Martin Pope Wild Target

Martin Pope Wild Target

Wild Target

Cast: Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint, Rupert Everett, Eileen Atkins, Martin Freeman
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Genre: Comedy
Rated: M
Running Time: 104 minutes

Synopsis: Bill Nighy is Victor Maynard, a middle-aged, solitary assassin, who lives to please his formidable Mother (Eileen Atkins), despite his own peerless reputation for lethal efficiency. His professional routine is interrupted when he finds himself drawn to one of his intended victims, Rose (Emily Blunt). He spares her life, unexpectedly acquiring a young apprentice (Rupert Grint) in the process. Believing Victor to be a private detective, his two new companions tag along, while he attempts to thwart the murderous attentions of his unhappy client (Rupert Everett).

Release Date: November 11, 2010

Acquiring the Target: Producer Martin Pope discovered the story of Wild Target through his friend, Philippe Martin, a fellow member of European producers' network ACE, who had made the original French version of Pierre Salvadori's comedy some fifteen years earlier. "He showed me the film, and I thought it was hilarious. I then showed it to some friends, including the writer, Lucinda Coxon, who I had worked with before, on 'The Heart of Me'. She's an extremely amusing woman, and we had made quite a sad film and we thought, 'right, next time around, we want to make something funny.' I'd made a number of films on the Isle of Man, and so I showed the film to Hilary Dugdale at Isle of Man Film. She shared Lucinda's and my enthusiasm and so we were able to develop the film with them. It's been great as Hilary and her team are such enthusiastic and positive partners. Added to that it meant we were developing the film just as Steve Christian, Marc Samuelson and Andrew Fingret were putting together CinemaNX, one of the key financing companies in Britain, so we were able to work with them too, right from script development."

"I've only ever had the video to watch, which made it a very different, a very curious process for me, because I had to generate a script from the film," explains award-winning playwright Lucinda Coxon. "Pierre Salvadori has a very particular eye and not to work with that would really be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There's an emotional plausibility - we believe the emotional trajectories of the characters, even though they all behave horribly, a huge amount of the time. But you care passionately about what happens to them and whether or not they're alright in the end, so you're just finding those tonal balances.

"The story feels, in some ways, very English, but I think in other ways it's a crazy free-roaming film with a lot of farcical elements in it. What's great for me, I suppose, is that I could take my nine-year-old daughter to see it. It's a sort of family film; it really does have a kind of universal appeal, in that it's silly and it's romantic and it's funny and it's got a 'will they, won't they?' jeopardy. I think Wild Target is potentially a film like that, which several generations of a family could see together. You could be gay, straight, married….you could be exhausted, you could be incredibly peppy, on the way out for a booze-up; it really is pure pleasure. And the pleasure is in the panache and the joy of it - and then there's a great big tonal shift. Martin and I both really enjoyed doing this. There's something about Wild Target, certainly something about the 'open hand, open-heart' of the film, that's delicious."

"Once we'd got a script", continues Martin Pope, "we got Jonathan Lynn involved, which was extremely exciting, because he's based in Los Angeles and hasn't worked in Britain for twenty years. He's made some fabulously funny and joyful and entertaining films and we're really delighted to have brought him back to Britain, doing a British comedy. It's astonishing that, after the huge success of the award-winning TV series 'Yes, Minister' and the films he's directed, that he hasn't done more in Britain. But I think he is quite choosy. He likes scripts which he can see how to make funny and we very much wanted someone who understood comedy and how to bring out the best in the comedy performances. I think he gets a lot of scripts. Every time I mention a British comedy, he says "oh yes, I was sent that, didn't enjoy it". And he read this and rang up and said "let's do it."

Jonathan Lynn had seen the French film ten years ago and enjoyed it. "I read Lucinda's screenplay and I thought she'd really done a very good job of anglicising it, but it still had some story issues and things that I wanted to get into. I gave Martin and Lucinda my notes and, to my surprise, they agreed with all of them and said we should go forward from there. Bill Nighy had expressed some interest at that point and that was the other reason why I was interested. The work on the script went on, as usual, right up to the first day of photography. I don't think we changed anything of any consequence during the shoot. In fact, all the actors kept saying, whenever they questioned something and we had a talk about it, "oh, yes, the script has really got it right, hasn't it?" I'm sorry Lucinda didn't hear all the praise that was coming her way."

