Based on the popular video game franchise Hitman – Aleksander Bach’s endeavour is not the first picture to have imagined this world on the silver screen, following the 2007 production. However narratively speaking, this reboot bears little in common with the preceding feature – completely reinventing the brand, and approaching this fictional universe from an entirely new angle. For starters, Timothy Olyphant is no longer on board, as we instead see British actor Rupert Friend take on the task of capturing the elusive, eponymous protagonist.
We had the pleasure of speaking to Friend on set, who admits that he hadn’t seen the original film, and he explains why he believes that to be beneficial to his own approach, and subsequent performance.
“I’ve never seen the original film,” he said. “Generally, I wouldn’t find it massively helpful to watch what someone else did with the role anyway. I don’t have a gaming background either, so when they sent me the game I told them I didn’t have anything to play it on, so they had to send a console as well. But coming at the role not as a gamer was a strength, because for many people they’re in awe of the character, he’s like a superhero and iconic – but for me, I just wanted to humanise him, because he’s not a robot. There’s a danger you could go down that Terminator-esque path and I wasn’t interested in that.”
Friend may not have been particularly clued up on the video game franchise prior to getting involved in this project, but he made it his mission to be well-versed in the fan’s expectations, which is inevitably quite prominent when you become attached to a role of this nature.
“I feel pressure but it’s good pressure, like the adrenaline before a race,” he explained. “I did a lot of research and fan forums were very useful, listening to what people wanted, and what they were expecting. Obviously I’ll never please everybody, but I wanted to listen to people who thought of this person as real, because that’s my job. I even insisted I do my own stunts for this because I wanted it to be real, and possible. He’s super trained and genetically superior, but he’s a human being.”
Friend’s comments are at odds with his co-star Zachary Quinto’s however, as when we spoke to the actor – who takes on the role of John Smith – he admitted that fan pressure isn’t something he lets get in the way, though having played Spock in the Star Trek reboot, it’s safe to say he’s probably rather thick skinned in that department.
“I prepare for things in different ways than availing myself to the opinions of the people who are fanatical about it,” Quinto said. “It serves me, because it allows me to focus on what I’m doing, and my work. That’s always been more helpful – it doesn’t do anyone any good to lean into the wild and varied expectations of fans from all over the world. It’s hard to please everybody, so as long as I can focus on doing good work, I have a better chance of pleasing more people than if I try to please everybody.”
However what Quinto and Friend do share in common, is that neither of them had seen the 2007 movie, as the former also explains why he decided not to indulge in what came before.
“I didn’t see it either – and it’s helpful not to have,” Quinto admitted. “I don’t know the world of the video game either, for me it’s about connecting to the material itself. If it’s a historical story I’m telling, obviously I find it important to do a much deeper level of research, but in a fictional world like this, my primary goal is to focus on the material and the director’s vision and my fellow actors – that’s my point of entry as opposed to work that’s already been done.”
“What drew me to John Smith was the sense of familiarity with him, some echoes of characters that people have come to associate me with in terms of roles I’ve played in the past – and yet I feel that it’s new territory for me, and I liked that about it.”
It would appear that limited knowledge as far as the franchise is concerned is something of a trend amongst the cast of this picture, as Hannah Ware – who plays Katia van Dees – also explained to us that sometimes it’s better to come into a project of this ilk with a blank canvas.
“I could probably have not seen it and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the story we’re telling. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, I just don’t think we’re making the same film. Rupert has a very specific take on 47 which is great, and obviously my character is new, as is Zachary’s – it’s an entirely different story. It’s just based on the same video game – the name is the only thing we have in common.”
“I have to say,” she continued, “That I don’t play video games, but this is an impressive one. As far as my limited knowledge goes, it’s amazing to watch it. He’s such a three-dimensional character, it feels like a film and it’s so real and palpable, I didn’t realise video games could do that.”
And how about the role of Katia? We know so much about the Agent already, but it’s always enlightening to witness newly crafted roles enter in to a universe we already know. And for Ware – it’s a role worth investing in.
“I love the role,” she said. “I’m not just a foil to the male counterparts. I’m very much on my own journey and my own mission, not just used for gratuitous scenes. My story is very central and key, and particularly complex. It’s as much of a rich journey for Katia as it is for Agent 47.”
It’s also a part that the British actress is no doubt keen on explore again on screen, something that Friend also seemed interested in himself – confirming to us that if a sequel was to transpire, he would most certainly be on board.
“If this film ends up being as good as I think it will be, then I would love to keep it going. I’ll be proud of having made that happen, and would want to continue playing the role.”
It wasn’t just the cast who seemed impressed with this shoot, as we thrilled to see the mechanics of what makes a big-budget blockbuster appear to be so epic and awe-inspiring on the big screen. In the meantime, it was something of a joy to spend some time in Berlin – something that Quinto believes to be a real perk of the job.
“I’ve been lucky with this movie. I have days off here and there, and weekends are free. I always try and make the most of wherever I’m shooting, and try to get to know the place. I know Berlin as I’ve been here many times, but I’m thrilled to be back. There’s an energy that’s similar to New York but it’s not as concentrated, but at the same time, not as spread out as LA. It’s somewhere in between in terms of it’s scale and energy. My favourite thing to do is just get on my bike and ride, see where I end up. Getting lost and finding my way home – I learn about the city that way.”
It sounds like Quinto enjoys his European escapades – which is handy, as the actor believes that places like Berlin could play an integral role in the future of filmmaking, as we move away from the traditional, L.A. Setting.
“A lot of the decisions are financial, and what countries offer good tax breaks – as a producer I understand that more now than I did before. It makes sense to shoot abroad and it’s an upside for the actors who get to travel. But almost nothing shoots in LA anymore, it’s unheard of. I was really lucky, I only worked there for years, but there’s almost no work there anymore, it’s all elsewhere, whether that’s Europe or parts of the US.”
Regardless of where a film may be shot, we’ve decided that when lucky enough to be invited on to set, we too will rent a bike and explore the surrounding city ourselves. Though unlike Quinto, when we did rent a bike and purposely got lost – we didn’t find our way back home. Maybe next time, the U-Bahn may just be a safer bet.
Hitman: Agent 47 is released on August 27th. Check back on the site next week for our filmed interviews with the cast and crew.