Opening June 10 is “Now You See Me 2” from Summit and Lionsgate. This time out The Four Horsemen, played by Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, and new comer Lizzy Caplan reunite under the leadership of Mark Ruffalo to do their biggest heist yet taking them across the world. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are also reprising their roles, alongside Daniel Radcliffe who joins the cast.
Director (GI Joe: Retaliation) Jon M. Chu spoke to me about the film, and also being an Asian American director in a time where Hollywood is opening it’s eyes to the lack of diversity in the industry.
Allie Hanley: One of the most fascinating sequences in your film is when the Four Horsemen are in the safe retrieving their prize, which is attached to a playing card. They toss the card between themselves.
Jon M. Chu: To me that was one of those scenes that drew me to the project. It was sort of loosely written and the idea of being able to explore Cardistry was really very interesting to me.
If you look it up on Youtube or something it’s this amazing sub-culture of people who use cards to create sculptures with their flipping and tossing. <sample video>
AH: Wow, I never heard of it.
JC: Me too! I don’t know when it began or who coined the term but we had this amazing man, Andrew Jikh, on set and Blake Vogt to help create this process. So we story-boarded it at first. We wanted to do this big action sequence that takes place in this small space where it seems nothing is happening, but really everything is happening. It’s a psychological chess match as we are going into the sleeves, through the sleeves, through the whatever -ya know.
So I showed the story boards to our magicians, and said let’s find real ways that our cast can do these as I want them to do as much as possible in person. Luckily Dave Franco is really good, Woody is really good with cards because they had done some in the first movie. So when they trained a little bit in magic camp you could see that they were picking it up really quickly.
Then we got real world situations, -that I shot on my iPhone and where they would palm cards into their sleeves; How things come out and then I cut those into our story boards. Then we did a preview using those moments. I then showed it to my DP who helped shoot it again with my iPhone; And the actors actually got better. They were getting it down and could do more and more of it. So by the time we shot it, taking a week and a half in this small space, where you would have to just follow the camera.
This was one of those things where we knew it was going to be really special, and everyone worked really hard. As simple and nonchalant as it feels, it was actually a very complicated sequence to pull off.
AH: So you blocked it out, and shot it with your iPhone first?
JC: Yes! It was real stuff, because at first it was just this thing from our heads… then we consulted with our real card experts. They said there was a lot more that could be done which was more than we expected. Some of the things they would say were pretty extravagant but then they would say “but if you do this, this could be,” So we would lean towards those sequences.
AH: So, a lot of it’s more on the realistic side?
JC: Yes, most of it is realistic; But obviously there’s a few instances, like when the card gets tossed and goes way around, that’s CG but even when we shot going down the sleeves and stuff, it was a combination of a lipstick camera going through, and we would tie that in with a CG card. So it was very realistic with touches of CG.
AH: The people in the audience were very excited and loved it.
JC: Ya, you never know when you are making it and you are spending a lot of time, is it going to be ridiculous or a lot of fun, -or almost dance like?
So in this movie we don’t have big shows, just some at the end. For the most part the first movie had 3 big shows, and that’s the sort of structure of it. While this one all the magic is happening on the ground. So with this one the challenge was how do we make a show that is happening in real time, and that’s not a show, -so that our audience gets to go into the mind of the magician and not be in the audience seat. So that was a thing that was tricky to do in this movie and we had to carve out moments to do this.
AH: So when you shoot a movie like this with so many well-known actors, and everyone is competing for that scene where they get to stand out, how did you manage that?
JC: I am really lucky because I think the first movie did a lot of the leg work of getting them all to know each other, so when I came in… they all knew each other from the first film, and they all loved each other. It was one of the most loving sets that I have ever been on.
They all loved working with each other, not one bad apple. They are all so good it’s like watching expert pianist toss back and forth and just rift, -and they loved that as all great actors do. So there really was no ego on that set. I was prepared for ego that would rise above, but there was so much respect on that set; And even for me, I didn’t know how they would feel with me coming into that set, they were so very respectful and kind. Everyone loved this movie. They don’t have to shoulder the responsibility of the movie, they get to share that as a team and you can feel that through the screen as you watch it, and that’s genuinely how they are and how we shot the movie.
All they wanted was truth in it, in their scenes. They would take less lines and less space if they could find more human truth to it because even though it’s flashy and a great big fun movie, that’s one of the reasons why it works.
When Mark Ruffalo comes into a scene, he would play it so genuine that you believe as ridiculous as the plot may be, you believe that the characters exist in that world. So that was our main goal, just making moments truthful even though it was spectacular and over-the-top.
AH: Shifting gears now. Lets talk about the movement right now in the industry – you know what I am going towards…
JC: Yes, I know.
AH: So there’s not a lot of Asian actors and directors represented in Hollywood right now. How do you see yourself as an Asian American and breaking through that barrier?
JC: It’s kind of amazing this summer that four Asian directors have big budget films coming out this summer. Two of them are Asian American, another I think is from Australia, and then Wong Lee is from China, so even that if you include all Asians to have four major studio films coming out this summer from Asian directors is pretty incredible. I don’t even know if that’s happened before. So, I think that there is progress being made.
When I started there wasn’t even Asian executives let alone Asian film makers… I mean there are Chinese film makers from China, but that’s a different thing. I think there is a new perspective and that represents the next generation of our sensibilities and that we have a unique voice.
It’s not a foreign voice, it’s from here. So, yes I think we are making progress. Social media is helpful. It helps wake people up and has direct impact in meetings that I am in literally. That kind of diversity talk is brought up, from the Oscar stuff to the white-washed stuff.
For me, I never thought that way. I always was sort of taught growing up to concentrate and my work, don’t worry about what’s not be given to you, do what you do best and everything will fall into place.
As I get old my perspective shifts. Coming out the other end, I realize that my experience has been smooth because other people have created that path for me. Even if the door wasn’t fully open, they cracked that door open for me. I acknowledge that more than I did when I was younger. I have responsibility to crack those doors open even more for the next generations of young film makers that are going to create amazing stories from a perspective that you haven’t heard from before. And as a film business, this is what we need right now with just all these super hero movies, we need diverse voices and from all walks of life, from all socioeconomic backgrounds. It makes sense. We need all those voices to make our business better. And then all the doors should be open for all those things to make our business better.
So I see those issues as even more important to me than a few years ago. As annoying as outrage can be on Facebook and Twitter when it fills up your feed, I think it’s an effective tool. That may not be my style on how I want to make a difference because I am in a position to make movies, and cast movies the way I want to, so I take my responsibility as doing that as my action.
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some language)
Genre: Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Jon M. Chu
Written By: Ed Solomon, Peter Chiarelli
In Theaters: Jun 10, 2016 Wide
Runtime: 1 hr. 55 min.