"What Jonathan brought to the further development of the script was really exciting and intriguing and added lots to it," says Martin Pope. "And I've known Bill for ten years and worked with him on a number of different films. We gave him the script early on and he said "that is entertainment….that is a sophisticated comedy". It really appealed to him."

As Bill Nighy confirms, "It's a really rare thing. Any good script is rare. And it's beautifully written. Lucinda Coxon's brilliant. It's beautifully dry and funny and really smart. Everything that's supposed to work, works. It's tender and funny and deeply stupid, which is good fun, hopefully, for the audience." His co-star Emily Blunt is equally enthusiastic, "The characters are so substantial and eccentric and layered and real and I think that is always good cause for an audience investing more in them, and therefore finding them more appealing. It's a very nuanced script. It's intricate, it's clever, the dialogue works; so there's not very much we have to do, because the dialogue is so good." And Eileen Atkins agrees: "You can pick it up and open it anywhere and it's very dry, very clever and very subtle. I know it sounds silly to say subtle when you're killing people, but there is a great subtlety to what goes on. This was done with such wit that I knew it was something that I could go and see myself and completely enjoy. You can accept the killings in this because it really is very funny."

Martin Freeman's response to the script was equally positive: "It did immediately appeal. Partly, because it's different for me: it's a different thing to be playing, it's not something that people associate me with. And also, mainly, because I just like the story and I like the writing. You can read a script and there's something that's very different for you, but if it's not well-written, or the story's bad, then you still don't want to do it, because you don't want to be in something bad. Ultimately, you want to be in good things - and if you can do something good in a good thing then that's all the better. It's very much a supporting role; I don't have that many scenes in it, but they're fun scenes and they're fun to play and it's not something that I do all the time, so that's a real attraction. When I was reading it, I thought "I don't read a lot of these". You don't read this kind of film all the time; there are some scripts that you just read all the time because they're formulaic, or written by a committee, or whatever, and this isn't one of them. It's quite a unique little journey."

Martin Pope is confident that the formula will work: "I think audiences will have a good time - they're going to enjoy watching some of the great British performers doing something that they do best, which is making them laugh. We think that British comedy works anywhere and, if it's funny, it will travel."

Lock and Load: With the script and director and leading man in place, the search began for cast and crew. Emily Blunt had played opposite Bill Nighy in 2005, when they both won Golden Globes® in the title roles of Stephen Poliakoff's 'Gideon's Daughter'. "They just spark off each other, they're great friends," says Martin Pope. "He was delighted when we suggested this to him. We sent the script to her and she replied in four days, she read it and thought it was hilarious. And I don't know whether it's true, but one of her agents said "we've been searching for the right comedy for her for ages and none of us could agree on what it would be. Emily Blunt's very choosy about what she wants to do, and she just really loved it. In theory it should have been tremendously difficult to get her, she is on the list for every project."

"Rupert Grint was Martin Pope's idea," Jonathan Lynn remarks. "He organised that and I thought it was inspired when he suggested it - and I still do."

For Martin Pope, it was an obvious choice. "There aren't that many young men of twenty who can do the sort of role that he's doing - and so successfully - and also be a megastar. We were very happy to get him." "I love the character," enthuses Rupert Grint. "I love Tony because he's just such a nice guy, sees the good in everything, he's really optimistic, a really likable guy. Obviously, all the guns appealed to me quite a bit. I thought that would be quite fun. And all the action stuff. It all seemed really cool and good fun to do."

For the part of Ferguson, the ruthless art-lover, Rupert Everett was suggested both by Lucinda Coxon and by the director, who explains: "I had already spent a lot of time talking to Rupert Everett, because I want him to do another project of mine that predates this." Rupert Everett's response to the script was swift and enthusiastic. He replied within twenty-four hours, "Yes, I want to do it". As he admits, "The most appealing aspect of it was that I was offered it on a Monday and it was starting a week later, and I'm very indecisive. I had to say yes or no to doing it, so I said yes! I like Jonathan Lynn very much and I've talked to him a few times about other things. I really admire him, as a writer and as a director, and he's a curious type of person. We nearly worked together before, so it was good to finally get the chance to do something together."

