The Search for “McQueen”: An Interview with Mark Steven Johnson

markstevenjohnson

Mark Steven Johnson is a name many should be familiar with. While he has a limited amount of directing credits to his name, he is a prolific screenwriter and producer. Some of his films as director are those that superhero fans will be familiar with. He directed the 2003 big-screen adaptation of Marvel hero Daredevil with Ben Affleck and then turned Nicolas Cage into the Ghost Rider in 2007. His latest directorial effort, the biopic Finding Steve McQueen, comes to theaters, VOD, and Digital on March 15 from Momentum Pictures.

World Film Geek had the chance to talk to Johnson about his latest directorial effort.

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Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about Finding Steve McQueen. I saw the film and while I know it was based on a true story, there were some comic bits mixed in that I couldn’t stop laughing with and I thought as a whole, the film was greatly executed.
Thanks, man. I’m so glad you liked it. That means a lot to me. You never know. You take chances and try different things. Sometimes they work and sometimes, you’re like “nope” (laughs). I’m glad you dug it. It’s a fun little movie. Something different.

What attracted you to make the movie?
You know, I originally had no interest in making a heist movie. Because there’s so many great ones and I didn’t really have anything to say about robbing a bank. Anthony Mastromauro, one of the producers, sent me the script. And I saw that it was opening in a diner, where the main character sits down and says ‘I’m not who you think I am’. And you realize it’s eight years later and I thought, well that’s kind of cool. That’s where the conflict comes from, whether they get away with it or not. And you’re like that was eight years ago, you totally got away with it.

So the conflict is, oh it’s a love story. Does she love him? Is she going to forgive him? Will they be able to run away together? So, I thought was a really cool thing. And the other thing was that I hear this was a true story, but I never heard of it. I kept looking it up, thinking this couldn’t be real, not this, not that. But it was all real. And I thought, how was this never made because it is so curious? And of course, we had fun with it and played around, and the most outrageous parts of the story are true. I thought this was a fascinating idea. Just a piece of American history that no one has really heard about and it’s so timely.

It’s like everyone else and being obsessed with what’s going on today. You don’t hear Nixon and Watergate like you do these days.

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Travis Fimmel as Harry “Steve McQueen” Barber in Finding Steve McQueen (Momentum Pictures)

I thought that too and I had to look up the true story and I was shocked by what transpired. However, one thing that helped with this film was the comic factor. I was laughing throughout the film. What was it like working with the cast? Travis Fimmel and Rachael Taylor have such great chemistry and William Fichtner, I mean, this guy makes any role work and pulls it off nicely here.
It was amazing! Travis was great because he was an interesting choice. It’s because he’s never done comedy before. But in real life, he’s actually a funny guy. He’s like a lot of us, a guy who doesn’t take himself very seriously. He likes taking the piss out of himself. That shows in the film. There’s a playfulness to it. Let’s try this and that. He doesn’t care about looking foolish ever.

Once everyone sees this kind of energy, let’s make something different. Then you got William Fichtner and Forest Whitaker and Lily Rabe who are fantastic. They ground it, so you’ve got these two different stories going on. You got this zany heist film with a love story and then you got the investigation, where you care about those people too. You don’t just care about whether these people get away but in the case of Forest and Lily, you get to know about their characters’ stories and we want them to succeed as well. As far as the crew, it is exactly what you think it would be like. We had a lot of laughs and we still group text each other.

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(L-R): The crew: Louis Lombardi, Rhys Coiro, Travis Fimmel, and William Fichtner in Finding Steve McQueen (Momentum Pictures)

Our group is called “The Idiots” (laughs), which tells you exactly what it sounds like because we all miss each other. The last time we got together was in this Italian restaurant and there was Travis covered in marinara sauce, because they had a food fight. You’re thinking, you’re in an Italian restaurant and having a food fight. I mean, how old are you? (laughs) That’s what it’s like working with these guys.

(Laughs) That’s awesome! Now, if you had a scene that you shot and after watching it, you say to yourself, “That’s my favorite part of the movie”, what would it be and why?
Wow! That’s a great question. I never really thought about that. I will say there is a very beautiful scene that I loved. I mean, we were going for something different here. But, there is this beautiful scene where Harry and his brother are seeing each other for the last time. He knows the cops are coming for his brother and he walks to the store and his brother tells him he loves him. Harry kind of freezes and asks why he said that and then he tells him he loves him too. Then, he drives off and sees the cop cars in the rear view mirror as they are about to arrest his brother. That was heartbreaking and I really liked that performance. It’s very different from the rest of the movie. It reminded me of Grumpy Old Men, which was the first thing I wrote.

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Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men, which Johnson wrote (Warner Bros.)

Oh I love that movie.
Well, thanks! That movie was rally broad. I mean, you have the two trying to stab each other with fish (laughs) and that was broad. But, there was that one scene where Jack Lemmon’s character has the heart attack and Walter Matthau goes to the hospital. The nurse asks him “friend or family”. He freezes but then says “friend”, because he realizes that he is his best friend. And for that to blend with the comedy, I mean it works so well. So the scene with Harry and his brother really meant a lot to me, to the story, and meant a lot to the film. It explained why he couldn’t run anymore.

How long did shooting take and did you face difficulties?
Oh we faced a lot of difficulties (laughs). It was a small film. We had a five and a half million dollar budget and we had a 25-day shoot. We did have difficulties. We got shut down at the end of the film for some budget issues. We had to regroup a month later and finish it. We had a deal with Open Road, who then became Global Road, who then went bankrupt. So we got stuck in the middle of that bankruptcy. It took us so long to get untangled for it.

It’s one of those little movies where you would think it’s dead, it’s not going to happen, but then finally it’s like, yes, we’re finally going to see the film! People will get to see it. I hope people will go to theater or see it on their TV and say, this is a fun little movie.

I’m glad to have finally been able to see it and I sure hope the fans will get to see it too when it comes out.
Thanks so much!

Finally, are there any new projects in the works that you can talk about?
There’s two things I’m working on at the moment. One is called Patrick 1.5. It’s a comedy about a gay couple who are trying to adopt and they finally get news that there is a kid available for them. The kid’s name is Patrick and it says “age 1.5”. It turns out there was an error and he’s actually 15 years old. This kid is a complete piece of [censored] (laughs). He’s the most homophobic, awful kid you can ever imagine. We’re in the middle of casting that one right now. The next one I have is called Lucy Boomer, which I’m producing and that one stars Shirley MacLaine and we’re shooting that this summer.

Before we go, I have to say I recently saw an article about your thoughts on Daredevil. I have to admit this, I saw both the original release and then the director’s cut. I thought the director’s cut was a big improvement on the film. I liked the original film, but the director’s cut upped the ante. I also did like Ghost Rider, even though there are those that say Nicolas Cage, but I really liked it.
Yeah, [Ghost Rider] was bonkers, but again it was trying to do something different. Someone said to me the other day that they saw the Daredevil director’s cut and they said they thought it was a really good superhero movie. It was really dark and really different and it’s nice that people are rediscovering it in a different way. I hope people will get to see the director’s cut because it’s a whole 30 minutes longer, and it’s a totally different movie.

I think it’s totally worth checking out!
Thanks. I really appreciate that!

Finding Steve McQueen comes to theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on March 15. Those who want to see a biopic with something different with a meshing of themes will want to check this one. Thank you again Mark for taking the time to talk about it.
Thank you so much!

A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Mark Steven Johnson for making this interview possible.

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