Interview with Stratton director Simon West
by Bobby Blakey
Like most people I love a good action movie and director Simon West has offered up some great ones including Con Air, The Mechanic and Expendables 2. Now he is stepping into the world of British espionage with his latest film Stratton starring Dominic Cooper from the hit AMC series Preacher. I had the chance to sit down and talk with West about this new film and the hopes for a new secret service franchise.
Bobby: How did you get involved with Stratton?
Simon: For a while I have been looking for another franchise type British hero because you’ve got James Bond and Harry Potter, but I felt there was a gap in the market for another one. I grew up loving James Bond and was the reason I got into filmmaking from watching those films. I thought that I needed to find another great action adventure character. I was trying to figure out what kind of hero that should be and I was sent the Stratton books by Duncan Falconer and it peeked my interest working on something about the SBS, the Secret Boat Service. They worked with MI6, but these guys are the ones that actually do the action. So really what you normally see James Bond doing is what the SBS guys are doing. The intelligence is done by the MI6 officers, but when it is time to get out there and take care of business it’s the SBS.
I wanted to do a more realistic gripping version of that world so you get to see in Stratton how the MI6 works with the SBS units. Sometimes they are a bit antagonistic and these are all based on conversations with Duncan Falconer. A lot of the things in the film may not be in the book, but are based on conversations with him. He was in the SBS in the 70s, but I also wanted some of the current guys, but they are very secretive and out on missions so very hard to get a hold of. I did get to meet two or three of them and they are all very different. They are all able to blend in every place in the world and secretive and I just thought it was an interesting new take on the world of espionage.
Bobby: When you are heading into something like this with franchise potential does it put more pressure on you as a filmmaker?
Simon: You always want to make a film as good as you can and with a franchise the first thing you have to do is not kill the lead character. (laughs) Then all the sequels would be prequels. There are actually like eight or nine books, so I just set out to make the best film I could so that there would be a chance at making another one. It’s a great character, but you have to leave some information out because if you learn everything about the character then it makes it harder to carry on in a future film. You still have to make him interesting and compelling enough in this one though so that it works well and you want to see more. Ultimately though if the first one works then you are allowed to make the second one so you certainly try your best to make a great film.
Bobby: With this kind of film casting is so important because you want someone right for the part but who will also connect with the audience should there be future entries. How did the casting work for this or did you already have Dominic Cooper in mind?
Simon: I was just looking for the best actor. Going in with a new character like this you need someone with depth and I think the audience is very sophisticated now to in as a person who their action leads are. They don’t just want people who can ride a motorbike or throw a punch or shoot a gun. They want someone they can believe in as a person so it is much better to start there and work your way out as opposed to just going with someone who is a natural action person. I have been a big fan of Dominic Cooper and think he is a great character actor as opposed to a big action star. He is also a comedian which I thought would be very useful going into this role and in every film he has done he is completely different. His range is incredible and he is British so worked for playing this kind of role. When I met him he seemed a bit reluctant to take on an action thing like this because most of the action stars are these big muscle guys, but I told him that these guys are not like that. They are very subtle and use their brain before their muscles. They have all of these skills, but will go the thinking route before resorting to using all the other tools they have at their disposal.
I think then he was a bit more intrigued. Also these guys are very good and comfortable at what they do in the field, but when they are just in the street as regular people I wanted him to be more emotionally shut down because the normalcy is scarier to him. So he keeps his guard up from being insecure unlike when he is out on a mission. Dominic is that kind of character actor that’s warm and you believe he could think his way out of something instead of always fighting his way out.
Bobby: After doing so many iconic action films do you have a vision prior to shooting the film of where you want to take the action or does it vary with each project and how it is already laid out?
Simon: It develops during prep. When I was working on Con Air the script just said “director’s action sequence” and then you got to create the whole sequence in there. What I try to do is make the action sequence more of a story in itself so that if you took the action sequences out they would work as a short film with a beginning, middle and end. Each film is a bit different, but I think it is just as important for them to tell their own story as well as work with the story of the film.
Bobby: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me and look forward to seeing what else you have coming up.
Simon: Thank you and lovely speaking with you.
Be sure to check out Stratton in theaters and On Demand now.