Jonathan Lynn's choice for Victor's elderly, homicidal mother was Dame Eileen Atkins, with whom he had acted thirty years previously. Dame Eileen Atkins confesses, "I had taken over a part from Bette Davis and they'd got lots of marvellous actors who all thought they were going to be doing a movie with Bette Davis. She dropped out 48 hours before and they got me instead, which was a bit of a come-down." Jonathan continues, "I'd asked her to be in the only film I'd ever made in England, 'Nuns On The Run'. Unfortunately, she couldn't - or didn't want to do it, I don't know which. When I told her about this, she said "oh, I do wish I had done Nuns On The Run!"

Dame Eileen Atkins is a longtime admirer of Bill Nighy and was thrilled at this opportunity: "I'm going to be quite honest and say that I'd go and see anything that Bill Nighy was in. Anything! I would do anything for Bill, quite frankly. I wouldn't be playing his mother - because I'm not old enough to be his mother - if I didn't absolutely adore him and think he was totally clever. This is the second time I've played his mother, so I've done it twice for him. I'd do it a third time too!"

Add to these the celebrated comic talents of Martin Freeman, BAFTAnominated star of 'The Office' (who played a policeman alongside Bill Nighy in the box-office hit 'Hot Fuzz') and Gregor Fisher, star of TV's 'Naked Video' and embodiment of the legendary Scottish 'street philosopher' Rab C. Nesbitt, who was suggested by Bill Nighy after they played together in "Love, Actually" - and Wild Target is brimming with comedy know-how.

Fixed Sights:Bill Nighty on Victor: "He is a middle aged - obviously - lonely, anal hit-man who's never had a girlfriend, and never had any feelings in that area whatsoever; and has a pretty simple and uncomplicated life, killing people efficiently and professionally, until he is required to kill Rose. And then, for reasons it takes him the whole movie to understand, he can't pull the trigger; much to his mother's disgust, because she feels, quite rightly probably, by not doing the hit he is letting down the family reputation. So he is already in trouble and he stays in trouble throughout the film.

"He comes from a long line of respectable hit-people: his mother was a very celebrated hit-woman and his father is a legend - he remains a legend of hittery - and was one of the most successful hit-people in the business. So, there's no pressure! But he has a certain amount to live up to; and he does it, he dedicates his life. He's hand-reared: he was given a Beretta, the prince of pistols, at the age of, I think, seven. So, from a very early age he could handle a gun. He's been custom-built to be a hit-man and to kill people and he does it cheerfully, efficiently and with a minimum of fuss and mess, because he is a serious minimalist in terms of how he lives. He is incredibly fastidious, as was, one imagines, his father. And that fastidiousness extends to his killing. He likes to do it with as little mess as possible.

"Rose is the direct opposite of Victor. She is surrounded by chaos. She creates chaos wherever she goes. Disorder is her natural habitat. She is a thief and she's not a particularly organised thief. She is reckless; she does things spontaneously without preparation. She lives in an apartment, one imagines, which resembles an apartment that's just been burgled. She dresses flamboyantly and extravagantly, in primary colours; in shoes that Victor particularly finds deeply unsettling. Very high-heeled coloured shoes, which he's not been exposed to overly in his life, and the whole phenomenon of her makes him deeply uneasy. But he is always, from the very beginning and onward, drawn to her."

Emily Blunt on Rose: "She is a professional thief. I don't think she's the best of thieves. She's done some small-time crime, so it is a big scoop for her, when she tries to palm off a fake Rembrandt onto Rupert Everett's character. But she's a very eccentric girl, she's gregarious and vivacious and fun and kind of nuts, but she's really very vulnerable deep down, and looking for a connection to the world. She's sort of flitting around stealing everything that isn't nailed down, I think, in an attempt to find some kind of normality. She's got a very casual attitude towards everything that happens to her in the film, until it starts to get really scary. I think she's in way over her head, but the funny thing is, she's not sure she's in any kind of trouble at first. She sees the world in a completely different light to how Victor sees it. He sees it in grey and muted colours and she is only attracted to something that's colourful and lively and vibrant. She has an ease to life and she has a shoulder-shrugging attitude towards it, which is refreshing, but he's never come across anyone like her before."

