He’s directed hit action films, such as Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and The Expendables 2. He’s worked with some of the top talents of Hollywood. He is Simon West and he is set to bring a new British action hero with the adaptation of Duncan Falconer’s iconic military hero Stratton, starring Dominic Cooper in the titular role. The film comes to select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on January 5 from Momentum Pictures.
World Film Geek had the opportunity to talk with West about making the film and what he would like to work on next.
Thank you, Simon, for taking the time to talk about Stratton. I got to see the film and it was really good. I really enjoyed both the action and the drama meshed together.
Great! Thank you, thank you!
So you have directed some hit films such as Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and The Expendables 2 just to name a few. This one seems more close to home, being shot in Britain I’m guessing. What led to direct this film?
It is definitely on my home turf and my intention was to bring in a British action hero. I’m a big fan of James Bond and I’m a big fan of Harry Potter, and I felt we needed to have a third big British hero to bring to a worldwide audience. I was trying to think about who that could be, whether it would be a detective or a superhero. I wasn’t quite sure who that would be because there was quite a gap for it.
Then, I came across the Stratton books by Duncan Falconer. It is about the SBS, or Special Boat Service, which is the British naval unit which was the forerunner of the U.S. Navy SEALS in the second World War. They are very secretive and I heard about them. And I thought, these are the elite. No one talks about them or hears about them, and I thought that was brilliant. That was a great place to set a character.
I met with Duncan himself, who actually was a naval intelligence officer in the 70’s and I also talked with present-day guys. You realize what really happens in the spy world, is much more of a team effort than portrayed in the Bond films. You have the MI6 agents who help out but you also have the Special Forces out there doing the action stuff. So, they would call up the SBS to go out on these missions so it’s the SBS and the Special Forces out there doing all the action.
In the Bond films, he’s given a bit of leniency and lets the spy do all the work. So, I thought I would come up with a more realistic, gritty version of how that world works. And between nine books and my conversations with Duncan, we had a huge amount of material to draw from. I thought it was a great world to start a new action hero character.
You’ve mention you have looked at the Stratton books. I am just starting on the first book. Have you read all of them or how many have you read?
Well, I’ve read six of the nine so far. As soon as I signed on to the project, I had to get started on the film right away. And that’s really based on the first one. And we had to update it because the original book was set in the 70’s. So, we had to update it because technology of course has changed. So what these guys have equipment-wise nowadays is incredible. They travel underwater with handheld GPS devices and can go for five miles and they also have underwater crafts. And with the movie, we used a drone as part of the bad guy’s weapons. That wasn’t around in the 70’s. So, we had to update that, but the character is basically the same. It’s just the gadgets and gizmos are different.
Dominic Cooper, Simon West, and Tyler Hoechlin on the set of Stratton
Originally, Henry Cavill was set to play Stratton but the role ultimately went to Dominic Cooper, who I thought did a pretty good job in the role. What was he like on the set of the film?
Dom’s great! He’s a character actor, and that’s why I chose him. He’s not an action star. He hasn’t done that many action films, but he was intrigued to play that kind of role. He’s played a lot of intelligent roles. And everything he’s done is different. In every film he’s in, he is transformed which is very convenient. For this film, he had to learn the gun skills, the fighting skills. But, I was really relying on him for his acting skills to portray this brooding character. He’s a man of a few words. He doesn’t have much of a dialogue, but he had to portray it through his face and internalize a lot.
Having said that, the weirdest of good luck actually happened on the set. It turns out Dominic is an incredible, skilled high-speed driver. It came out of the conversation when we were shooting in Rome. He was frustrated about one of the films he was in that was about car racing because he was sitting in front of a green screen and had to fake it all. I told him that if he thinks he was good, take a test drive around the streets now and show me. He was incredible. He could drive high-speed through these narrow alleyways in Rome with just a couple of inches on each side so I didn’t need as many stunt drivers. And luckily, Austin Stowell (who plays Stratton’s partner Hank Munro), was brave enough to sit in the car with him while he did all the stunt driving.
So, all I had to do was strap the cameras onto the car and let them just do their thing. They were leaning out of the car, shooting guns, bumping other cars, doing hairpin turns and just going high-speed. That was all Dominic and that was something I never expected.
Simon West on the set of Stratton
That is quite impressive if you ask me. Did you face any difficulties while shooting the film?
Well, you know, doing these kind of films is just like going on a military mission. We don’t have people shooting at us, so it’s a little less dangerous. But, you do face a lot of the same problems. I mean, we shot during the hottest summer in Italy in 150 years. So, it was like 104-degrees and we made Dominic and Tyler Hoechlin (who plays Marty Stokes) run up the beach in 100 pounds of scuba gear over and over again to get the shots. Tyler actually ended up in pain and we took him to the hospital to make sure he was ok.
Then there was the boat chase in London. You spend weeks preparing in this one location. And the day before we were to begin shooting, they find this poisonous blue algae in the water, which can kill you if you fall in the water. So, we had to change locations in a day’s notice. We were shooting high-speed boat chases in water that no one has been on before. Luckily, it came out great and we all made it.
But yeah, these kind of action films are like an actual military mission. You have the obstacles and you have to overcome them. You have hundreds of people and the linguistics as well. I do like it though because it is a big adventure and I enjoy making them.
Well, I can say this looks like it could definitely be the start of a new franchise. If a follow-up does happen, would you want to return to direct it?
Oh absolutely! You learn so much from the first film. You have what works and what doesn’t work. You understand the characters. I would definitely be interested in doing a second film and would love to work with the same people again. They were a great cast to work with and I love the spy world. I love the Special Forces. It is such a great world to watch but also to make. So, yeah, I would love to do a sequel.
Are there any new projects in the works that you can talk about?
Well, I will say I am always developing four or five things at once, but at the moment, I am definitely having interest in working on a sci-fi project. I realized I love watching sci-fi films, but I never made one. So, I’m looking for a good sci-fi film to make. Stratton was meant to bring a great new British action hero and I’ve done that. So, I want to find a really great sci-fi film next.
That’s great! Well, Stratton comes to theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on January 5. I definitely see this as the start of a new franchise and this is definitely one to check out. Thank you again Simon for taking the time to talk about it.
Thank you so much!
A Special Thank You goes out to Katrina Wan PR and Simon West for making this, the first interview of 2018, possible! For more information on Simon West, go to his official Twitter page and check out Stratton on January 5!