Taming The Expendables

Aussie second-time director Patrick Hughes on tackling the biggest egos in cinema

Patrick Hughes, Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford on set
Patrick Hughes, Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford on set
The Expendables Image #2
The Expendables
Taming The Expendables Image #3

Australian director Patrick Hughes reveals how he kept control on set with a cast of Hollywood heavyweights.

Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise has a simple premise: bring together as many ageing action men as possible, give them guns and let them kill bad guys. The first two movies made a combined US$580 million [Dhs2.13 billion], so a third was inevitable, but what was less inevitable was Red Hill director Patrick Hughes being brought in to helm just his second feature as director.

Patrick, how did you land this insane job?
Sony bought my first film and two weeks later I got a call from my agent and he said, ‘Sly just watched Red Hill and he won’t stop talking about your movie’, and I was like, ‘that’s fantastic, useless information.’ And then February last year I was filming a Bonds commercial in Sydney and I got another call from my agent and he’s like, ‘Sly wants to meet you this weekend, you have to fly out and come and see him.’ So I went out there and within 30 seconds we hit it off.

How on earth do you exercise any authority on a set with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas?
Every two weeks they were shipping in a new mega star…I guess I’m very vocal on set. I say this to all actors I work with, ‘If I don’t like something I’m going to let you know and if you don’t like something you let me know.’ I think that’s the way to play it. I like to create a really good working environment on set where we can have a laugh.

How did it go with Arnie?
One of the first days on set we had 13 movie stars on a chopper and Arnold wouldn’t stop cracking jokes. So I jumped on the megaphone and told him to shut up. He loved it, he was in tears of laughter, he’s like, ‘Who is this guy?’ And I said, ‘I’m the director, buddy, so sit down, shut up, we’re shooting.’ So we just had a lot of fun like that.

It must have been like all your teenage aspirations in one movie…
Every morning I was like, ‘I might have breakfast with Harrison in his trailer, I might have breakfast with Antonio, I might have breakfast with Sly...’ They loved it when I was calling them by their iconic names. I was like, ‘Right, Han Solo, you stand here, Terminator’s going to walk in, followed by Desperado, then Rambo’s going to approach.’

This is movie-making on a very big scale; how did you adjust?
I’ve been shooting commercials for the last 15 years. The last one I did was a huge-budget car commercial with choppers, with three camera units and there really isn’t anything much different in the scale of production. I’m very confident.

We hear that a truck went into the water along with Jason Statham. What happened?
That was day three and I thought, ‘there goes my Hollywood career’. The brakes failed and the truck ploughed through the camera on the dolly; five crewmen went into the water along with a three-tonne truck and Jason behind the wheel. Thankfully everyone swam to the surface and there were no injuries. We lost the truck, the camera and the dolly, but Jason got changed and was back on set in 15 minutes.

Were you disappointed more people didn’t see Red Hill?
It would have been great if it had got more exposure but, mate, I was in profit at the world premiere [at the Berlin Film Festival], because we sold it to every territory. Given that I’d mortgaged my house to make it, we were over the moon.

Why did you mortgage your house?
It’s a Catch-22 – no one lets you make a movie until you make a movie. One day I just said, right, I’m not shooting any more commercials, I’m going to sit down, I’m going to write a script and I’m going to shoot it for under a million bucks. From sitting down to writing it to raising the finance to being at Berlin, was 11 months to the day.
The Expendables 3 is out now.

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