Rupert Grint on Tony: "I love the character. I love Tony because he's just such a nice guy, sees the good in everything. He's really optimistic, a really likeable guy. He really likes being in Victor's company as well. I think he really wants someone to take care of him because he's someone who's had to do a lot of growing up by himself and he doesn't really have parental figures in his life. I love the script as well, I found it proper laugh-out-loud funny, and there are some great scenes in it. When we first meet Tony, he's washing cars at a multi-storey car park. He hasn't got any parents and he finds himself in this really dangerous situation in the car park where there's this big shoot-out between these hit-men. He's just a cool guy."

Rupert Everett on Ferguson: "He is an art lover and a criminal - a gangster. He's a shadowy character, really, but he's a criminal. He buys a fake painting from Rose, Emily's character, thinking that it's an original Rembrandt, and finds out that it's been swapped at the last moment for a fake picture; and so he wants to get Rose. And then the hit-man he hires to get Rose falls in love with her, so he wants to get the hit-man too. It's been fun - very nice people involved."

Eileen Atkins on Louisa: "I'm Victor Maynard's mother. I've bred a contract killer; I've brought him up to be a contract killer. It's a very strange family. His father is a great contract killer, and she herself is probably a contract killer too; she certainly knows how to use a gun. But she's a very nice woman. She just doesn't see anything wrong with it, it's a job to be done. You get paid and you do it well, that's the most important thing: That you do the job well. She is highly respected because nobody knows what her job is, and she thinks she is a very respectable woman. This is a very powerful woman; and it's quite difficult to have enormous authority always seated. It's entered my head that I'm glad it's a long time since I've played a queen, as it's rather difficult to sit and be powerful; you immediately want to stand up, especially when you're toting guns!"

Martin Freeman on Dixon: "I'm a rival assassin to Victor and I have a slightly different modus operandi to him - and a slightly different belief system. I'm his nemesis. It's an interesting part for me, because I'm not often called upon to play a cold killer. Victor's is a slightly cleaner, clinical, get-the-job-done approach, while Dixon's is slightly more psychotic, and he takes a bit too much pleasure in his work. It's a kind of old school/new school thing. While Dixon views Victor very much as the crème de la crème, he thinks that Victor's generation's time has gone and that ultimately Dixon's method is the one that's probably for the future. I think there's something about Dixon that he can't quite help; when he enters a room, he likes people looking at him and he enjoys the theatricality of his job. A kind of glamorous job I suppose, and a job, obviously, where people are going to give you respect, because you;re in a position where you can kill them. The premise is that he's very, very good - he's not quite as good as Victor - but he's still an excellent professional. He still will only kill those who need to be killed, but he just takes a different relish in it."

Gregor Fisher on Mike: "He's Ferguson's henchman. 'Henchman' makes it all sound a bit serious. What I really should say is that I play Mike and he's an a*se. I specialise in these types of parts, he's a man who never gets anything right really. I think he tries very hard, but he's not very good at what he does. All sorts of horrible things befall him. I think life treats him rather badly, as well. He does try very hard, but he ends up getting shot twice and nearly drowned in the bath, and it's all quite hellish actually! I don't know why Ferguson keeps him on. Maybe he's a second cousin or something. He must be being nice to him for a reason. If he had any sense, he'd fire him; he'd tell him to go away and not to come back. But he tolerates him….."

The Target Shoot: It was a schedule of two halves - three weeks in London and three weeks on the Isle of Man, which was always going to be hard, although as Jonathan Lynn says, "It was an absurdly short time for this film. And without a crew as dedicated as this crew was, we could never have done it. They were just spectacularly good and never complained - they were ready for anything. And the same with the cast - I'd never worked on a film where every single member of the cast, without exception, was properly prepared, knew their lines, turned up on time and then gave good performances. I've never come across that before.

