Irwin Winkler & Bill Chartoff The Mechanic

Irwin Winkler & Bill Chartoff The Mechanic

The Mechanic

Cast: Jason Statham, Donald Sutherland, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn
Director: Simon West
Genre: Action
Rated: MA15+
Running Time: 92 minutes

Synopsis: Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is a 'mechanic' - an elite assassin with a strict code and unique talent for cleanly eliminating targets. It's a job that requires professional perfection and total detachment, and Bishop is the best in the business. But when his mentor and close friend Harry (Donald Sutherland) is murdered, Bishop is anything but detached. His next assignment is self-imposed - he wants those responsible dead.

Release Date: 24th of March, 2011

A Project Over 15 Years and 2 Families, in the Making
Bringing a new version of the 1972 genre classic, and Charles Bronson-starrer, The Mechanic to a modern day audience has been an incredibly memorable experience for producers David Winkler and Bill Chartoff - this due in part to the fact that their fathers, the legendary producing team of Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, produced the original (and are serving as executive producers on the current version). After spending a decade and a half developing the project, the sons' goal of bringing the property back to the big screen has finally come to fruition.

The Mechanic isn't the first property they've worked on with ties to their fathers (they produced 2006's Rocky Balboa, the most recent installment of the iconic Rocky franchise their fathers launched in the '70s) but they have always held a special affinity for this project throughout the years.

"The 1972 Mechanic was essentially the first in what turned out to be an entire sub-genre - the hit man sub-genre," notes Bill Chartoff. "It was a very interesting take on a thriller and subsequently led to many other hit man films. David Winkler and I always thought screenwriter Lewis John Carlino, who also wrote The Great Santini and many other wonderful films, created a truly unique story, and a new kind of hero in main character Arthur Bishop."

As Irwin Winkler recalls, the character of Arthur Bishop was one of the primary factors for taking on the original project nearly 40 years ago. "Lewis John Carlino sent over his script and Robert Chartoff and I responded to it immediately. Arthur Bishop was a very original character, especially for the time - a lonely hit man who seeks human contact and companionship. He takes on an apprentice but, ultimately, that need for a fuller, more humanistic life becomes his downfall."

Though the original film was successful (particularly in the international marketplace), it didn't reach 'genre classic' status until years later. In the '70s, films didn't have the extended life after theatrical release that films have today. It was only when Cable and DVD surfaced in the following decade that The Mechanic's exposure grew and an increased fan base emerged.

"People would come up to Robert Chartoff and I to say they had just discovered The Mechanic and wondered if we ever thought about remaking it," remembers Irwin Winkler. "We honestly were surprised by the interest because we had almost forgotten about the film in some respects."

But the response was undeniable and, fifteen to twenty years after filming the original, the men soon found themselves teaming up with their sons to develop what Irwin Winkler refers to as a "re-imagining" of the 1972 version.

The first order of business was the script.
After a few early drafts took the story too far from its roots (it started to resemble more of a spy thriller), the producers re-directed the script's focus back to the foundation of the original - the relationship between Arthur Bishop and his apprentice Steve McKenna.

In the story, Arthur Bishop's mentor and close friend Harry McKenna is killed and his death has a profound effect on the character. In turn, he agrees to train Harry McKenna's estranged son Steve McKenna who, hungry for revenge on those responsible for his father's killing, wants to become an assassin.

"It's a classic mentor/protégé relationship, and in some ways similar to that of a father and son - a relationship wrought with layers and complications but also with a mythological and Freudian nature," describes Bill Chartoff. "This dynamic elevated the original film from other genre films of its time and to this day makes The Mechanic an engaging action thriller."

Arthur Bishop and Steve McKenna's relationship would remain the core of the story but other elements would have to be updated for The Mechanic to be appreciated by audiences today who have different expectations for an action thriller than those of the '70s.

"Films of the '70s relied more on mood and atmosphere," notes Bill Chartoff. "Audiences today expect a drama that is logical and motivated."

Once the script started to take shape, the next step would be to find a director who could handle a character-based film loaded with action. Enter Simon West.

"I had never seen the original Mechanic. What attracted me to the project was the premise itself," remarks Simon West. "There have been a lot of hit man movies over the years but this one is different because the assassin makes each killing look like an accident. He doesn't just shoot people or blow them up in a simple, obvious way. This level of intricacy makes for a far more ingenious and clever story. Arthur Bishop is great at what he does, but he isn't ruthless, which I found very appealing."

