IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM SHAWN LEVY: Real Steel is not just for boys, and even his daughters say so!
Ever wonder what goes through a directors mind when he is directing a movie? I found my interview with Shawn Levy to be enlightening and entertaining. The passion for his work shows not only in his films but in the way he answers questions and presents himself to a room. I enjoyed meeting and talking with Shawn Levy the director of Real Steel as well as other great films such as Cheaper by the Dozen and Night at the Museum.
This first question was an interesting tidbit from the movie. During the first couple scenes when Charlie (Hugh Jackman) is getting off his truck he is greeted by three girls, these are Shawn Levy’s daughter and they care cute and LOVE their characters in the movie.
Blogger : We just learned that your daughters are in the movie.
Shawn Levy : Three of my four. I have four daughters.
Shawn Levy : … But, yes, and my four year old said Coco gonna be jealous because she’s the only girl not in the movie. So, so, so she has made me promise if we, if we make a sequel ever, that Coco gets the biggest part because she’s the baby.
Shawn Levy : (children’s ages) It’s, uh, twelve, nine, four, and nine months.
Blogger : How was it to direct them? Were they doing what Dad was saying?
Shawn Levy : Can I tell you something? They are unbelievable little actors, and they actually listen to me…. My girls are good listeners. My little one though, the one who ends up saying boo yah, Charlie is like my spitfire. Her name’s Charlie. And, and at one point he (Hugh Jackman), was starting improvising because I like improve, and, in the middle of the take she goes, Daddy, why is he saying those words? And she kept saying, those aren’t his words. Those aren’t, ‘cause she knew his lines ‘cause I had taught her. Um, and I’m like, no, he’s allowed to say different words. Why is he saying not his words?
During the interview we find out that Charlie, Shawn’s younger daughter of the three, has a special bond with Hugh Jackman.
Shawn Levy : So, as you will not be surprised to hear, that guy (Hugh Jackman) has a magnetism to him. My daughter, she was three. She became convinced that Hugh Jackman was her boyfriend. And it was mortifying because at a school day for preschool, she told the guys, I have a boyfriend. I got a boyfriend this summer. His name is Hugh Jackman.
Shawn Levy : No, but do you know what? He called her on her fourth birthday. That is the guy he is. He will do stuff like that.
Is this not the sweetest thing you ever heard? Hugh Jackman called Charlie on her birthday talk about a bunch of awww’s from us sappy women. Hugh my birthday is March 21st I will be expecting that call, let me get you that number.
Ok so I have to say I totally agree with the journalist statement below joking or now I’m NOT joking!
Shawn Levy : Yeah. No, I, I was interviewed yesterday by a female journalist who was semi-jokingly, but semi-seriously kind of saying, why was the scene without the shirt so brief? (speaking of Hugh Jackman’s scence) And why did you shoot it here? (he makes a gesture showing from mid waist up). I did put him in micro-Ts for much of the movie. Like, I, I literally put him in one size smaller than he should be.
Bloggers : We appreciate that.
Shawn Levy : He makes the rest of us men feel terrible. [LAUGHTER]
Blogger : Most of your movies are comedies, so what drew you to doing an action movie?
Shawn Levy : Well, it’s interesting because I don’t even really think of the movie as an action movie. I kind of think of it as a father-son movie more than anything else. I mean, obviously there’s boxing robots. Where I really started to get a sense of what I like doing was on both ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’, and ‘Night at the Museum’, we ended up having this experience where, where a family can go to a movie actually together, because as we all know as parents, things that are called family films are so often just kind of condescendingly made for the lowest common denominator, and we sit there either asleep, which I’ve done sometimes, or resentful, or what not.
And so I, it’s interesting, I view ‘Real Steel’ as a departure in that it’s a drama and an action drama. But I view it very consistent with ‘Night at the Museum’ in that it’s a movie, at least, in the way I’ve seen people react to it like it’s still a kind of a fun time for a broad, broad swath of, of family. That’s at least my goal.
I have the Real Steel CD and some of the music is a not so much my taste though because I the CD reminds me of the movie I do enjoy it. Here Shawn is talking about the song at the beginning of the movie by Alexi Murdoch “All My Days“. This is a beautiful song I LOVE it and listen to it again and again. I picture myself driving down a long dirt road with wheat, corn, (or in Florida) sugar cane fields at my sides. Or I can picture myself sitting on a pier swinging my legs with my feet just reaching the water gazing out to the world beyond.
Blogger: During the first part of this movie, music is clearly an important part.
Shawn Levy : Are you referring to the opening drive with the Alexi Murdoch song?
