WGTC: I think now’s a good time to restate this question, now that Ben can give the filmmaker’s perspective. [To Ben] We were just talking about the warehouse and the locational setting for this film and the challenge. It’s one location. There’s a ton of rubble and places to hide.
Ben Wheatley: Yeah.
WGTC: I’m curious how you kept continuity flowing with so many different places for these characters to hide and jump to?
Ben Wheatley: It was all planned. The actual space was empty to start with and I built it all as a model. I built it in Minecraft.
Armie Hammer: This is a great story.
Ben Wheatley: Yeah. It’s a fact.
Armie Hammer: Even though it’s not true, you should keep it.
Ben Wheatley: I know. You keep saying it. No, it was absolutely true.
Sharlto Copley: He did, yeah.
Armie Hammer: How do you build something in Minecraft?
Sharlto Copley: You lay a brick at a time.
Armie Hammer: No!
It’s almost like digital Legos.
Ben Wheatley: Yeah yeah yeah.
Armie Hammer: You built that whole warehouse a brick at a time?
Ben Wheatley: Well actually what happened was I planned it out, and then I can’t be fucked to build it, so I got Andy’s son to do it. I paid him.
Find somebody else to do it. Always.
Ben Wheatley: Yeah. I paid him about 30 quid to build and actually fill it all in!
Armie Hammer: Andrew Starke – the producer – and his son, who also came into the sound department at one point in the movie. It seems like we just gave him all the terrible jobs.
Ben Wheatley: Yeah, I mean it was that and then we built the set in cardboard. Once we got the actual location, we built stuff out of cardboard boxes just to plan it all out.
So literal blueprints were drawn?
Ben Wheatley: Yeah, absolutely. Maps. All manners of maps and…
Armie Hammer: Figurines of people, where they were facing, where they would go. Lines of vision.
Ben Wheatley: Yeah. I had little models. Like Chevy vans and glued them all together, and cars, and all this fun shit.
The concept of an hour-and-a-half long shootout is obviously an ambitious one. As you’re bringing this to reality, was there ever a scene that you looked at and all of sudden, as people are getting shot and all this chaos is going down, you’re like, “We did it.”
Ben Wheatley: In a film like this, everything that’s in the script has to be in the movie, otherwise you have to have a scene where everyone goes to sleep and wakes up again in the gap where the bad stuff happens. Not here. This was calculated from the start. Everything we shot we put in the movie as far as I remember. There wasn’t anything cut, particularly. It was a similar situation to A Field in England. In that film, I think there was one line cut out of the whole movie, and the same with this one. It was the tiniest cut. Michael Smiley by the way, equally impressive in both films.
He’s impressive in any film.
Ben Wheatley: Yeah, he’s great.
So, getting to the hard questions now. There’s a lot of facial hair in Free Fire…
Ben Wheatley: It’s important.
This style is very important.
Armie Hammer: I blame puberty.
It’s a seventies-set film, you need the chops – but I want to know what all your favorite character styles in the film were. Was it your own or was it another character? Just by way of like the facial hair and the physical look.
Ben Wheatley: There’s always worries in movies. Really weird worries that no one ever cares about after the film’s finished. The worry we had at the beginning of Free Fire was, “should we make a film where everyone has a mustache? Would that be a problem?” There was thought that went into it. There was worry and fears and Cillian Murphy in particular worried about his – he has a very flamboyant ginger mustache. He was worried that it wouldn’t carry. He knew it would play in the local audience, but he wasn’t sure it was going to play internationally. He didn’t want to lose that audience. You know it was important. We all had discussions about this shoot.[From here on out, imagine them cackling incessantly.]
Sharlto Copley: I arrived thinking I’m the hairiest bastard, surely. I had a massive beard. My plan was to go with a ‘tache. I knew everyone was going to want to go for the ‘tache. I thought, “this was going to be thick enough that I must have a shot here. This body hair is finally going to be useful in an age where men trim their body hair. Finally.”
Armie Hammer: It takes him three razors to shave his face.
Sharlto Copley: Finally, I’m going to be able to use the neck hair, the arm hair. When I saw Cillian’s mustache, I thought, “yeah I got that.”
Ben Wheatley: [Cillian’s] is a gentle mustache. A whisp!
Sharlto Copley: I was like, “Look at this. I trimmed this down and I’m walking all over you with this hair.” Then I saw [Armie’s] beard and I was like, “Ooh, that’s…”
Ben Wheatley: That’s dangerous. Yeah yeah yeah.
Sharlto Copley: That’s game on now. I was so revealed when it was like…
Armie Hammer: It was just the beard oil!
Sharlto Copley: …he’s keeping the beard. I was like, “yes, that means I’m ‘tache.”
Armie Hammer: If I’m not careful, it will connect to my eyebrows and then those will connect and then go into my forehead.
Ben Wheatley: A complete balaclava of hair.
Armie Hammer: They’d call me uni-hair. And it looks like we’re going to end with that!
That concludes our interview, but I’d like to thank Sharlto Copley, Ben Wheatley and Armie Hammer very much for their time at SXSW. Be sure to catch one of my favorite films of 2017 – Free Fire – when it opens April 21st!