From the producers' perspective, West was a natural fit for the project.
His filmography, which includes Con Air, The General's Daughter and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, easily demonstrates he knows his way around an action sequence but is also great with character. "This kind of film is really Simon West's forte," notes Bill Chartoff.

"The moment Simon West came on board, he put a lot of time and effort into building the characters," continues Bill Chartoff. "It was very important to him that they be complex, not mere caricatures. He wanted them to be relatable with motivations that lent credence to the plot and the story."

Simon West found Arthur Bishop particularly relatable for the stage Arthur Bishop is at in his career. "Arthur Bishop is at a point in his life where he's at the top of his game but he's just not sure it works for him anymore. I think that's something people can identify with."

Arthur Bishop would have to be sympathetic but also have the presence of an elite, unparalleled assassin- a 'mechanic.' As Bill Chartoff notes, "there aren't many actors today who can fill Charles Bronson's shoes." Finding the right actor to play the role would be crucial.

Who Says A Good Mechanic (Cast) Is Hard to Find?
"Jason Statham was the only actor I could imagine for the role," enthuses Bill Chartoff. "If Jason Statham hadn't agreed to do it, I doubt the film would have been made. He really is the perfect fit for Arthur Bishop."

The filmmakers were familiar with Jason Statham's extensive body of work from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to Crank: High Voltage, and everything in between.

"Jason Statham has such a charismatic quality," says Irwin Winkler. "He just generates excitement when he's on the screen."

As Irwin Winkler explains, Jason Statham's magnetism added an interesting dimension to a role that lacks the very trait the actor possesses. "Arthur Bishop has no charisma. He holds back emotions and is generally someone you don't care to be with. That said, Jason Statham in the role makes for an interesting combination. He just brings you in and you can't help but become engaged in Arthur Bishop's life. I can't think of another actor who could achieve that paradox."

Director Simon West, who met Jason Statham years before on another project, couldn't agree more. "I've watched Jason Statham over the years develop into this great brooding actor," says Simon West. "He conveys a range of emotions often with just a look which is important given the fact that a 'mechanic' spends most of his time alone (though in the film that changes when Arthur Bishop agrees to mentor Steve McKenna)."

"He's also a very physically adept performer," continues Simon West. "He's immensely skilled. He can and wants to do most of his own stunts. Not to mention, Jason Statham looks like someone who could kill ten men in a room with his bare hands. So he just fit the role in every aspect."

Jason Statham's reps sent him the script. He had seen the original film years earlier and is a huge Charles Bronson fan so he immediately responded to the material. "The screenplay really appealed to me. I thought it was very smart. I'm always looking to make a grown up action movie and this script definitely fit that bill."

Once the role of Arthur Bishop was cast, it was essential to find the right actor to play Steve McKenna (played by Jan Michael Vincent in the original film).

The actor would have to be convincing as an up-and-coming hired assassin. He would also need huge acting chops to play the character's traumatic emotional arc. West knew just the right actor for the role.

"The idea of Ben Foster as Steve McKenna came to me right away," says Simon West. "He's a supreme actor. He has levels to his acting that are 'Brandoesque' just ready to erupt. "

The casting of Jason Statham and Ben Foster worked both on screen and off. As Bill Chartoff notes, "when the two actors are on-screen together you just can't take your eyes off them."

Simon West attributes their chemistry to their commonalities despite their personal differences - "They have very different personalities but they do overlap in a lot of ways. They both have the same passion for realism; character realism and visual realism. I could have cast people who were similar but I think it would have been bland. They come from very different backgrounds, different countries and upbringings, but they work well together as actors. Because they are opposites of sorts, there are great sparks between them."

Jason Statham was impressed by Ben Foster's talent and work ethic. "He's just a riveting actor with great energy. He does his homework and he's full of great ideas. He also really pushed himself beyond the call of duty for the role. Some of the stunts we were doing were very scary at the best of times, even for someone like myself who does stunts for a living."

When asked about Jason Statham, Ben Foster comments on how gifted he is, not just athletically, but given his range as an actor. "Jason Statham is very funny. We had a lot of laughs. I was a fan of his before we met - his performances in The Bank Job, Lock Stock, and the Crank films. He's an extremely gifted guy and does some fine, subtle work in this film."