"Because Bill and Emily were so perfectly prepared and always punctual and always ready to try whatever I asked, everybody followed suit. I think the others would have anyway… It was a great experience. I really had fun. The only part of it that wasn't fun was just trying to get through every day in time."

"Filming in London is extremely expensive and complicated and difficult," points out producer Martin Pope. "It's tough, but then, on the other hand, we did have a big scene in Trafalgar Square, and Trafalgar Square doesn't exist on the Isle of Man. On a Sunday morning, we shot a scene of Emily Blunt bicycling against the traffic up Whitehall, crossing roads, making cars squeal to a halt and sneaking her way into the back of the National Gallery." Emily completed the hazardous sequence with aplomb, despite rain making the roadway slick and slippery, as the stunt cars braked hard to avoid her.

Trafalgar Square was Jonathan Lynn's favourite location, "It's one of the great treats of being a film director to actually say "we're stopping the traffic in the busiest intersection in the whole of London while we do our shot." What a trip! But the real reason was that it's a wonderful place to shoot, with spectacular views in every direction. But the time pressures were enormous. We had between the hours of 7.00 and 9.00am, during which we could intermittently control traffic and, after that, we had to be off the streets. So it was very tight. We had time for two or three takes of each set-up at most, but my 1st Assistant, Toby Hefferman, is superb and everything was perfectly organised - and we got it all.

"The weather wasn't easy to shoot in. We had to change one scene dramatically - the big scene where we were shooting at Olympia, outside the shabby hotel, was supposed to be on the rooftop. We had some spectacular shots lined up that were absolutely impossible to shoot in a torrential downpour. It was hard, but we got the day done. We had a tremendous amount of rain. We had one big exterior day in good weather, which was in Portobello Road Market and, apart from that, every big exterior set-piece scene had serious weather problems and often we had to shoot in different and sheltered parts of the location."

The director found it a very different experience from his previous London location shoot, nearly twenty years earlier: "When we shot "Nuns On The Run", the only place we could shoot the chase sequence was Chiswick. And the reason for that was that 'Slipper of the Yard' (legendary policeman Jack Slipper) was our consultant. He had caught somebody who had killed a police officer in Chiswick and Chiswick owed him a favour. Whereas, this time, I was able to film in Trafalgar Square, so something has changed. It is much more film-friendly. The City of London police couldn't have been more helpful - we did a car chase there and it was no problem. I had wanted to shoot 'Nuns On The Run' in the City and wasn't allowed to."

"We shot all over the place," says Martin Pope. "We'd keep moving. In many ways it represents the structure of the film, that in the first half there's quite a lot going on and so we go to all of those different places. Then the second half is much more about them holed up together, the quieter second half - well, not quieter, but there's less moving around. On the Isle of Man, we've got this fantastic house, which is brilliant, but slightly crumbling. Much of the film takes place there and we were able to do some other locations within the house. In terms of filming on the Isle of Man, I've made a number of films there and it's always a pleasure. But this is probably the film which is most easily locatable there, because so much of it is in a rural location and a lot of the Isle of Man is quite like that."

It was a new experience for Lynn: "I'd never been to the Isle of Man until I was prepping this film. It's a pretty little island. It wouldn't hurt if it was a little sunnier! It's full of interesting locations and we were able to do a lot of stuff there. We were able to find everything we wanted. In fact, all the locations we found were ideal. I never felt I was having to compromise and it was really nice being there. It was perfect for me, because when I'm shooting a film, I can't think about anything else - and there isn't anything else to think about!"

Eileen Atkins is another first-timer. "I haven't had much time to see the Isle of Man, but I've been very pleasantly surprised, because it is a very pretty island. But it is in a time warp. And it's windy..." Rupert Everett's first impression was also positive: "It's nice. It's got very fresh air - total visibility. You notice that everything is very much clearer than it is in London."

Bill Nighy is an old Man hand. "This is my fourth film on the Isle of Man. I'm always happy when I'm there, because it means I'm in the movies and I like that. I always stay on the front in Douglas and I have a really warm feeling about the seaside experience in a big old seaside town. I've had good fun every time I've filmed there."