“Ninja Assassin” is directed by James McTeigue from a screenplay by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski. The film stars Korean pop star Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles, Rick Yune and legendary martial arts performer Sho Kosugi. Joel Silver, Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski and Grant Hill are the film’s producers, with Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni and Steve Richards serving as executive producers.
Ninjas are the special forces of the martial arts world, and director James McTeigue and producers Joel Silver, Andy and Larry Wachowski and Grant Hill wanted to bring them to the screen as never before.
“Ninjas were the shadowy characters who always came out of the darkness,” says director McTeigue, who also recalls the influences of his upbringing in Australia. “We got anime from Japan and a lot of the TV serials as well, like ‘The Samurai’ and ‘The Phantom Agents’—shows that had elements of the folkloric ninja in them, where the characters were raised in an orphanage or the like. For this film, we talked about those classic elements, but also adding an edgy film noir aspect to it.”
On hiring rain, McTeigue says, “Even though it was a relatively small role, Rain’s physical ability was so good that we thought if we could do an all-out ninja movie, he would be the one to do it with.”
James McTeigue (Director) has more than 20 years of experience in the film industry. He is next set to direct “The Raven,” a fictionalized account of Edgar Allen Poe’s final days.
As a boy in Sydney, McTeigue was exposed to a variety of world cinema and television and was heavily influenced by ninja television shows like “Shintaro” and “Phantom Agents,” and by films such as “Shinobi No Mono.” He graduated from Sydney University, where he studied art and film.
McTeigue made his directorial debut helming the iconoclastic screen adaptation of the graphic novel “V for Vendetta.” McTeigue came to the project through his relationship with the Wachowski brothers, for whom he served as the assistant director on all three “Matrix” films. His other previous film credits as an assistant director include “Speed Racer” and “Dark City.”
I enjoyed sitting down with James because like all directors I had interviewed, he showed passion and enthusiasm in his creation without any hint of arrogance. These directors are consumed by their art and process of storytelling, and it’s exciting to speak with such talent and experience.
You know that’s funny. Someone asked me if there was something I was trying to get out. No, I guess I did it for the love of the genre really.
ASIANCE: What do you think the difference was or difficulty in doing Ninja Assassin compared to your other films?
McTeigue: When you do a film that is largely wall to wall action, there’s a lot of choreography that has to be worked out. There were a lot of varied settings. It takes a long time to work out the mechanics of that. So you have to be very, very organized.
It just has a different template and a different aesthetic to it. So it’s just kind of working out the correct balance.
ASIANCE: How long was the filming? It looked like it was a lot of work.
McTeigue:We were backing into the writer’s strike when we first started shooting the film. It’s hard to remember back then. (laughs) I finished the film in like 6 or 7 months of post production which is kind of normal. Then we were waiting for the right time to release it basically. We thought Thanksgiving weekend would be a good weekend to do it, so we held out for a little bit.
ASIANCE: In the beginning, when you sliced the guy’s head in half and it rolled down the floor? Who came up with that idea?
McTeigue: (laughs) Well it’s basically inherent in the script but it depends on how you interpret it and your visual style. The way I usually work is, I’ll get with the story book artist, Steve. We like to do key frames as I like to call it. This is the aesthetic of that scene. As we work of the aesthetic of the film, then we start doing story boards. If you saw the story boards for the movie, you would see they are very, very close.
ASIANCE: So you get together with your team and come with ideas that you think would look cool? Was the head slicing your idea or someone else’s?
McTeigue:No it was me. (laughs) I’ll be like, “Wouldn’t this look cool?” I should actually bring the story boards up in my email to show you and I bet the dates are something like late 2007. That’s not to diminish Steven’s input because he is a very talented comic book artist. He had his fair share of bloody moments.
ASIANCE: Do people ever say something to you like, “What’s wrong with you?” or “This is a little crazy”?
McTeigue: You know that’s funny. Someone asked me if there was something I was trying to get out. No, I guess I did it for the love of the genre really. If you look at Japanese anime and look at games, they’re not so dissimilar from what I was trying to do. So if I was trying to work something out, then there are a lot of other people trying to work something out.
