Posted by craveonline.com. Interview by John Gaudiosi. August 17th, 2015
Before watching Hitman: Agent 47, actor Rupert Friend isn’t somebody you’d have picked to helm a summer tentpole movie from 20th Century Fox, because Friend actually wasn’t the first choice. Fox decided to reboot the franchise years after actor Timothy Olyphant shaved his head for Hitman (which earned $100 million worldwide at the box office in 2007), and Paul Walker was prepared to breathe life into the video game character in 2013. But after Walker’s tragic death in November 2013, the studio then chose Friend to play Agent 47.
Although gamers know Friend for his role as Peter Quinn in Showtime’s hit espionage series Homeland, a rather different demographic is more familiar with the Brit for his roles in films like The Young Victoria, Pride & Prejudice, and The Libertine. Of course, once he shaved his very full head of hair for the role, there’s no confusing Friend for any of his past characters. But by choosing an actor who could successfully tackle Jane Austen and historical period pieces, the studio ended up with a very untraditional action hero.
And they also chose an actor who spent most of his life playing video games – something that’s not a requirement for a video game movie, but it’s definitely a positive. Friend talks about playing one of the most famous clones in gaming in this exclusive interview.
Crave: Was there anything you learned from the first Hitman movie and Timothy Olyphant’s interpretation?
Rupert Friend: To be honest, I haven’t seen it. I didn’t want to watch somebody else’s interpretation of it. So I decided to skip it and do my own thing.
C: Gamers have seen a lot of bad video game adaptations by Hollywood. What do you feel the challenges are in taking something that’s a beloved game and then extending it into film?
RF: The first thing is to not to patronize the audience. And if the audience is going to be made up of gamers, I know that gamers often say, “That wasn’t a faithful adaptation,” but I don’t think they actually think that. A faithful adaptation would be horrendously boring. If you were doing a faithful adaptation of the Mortal Kombat game – I use it as a bad example because I know the film was horrible – but you’d just have two people standing opposite each other beating each other up for two hours. There’s no “there,” there. The challenge is to try and be respectful to the franchise while taking it a step further, rather than just saying here’s a game that you can’t play. It’s like watching a movie of the game, but we don’t get to play it.
C: So creative freedom is important on the Hollywood side, then.
RF: The whole fun bit about the game is you get to be in it, but the movie, obviously you don’t, so we’ve got to give you something else. We can’t give you the movie of the game. It’s got to be a movie. It comes back to something Neil Gaiman said when he talked about the first time he watched one of his graphic novels adapted into a theatrical work. He said it was perfectly true to his graphic novel in every way, and completely boring because what had worked on the page fell flat on the stage. He came up with this idea that it’s not about transliterate, it’s about translate. We’re not literally taking something from one medium and just making a film with it. We’re trying to translate it from game to film, or from graphic novel to game.
C: What do you think it is about Agent 47 as a character that can sustain multiple video games and movies and now comic books?
RF: It’s that combination of someone who has been genetically engineered to be superior in every single way, and yet something made him “go rogue” and break away from his designers and start to plot against the system. We have an innate understanding of that level, even if it’s A Rebel Without a Cause. There’s something in 47 that even if you give him enough money he’ll take out any target you like, and he’ll do it faster, better, stronger than you would, but there’s something else there. If you really read the story background about this guy, he kept this little pet in the laboratory and then with that emotional defiance he broke its neck. He shoots Diana. There’s a lot of rebellion in him. And rebellion comes from feelings. And he wasn’t supposed to have feelings.
C: People love anti-heroes, as well.
RF: Yes, it’s the same reason why we might love a Han Solo. Han Solo is more interesting than Superman because he’s flawed. Superman’s flaw is kryptonite and that’s it. He can make time go backwards for God’s sake, but with Han Solo or Indiana Jones there’s a bit of humanity there. And I know that 47 is an engineered clone, but I sense that the reason why 47 is different than the first forty-six is that something was human in him.
C: Are there elements from playing the Hitman games that influenced the final film?
RF: Yeah, of course, but when I read the script I hadn’t played the games in as much detail as I then did. Once I played them, I said, “Look, there are just some things that we have to get in there. I want to see more costume changes, more stealing clothes, more cunningness with disguise. I want to see the use of the corrupt. I want to see the hiding of bodies, I want to see that stealth element.” I already knew that we were going to have the action. We’ve got the best drift driver in the world doing the car stuff with me. We’ve got this incredible stunt team, and we’ve blown the doors off in terms of action. So it was just, “Let’s just make sure that we remember that this is about a guy who first and foremost relies on self and cunning.”
C: We’re seeing more Hollywood actors doing performance capture for games. Would you be open to playing Agent 47 in a video game?
RF: Yeah, I would love that. It would be a whole ‘nother level because it would be entirely motion captured, but how exciting. You’d be playing the game and you’d have, as it were, the actual guy from the movie doing the movement. Gamers are more sophisticated than ever and the idea that you don’t just walk or run or crouch or jump, but you’re controlling a character, using hand gestures, and thinking about what kind of a punch do you want to throw — a stun punch, or a skull breaker, or a push through, or a nose breaker. I’m studying Krav Maga, which is an Israeli form of self defense. It’s very deadly and without rules. It’s very like you don’t know what you’re going to see. It’s sort of like an MMA thing. I think if you were to do that kind of thing where you spent instead of a week in a motion capture studio, you do like a month and then the gamer gets to literally be 47, that would be awesome.