a consistent question which was like “how does this work? Who does what?” As far as the filmmaking process, I felt great directing by myself. It’s a natural thing because when you look at like the NBA you got to have one coach. You can’t have the team looking over and seeing two because they are sensitive performers and they look at one guy’s face and they look at the other guy’s face and that can be quite confusing, and that’s why we separate our duties on purpose to where I work with actors and he works with the camera.
But the thing that really, really suffered was when we did our meetings together in Hollywood. Say you’re meeting with a studio, these people will have as many people in the room as you, and they’re basically trying to beat you up about how they want the movie creatively. But when the Hughes brothers are together it actually becomes a different entity with its yin and yang. We could have fifty people in the room and we can lay every one of them down just by sheer, whatever that thing is with twins. I’m hitting in the gut for three minutes and then once I let go he is coming over the head with haymakers, and then we walk out of the room and before they know it it feels like a tsunami hit them. When I go in alone though I feel the vultures coming out, and you look at the very nature of the way that system is set up; you got your filmmaker here and there are eight of you and you’re all on the same page. This is absurd! Eight people need to be in this room right now?! And that’s very challenging and it has nothing to do with filmmaking.
We Got This Covered: So did you feel a very visceral difference on this movie as a result?
Allen Hughes: Oh yeah, I think it’s much more efficient. But it’s natural because this is a one man directing gig. That’s the way it’s always been. There are exceptions where there was the Zuckers and the Wachowskis, and the Coen brothers who I hear sometimes get different credits but they really direct together. But in that case or other cases, there is always a bigger brother and a little brother and those rules have been established.
With twins, everything is like communism (laughs). When we were five years old, my mother when she poured Kool-Aid for us, she had to make sure everything was equal. We’re so nuts we are like “no, you got a more! Why does he have a drop more?” So my mom gave us the same amount of cookies, the same amount of whatever, and we grew up where it was always even. It’s kind of cool I guess, but it gets to be a challenge.
With rock groups I always like to say that you have John Lennon and McCartney, and this guy is all into Eastern philosophy and this guy is into whatever he’s into like kissing giraffes in Africa. They turn 30 and now they’re are into different shit because they got wives now and they got children now, and then they try to come together to make these records and movies and its difficult as you get older because you become a man or you become a woman and there it is.
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We Got This Covered: Mark had told us about how you first met at a screening of Menace II Society in New York where everyone was smoking pot. What took you two so long to finally find a project to work on together?
Allen Hughes: Quite frankly Mark is an interesting dude because he’s constantly been evolving just to overcome some of the bad boy stuff in his past, not to mention his career in music and the whole Calvin Klein thing. So there’s all this morphing going on with him, but the through line with that is he is so focused and so good at the business and the ethic. I would see him from time to time though whether it was at that screening the first time or whether it was when he used to be at a nightclub which I rarely ever went out to. He would come up and embrace me and literally hug me, so it was like five times over 20 years that he would do that. There’s a conversation being had but not with words, so I was always struck by that. I liked him, but there was this image of him to a certain point where you go “is he violent?” There’s this unpredictability.
So what really happened was I hadn’t seen The Fighter but I think that any great talent in this business whether it’s an agent or a manager or a filmmaker or anybody, you’ll see right before they blossom that they are ready to come into their own. I was clocking Mark, and this was a year before The Fighter came out and that was when I read this script and for some reason Mark Wahlberg’s face kept popping off the page, you know? By the time I got to the end I said this is perfect for Mark because it plays into all his strengths, but also there’s this new level to him which I liken to a Steve McQueen quality. There’s a salt of earth quality to him, and I was like this is it. So I went after him, didn’t know if I was going to get him, but because of that love over the years I was banking on that (laughs). But he really loved the script and that’s why he got involved.
We Got This Covered: Can you tell us more about the screenwriter Brian Tucker? It seems like he knows a lot about life at a very young age and his script for Broken City was on the black list for some time.
Allen Hughes: I had a meeting set with Brian Tucker at the Palm Restaurant in West Hollywood, and I got there early which is rare and I said “I cannot wait to meet this 58-year-old white man. I can’t wait for him to tell me about scotches and what his process was in writing the script.” This was like Hemingway to me but different and I couldn’t wait to meet this great white man. And I’m sitting there and this very skinny, looks like he’s 17 or 18 years old, black kid comes to my table and I’m looking at him and I’m like “I think you’re of the wrong table,” and he says “Brian Tucker” and I said “oh shit!”
He was at Julliard as a playwright, dropped out and then got into writing screenplays. He’s a scientist in that he studies and absorbs quickly, and he’s almost too smart, which is the same problem I think Russell Crowe has. Their intellects are so far off the charts and it’s very challenging to work with people who are that intelligent.
We Got This Covered: You’ve assembled a great cast here. Is the key to directing just to cast really good actors in the right roles and then just let them do their own thing?
Allen Hughes: Yeah, and really great actors can be like “you know I was working on my character and…” And you’re just like, “that’s your shit baby. Let’s just roll and see what you’ve got.” I’m not going to tell you what I was doing last night or what my process is. Not that I’m not interested in your process, but when you get to a certain level and you’re a great actor, you just agree about who this human being is, who this character is, and then they go off and they do their own thing and something happens. Process is personal I think. My job is to make sure they are relaxed and I’m not a screamer or anything like that. I make sure that they are comfortable and that they are confident to where they can do a couple of takes and then you can go “let’s just try something f**king crazy. Who cares if it doesn’t work?”
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank Allen for talking with us. Be sure to check out Broken City, in theatres this weekend.Previous