LOCKOUT – Interview with Irish director Stephen St Leger

Lockout is not the type of movie we have come to expect from a first time Irish director. Check out our interview for the Luc Besson produced movie…

Instead of a local, Irish story Stephen St Leger and his co-director James Mather have created an epic sci-fi adventure reminiscent of Escape from New York, with a little of The Fifth Element thrown in. Movies.ie caught up with the director and talked Luc Besson, 80s action movies and how different the film might have been if it was based on historical Irish events.

Where did Lockout come from?

SSL: Luc [Besson] had seen the short film that we did, called Prey Alone, and he rang us up. We went over to Paris and we met him. He said ‘what do you guys want to do?’. James and I had been writing scripts on different things and he had this idea and we went away and had a think about it. So we did, then we wrote a first draft. He made a few changes and we did a second draft, and that was it! We took it from there; shot it and lit it and directed it and pieced it all together. Luc is such a powerful producer; he has done 80 movies in the last 10 years and once he green lights it, it is green lit [laughs]


How did it feel to get a phone call from Luc Besson, saying he had seen your short film and he wanted to work with you?

SSL: It was weird because the short film that we did was a 15-minute action movie. It was shot entirely on green screen, which we are not really big fans of, but under the circumstances… It was just something that we really wanted to do. Nobody was going to give us money for jet fighters going through subways in New York and stuff like that so it wasn’t your normal short film. Usually short films are character studies of 15 minutes or whatever; we did a three act, big action, balls to the wall thing. Even though it was part of the Irish Film Board, it wasn’t really a festival sort of film so it was all over the Internet and I sent out 1000 DVDs to people so it was the first short film that was separate to the film festival circuit and was more on the internet and that’s where he had seen it. We had a lot of calls from different guys and a lot of meetings but Luc is not very intimidating and he is very cool and it felt quite organic.


What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

SSL: To be honest, just getting it done, just the actual work of getting it done. It’s in that genre… When you are writing and directing and shooting it and the visual effects company was set up in Dublin – Windmill Lane set up a company just for the film – so it was a big ask. It is in that genre, that place of the low budget, B movie area and it was a big task. It was two and a half years from writing it and setting it up and prepping it. We only really had eight and a half weeks to shoot it, which is not a lot for this kind of film, it was six day weeks and 17 hour days so it took a bit of time.


You and James Mather are both credited as directors, how did you balance out the task?

SSL: James and I met in film school at Dun Laoghaire College of Art 20 years ago now. We have been filming together ever since, doing commercials, James has been shooting as Director of Photography on dramas and TV stuff, as well as the commercials. We have been shooting all over the world for 20 years and he shoots it, he lights it, he operates the camera and I look after the performances and the actors. There is really very little discussion when we are shooting because we have been shooting together for so long… Irish people know that a nod and a wink and we’ll do that and sort that out… So there isn’t a lot of discussion because there is a familiarity there that is a huge advantage.


How did you go about casting the film?

SSL: Peter Stormare is just a legend… We also got Lennie James who is really good, he is a brilliant actor. We got Joe Gilgun, we got Vincent Regan, we got Maggie Grace from Lost and Taken and then there was the question of who do we get as Snow. Luc suggested Guy Pearce and Luc seems to have a knack for these things; casting against type. He did it with Liam Neeson in Taken, people were saying ‘Oskar Schindler in an action movie? How is this going to work?’ but Liam Neeson is brilliant in Taken. So we met up with Guy Pearce and he was really thin at the time. We met him in New York and he was doing Mildred Pierce at the time with Kate Winslet, and his character was very thin, but I didn’t know that he used to be a bodybuilder when he was 17 or 18. He put on 50 pounds or whatever, he was at the gym twice a day and he really bulked up for the film and he’s great.


The film feels like a combination of Die Hard, Escape from New York and The Fifth Element, which films inspired you for Lockout?

SSL: It’s funny how people latching on to Escape from New York because that wouldn’t have been my first choice. I would have thought it is those films and more. It is pretty much every action film that I saw when I was a teenager [laughs] It is every action movie from the 80s and early 90s and for me, they have a great spirit and energy and sensibility to them. It was something that we discussed with Luc as well; Luc has done so many films and there are obvious references to Nikita and Leon in Lockout. For me, it is everything that I used to like about those films; the outrageous plot line, Guy spitting one-liners to beat the band and a great feel good quality to them where you leave everything behind and let it overwhelm you. They are the films that I watched; anything by Shane Black I was first in line. You didn’t have to drag me to those movies, man; I was first in the door. I wanted to go back to the 80s and 90s where the hero or the anti-hero was kind of vulnerable; when he got hit, it hurt and he’s tired… What I really loved was the idea that Snow wasn’t really interested, and he didn’t want to go. Modern action movies take themselves way too seriously; they are very po-faced and I just can’t relate to it. I think there’s a touch of Irish about Snow in that he’s just like ‘Nah, I am not having any of this’ [laughs] That was the main thing for me in the film, that the Snow character didn’t turn out to be a gung-ho, martial arts expert.


The film is unusual in that many films from first time directors tell a local story, but Lockout is set on a spaceship in the future. How did that happen?

SSL: You weren’t really expecting that were you? [laughs]


No. Mostly because the title is reminiscent of the 1913 trade union lockout in Dublin…

SSL: [laughs] I don’t know if we would have got away with that! I suppose it is radically different for Irish films, I don’t think it is really Irish at all. It’s not really what you expect at all. I think there is definitely Snow’s attitude, and there is something about an Irish attitude… What is nice about Snow is he doesn’t like anybody, and he doesn’t trust anybody. I definitely think it is very difficult to spoof the Irish; there is a certain level of sarcasm to the Irish attitude. It’s really funny and refreshing. There is something in the personality that is quite distinctive and I think Snow has it in spades.


You mentioned that the visual effects studio at Windmill Lane was set up just for this film, how did that feel?

SSL: Well it is a big ask, but James Morris in Windmill Lane had done it before with The Mill in London, which did the likes of Gladiator. James set it up and we have the warehouse and a whole load of Irish guys. They trained in a lot of guys as well. It is still going now…


How do you hope the setting up of this studio will impact the Irish industry?

SSL: It’s difficult to know. I suppose it depends on the projects and what comes in but certainly there is the talent here. I think it’s really just getting the work and getting the projects to come to Dublin.


What’s next for you?

SSL: Loads of stuff. We are still writing, we are still shooting commercials. There is a ton of scripts that I am working my way through. There are a couple of things that I can’t talk about… [laughs] I like the idea that lockout is a B movie, so we will then move up to an A movie or drop down to an X rated movie! [laughs]

Words : Brogen Hayes

LOCKOUT hits Irish cinemas on April 20th