There’s nothing sort of deeply Freudian. I guess it would be more interesting if I had some sort of story hun?
ASIANCE: Oh well I was just curious, for example, I had read that Steven Spielberg’s mom said he was always a weird kid. Or like Quentin Tarantino seems odd.
McTeigue: The thing with Tarantino is, I can never tell the difference between Tarantino the character that is present in interviews or whether he gets on set and he’s like a totally different person. Yeah I would say there is something…..he’s so hyper-kinetic. I would say that bleeds through into his films..
ASIANCE: How has Rain changed from Speed Racer?
McTeigue: I worked with him on a few things for Speed Racer. When I worked with him on that, I noticed his screen charisma. You notice he has great physicality and discipline. Wow, this guy is fantastic. Larry and Andy were working with him as well and they were talking about doing another martial arts movie, ninja movie or “Enter the Dragon” type, whatever it was going to be. I thought this guy is great. There hasn’t been anyone like him since a Jet Li or a Jackie Chan. Why not put him in a film and see how he does?
He was great. He really understood the movie I was trying to make. He understood where I was going. He was just like, “Tell me where to go and I’ll be there”. And he did. He trained and then he did all the fight choreography. He did an amazing job.
His body definitely improved. He had like fish and rice for months and months on end. He always used to joke on the last day of filming, he was going to go out and drink wine, eat red meat and smoke cigars.
ASIANCE: You can’t have any flaws. Besides his body, Rain has like perfect skin and teeth.
McTeigue: That is why there is unfortunately that rundown of people doing cosmetic surgery. It’s like a trap. It’s like an anorexia sort of trap where you keep doing it and doing it. There’s this public perception that you need to do it but I don’t think that’s really true. And Rain, I think he’s like 25? He should have perfect skin and perfect teeth.
ASIANCE: Yeah he looked flawless. No fat on his body.
McTeigue: I’m sure he wishes that I digitally did it but no he did it all himself.
ASIANCE: Was it difficult or challenging working with the children?
McTeigue: I guess working with the children was good because I got them from dojos all around Berlin. All the kids already had a martial arts discipline. Then for the scenes where there was physical violence with the children, you prep them and you make sure they are comfortable. The kids coming from a martial arts background have already seen fighting, so they were comfortable with that.
Some of the main characters in the movie, like Young Raizo and teenage Raizo, they came from Korea and Kylie, who played young Kariko and Anna Sawai, who played teenage Kariko, she came from Japan. I loved working with them. They were great and really into the script.
They get it. If you ever go to those martial arts dojos, those kids are always fighting and they’re really good at fighting.
ASIANCE: What’s going on with The Raven?
McTeigue: I’m in the middle of the casting process. We’re going to shoot it next year. It’s a great cool story. There’s a serial killer loose in 1850’s Baltimore and he uses Poe’s story as his methodology. He takes Poe’s fiancé and he leaves clues for Poe so Poe can find her before she dies.
ASIANCE: Is there anyone that you really want to work with?
McTeigue: I’m already talking to some actors. When I was doing V for Vendetta, I looked at a bunch of girls. I looked at Scarlett Johansson, Bryce Dallas Howard, Natalie Portman and Emily Blunt. I ended up choosing Natalie but I’d really like to do a movie with Emily. When I was in that process, I thought she was really great. Since then, she’s gone on to do Devil’s Wear Prada and she’s in The Wolfman and Young Victoria. So I’d like to work with her.
Did you see My Summer of Love? It’s her first movie. You should see it.
ASIANCE: Is there an ultimate project?
McTeigue: There was a script, well it wasn’t a script, it was a treatment that stuck in my mind for a long time called Epiphany. I’d like to do that. This guy called Skip Woods wrote it. Maybe one day, I’ll get to do that movie.
ASIANCE: Do you ever go back to film school and talk to students?
McTeigue: No I haven’t but I think it’s important to give back. I would do it. I know when I was in film school, I always appreciated when directors would come in a talk or even cinematographers. Yeah I would love to definitely do it.
Opening nationwide on November 25, 2009, the film will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.