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F. Gary Gray (Law Abiding Citizen)

F. Gary Gray (Law Abiding Citizen)

We sit down with F. Gary Gray, director of the upcoming film, Law Abiding Citizen... 

SHAKEFIRE: What was the process for choosing Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx for this film?

F. GARY GRAY: It’s funny because they chose me. Jamie gave me a call and we’ve been trying to work with each other for years and we just wanted to find the right project. He was cast in this movie maybe a few months before he called me and said “I have a perfect project for you” and I read the project, loved it, and jumped on board and two or three weeks I’m in pre-production.

SF: Did they already have their respective roles set or did you ever think of having Foxx as the ex-spy and Butler as the DA?

FGG: At first it was that way but then they made the switch which I think was a smart choice because I think Gerard is absolutely phenomenal as Clyde Shelton and I think that Jamie is incredible as a straight guy. You normally see him, it’s always really extreme; the arrogant quarterback, the blind musician, or the comedy that he does. But for him to play the high powered district attorney is very different for him, and it shows how strong he is as a performer that he can pull that off.

SF: During the entire film, you can see a transition in Butler's character from someone who is making things right to a complete psychopath. Was that intentional or did it just play out that way?

FGG: That was something that I thought was important to add to the story, to show that a man starts out one way and then he slowly starts to change as the story progresses. I think that’s one of the stronger elements of the story is that there’s no clear good guy or bad guy in this movie. It is very complex in that way. It’s unpredictable for that reason. It keeps the audience engaged because your alliance or your connection to the characters slowly shifts and changes as the movie progresses and I think very rarely do you see that. Normally you know who the antagonist is, you know who the protagonist is, you can pretty much predict what they’re going to do.

SF: The same could be said about the ending, you could go either way.

FGG: Yeah, absolutely and it makes people think. That’s what people go to the movies for. They want to be challenged, they want to be moved and I think this is one of those movies where after you see it, there’s definitely a lot to discuss afterwards.

SF: There seem to be many subtle references in the film; the interrogation chamber looks like it's from Silence of the Lambs, the torture scene from Saw or Hostel. What was your inspiration for the film?

FGG: You know what’s really funny; my inspiration came more from films of the past, like, the deep past, more noir films. I think it’s a compliment by the way. Thank you for referencing Silence of the Lambs, it’s a classic obviously. In terms of the look and feel, I drew on a lot of the more retro elements of Philadelphia to create a retro style that we call neo-noir. If you look at the old city hall, which is historic architecture of the city hall which is built in the 1800s, the prison which is built in the 1800s, the bridges, the smokestacks, are all these little different elements that I use to paint this picture of this world. Although it’s a modern story, I thought that giving it that look and feel created a mood and gravity that you don’t ordinarily see. When you put Gerard Butler from 300 and Jamie Foxx from Miami Vice in a movie, you expect something slick, something colorful. I thought that the story deserves to transcend the genre and I think that the look was important, and I drew, like I said, a lot of noir films to give it that feel.

SF: The film is very intense and bloody as a matter of fact. Did you have to remove anything to satisfy the ratings board?

FGG: A little bit. Yeah, we had to cut a little bit just to serve the R rating. Again, like I said, people go to the movies to see things they wouldn’t be able to experience online or on television. I think that the action and even the violence work well because it’s motivated by story and by character. It’s not gratuitous. It’s well within the story and the chess game that’s unraveling. It is shocking in moments but you want to be shocked.

SF: Many of your films involve a character who either rebels against the government or takes the law into their own hands; The Negotiator, A Man Apart, this. Is there something that attracts you to these type of films or is it just luck?

FGG: You know, it’s not a conscience choice. I just look for material that’s smart, that’s different, that’s a challenge, that’s unique. It’s funny; I love to do different movies and different genres. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to delve into the whole psychological thriller genre and it was fun. My first movie was a comedy, Friday, and my last movie was a comedy. I take it on a project by project basis. It’s just a coincidence maybe.

SF: Family appears to be a major element of the story. Foxx's character has a wife and daughter just as Butler's did. Are you a family man yourself?

FGG: I love that part of the story because in the midst of the thrills and the suspense and the action, it’s all grounded in something that’s very accessible, and that is family. Everyone can identify with the idea that if you mess with my family, you’ll have hell to pay. Both characters are motivated and affected by things that happen to their family or could potentially happen to their family and I think that’s what balances this movie out. To have a balance of the masculine mano y mano chess game that goes on between the two of them but then the moments where they’re vulnerable and you realize that there’s a pain there that most men don’t show but it’s in all of us. The ability to experience that with both of these characters in this movie is what sets it apart from normal films or films that normally have action or suspense. 

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
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