Blogger : Yes.
Shawn Levy : I’m so happy that you’re commenting on that because I heard, and, and I, I give my, my metro-sexual self away when I tell this story, but I was in a yoga class, and this is, like, two years ago, and, you know, and you’re lying on your back, and you’re kind of falling asleep, right? And they’re playing, they play this song that I’ve never heard before.
And I’m listening to this guitar, and these lyrics, and it’s two years ago. I’m lying there going, this is opening my movie. This song right here is opening my movie. And I went up to, to the front desk, what was that song? And they didn’t know. And once I heard it was this guy Murdoch, and some people at the studio were like, do you really want to open with that, because people are expecting rock ‘em, sock ‘em boy movie, ra, ra. And I’m like, we need to send a message right away that it ain’t exactly what you’re expecting. It’s going to have more heart. It’s going to have more character, and it’s actually going to be an emotional ride as well as an action ride.
And so that’s why I went with Alexi. And I had a huge thrill. Like, five days ago in London I called him up. I’d never met the guy. And I said, would you come to London and come to the premier with me? And he came to the premier, and he’s like this. He’s what you said. He’s like this soulful folk singer from Scotland. And he watched the movie. And I was nervous. I didn’t know how he would feel about having this kind of little jewel of a song open this popcorn movie, and he was so excited.
And he’s like, more people are going to see my song in this movie than on the albums I make. And, uh, I’m thrilled to be introducing his talents in a broader kind of way in the US, because I think it’s a great song, and I’m grateful for how it opens the movie.
I have to agree with his decision, not that my agreement makes a difference LOL, but the song is a great way to start off the movie and set a tone.
Shawn Levy : Well, I, I make a play list. I don’t know if this is interesting to you guys, but I’ll just tell briefly. I play music on set when I’m shooting. And so every movie I make, it’s something I started doing. The more intellectual the actor, the more I find music is a great way to direct, because you bypass the, like, cerebral intellect, with music. So with Steve Martin, with Ben, with Tin and Steve on ‘Date Night’, um, and with this boy. Especially with Dakota. If you… music just kind of gives them the feeling you want without it being cluttered with words that get them in their head.
So for every sequence of the movie, I make a play list months before I make the movie. So I had fight songs, I had pre-fight songs, I had, uh, the opening, and my opening playlist was, like, Nick Drake, Josh Rayden, Alexi Murdoch, uh, Ben Harper… That kind of stuff.
Shawn speaks about directing Dakota. Might I just say he is one talented actor and carried a lot of this movie. You would think Hugh Jackman would steal the show but I have to say Dakota is definitely 50% of the pair that makes this movie a hit.
Blogger : (paraphrase) Did you have to give Dakota a lot of direction?
Shawn Levy : Sometimes, well, I cast Dakota because he had something other than, more than acting talent, because I knew that, even if Hugh and I did everything right on this movie, the movie could not be great if the boy wasn’t great. And so I needed a kid who could act. I needed a kid who could be authentic. And, like, that thing that Ricky Schroeder had in ‘The Champ’, where that face just kind of shatters you. Or, or, you know, Elliot had in ‘ET’, or Justin Henry had in ‘Kraemer Versus Kraemer’.
When I met Dakota, and I saw Dakota with Hugh, it was, he was good at the lines, but it was what he did when he wasn’t talking that felt authentic. His face, that’s why I improvised that line when Hugh says, are you kidding me with those eyes? Uh, because every day I would watch this movie and go, are you kidding me with… Like, come on! And, uh, and I would say to his mom all the time, like, how do you ever say no to this boy? Uh, and, and so, as a long winded answer, sometimes it took a lot of takes. Sometimes I go, no, again, this way.
No, again, this way. Sometimes I would have him do improvised lines that I would shout out from behind the camera, and he would repeat because sometimes with kids they get in a loop of the lines they memorize, and you need to, it’s like you need the Etch-a-Sketch. You got to erase it. So I would change the lines so that he was saying something for the first time. That’s a good trick with kids often. And sometimes I would just play music, and in the most important scene in the movie, which is that slow motion scene in round five, Zeus Versus Atom, which is just still gets me, like, um, for that, like, I saw it in my head, I didn’t let anyone talk to Dakota, I did not give him direction.
Blogger : What was it like directing not only humans, but then the robots, too?
Shawn Levy : ‘Cause you know we built the robots.
Blogger : Right.
