Going “Primal”: An Interview with Nick Powell

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Nick Powell is one of the most highly respected stunt coordinators and action filmmakers today. His work has earned him numerous accolades within the film industry, notably a five-time winner of the Taurus Stunt Awards. He earned the Fight Choreographer of the Year award at the TSA for his work on The Bourne Identity, which starred Matt Damon. He made his directorial debut on Outcast, a China-U.S. co-production starring Nicolas Cage and on November 8, Powell and Cage re-team for the action thriller Primal, coming to theaters and On Demand from Lionsgate.

World Film Geek had the opportunity to talk to Powell about his latest film.

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Nick, thank you so much for talking about Primal. I just watched the film this morning and I really enjoyed it. I felt the title had a double meaning and it was executed so well.
Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

What led you to direct Primal?
I was talking with one of the producers about another film which unfortunately never happened. But, we were chatting and he told me about a film that they wanted to do called Primal and if I would be interested in directing it. It’s a popcorn movie and I really enjoy those kind of movies. I got the script, really liked it and I called them back and said I wanted to direct it.

They gave me a list of actors who might get the project greenlit and as I read the script, I envisioned Nicolas Cage in the role of Frank. So, actually that very day I talked to Nicolas about the film and it turns out he was on the list. Three days later, after reading the script, Nicolas agreed to do the film.

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Nicolas Cage as hunter Frank Walsh in Primal (Lionsgate)

Speaking of Nicolas Cage, he’s having a heck of a year. He’s done a lot of good recent films where he can go over the top or straight. In Primal, he doesn’t go too far over the top as Frank. What was he like on the set?
I’ve worked with Nic before and he’s a total professional. I’ve worked with some actors who can be difficult, but I won’t name names (laughs). But Nic, he’s fully committed. He comes in the morning, gets into makeup and he’ll ask if they’re ready for him. And this is where I haven’t even told the assistant director if they’re ready for the actors (laughs). But he is so wonderful, professional, and he was very helpful on the set as well.

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Kevin Durand as the villain Loffler in Primal (Lionsgate)

Another fan favorite of mine, Kevin Durand, is great as the villain Loffler, who in some way gives his own “primal” instincts to the character in his attempts to escape the ship. What was he like on the set?
I’ve known Kevin a long time. We met in Australia when I was prepping Russell Crowe for Gladiator. He’s a great guy to work with. What’s even more great is that his character of Loffler seems to be a likable bad guy. There’s just something about his character that makes you not want to completely hate him.

I totally agree. He presents himself more like a slick, everyman type. At times, it doesn’t feel like he’s a villain. Yes, he may have an agenda, but it’s how he conveyed the character that makes you at times root for him.
Exactly. I mean we had a great ensemble cast. Famke Janssen, Michael Imperoili, Lamonica Garrett. But special kudos has to go to Nic and Kevin. I mean these guys really give it their all as Frank and Loffler, playing each other off so well and then off set, they are two of the nicest guys you can ever meet.

Aside from being a director, you are a well-respected stunt coordinator and performer. Did you have a hand in the stunts of this film, particularly the fist fights between Nic and Kevin?
Actually I did. We did have a great local stunt coordinator in Puerto Rico, but I have to admit I’m pretty terrible. Because I’ve been doing this for so long, I had a certain vision when it came to the action. I told them what I had thought of and let the stunt team play around with it. There were times when I said, ‘This is good, but can we try this?’. They did a great job, but yes for the fights, I had a huge hand in those and I thought both Nic and Kevin did a very great job on them.

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Frank (Nicolas Cage) confronts Ringer (Lamonica Garrett) in Primal (Lionsgate)

Were there any obstacles you faced during production?
Yes there were. We had 25 days to shoot from beginning to end and we used a lot of visual effects. The white jaguar was complete CGI. We did have good VFX teams with Tau Films and Francisco Cueto, who led a local FX team in Puerto Rico. They handled the white jaguar, the monkey attacks, and the snakes. It can be hard when you coordinate the effects, specifically for the monkey attacks because the actor has to emulate the attack then the visual effects come in afterwards. Thankfully we handled that okay. We also did have some real animals on the set, like the parrot. And you can imagine spending two hours to get a parrot to lift its wings and not the ten minutes you were hoping (laughs).

Finally, are there any new projects in the works for you?
Yes, I do have an upcoming project that involves human trafficking that is going to be a female led action thriller. It has more of a dramatic element to things but we’re hoping to begin shooting early next year.

Excellent! Primal comes to theaters and On Demand on November 8. Nicolas Cage keeps it going and this is an exciting thriller that involves the “primal” instincts of man and nature. Thank you so much Nick for taking the time to talk about the film.
Thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure.

A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Nick Powell for making this interview possible.

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