Drew Pearce might not be a name that you immediately recognise but the movies and TV shows he’s worked on are more than recognisable, they’re critically-acclaimed.
The British screenwriter caught Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige’s eye after creating the superhero comedy series No Heroics, ITV2’s first original comedy series that ran for one season from 2008 to 2009. Feige tapped him to co-write Iron Man 3 and after that, he came up with the story for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, both of which were critical and commercial successes.
After spending a few years being the go-to guy for touching up scripts, making shorts and music videos, Pearce decided it was time to fly solo but his directorial debut would not benefit from the million dollar budgets of his previous movies, in fact, he’d have to put down his own money to make Hotel Artemis work.
The original film is set in near-future LA, where society is suffering an economic and environmental downturn so the people are rioting. During the chaos, a pair of criminals, played by Sterling K. Brown and Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry, find themselves in need of a secret, members-only hospital where injured lawbreakers can go to for medical assistance. Run by Jodie Foster’s Nurse, with the help of Dave Bautista’s Everest, the people inside soon discover the Artemis might not be such a safe haven after all.
Yahoo Movies UK spoke to Pearce about making his indie movie on a budget, the problem with studio culture, as well as the status of his and Jason Segal’s LEGO movie The Billion Brick Race…
Yahoo Movies UK: As someone known for writing for big franchises, was it great to write something truly original?
Drew Pearce: Yes, I’ve worked on a lot of big films as a screenwriter and a lot of those that I’m very proud of as well. I love big movie-making but with my debut, I wanted to make something that had more of my own fingerprint on it. I think we also live in a lot of creative playgrounds that were created forty years ago, these cinematic universes, so it is important to keep creating new ones. It’s tough to do in a studio movie and that’s why I made a little indie film like this.
There’s definitely less space for indie movies to be made. What’s been your experience of making Hotel Artemis? Was it difficult to get it off the ground?
We’re definitely at a time of transition when it comes to movies; everything is disrupted, mid-range movies have disappeared and gone to TV, and so the only things that exist are $200 million franchises and $5 million horror movies. It’s why it’s tough to make something like Hotel Artemis which cost $14 million. Everyone essentially had to work for free in order to make it so you end up having to do it for the love of it. It has a downside; I had to put the robbers’ masks on my credit card in order to make sure they were good enough. It also had the upside that everyone was there for the right reasons.
Obviously, as a first-time director, it’s intimidating. I’d made music videos and shorts before but I hadn’t made my own feature. Making a movie this ambitious in 33 days, with such a big cast, isn’t exactly starting off with two people chatting in a room – though there are plenty of scenes with two people chatting in a room! It can be intimidating working with experienced actors but the vast upside of that is they are incredibly experienced, and you know that they are there for you. That applies massively to Jodie.
It’s such an eclectic cast, how did you go about getting all these big names for your first feature?
I got lucky. Everyone liked the script and I had access to people I might not have had for my first movie because they connected with the material, but also Jodie came on first. That acted as a seal of approval because there is no actor who doesn’t want to work with Jodie Foster. That’s how we got Dave Bautista. The chance for him to be a double act with Jodie in this movie is a chance that doesn’t necessarily come up for him every day but hopefully, it does in the future because he’s an amazing, soulful actor.
I got lucky because the year and a half since I cast the film it has been kind to them all. Sterling K. Brown was already a brilliant actor but I didn’t know he would win every award going and he’s brilliant in Black Panther. There’s a part of me that wanted a Killmonger and his dad movie because I wanted more Sterling.
I think you know the right people, so maybe you could do that!
I think, spoiler alert, there is probably an issue with doing a Killmonger movie now!
Back to Hotel Artemis, I love that it has women over 35 playing action roles. There’s certainly more of a trend of that nowadays…
I like older characters in general because by then they have a deeper history to draw from. Usually tragic, but also their voices tend to be a bit more interesting because they’ve accumulated life experience. The concept of the Nurse was one of the very first things I came up with and is why I didn’t try and make it as a studio movie. I knew I would walk [into a studio meeting] and say “it’s a futuristic secret hospital for criminals” and they’d be like, “Great! Sold!” but then I’d say, “With a 55-year-old woman as the lead,” at which point I would have been escorted out.
Is it not getting better now?
Honestly, there just aren’t that many movies that the shape of them is built around any type of older role, be it male or female.
Do you think it’s because we’re waiting for this generation of studio execs to move on to allow people with a more progressive idea of what sells to come up?
Maybe. I do think that when it comes to gender and diversity, I definitely think we’re starting to see really positive changes. It’s really early days but it’s always driven by money so Black Panther means that in most countries at least, and certainly in America, we’ll get more African-American movies.
To be fair the Blade franchise made a billion years before Black Panther and it didn’t change much for representation in film but hopefully, it will stick this time.
I agree. I also think it’s good to be wary of and diligent in making sure that we push forward with diversity. It should always be organic though. My film is set in LA in 2028; if it didn’t have a diverse cast I’d be doing my job wrong because LA is a melting pot and that’s only going to become more of the case as years go by.
The tricky thing about diversity, again, is the pushback from money people in that there’s still a lot of entrenched opinions. You get less money to make your movie the more diverse your cast is, which is odd when you look at the Fast & Furious franchise which is the most diverse cast you can get.
True. I also wanted to ask about The Billion Brick Race.
Yes! It’s a LEGO movie idea that I had and took to [Phil] Lord and [Christopher] Miller and they said we should just make that. I wrote it with Jason Segal who I had written a couple of projects with, which haven’t come out yet, and who I adore. I was going to direct it as well but Hotel Artemis happened so I stepped off. Hopefully, they’re still planning to make it.
So what’s the premise then?
Basically the biggest race of all time but with LEGO. It’s inspired by every race movie ever with a cast, in the same way, that Cannonball Run mixed people from different genres and preexisting ideas. The Billion Brick Race is a movie designed to be able to throw in every single racing idea in history and do it with LEGO, so I hope it gets made.
Hopefully, a load of race car drivers will lend their voices too.
Yeah, It’s more about how many other brands can we throw in there as possible!
Can you get Fleetwood Mac to give you permission to use ‘The Chain’?
That would be great but now Guardians of the Galaxy owns ‘The Chain’. They used it in Vol. 2.
Ah yes! And finally, I wanted to ask about No Heroics, as there are loads of reboots nowadays I wondered if you had considered bringing it back?
Haha, I don’t know! The history of the last ten years is littered with failed superhero TV comedies, absolutely chock a block with them, and I like to think No Heroics wasn’t that and that we managed to do something interesting. We were also ahead of the curve in that respect but I wonder if superhero movies are so funny now that it kind of takes away the need for actual TV superhero comedy. In a world where Taika [Wiatiti] has made Thor: Ragnarok, which for me is like the funniest movie of last year, I don’t know if we need a comedy that takes the piss out of superhero movies.
But they are very American, what about a dry English superhero comedy? You could do a Captain Britain movie…
Yeah, we’ll see if a Captain Britain movie ever happens I’d be very surprised. I think there are probably about fifty Marvel heroes that Kevin Feige would go to before Captain Britain but who knows!
Read what Drew Pearce had to say about his work on Quentin Tarantino’s Star Trek movie here.
Hotel Artemis is out in UK cinemas on Wednesday.