Exclusive interview: director Jared Cohn talks ‘Deadlock’

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It would be stating the obvious to say that Bruce Willis makes a lot of movies these days, with this weekend’s action thriller Deadlock marking his ninth credit since May 2020, but very rarely does the Die Hard icon play the bad guy.

However, in the movie co-written and directed by Jared Cohn, Willis makes a rare foray into villainous territory as Ron Whitlock, a wanted criminal who leads a team of trained mercenaries on a revenge mission. After being betrayed by the government, Whitlock orchestrates a hostile takeover of an energy plant and takes everyone inside hostage.

What he hasn’t accounted for is Patrick Muldoon’s retired army ranger Mack Karr, who takes it upon himself to save both the hostages from death and an entire town from destruction. Deadlock comes to select theaters, on demand and digital this Friday, December 3, and ahead of his latest film’s release We Got This Covered had the chance to speak to Cohn about shooting what’s largely a single-location genre film, getting the opportunity to direct Willis as a villain, and the insanely eclectic cast of his next feature Vendetta, which you can check out below.

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Given how important the power plant is to the story, did you write the script with the location in mind, or was it a case of finding the right setting once the script had been written?

Jared Cohn: The original script was called Reactor, and took place in a nuclear power plant. And I actually went out scouting before…. We were looking for one, and we could not find a nuclear power plant, it’s protected by all these different government agencies. So for a second there, I thought the movie was going to be off because we couldn’t find the location, and then one of the producers found this water dam, and basically I rewrote the script to make it a power plant instead of a water dam, so I think I made the adjustment well enough. That’s sort of how that all came to be. It was never supposed to be a water dam, it was always… anyone listening that’s writing a script about a power plant; be careful!

Was Bruce the first name to come on board? Because when the news broke that Saban had picked up the film, the report mentioned the lead role hadn’t been cast yet?

Jared Cohn: Yeah, exactly. Bruce got the film green lit. And then shortly after Patrick Muldoon came on board, and we were off to the races. You know, with those two, pretty much the rest of the cast; Matthew Marsden, he’s great. But Bruce got the film green lit, for sure.

Does it help when it comes to things like marketing to have a name like Bruce on board, given the fanbase that he brings with him?

Jared Cohn: Yeah, he putts the butts in the seats.

How long was Bruce on set for? A lot of the movies he does with Randall Emmett for example, he only shoots for one or two days, but he’s a big presence throughout Deadlock, so did you have more time to work with him or was it a case of tight shooting and smart editing?

Jared Cohn: You know, it was like two half days, and we were clever. And how we shot them. In terms of… Fortunately, the movie takes place in one day, so there’s no need to change his wardrobe ten times, you know? And that was always very important. When you’re making a film, and you’ve got an actor for one or two days, and it’s a big name actor, you’ve got to have them in the movie. We’ll spread it out for fifteen, twenty minutes at least, otherwise people call you out on the internet!

He doesn’t play a villain all that often either, so was it fun to have him lean into a side of his onscreen persona that people don’t get to see too much?

Jared Cohn: Yeah, that was great. People brought that up on the set, that he doesn’t play the bad guy. So for me, to be in the first wave of directors to direct him as the bad guy, it was really cool.

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Patrick Muldoon isn’t really known for playing a straightforward action hero, did that come easy to him or was there a lot of training and prep required?

Jared Cohn: He… you know, he came up with the character and the challenge, you know. He worked one-on-one with his acting coach with the material. And he showed up ripped! Years ago, he was skinny. He still looked good, but he shows up ripped! Like, 20 pounds of lean muscle. He’s like, ‘I’ve been working out for the movie, I wanna look good’. I was like, ‘That’s awesome, man’. I love it when actors do that. They commit to the role, they wanna do a great job. And he did the homework, too. So we’ll get, like, an action hero.

You mentioned that you had to rewrite the script to substitute a nuclear power plant for a water dam. So that was already a challenge for you, and then when you factor in shooting and work in the middle of the pandemic, is this one of the most challenging movies you’ve ever had to shoot in terms of the writing and production?

Jared Cohn: Every movie has its own sort of unique challenges, specific to the movie. The good thing about shooting in Georgia versus shooting in L.A., is that L.A. still had the mask mandate. Everyone’s very mindful of the pandemic, but I couldn’t go to a restaurant after filming, you know? Normally, people go to a restaurant, and we couldn’t do that. Everything was shut down. It was actually nice, being in Georgia, because the state rules were different. But we followed all the SAG COVID rules. In L.A., you know, they don’t care about independent film. They’ve got all the big studios down here, so they’re making bank. A lot of times, you’ve just to make it work, you know?

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You’ve got Vendetta coming up, again with Bruce, but also Thomas Jane, Clive Standen, Theo Rossi and Mike Tyson, which is quite the ensemble. How did that eclectic bunch fall into place?

Jared Cohn: That one I’m going to have to chalk up to Corey Large, he was one of the producers on Deadlock and he’s got scripts that we could do. We chatted briefly about some ideas and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna write the script. Give me like two, three weeks’. Like, super quick. And then he calls me up, and I’d literally finished a draft of… it was called for Blood for Blood, it wasn’t called Vendetta. Just like Deadlock, which was called Reactor! Blood for Blood, like a revenge script, and I sent it to Corey. And he loved it.

And that came together really fast. He told me it was green lit, and then the next day he called me, like, ‘We’ve got Bruce. We’ve got Mike Tyson. We’ve got Clive Standen’. So that was like one of those fairytale stories. It’s all about the script, you know? If you’ve got a good script, and they like it, then they will get on board. Getting the script to them is the challenge. But luckily, Corey, Johnny Messner; they’re good at it.

You’ve worked with some big names during your career. Is there anybody you’d love to work with? Or that you’ve got your eye on for one of your upcoming projects?

Jared Cohn: There’s so many I’d love to work with. I mean, there’s of course fairytale dream actors; I’d love to work with Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m just happy to be working, I like working with actors. Usually they’re on top for a reason, they’re special people. They’re talented, doing great work, and all the filmmakers want to work with them. All filmmakers want to work on that level, it would be great.

That concludes our interview with Jared Cohn. Deadlock comes to select theaters, digital and on demand this Friday, December 3.