The two leads are complimented by a small but very strong supporting cast led by legendary actor Donald Sutherland in the role of Arthur Bishop's friend and mentor, and Steve McKenna's father, Harry McKenna. Though the character is only on screen a short time, Harry is a very important character to the story.

"Harry is in a sense a linchpin of the drama," states Bill Chartoff. "His death is significant in the motivations of the characters and plot."

The filmmakers were thrilled when Donald Sutherland signed on to play the part. "Donald Sutherlandis just so skillful," says Bill Chartoff. "On set, we were really watching a master at work. He was a joy to have around. He really took the role of Harry McKenna in a very warm and fascinating direction."

For Donald Sutherland, The Mechanic was a chance to work once again with a few old colleagues, and with a director whose work he admired.

"I worked with Irwin Winkler and Bob Chartoff over 40 years ago (on 1968's The Split and 1974's S*P*Y*S) and I did The Italian Job with Jason Statham. The opportunity to work with them again, and to work with Simon McKenna, attracted me to the project."

"Donald Sutherland is so good and very committed to his craft," says Irwin Winkler. "He's been acting for so long but it's like he's a kid just out of school - he's still so enthusiastic about it."

Every great action thriller has a gripping villain and The Mechanic is no exception. Dean Sanderson, played by veteran actor Tony Goldwyn, runs the organisation that Arthur Bishop and Harry McKenna have loyally served for many years. When Arthur Bishop finds his boss has been deceptive in his dealings and learns of his motivation for having Harry eliminated, Donald Sanderson becomes target #1 for Arthur Bishop and Steve McKenna.

"Tony has the ability to be very charming, warm and intelligent," explains Simon West, "but he also has this great ability to turn very dark allowing an audience to believe that deep down he can be very evil. That's the combination we needed for the character.

Up until the point when Arthur Bishop takes on the role of mentor to Steve McKenna, he lives a pretty solitary life - consumed by his work yet longing for a different path. His only relationship outside of his friendship with Harry McKenna is with a girl named Sara. Sara is a window of sorts into Arthur Bishop's character.

"It is important to know that Arthur Bishop is not a robot; he's appealing to women and he's attracted to women," explains Simon West. "He wants female company but can't let anybody fully into his life emotionally. He has a strange 'fantasy relationship' with Sara who we (the audience) at first think is his girlfriend but is actually an escort. Sara wouldn't mind being his girlfriend, but Arthur Bishop just can't let her in."

The filmmakers quickly landed on supermodel-turned-budding actress Mini Anden for the role. "Mini Anden is just the sweetest, most beautiful girl," describes Simon West. "She has just the right amount of vulnerability. You'd never suspect she isn't with Arthur Bishop because she's his girlfriend, but it's also totally believable when you find out she's really an escort. That's a tribute to Mini Anden and how well she played the role. She's a wonderful actress and has a great career ahead of her."

The Mechanics of a Stunt
As with any film that has a lot of action, there are considerable stunts in The Mechanic. But unlike many action films, The Mechanic's stars made it a point to do most of their own stunts. Stunt Coordinator Noon Orsatti (whose father and uncle worked in stunts on the original Mechanic) was impressed by Jason Statham and Ben Foster's commitment.

"Jason Statham brings a lot to the table," says Noon Orsatti. "It helps that he's a world class athlete (among his athletic accomplishments, Jason Statham spent years on the British high diving team - his diving skills came in handy in the film's opening pool scene where Arthur Bishop carries out an aquatic hit and again, a few moments later, when Arthur Bishop jumps off a massive bridge into a body of water)."

As well as doing the actual stunts, Jason Statham took part in various stages of the stunts' development. "His input was invaluable," continues Noon Orsatti. "He was a part of the process every step of the way. He loves to get in there and get his hands dirty."

The process of putting a stunt together is quite extensive. For The Mechanic's stunt team it included walking the location, typing out an entire 'story line' for the stunt sequence, shooting renditions of the stunt on a high def camera and continually revising the stunt per Jason Statham and the filmmakers' input every step of the way. By the time each stunt sequence was shot, the stunt crew and filmmakers knew exactly what they are getting into.

But as prepared as the stunt team was going into the actual shoot days, they were always flexible for creating and re-creating elements on set.

