In the Real World
PARKER follows its protagonist's quest for revenge from the sunny optimism of the Ohio State Fair to the honky-tonk bars of Bourbon Street to the opulent allure of Palm Beach, with stops in between in the violent neighborhoods and industrial wastelands where the character learned his trade. "In this film, the locations are also characters," says Hackford. "It's mostly exterior shooting and we have some sensational settings that aren't often seen in movies."
Much of the action was shot in and around New Orleans, even the scenes set elsewhere. "We used it as Kentucky, as Tennessee, as Texas," Hackford says. "There's one Bourbon Street location, but aside from that, Louisiana and especially New Orleans stand in for all these other places. The city has fantastic locations besides the ones we are used to seeing in films. It is an amazing backdrop for the movie and you're not going to believe how much of it was shot in New Orleans."
The action starts at the Ohio State Fair, which is the largest state fair in the United States with close to a million attendees during its 12-day run in 2012. "It's where the common man goes to have a good time," says Hackford. "The fact that we were able to shoot there was incredible. The people were so gracious. We have 40,000 or 50,000 extras in the scene. We couldn't stop the fair, so it continued on around us. We could never have paid for that kind of production value. It's fantastic."
For the actors, the real-life action of the fair made shooting those scenes especially intense, according to Micah Hauptman. "Everything was on the fly," he says. "When you're shooting in the midst of all these real people, you never know what's going to happen, which was a lot of fun."
But the bulk of the film's action takes place in what may be the richest place in the United States. "The Melander gang's big caper is planned for Palm Beach," says Hackford. "It's a community that has been legendary since its first days. The richest of the rich in the East went down early in the last century and built a Xanadu for themselves on what is essentially a tropical island. It reeks of wealth. There are more mansions and clipped ficus in Palm Beach then you have ever seen in your life and it gives the film incredible style."
Getting the permits and permissions they needed to shoot in Palm Beach was not easy, however. The city put a moratorium on filming there in the 1990s in order to preserve the privacy of its elite residents. But Hackford was determined to shoot the film in the location intended by the Parker author. "Donald Westlake set his story in Palm Beach for a reason. It was essential to the movie. Where else would you have an auction of $50-$75 million of jewelry? There, it happens all the time."
The production eventually got unprecedented cooperation from both West Palm and Palm Beach. "The Palm Beach County Film Commission was fantastic, as was the Town Council," says Hackford. "Did they give me permission to do everything I wanted? No. But I did get what I needed of Palm Beach in this film. You see the main roads, the neighborhoods, the famous bridges, which are integral to the story."
The climactic robbery takes place in a magnificent mansion overlooking the water. "Many people are going to think we shot at Mar-A-Lago, which is the most famous estate in Palm Beach," says Hackford. "In fact, the big mansion where the culmination of this heist takes place is clear across Florida in Sarasota."
That scene takes place at the John Ringling Museum of Art. "At the turn of the century, the Ringling Brothers were gigantic," Hackford explains. "Forget all the Broadway impresarios and the Hollywood moguls-they were real entertainment. John Ringling was one of the richest men in America and he built this incredible terracotta mansion on the water in Sarasota and we used that as the site of this auction."
Hackford replicates the gritty realism of Westlake's novel with the film's utterly believable action, stunts and fights. "I wanted the action and the violence to be very real," Hackford says. "I did not want a kind of fantasy element to that part of the film. I appreciate that kind of movie, but that's not what we went after in Parker. I want audiences to look at him and say, this guy is the real thing. When he gets hit, he feels it. When he's put in grave danger, we know it. At the end of the film, he's debilitated. He's hurt. At the same time, that refusal to give up comes through. I wanted to deliver a film so real that it's on the knife's edge."
In Statham, Hackford had a consummate, physical actor, with extensive experience in creating the kind of explosive action he was looking for. "He wants to do all his own stunt work, which was a gift to me as a director. He's very smart, so he doesn't risk things unnecessarily, but when he knows things are right, he does them. There's a sequence early in this film where there's a shootout in a car. When Parker jumps out of that car, Jason is doing it. He jumps out at full speed. It was a very tough stunt."
Statham says it may not have been the most dangerous stunt he ever did, but it was up there. "Parker was in the back of an SUV with the motley crew of robbers and they're all armed to the teeth," he explains. "He has to get out of the car and stay alive. It was very tricky. I had to get out of a moving vehicle through the window. The many years I spent as a diver came in handy. I was able to slot myself right out of the window hole."
The actor says he finds a great deal of fulfillment in doing his own stunts. "I don't think that will ever leave me. I always want to do what I think I'm capable of doing. But it's difficult to create sequences we haven't seen before and keep the action centered on the character, so it doesn't become like a video game. It takes a great deal of preparation and a good team of people to keep it safe. I have an outstanding stunt team that I like to work with. We've had some good results and developed a shorthand."
That team includes stunt coordinator Mike Massa, who worked with Statham on THE EXPENDABLES and second-unit director David Leitch from THE MECHANIC. "It was my first time working with Mike and Dave and they were absolutely terrific," says Hackford. "They are both incredibly accomplished people in their field and great collaborators. We took every precaution and then we went for it."
In a stunning scene set on the 26th floor of a high-rise hotel, Parker has to fend off a vicious assassin sent by the Melander gang's Chicago connections. "The actor had to be somebody of substance to keep it real," Hackford says. "Daniel Bernhardt is a terrific actor who has headlined some pretty terrific action films himself. He's very serious about his work. Both he and Jason are doing their own stunts in this scene and let me tell you, that fight is brutal. They take the blows. By the end of the fight, it is clear that Parker is truly hurt. He's like a wounded lion as he heads off for the final confrontation. Having collaborators like Mike and Dave was vital because it gave the actors the confidence to go all the way."
Adds Statham: "Taylor was fixated on not doing anything that wasn't driven by the character. That made for a great fight. The heroic characters I have played in the past have been super efficient in hand-to-hand fights and you never see them really get hurt. Taylor insisted on having us take a realistic beating. He wanted Parker to barely survive to add to the tension and the drama. Will he make it to the end? Can he really succeed in what he wants to do? The stakes are that much higher because of that."
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