Shawn Levy : It, you end up viewing them as real. I mean, honestly, by the third week, I would go, Dakota, do it this way. Hugh, you’re stepping on this line, blah, blah, blah. Atom, I want you, and I knew that Atom was puppeteered, but I directed him like another character. Uh, he was puppeteered by a remote controlled, uh, puppeteering kind of machine. And, and I was, I was nervous ‘cause we made a choice at the time was scary. We made our most human robot be only robot with no face. And we did it on the hope, in the hope that that mesh of Atom’s face, with just those LED eyes, would be like a screen that we as an audience would project onto.
In the same way that the boy does. And as soon as I saw how the puppeteers could move him, like you would stand there and he’s, like, he’s way up there and he’d kind of shadow you. You could be ten, you could be 42, you could be 62, there was like a magic to that robot. And the reason that the scenes between Dakota and the robot are so wondrous is because that boy Dakota, he loved that robot. He, there’s no pretending. It’s not a tennis ball on a stick. He’s not acting.
Shawn speaks about his choice as Hugh Jackman as the lead and the struggle it was for Jackman to play a “mean” dad at the beginning of the movie.
Blogger : So was it Hugh Jackman, from the get-go?
Shawn Levy : Yeah, A, because you believe him physically as a fighter. But B, I knew that I wanted that dad to be kind of unsympathetic up front. I mean, we push his, his unsympathetic qualities. He’s a mean guy. And I, I felt that we needed to push that if we were going to earn the redemption at the end. And if you hire an actor who’s a bit of a bastard, you cannot have him play a bastard because you will lose your audience. But what you get with Hugh Jackman is such a reservoir of good will with us as an audience that you can push that stuff.
Shawn Levy : But it was uncomfortable for Hugh, especially playing him. I mean, he’s played a bit of a tough guy as Wolverine, obviously, but for Hugh to play a father being mean to a kid was very uncomfortable for him. And he kept saying, I don’t know. I’m like, trust me because this guy, when this guy breaks at the end, when you finally hug that boy at the end around five, it’s, it, it will work because you’ve earned it. And so Hugh kind of went with me there. He’s a dad, I’m a dad, so that was an interesting journey, like, feeling really ambivalent about speaking that rudely to the son.
There was some additional questions and answers that I just had to remove for the sake of the movie, we got to keep some of it a secret right?
Blogger : How was it working with Steven Spielberg?
Shawn Levy : Awesome. Awesome. I still, when he calls me, and he’s like, hey Shawn, I still, I’m like, hi Steven Spielberg. I never, like, forget it! Like this is the dream, and he was kind of like, he was the dream mentor because he gave me complete creative autonomy, but he said, whenever you want a second opinion, just call me. And so, when I designed the robots, when I did the visual effects, when I did my first edit, he was the call. He was my call. And no matter what he was doing, he would find a way to come see me and give me his input.
Blogger : And how were you brought into the project?
Shawn Levy : He called me. (Steven Spielberg)
Blogger : He called you.
Shawn Levy : Yeah. I mean, it was him and his partner Stacy Schneider. They had this script. They wanted to make a different kind of robot movie. They wanted to do something that was kind of unembarrassed about being warm-hearted. And the truth is, like, that’s how I live, that’s how I work, that’s what I want to bring to my work, and, uh, and I’ve made no bones about it. And it won’t be for everyone. But nowadays, so many movies are either pure action without any emotion, or there’s kind of like that too cool for school cynicism, or that ironic distance, and that’s legitimate.
Shawn Levy : Can I add one thing, just ‘cause I know. I want it, like, you know, the truth is, I will tell this anecdote, and I will always say it ‘cause I know you guys, or a lot of you are parents, like, when I took on this movie, my girls, ‘cause I have four girls, are like, why are you making a boy movie? They felt betrayed. They felt truly betrayed. And I said, girls, trust me. Trust me. Just wait ‘til you see it.
Shawn Levy : I certainly, the bribe of being in it helped. Um, but they so fell for Atom. And it was really interesting watching a girl react to this movie. And that’s my four year old, my nine year old, and my twelve year old. The first two fights, which is just robots that we don’t really have feelings for, they were neutral on. Boys love that stuff. But girls, my girls, at least, were like, uh-huh. Cool. Whatever. It’s as soon as it’s Atom. As soon as it’s someone they care about in the ring, I would watch them go from this to this.
And when Atom gets hit, they were wincing, but when he comes back (left out for viewers sake) they were in it, and finally said, okay, it’s not just a boy movie. And so, uh, I tell that anecdote only because I would never make a movie just for boys. I think that would be disloyal to my children. So I just think, to whatever extent that that gets out there, I’d like it to, ‘cause I feel that it’s sincere. So thank you guys.
The interviews with the director, producers, and writer were amazing and gave me such insight into the movie.