RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK’s John Rhys-Davies is back in Nazi territory in his new movie, SOLDIER OF WAR, released by Uncork’d Entertainment in March. We speak to former military man turned filmmaker John Adams about the gritty new thriller.
What was the initial pitch that sold John Rhys-Davies on this project? That he gets to fight Nazis again – only this time they’re zombies?
John Adams: Not quite! John is a keen historian and collector of military memorabilia and he really bought into the idea of ‘dead patriots’. We had a number of conversations about the sensibilities of historical heroes coming back from the dead and how they would view the way the world has changed.
And I have to ask, was John’s involvement in the Indiana Jones films one of the big reasons you wanted him for the lead?
John Adams: I think there is a slightly cynical approach to filmmaking where producers cast ‘a name’ because they want to sell the film. I’m not going to tell you that it doesn’t help to have John Rhys-Davies playing Jack in Soldier of War but I genuinely think we cast him because he was right for the role. Sometimes you just have a face in mind when you’re writing or reading a script and on this project, for me, that was John. He wasn’t really quite old enough for the role and we had to use make up to age him a bit.
Back to the pitch. Did it also help nail in the finance?
John Adams: Actually, this film was already funded through Evolutionary Films before John came on board, although we had allowed enough money in the budget to make sure we had a cameo from an established actor in that role.
Is it harder to get a film like this, which is a small, character-driven indie thriller, up in today’s climate of superhero movies and sequels?
John Adams: I think these are very different things. In some ways it actually helps that the studios are making so many similar films based on the same underlying IP. It means that there is opportunity for the independent sector to stand out and truly make something original and different.
In THE PLAYER, writers come in and pitch the studio exec by saying their script is ‘x movie meets x movie’? What two films would you say SOLDIER OF WAR is like?
John Adams: I would have said the police investigation of SE7EN meets the forest booby traps of FIRST BLOOD but the film was recently reviewed as “Luther meets the undead” and I think that is a pretty apt description.
The tone is unique…
John Adams: I think we were trying to keep people guessing but also include enough traditional elements of the crime thriller, slasher horror, and supernatural genres to satisfy fans. In many ways the film, or at least the backstory of the main antagonist, is based in true events, so I hope audiences are surprised by the twist.
Is it hard to ground what’s essentially a horror film?
John Adams: I think it’s especially hard to keep a film believable when there is a fantastic and supernatural character at the heart of it. In many ways, that’s the reason one of the main focuses of SOLDIER OF WAR is the police investigation into what’s going on, because it means we keep the film grounded by witnessing events through the reactions of believable real world characters.
And the blood… corn syrup?
John Adams: Depends on how red and visceral you want it to be. I remember working on a project many years ago and being asked by a prop house whether we wanted blood “with or without gore.” We certainly had quite a lot of practical blood on this one.
Practical or CGI effects — and why?
John Adams: Wherever possible, I would always shoot as much as I can in camera. VFX is great for augmenting shots, but I think it looks much more real to do anything achievable on the day. The main kills in SOLDIER OF WAR, especially the booby traps, are all done for real and occasionally augmented in post.
Besides seeing ‘Sallah’ again on screen, what do you think audiences will enjoy most about the movie?
John Adams: The aim is that they go on a journey with the investigation elements of the film and then when the twist is revealed and the tempo starts to ramp up, I hope they will be positively surprised by the direction it takes in the last act and by just how much action there is.
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