Protecting the “Species”: An Interview with M.J. Bassett

In 2020, I had the opportunity to interview M.J. Bassett about her action film Rogue, starring Megan Fox. She returns with a new film, a similarly themed thriller entitled Endangered Species, which comes to select theaters, Apple TV, and On Demand on May 28th from Lionsgate.

M.J., I am so excited to be talking with you again. Last year, we talked about Rogue, and now here we are talking about Endangered Species, and I have to admit, I liked this one even more.
Thank you so much! And it is great to be talking to you again. I’m glad you liked the film.

Noah (Michael Johnston) and Lauren (Rebecca Romijn) are in for a shock with Billy (Chris Fisher) and Zoe (Isabel Bassett) looking in the background in Endangered Species. Director M.J. Bassett based this scene on a partly real-life experience. (Lionsgate)

How did the project come about?
I saw a script from a writer named Paul Chronnell. I loved the angle about survival in Africa and I wanted to do something similar to Rogue, a genre film with a message. But, I wanted to add more to the story, so I actually bought the script off of Paul and I re-wrote it along with my daughter Isabel. She also co-wrote and co-starred in Rogue. We shot this in Kenya as it was COVID-free where we shot Rogue in South Africa before the pandemic.

The scene where the rhino smashes the car. That’s actually partly based on a real-life experience I went through. I took my family to Africa one day and we did go off road at this national park as we wanted to see the big animals. We saw the rhinos and I remember seeing this rhino put its head down and about to ram into our car. I told my 16-year old son to put the car in reverse quickly. Thankfully, the rhino actually veered off into another direction. But I thought to myself, what if the rhino had hit us? This is a “what if” movie, so I put that in as the catalyst for the central story.

This was a great shoot. Everyone was on their game. Rebecca Romijn, Philip Winchester, even Jerry O’Connell brought their A-game to the shoot. It was a great 18-day shoot, but you know this being Africa, we’ve had to have guards with guns during production. I mean it can be a dangerous area, so we had to be careful at times. But, everyone did a great job on this I thought.

Jack (Philip Winchester) and Noah (Michael Johnston) help Lauren (Rebecca Romijn) while Zoe (Isabel Bassett) looks out in Endangered Species (Lionsgate)

I have to totally agree and one thing I really liked was that this film had a family where each member had their own “flaws” if you will. Rebecca’s character is diabetic, Philip’s is the business-minded patriarch, Isabel is the tough savvy type and Michael [Johnston]’s character is gay as implied in one scene, but also tends to be one bullied the most. And yet, he does gain his confidence as the film goes on. I loved that type of “diversity” within the family structure.
Yes, I wanted to bring these characters and have these flaws as the diversity is what’s important for the family dynamic. Philip’s character Jack, working for an oil company, is both a good and bad asset in the film. He’s very strong-willed but at the same time, his work does pose a problem as he’s partly to blame for the problems today with the ecological systems from what can happen with fossil fuels. Michael’s character of Noah does tell Jack he has a boyfriend, but it was just that one scene. It’s not a coming out movie, but yes, he does get bullied a lot and shows himself to be more confident throughout the film.

And Isabel. Well, what can I say? She’s actually just being herself on the shoot. What you see is how she is in real-life. She’s strong, savvy, tough. She’s just like any one who can’t stand their parents. Here, she is playing an 18-year old and going “I hate you” and all that. Yeah, I’m sure any parent can relate to that.

I know I can, I have teenagers and I do get that.
See? (Laughs)

Family unity overcomes their clashing personalities in Endangered Species (Lionsgate)

What I really like is the cinematography as the African locales are nicely shot and those moments of tension really come out well. Then, I noticed the name. Brendan Barnes. He’s a great lenser. He frequently collaborates with one of my favorite directors today, Alastair Orr.
Yes! Brendan also did the cinematography for Rogue. He’s definitely my go to guy when I shoot in Africa. He has this very keen eye. He’s young and a great filmmaker. What I really like about him is that he will come up with ideas for lensing that I sometimes am not sure if it will work. I got worried for one particular scene and I asked Brendan, “Do you think we can shoot this?” Brendan would look for a way to get it done. That’s the kind of loyalty and respect he deserves. He will go out there and make sure the shot can be accomplished one way or another.

Mitch (Jerry O’Connell) may seem like a nice guy, but never judge a book by its cover in Endangered Species (Lionsgate)

Jerry O’Connell was really great here. I rarely see him in these salacious villain roles, but he pulls off the charm when we are introduced to his character Mitch, then the third act, we see his true side and it works really well.
Oh, Jerry was a blast to work with. He knew what to do and he ran with it all the way.

I have to say this. Isabel really did a great job. She went from this tough savvy teen to pretty much a complete badass in the third act. And speaking of that third act, I loved a certain twist {no spoilers, folks…see the film for yourself) and we get to see Isabel amp up her toughness.
She is really tough and knows what she wants. I mean she may be playing someone who is finding herself in the film, but in real-life, she knows what she wants. She’s not really into acting as much, but she loves to surf, write poetry, and yes, she does like helping me with the scripts. But, when I need someone to play a tough character, she’s definitely my go-to person. (Laughs)

That’s great! I could definitely see her breaking out someday into something major, but I do like that she can be herself on screen and not conform to A-list imagery.
I totally agree with you on that!

Mitch (Jerry O’Connell) and partner Charlie (George Glenn Ouma) in Endangered Species (Lionsgate)

Finally, what’s coming up next for you?
Well, I just directed an episode of the The Terminal List, the new series which will have Chris Pratt and Taylor Kitsch for Amazon Prime. I am developing a third in my “eco-genre” films with Rogue and Endangered Species, with this one being set in the ocean. I think it’s very important to give a message with these films. They are genre films, action thrillers, but they do have a message about the ecological system that I feel is important. I’m also set to direct an episode of the new Jack Reacher serieswith Alan Ritchson.

I think they should make a “Eco-Action” box set with Rogue, Endangered Species, and this new film you have planned. I would definitely get it! (Laughs)
(Laughs) I’m glad to hear you say that! That’s a really good idea! I hope the distributors are hearing this.

Endangered Species is coming out on May 28th. Those who enjoyed Rogue or are into survival films with a message will definitely want to see this! M.J., it’s been a pleasure talking with you again.
Thank you so much, and when the new film comes out, I definitely will want to talk to you again about it!

A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and M.J. Bassett for making this interview possible.

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