Calling it ”Die Hard’ with Santa Claus’ director Tommy Wirkola hopes that his new christmas comedy action film becomes one of those films that audiences return to every Christmas. Arriving in cinemas this December, ‘Violent Night’ looks set to be a new Christmas classic. Set in a wealthy family estate on Christmas Eve, a group of mercenaries break in and take everyone hostage, the team aren’t prepared for a surprise combatant: Santa Claus is on the grounds, and he’s about to show why this Nick is no saint. Watch the first trailer here –> https://youtu.be/obcSNyedv5I
We caught up with the razor-edged Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, who previously directed Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, & the Dead Snow franchise to chat about his festive flick.
Watch the trailer for VIOLENT NIGHT below
So, Tommy, what attracted you to ‘Violent Night’? Well, it was the script, honestly… the producers sent it to me, just a little over a year ago. So, it’s been a quick process. They sent me the script and said only one thing that it’s basically ‘Die Hard’ with Santa Claus. I thought it was a beautiful script, that it was so funny and filled with action and all stuff that I expected. It really had a big heart, like it was a Christmas movie. And that’s the first thing I said to the studio, this is great. I would love to do it. I love the script. But one thing we should really hone in on is the Christmas movie aspect of it, and really, really try to go and swing for a big beating heart because then we can go crazy with all these other things. It was a home run for me when I read it, and I loved it.
You’re known for subverting genres, ‘Dead Snow’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ to name a few of your films. So, when it came to ‘Violent Night’, were you excited the fact that you get to subvert another kind of genre of the Christmas film?
That certainly was part of the appeal… I love Christmas movies. When I read it, I said, yes, that’s the one thing that struck me, I really want to try to embrace that and go for it. So, when we did the rewrite after that, that’s what we try to explore more of and bring in other Christmas tropes and clichés and try to make it more of our own and try to have fun with them. And there’s a couple of scenes in the film, that I don’t want to spoil, but we basically pay tribute to a Christmas movie, compressed down to two minutes, and just go crazy with it and I think it’s a showstopper in the film.
Also, it was fun really going exploring that world and this extraordinary genre. Again, if you have true emotion and I try not to hide the fact that you’re making a Christmas movie and embrace that, you can really go for it on the other stuff, and we really did. And kudos to Universal Studios because they really let us do it. There was a couple of times when we were working on the script, and we sent it into them. And I was pretty sure they were going to say ‘what the hell are you doing?, you have to cut this… You can’t do that’. But they were the opposite of that.
They wanted us to go for it and swing for the fences. I think they know that this day and age and you know, it’s a film, it’s $130 million, it’s going to be a theatrical release, you got to have something, it’s got to be something extra, there’s got to be an attitude or an edge or something that will make people go to the cinema. They really just supported us and I think the movie because of that, to me at least is special.
You’ve got to find the perfect casting for Santa. What was the process for choosing Santa? And how did you end up casting David Harbour? Well, I mean, the Santa when you meet him in the script, he’s kind of in a in a weird spot. He’s a little down and he’s kind of lost faith a little bit in himself and humanity and in Christmas. It’s just consumerism has taken over everything. He is wondering why are we still celebrating Christmas? Who cares? Who cares about that, who cares about me, so he’s in a dark spot? Then it goes to him delivering his presents, and he thinks it is going to be normal Christmas, but then he gets sucked into the story with these terrorists taking over this house. And he meets this little girl that he decides to help and through this little girl he discovers his old self and his belief in himself and in Christmas.
So, there was a lot of strings to play on for any actor and a lot of fun places. And it was one of those things where you meet with the producers in the studio, and he started throwing names around. And then when David’s name came up was like, oh, yeah, that’s it. Like it just made all the sense in the world.
He read the script and he loved it. He saw the same movie we did and had a lot of great ideas. I’m so excited for people to see what he did this role. I didn’t think about it until after making the film that I’m pretty sure it can be intimidating for an actor to do Santa Claus. It’s obviously a character done so many times, in so many variations, and he’s an iconic figure, and to do something new and fresh and original is hard. I do think though that he really nailed it.
Your hero is only so good when there’s a great villain. You’ve chosen a great actor for that with John Leguizamo. What was the process of getting him into your film? Obviously growing up and being a film lover and film geek, I’ve seen him in so many different roles and variations. He’s funny, and he’s dangerous and he’s smart. His stand-up shows are amazing. I read his biography way back. He’s so honest and funny in that book, too. So, I’ve always been a big fan of him. One of the most iconic performances for me, like, I remember so well, it’s in Carlito’s Way. He’s always good. He’s always interesting. We sent him the script, and he really responded to it and he brought a lot of himself into it. He’s also so good with ad libbing and throwing lines and jokes and gags.
However, when we talked about it, me, David, and him and all the actors we decided, in this type of film, where it’s heightened reality and heightened concept and all that stuff, we didn’t want to drown the performances, we can’t try to be funny, because then it’s not going to work. So, he really made the character dangerous. We also put in some extra layers with it’s not just about robbing the family, he also has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to Christmas. It really was a joy working with the two of them. We have a great scene in the middle of film where they face off for the first time. It was it was a true joy and John is just an amazing character.
All Christmas films also rely on their young actors, and you have a very precocious young actor here. What was it like with her and getting her involved in the more action-oriented nature of the film, because it is a very intense and action-packed film? There’s no denying the fact that her and Harbour are the heart of the movie. If they don’t work, the movie doesn’t work. They have a great thread throughout the film, how they find each other, and help each other, and support each other. She was smart and funny and good. She just had his natural innocence and ability to perform in front of the camera. And there’s a couple of intense scenes for her as well as a couple of scenes where she has to deliver some lines that are some of the biggest laughs in the film. And that’s not easy. That’s not easy thing, timing, comedic timing, and luckily, she had a mom that really rehearsed with her a lot before she showed up. And the mom also understood the tone of the film. So, she knew coming in a lot of stuff. But again, I have to give credit to Harbour, there’s a lot of scenes where they’re talking on the walkie talkie, and he really helped her. They really have something special in the movie. They’re so funny together too. But you’re right, it is a Christmas movie. A good child character is so important. The writers really nailed that from day one.
How do you feel about bringing Violent Night to New York Comic-Con? Well, it’s my first time at a con, so I’m super excited to go there. I have so much good stuff. Plus, David is going to be there and so is John, and we’re going to show it on Friday. I’m very nervous and excited about it. I do think it feels like a good fit for the crowd though the movie.
What do you hope audience ticket audiences take away from Violent Night? It’s always this subversive type of film that kind of gives you more heart I think at times. I go back to that first meeting I had with the Universal Studios and the producers, and I do think, and I know people will enjoy the action and the humour and the fact that we pushed it a lot and we went for it. But I said when the audience walk out of the theatre, I really want to have that good feeling of seeing a Christmas movie. I really think we did that. ‘Violent Night’ really wears its heart on its sleeve. I hope they walk out with a smile on their faces and be ready to celebrate Christmas, and I hope they watch it the next Christmas at home, and it becomes one of those films where you can watch it after you’ve seen all the normal Christmas movies.
Words – Graham Day
VIOLENT NIGHT opens in Irish cinemas on December 2nd