Joel Silver has produced some of the most epic action movies in history – no argument. Just look at his resume and you’ll see titles like Commando, Predator, Die Hard, Demolition Man and bevy of other badass flicks that assure audiences Mr. Silver knows his way around Hollywood’s most explosive genre. If I were stranded on a desert island with a Blu-Ray player and three of those movies for the rest of my life, I’d die a happy man – I was definitely born in the wrong generation.
Coming back to current times, Mr. Silver is once again teaming up with director Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson for another mainstream action thriller titled Non-Stop. Taking to the skies, Liam plays an air marshal tasked with stopping a mid-air catastrophe from happening, battling a maniac and time simultaneously. It’s a fun watch that I enjoyed more than I thought I would, crafting a tech-y mystery aboard a crowded plane full of palpable tension and red herrings galore – an entertaining puzzle with dire consequences.
I had the chance to speak with Joel Silver a few weekends ago while he was promoting Non-Stop in New York City, and we dove into conversation about a multitude of topics. Read on to hear the famed producer discuss what qualities he looks for in a script, the current state of Liam Neeson, how the action genre has evolved since his work in the 80s, and what it takes to fool audiences these days.
WGTC: Were you given full insight into the air marshal process? Were there any secrets that agencies wanted to hold when you were collaborating with them on Non-Stop?
Joel Silver: No, because actually hired these air marshals as consultants, and I don’t know if their attitude was they couldn’t tell us certain things. However silly it may sound, the protocols they describe are real protocols. When the character says, “has this ever been tried before,” and he’s answered with a “No,” that’s reality.
We knew what we wanted to do. The script came in and it was this Murder On The Orient Express idea, it was kind of silly. As we perfected it though, Non-Stop became interesting. Eight minutes into that movie that door closes, and when that door closes you’re on that plane and that’s it – we rarely leave the plane. We have one wide shot of the plane, but we don’t leave the plane until the very end of the picture. We wanted it to be a real nail-biter, we wanted it to be a real edge-of-your-seat thriller, and it is. You couldn’t see who the bad guy was, right? Unless you’re clairvoyant or read the script?
It’s all there. It’s like when you watch – I learned a lot from Sherlock, but if you watch it again it’s all there, just not in a way you can grasp it. You just don’t know exactly what it all means. At one point you think it’s everybody!
WGTC: Were there any fears about making a movie with some political undertones, such as the 9/11 culture of flight?
Joel Silver: During the editing of this movie is when the guy went nuts at LAX and shot a TSA person, none of this stuff makes any sense, it’s just idiotic, but we felt that it was enough movies and material about issues in the sky – Airport, the original movie was in the 70s, the bomber was Helen Hayes. Murder On The Orient Express was 1935! The idea of a sealed compartment or sealed place where something is going on isn’t a new idea, but I think we did it in a way that’s fresh. Liam always chooses troubled characters, he always chooses guys who have something going on.
Is he a franchisable character? I hope so, because he’s a good character. I learned a lot from Sherlock – people want to see a story that kind of evolves in front of them. We actually have 60 second spots on this film, which I don’t always do, because people responded really well to knowing there’s a story, there’s something there. People like that, and I like a character that can deliver that. If it works out, if people go into this movie and really feel something, it charges them – movies can still do that. You can get them scared, and if that happens, we’ll have a very successful venture.
WGTC: You work constantly with your director Jaume Collet-Serra, almost exclusively, so what keeps bringing his talents back? What does Jaume do that you’ve come to trust?
Joel Silver: He’s a dream partner. He’s smart, he wants to make the smartest movie he can, he comes prepared, he knows what he wants to do – and I trust him. If he needs something or wants something in the picture that’s not planned for, we make it work. I trust him fully. He knows if he needs something and he tells me, I’ll make it work for him. We knew we had a great cast in the movie, we got a great cast, and he did that, he got the cast. He has to sit down with these actors, and this movie could have been very pedestrian fare, but he made them realize it wasn’t going to be. That’s because of the kind of person he is.
WGTC: At this point, Liam Neeson has started this genre of action films starring older actors, most recently 3 Days To Kill, and it’s becoming very popular. Could you have predicted a trend like this as a producer of so many action films?
Joel Silver: Part of that’s a fallacy. He knew his way around a light saber, he had no problem in Star Wars, he was also in Batman – he’s been making action movies his whole career, he just wasn’t the action hero. He wasn’t the action lead. In Taken he says “I have a unique skill set, and if you don’t give me my daughter I’m going to find you and I’m going to kill you.” A guy that says that is a really interesting character. That broke this character that the audience really wants to respond to. He’s also smart about what he does, he doesn’t just do every action movie that comes along – he has a plan. He wants to do films that are provocative and interesting.
Look, Unknown was a great movie, it was a complex movie and I like it, but it doesn’t have the kind of “hold on for dear life” feeling as this one. He made another movie with Jaume after this movie (Run All Night), that I didn’t do with them, but he’s a guy that I’ll work with forever. People will just root for him, and when you have someone people root for, then you’re halfway there.
WGTC: I thought it was funny because when I got the press invitation for Non-Stop, on the bottom there was a website called FuckYeahLiamNeeson, and when you go to it, all you see are pictures devoted to him being a badass…
Joel Silver: I love it! I just love it. Robert Downey Jr. probably started it though. He made Tony Stark very, very interesting. I just did a picture with Sean Penn, and any of these guys who are really good actors and choose to do something special are unique. But seeing that website, and seeing Liam just being a rough motherfucker, I think that’s fantastic.