Action Designer and 2nd Unit Director David Leitch recalls a change that was made on the day of shooting a 'battle scene' between Dean Anderson and Arthur Bishop and Steve McKenna on the streets of New Orleans. "We had developed a bunjee rig for one of the stunts using a tire and chain to make it look like Arthur Bishop was protecting himself from being harmed in a particular maneuver but Jason Statham said 'No, I want it more raw. Arthur Bishop wouldn't have had those things.' So we swapped the rig out. It actually created a much more violent, more action-y, cool look."

For Ben Foster, diving into the stunts was something he was both excited about and frightened of at the same time. "Doing a film like The Mechanic is really a boy's dream. We've all played with sticks as guns in backyards as kids. This film gave me permission to do those kinds of things as a grownup - it's boys with guns doings bad things to bad people."

One stunt in particular turned out to be of particular challenge for Foster - propelling down 30 stories of a high-rise, 350 feet in the air.

"Hanging from a single wire and dropping isn't that difficult," Ben Foster explains. "It's the four minute climb up that makes you question why you didn't let the stunt man do it. It was almost a relief to fall. After the second take, I didn't want to stop. "

It helped that Jason Statham was there to give Ben Foster advice. "He told me to find a point on the horizon line and focus on it," recalls Ben Foster. "Unfortunately, the wire started to spin so I couldn't find the point. Just saying 'f*ck it' gives you a lot of freedom." The action scenes ended up being Ben Foster's favorite part of filming.

The Mechanic Sets Up Shop in New Orleans
A film's location ultimately ends up playing a character in the film. For The Mechanic, that character is New Orleans. As Bill Chartoff describes, "the mood and atmosphere of a location bleeds as if through osmosis into the feeling of a movie."

The decision to shoot The Mechanic in New Orleans was made primarily based on the fact that the city has an international feel and could stand in for multiple geographic locations (the film's various settings include Chicago, D.C., and South America).

Location Manager Batou Chandler scouted the city and surrounding areas for just the right locations. She had seen the original film and used its tone and energy as inspiration - though the filmmakers would ultimately take a more modern approach to the look of the new version.

The locations were incredibly diverse. Key locations used in the film include the New Orleans World Trade Center which, though just a shell from Katrina, stood in for a high-rise hotel; a house/wellness center with a mid-century modern feel in the bayou which served as Bishop's home (they scouted this location by boat as Arthur Bishop would seemingly live in an isolated dwelling only accessed by waterways); the french quarter for Arthur Bishop's sultry lover's apartment; and a house in the city that looked like a dwelling out of Palm Springs for the setting of a hit on an opposing assassin.

Many of the locations were virtual facades due to Katrina damage. The filmmakers built out the interiors of some (such as 'the Palm Springs house') and built interiors on a stage for others (such as the 'hotel's' penthouse apartment, where another hit takes place).

Production Designer Richard Lassalle has been working with Simon West for some time now on various projects so when Simon asked him to head to New Orleans, he was delighted to hop on a plane. All of the sets had to be laid out in careful detail but none reflected character as extensively as Arthur Bishop's house.

"I designed Arthur Bishop's house to be modestly sophisticated," notes Richard Lassalle. "Arthur Bishop is a craftsman and his home had to reflect that."

They shot at the house location (which was built in the '50s as a Catholic retreat) at the start of the film's schedule but Arthur Bishop's 'war room' was built separate from the house. The production shot this room's interior scenes at the end of the film's schedule due to the large amount of research props (a reflection of the extensive research Arthur Bishop conducts on each of his assignments) that had to be gathered.

A Mechanic's Legacy
For Simon West, The Mechanic was a chance to direct a film "that operates on many levels and can appeal to different sections of the audience." The Mechanic promises to offer up just that. According to Simon West, "You can go along and enjoy the ride, but if you want to dig a little deeper there's plenty there for you."

Irwin Winkler agrees and adds a personal lament on the experience, on behalf of himself and Robert Chartoff: "It's wonderful to have a legacy to have your children involved in the making of a film that you originally made. Here, it relates in a strange way to the film itself where there are significant father/son, passing down parallels in the story."

Perhaps Jason Statham best sums up the assignment of bringing The Mechanic back to the big screen - "The story has great universal themes of revenge and redemption but the main intention was to make an action movie, an action thriller, that we could all be proud of. There are die-hard fans of the original who will obviously want to see the film but now there's a whole new generation of people out there who will be introduced to this great story."