Director Paul Haggis talks about remaking a big budget version of French film Pour Elle [Anything for Her] with Russell Crowe.

What drew you to The Next Three Days?
PH: I loved the French film Pour Elle [Anything for Her]. I thought it was quite a nice film and I thought there were a number of questions that the writers and director had posed that I could answer in my own way, and other questions that would arise from that that I could explore. Especially concerning the characters and the depths that someone would go to do something like this, and the price that one pays to pull something like this off. That’s what I wanted; to screw into the emotional and moral levels.

How challenging was directing a thriller?

PH: It was a lot of fun. It was challenging because there were so many locations and so many scenes and you had to run around town a lot, but it certainly kept you on your ties. There weren’t a lot of 10 page scenes where you could play with the characters [laughs], there were tons and tons of one-eighth page scenes and you had to figure out how to tell the story well.

While the film is a slow burner, there is quite a lot of action in it, was this something that appealed to you?
PH: Yeah I liked the fact that there was a long, slow burn up to this ‘explosion’. I think Miles Davis said recently ‘It’s hard to play slow’ and the first two thirds of the film were probably the most difficult. As soon as you break someone out of jail and run and things go wrong it’s a heck of a lot easier. Keeping the tension while people are just sitting there thinking, that was the hard part.

Did you decide to stick closely to the story of Pour Elle or use the basic idea from the film and take it your own way?
PH: I think I did both. I think if you watch Pour Elle you will recognise the plot; it’s exactly the same and yet it’s a completely different film. I loved the structure of it but thought that I could make it deeper and darker, which I thought was a tad perverse – for an American filmmaker to think they could take a French film and make it darker [laughs] but I could also add some elements that would make it more exciting.

Ultimately, the way in which the breakout happens is kept quite secret from the audience. How difficult was this for you to create?
PH: It was a great deal of fun because I went to the location and just thought the whole thing up myself. I located Pittsburgh and thought ‘This is good because this is the largest prison in the world’ – it’s very modern, no one has ever escaped from this. So I did a lot of research and discovered how people had tried to escape and used some of their methods in my own way. I was just thinking ‘Ok so I get out here, what’s that over there? And what’s that across the street?’ and really embraced the world of Pittsburgh. I was standing on a street corner there while I was doing research and suddenly there was a flood of people in team colours walking down the street and I was like ‘Woah! What the hell is this!?’ [laughs] It’s a huge sports town and all of their teams have the exact same colours and I thought ‘Oh good, I can use this!’ and things like that just fell naturally in place.

John finds tutorial videos on YouTube that help him with making a bump key or breaking into a van, are those videos really there?
PH: Yes. I had to reshoot them for copyright reasons but they are all there. They work, but the how to break into a car thing – it’s a particular model car, and a particular year, so don’t try it on your friend’s car [laughs]. If you go online you can find how to make a bump key, but you can’t do it by watching my movie! [laughs]

You wrote and directed The Next Three Days, did you find you had to sacrifice your vision as a writer for your vision as a director or vice versa?
PH: No, they are different arts. You create the world on paper just like an architect does as you write it, then you have to build the damn thing [laughs]. They are just different skill sets and you can’t be too precious about the material. You just have to think ‘how can I tell the story well?’ and if you can’t tell it this particular way that’s on paper, then I’ll try it this way. With this one, I didn’t have to, we pretty much shot exactly what I wrote, I did end up cutting a lot; when I assembled it with my editor, it was three hours long so I did cut an hour out of it. There was a great deal on paper that didn’t end up on the screen, but if you get the DVD you will see it there [laughs]

What do you hope audiences will take from the film?
PH: I hope they will have a good ride, they’ll be entertained… I think it’s a thinking person’s thriller. I think there are a few little troubling notions in there that will resonate with people.

How do you hope fans of Pour Elle will respond to The Next Three Days?
PH: I was in Paris when it was released and they all seemed to like it quite a bit so, that’s encouraging.

You are arguably best known for your writing, what made you want to go into directing?
PH: I am a filmmaker, I like to make movies. The more of the movie I can make, the happier I am, so if I can just write it, that’s fine, if I can write and produce it I’m happier, and if I can write, produce and direct it I’m happiest.

What’s next?
PH: I have a couple of things that I am playing with, but I think the film Third Person – which I am writing – will be the next thing. It’s sort of like Crash, but about relationships. It’s three different stories intertwined, and hopefully set in three different cities. I am hoping to do it in New York, London and Rome. So I am just finishing that script up at the moment.

Words – Brogen Hayes

The Next Three Days is now showing at Irish cinemas