CCI | Relativity’s Panel For Haywire And The Raven

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John Cusack in "The Raven"

Relativity Media showcased two of its upcoming features at Comic-Con International in San Diego with presentations by director Steven Soderbergh, MMA fighter Gina Carano and actor Channing Tatum for the action-thriller Haywire, and director James McTeigue and stars John Cusack, Alice Eve and Luke Evans for the mystery The Raven.

After introducing the Haywire director and stars, moderator Anthony Breznican asked Soderbergh how he found Carano. “I saw her fighting on television a few years back when CBS was playing MMA fights on Saturdays,” he said. “I tuned in and saw her and thought, ‘Why doesn’t someone build a movie around her?’ It was almost two years ago exactly that I took the train here and met with her to make a movie.”

“I had a black eye that I was covering up with makeup,” Carano recalled of that initial meeting. “I picked him up from the train station and we talked about everything and he told me this [movie] would happen really fast or it wouldn’t at all.”

In the beginning, Soderbergh had no story, but once he had Carano onboard he called his Limey collaborator Lem Dobbs to whip up a tale of double crosses and low blows. “[I] asked him if he wanted to write a female revenge story,” Soderbergh said. “I thought it would be unusual and interesting if you could make a female action hero who did it for real. There are no stunt people.”

“I think I have a few bruises still,” Tatum added. “It was a challenge and I lost. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time, and it was an honor to work with her.”

Having no previous acting experience, Carano described working with Soderbergh as “Acting 101.” She said her character Mallory Kane is someone who “gets the job done and people want to work with her. Then she gets double-crossed and doesn’t know who to trust.”

While that might seem like a familiar storyline, Soderbergh brings his own quirks to it — including starting the film in the middle of the action. “It’s kind of a cold opening,” he explained. “She meets Channing, and that goes horribly wrong. She hijacks his car and then starts telling him what happened, and we catch up to it with [that part of the] movie happening in real time.

“I love spy movies,” he continued.  “We tried to be accurate about this world where governments hire these consultants to get stuff done.” Soderbergh, who isn’t known for action movies, approached the fights scenes in an unusual manner. “I made a rule that no one could do fight stuff that couldn’t really happen between two people in the room,” he said. “As a result, the fights are shorter because, eventually, someone gets the drop on the other.”

Gina Carano and Channing Tatum in "Haywire"

The director then set up the clip: a fight between Carano and Michael Fassbender’s character. “The fight with Gina and Fassbender was born from a film called Darker Than Amber,” he explained. “She’s been sent to Dublin to spy on a billionaire. While she’s at this party, she discovers that she is going to be framed for a murder. She knows Fassbender is part of the plot, but she doesn’t know the details.”

Tatum admitted he had trouble punching Carano at first. “I couldn’t do it until she called me the female P-word. So I hit her,” he confessed. “Then she hit me back a couple of times and I didn’t want to do it anymore.”

When the Q&A began, Tatum was asked if being in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra helped him prepare for Haywire. The actor joked, “I didn’t have the suit, so she kicked my ass.”

Soderbergh told a fan that he recently approved a re-mastered version of his 1993 historical drama King of the Hill. Unfortunately, he couldn’t give. a concrete release date, but hopes all studios adopt a system similar to Warner Bros.’ Warner Archives, which allows consumers to order lesser-known films on a DVD-R disc.

A G.I. Joe fan asked Tatum about the sequel. The actor declined to say much more than, “I love Rock. He’s a gargantuan man and a great actor.”

When Breznican alluded to Soderbergh’s reported retirement, the director sighed and said, “Matt Damon is about as discreet as a 14 year-old girl.” He explained that the two had a discussion about retirement on the set of Contagion. “Four days later it was in the paper,” he said. “That’s how it started. So it got a little blown out of proportion.”

Following that, the group exited the stage and Breznican introduced The Raven director James McTeigue. “Welcome to the first public screening of the trailer,” he said.  “It takes place in the last five days of Edgar Allan Poe’s life. It’s a fictional construct.”

The trailer itself is an odd mix of McTeigue’s dark visuals, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and a murder mystery. In the last few days of his life, Poe is compelled by a Baltimore police inspector to assist him in the investigation of a string of murders that bear a marked resemblance to the author’s classic stories.

After the lights came back up, Cusack, Evans and Eve joined McTeigue on stage.

Cusack’s portrayal of the writer differs from the emaciated image he now holds in popular culture. The actor explained that, “[Poe] was a bit of a rock star in his day. He’d written ‘The Raven,’ he had a huge ego, and he loved the women he loved. He was funny. Some of the stories had a sick sardonic side to him. He was definitely the godfather of Goth.”

Breznican asked whether Poe’s manner was similar to gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who also adopted a rock-star persona in public life. “The unflinching ability to dive into the abyss, yeah,” Cusack replied. “He kind of reminded me of Hunter that way.”

In the film, Eve plays Emily Hamilton, a woman the killer kidnaps and buries alive as part of his challenge to Poe. For the actress, the shooting of her coffin scenes were really uncomfortable. “I had to eat a lot of dirt,” Eve said.

“It was all play dirt,” McTeigue joked.

“Poe said there was nothing more fascinating in the world than a beautiful woman dying,” Cusack added.

Breznican asked Evans about his character Emmet Fields. “He’s a young inspector on the Baltimore police force,” Envans answered. “He’s introduced to the person he first suspects is the murderer, then quickly realizes he is not the murder.” This is, of course, Poe. Over the course of the film, Fields comes to understand Poe as a “person he would never spend any time with.” Naturally, they’re forced to work together to stop the killer.

As Poe’s life also had its share of woe and misery, McTeigue noted that making a straight account of his life would lead to a “dour film.” In fictionalizing him, the director thinks they did justice to the author. “You have to honor what his life was and why the stories are the way they are,” he explained.

That life also included a fair share of women. “Yeah, he didn’t really like the company of men,” Cusack said. “He wanted to duel with them or insult them.” While the author was more comfortable around women, his relationships with them were not any easier. “This goes back to losing his mother and his first wife to T.B. So he always had this sense of yearning for women, but always losing them,” the actor continued. “His version of heaven was a perfect, untouched woman.” Poe’s life also included a drunken night at the White House that eventually saw him thrown out.

To prepare, Cusack read Peter Ackroyd’s biography Poe: A Life Cut Short and volumes of the author’s own personal correspondence.

During the Q&A, Cusack was asked about Poe’s famous mustache, which is absent from the film. “We didn’t want to get caught in the iconography. It sort of liberated us to get the essence of it,” he answered. He also suggested that the film is a dream he had about Poe.

A fan held up an iPad running a ghetto blaster app and playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” a reference to to Cusack’s famous scene the 1989 romantic comedy-drama Say Anything. The fan asked if The Raven will finally be the movie where his girlfriend won’t ask if he can be more like John Cusack. After a long laugh, the actor responded, “No.”

Asked for his Top Five Poe stories — a reference to another Cusack film High Fidelity, — the actors offered up “Hop-frog,” “The Raven,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

In one last reference to the actor’s past, a fan asked if he planned to work with his sister Joan Cusack on another film. “I’d love to,” he replied. “We’ve gotten away with it so many times. I’m sure there will be something.”

Haywire opens Jan. 20, 2012, The Raven opens on March 9, 2012.

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