“Rampage” Director Brad Peyton on Pairing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with Giant, Mutated Animals (Interview)


New Line / WB

Director ’s 2015 movie San Andreas might have seemed like a bit of a departure, but it’s not because it starred Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who appeared in Peyton’s previous film Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. San Andreas was Peyton’s first serious movie for adults, being a big-time disaster movie.

Peyton’s latest film follows suit, but it’s a lot less serious and more in the realm of fantasy and science fiction, basically a giant monster movie based on the popular arcade game from the ‘80s.

It once again stars Johnson, this time playing primatologist Davis Okoye, who has been working with an albino gorilla named George that he’s raised since the ape was younger. When a mysterious container falls from space into George’s pen, the ape is exposed to a genetic experiment that makes him grow in size and become more savage. Along with geneticist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), Davis must try to stop George’s rampage, while two other similar creatures have been discovered that are also descending on Chicago.

If you like Johnson and giant monsters then Rampage should offer enough to satisfy fans of both, and it puts a lot of pressure on the King Kong vs. Godzilla movie currently in . 

The Tracking Board got on the phone with Peyton for the following (far-too-short) interview about the movie.

I don’t know if I’ve ever played the arcade game, but I know they’ve been trying to make a movie about it for quite some time. When did you get involved with it? Was it around the same time Dwayne got involved?

: Yeah. I mean I think it was, it started with the producer John Rickard who got the rights and at a certain point — I think it was right after San Andreas came out — he has a relationship with New Line, and he brought it up to them saying, “What do you think about teaming up with the team that did San Andreas?” It came to Dwayne and the producer Beau Flynn and myself at the same time. My first question was like, “What’s Dwayne think of Rampage? What exactly do you see this film as?” because at that point it was a very rough draft. Then we kind of circled the wagons on it and thought about what it could be.

What attracted me to it was it felt like a movie where I could pay homage to the game but there was also a lot of room to kind of create my own world, develop my own plot, kind of build the characters and themes that I wanted to talk about. It seemed like the best of both worlds in the sense that there was an existing IP that people recognize and had a bit of a nostalgic vibe for with the video game, but there was also a lot of creative freedom. 

BradPeytonTheRockRampage2New Line / WB

I can’t imagine that whoever wrote the first screenplay had Dwayne Johnson or a specific actor in mind, so was it easy to modify Davis to fit what Dwayne can do?

A lot changed from that initial draft. A lot of stuff changed. It wasn’t necessarily as grounded as I think it became, and the big thing that we kind of latched onto was the relationship between Davis and George. Ultimately, the way I thought this movie would work is that would be the heart of the story was their dynamic, their relationship, and so once we locked onto that and started surfacing that, it became really clear what that story could be and what those characters could be. There was a lot of and discussion with the whole team and Dwayne about who his character could be.

I loved the primatologist angle. I thought it was a really interesting character for Dwayne, the fact that he’s not necessarily the biggest people person. The film is ultimately about friendship and trust and how he doesn’t trust people, and I thought, “Oh, this is a really unique character,” and then seeing him do the sign language and his relationship with George, it took a lot of work but ultimately, I thought this is really unique and something we’ve never seen Dwayne do. There was a lot of things in the script that excited me because there were things that just I’d never done in terms of the visual effects, the scope of the movie. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done. I checked a lot of boxes. I’m a big fan of science fiction and elevated genre so this was an opportunity to kind of dip my toe into that and those waters and see what I could come up with. Yeah, there was a lot of in those initial stages.

The effects were done by Weta, who did Planet of the Apes and Lord of the Rings. George is just amazing. You actually had an actor performing him, so how do you cast an actor to kind of perform a gorilla opposite Dwayne Johnson?

Well, I mean it was such a blessing to get Jason [Liles]. The weird things were that we needed someone who could act like a gorilla, that even when they were hunched over they would still be large. Jason is I think 6’8″, 6’9″. He’s a really, really tall dude. My thing was just these movies can be so green screen oriented and so kind of impersonal on the set. I always want to build as much for the cast as possible. I want to set up a situation where they can kind of forget about all the technical stuff and just act as much as they can. Jason was brought in to give George a heart and soul, which he really did. When you see George on the screen those are really his facial movements, that’s really his eyes. That acting is really someone really acting. Then for the rest of the cast it gives them something to reach to.

BradPeytonDwayneJohnsonRampage3New Line / WB

Even when George was scaled up to the size that he is in the end, we would put Jason in a scissor lift. We’d just bring him up in the air and Dwayne could really act opposite him, so that there was someone there for the rest of the cast to kind of emote with an actor opposite.

It was amazing, and of course Weta is the best. It was so amazing to work with a VFX team that were not just a technical team but true artists. They brought it and they plussed the movie in so many ways, and it was really great to be able to kind of collaborate with them and really build characters in a way that I think sometimes get lost with kind of creature design. It was an awesome experience.

I love the design of the three main creatures, which had enough of the real animals in them but with a nice twist. Can you talk about developing them?

We spent a lot of time with USC scientists and genealogists in order to get the creature designs right, I’m a big fan of world creation and kind of grounding stuff, so that you can then go off and have fun with it and it doesn’t get too silly. We actually broke out how a pathogen would be designed, what attributes these creatures would have, and so what you see there is literally months of kind of just breaking out what would really go into these pathogens, what DNA would be there, and then talking about how a pathogen would infect a creature. Obviously the science has to not be 100% real. Even with a militarized pathogen it wouldn’t affect a creature this quickly but obviously you have to have dramatic license in order to make the story make sense and kind of have fun with it.

The thing for me was it kept the creature designs grounded and then the odd kind of random thing that’s thrown in there, like the crocodile having tusks, is the fact that with mutations those random things do happen. It’s not a perfect science in terms of how the mutation would unfold. I was really happy with how the creature designs came out, and for me it was balancing this thing of you got to be able to see the initial creature, but I also want them to be surprising and have monstrous kind of capabilities and attributes at the end of the movie.

For better or worse, you’re partially responsible for Dwayne’s nickname of “franchise Viagra,” having put him in Journey 2, and you’ve been able to see his amazing rise to become this A-list star. What do you credit to him working so well as an action star?

Yeah, I mean I think we have a really good working relationship. We help and inspire each other. I think we help elevate the material together. I just also think that audiences want to go on a ride like this with a guy like Dwayne.

To me, I’ve really tried to cultivate an environment where I work with a lot of the same people over and over again, from all my keys to different actors, and Dwayne is a guy that I get along with really well. He kind of fits into that group. It’s all about just making the best material and the best movies possible. When we get together, we just try to do something and give something to the audience that they have not seen or experienced before.

I think people want to see that from him. They want to be entertained by him and they want to see him go save the world and do all that stuff, and I think it’s because we believe it on some level and we just find it fun. Yeah, he’s a great guy to work with and I’m a big fan.

You have a bunch of movies in at this point. Are you generally developing all of them at once or multi-task? Do you have any idea what you want to do next?

Yeah, I don’t really idle well. I’m the type of person who needs to be able to write and draw and storyboard and shotlist and everything on a daily basis, so I’m constantly looking for the next thing. I just started my own company with my producing partner Jeff Fierson. It’s called ASAP Entertainment. Our goal is to do elevated genre, big movies, big shows. You never know what’s next because it’s a lot of things have to happen for your movie and show to come together. I like creating. That’s just what I like to do and so, yeah, I’m developing a bunch of things. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but as long as it’s elevated genre and a big fun experience and something that audiences haven’t seen before, it interests me.

Rampage will open nationwide on Friday, April 13, with previews on Thursday night.

  | East Coast Editor

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