Legendary action and horror filmmaker Renny Harlin had long wanted to collaborate with world-renowned Irish actor Pierce Brosnan, best known for playing the suave spy James Bond in four installments of the longrunning franchise. He finally had his wish granted with The Misfits, an action-packed heist film in which Brosnan plays a cool and brilliant international thief who joins forces with a band of young, smart and savvy modern-day Robin Hoods.
Harlin, who hails from Finland and has a long list of credits including A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and the 2016 Jackie Chan starrer Skiptrace, assembled an eclectic group of international actors, including Mike Angelo (Full House), Rami Jaber (Tough Love), Hermione Corfield (XXX: Return of Xander Cage), Jamie Chung (Lovecraft Country, Dexter reboot), Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction) and Nick Cannon (Drumline). Producer Rami Jaber serves double duty as a producer and actor, playing an enigmatic character in the film known simply as The Prince.
The heist crew proposes to serial prison escapee Richard Pace (Brosnan) that he join them in their plot to steal millions of dollars-worth of gold bars from a corrupt international private prison operator named Warner Schultz (Roth) who has stashed the loot for a terrorist organization at one of his facilities. Pace’s estranged daughter, Hope (Corfield) joins in the action and, over the course of their adventure, bonds with dad. Calling themselves The Misfits, the ring plans to steal the gold and then donate it to UNICEF. Each member of the group possesses a specific skill, such as Chung’s Violet is a martial arts expert while Mike Angelo’s character, Wick, is an energetic explosives expert, required to break into a highly fortified prison in Abu Dhabi, which contains a secured vault with the gold locked inside. Meanwhile Brosnan’s Pace uses his cunning to help orchestrate the operation to infiltrate the prison and steal the loot, all under Schultz’s nose.
From Sofia, Bulgaria, where the peripatetic filmmaker has just wrapped production on The Refuge, a horror film involving the occult and a returning combat veteran, he is eager to talk up The Misfits, which is mostly set in Abu Dhabi, working—finally—with Brosnan, wrangling camels and his five-year China sojourn that ended at the start of the global pandemic.
The Avenue will release The Misfits in theaters Friday June 11, and On Demand and Digital Tuesday June 15.
Angela Dawson: Could you discuss assembling this international cast?
Renny Harlin: The casting started, of course, with Pierce Brosnan. I had previously—a couple of times—tried to make a movie with him. He immediately came to mind when I read the (Robert Henny and Kurt Wimmer) script. Then, when he was onboard, I wanted to build an interesting ensemble around him. I thought Tim Roth would bring some intelligence without being an imposing big guy (as the villain).
For the other roles, I’d been a fan of Jamie Chung whose known for playing strong, female characters. Hermione Corfield I’d seen in a very small role in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation and thought she was great. In terms of Mike Angelo—he’s from Thailand and is a huge star both in Thailand and in China (as half of the popular music duo Golf & Mike).
As I had lived in China, I knew him from there. It thought it would be interesting to mix it up and have this truly international cast. I like how it came together. Obviously, you need somebody internationally famous to play the main character in your movie to get it financed, but I also really like using new faces and up-and-comers to build a movie that feels fresh.
Dawson: You have a track record with popular action films including Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger. What’s the secret sauce of making a successful action movie?
Harlin: That’s a tough question, obviously, but it starts with the characters. You can have all the action in the world, but if you don’t care about the characters, if (the audience) can relate to the characters, then you don’t really have anything else other than spectacle for spectacle’s sake. So, you have to make sure the characters are relatable and that you have a plot that isn’t one that people have seen 1,000 times before and that it’s surprising and the characters are intelligent so that the audience will respect them.
Dawson: You have a sequence in which your protagonists have to cross the desert by camel. So how was it working with these animals? Did you draw some inspiration from David Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia in filming those sequences?
Harlin: They are interesting animals and not that easy to deal with as “actors.” And, yes, Lawrence Of Arabia was my inspiration forever, and I did revisit it again to get some inspiration.
You don’t think of little things like actually shooting people riding camels. I don’t know how they did those scenes 60 years ago where they had to lug in these huge cameras and didn’t have the modern communication devices we have now. That was an insane achievement. Of course, I can tell you that now, having shot in the desert, in the sand, it’s still pretty rough conditions with camels.
Just doing a scene where the actors are sitting on camels and talking, you don’t realize they’re a good 12-15 feet off the ground, so we had to have this vehicle mounted with a crane just to get to their level for the camel camera. That was the first real challenge. Then, just getting them to do what you wanted them to do, it’s a little tricky, and for the actors getting on and off the camels was another challenge. They were riding them for real. It’s dangerous and it’s difficult. Working with horses is challenging enough, but that’s easy compared to working with camels.
Dawson: There’s a story about how you filmed one scene in Pierce’s hotel room on a day when weather prevented you from shooting outside and you needed a nice hotel room fast.
Harlin: It’s true. We quickly needed a location and the only location spectacular enough for the scene was Pierce’s room. That’s kind of unusual that you get to shoot in your star’s room, but Pierce is that kind of guy—very generous and lovely to work with.
Dawson: Your production company, Extraordinary Entertainment, is based in China and you shot three films there in five years. You seem to have been ahead of the curve in terms of Hollywood’s lovefest with China.
Harlin: I had tried to make a movie twice with Jackie Chan. He sent me the script for Skiptrace, and I thought, “The third time has to be the charm. Let’s do this movie.” So, I went to China without really knowing much about China except what (Westerners) know about it, just the cliché ideas of rice fields and people on bicycles. I started to become educated and began to see how advanced and modern the country is.
Yes, there is the countryside, where it feels like you’re traveling back 500 years ago and, on the other hand, there are the big cities that are more modern than anything you’ve ever seen. I fell in love with the opposites, the differences of the country. Because my first movie gave me a great take on (the country)—sort of a travelogue of the entire country because we traveled from up north near Mongolia all across the country to Macau, and saw a lot of things in-between. We saw a country with different climates and different kinds of people, different types of architecture and culture—I just fell in love with it. I happened to be the right guy at the right place at the right time. It was just a coincidence.
Dawson: What stands out as the most memorable part of that experience?
Harlin: The moviemaking experience was great. The Chinese way of making movies couldn’t be more different from the way they’re made in Hollywood, which is meticulous and very organized in terms of budgets and scheduling. In China, it was surprisingly improvised: you show up and kind of start making stuff up, and it takes however long it takes—whether it’s weeks or months or years and it takes as much money as it needs. I learned a lot from the Chinese crew and I was able to teach them about Hollywood ways.
The crew liked it because it was organized and the financiers and producers liked it because it was very well-planned and cheaper than what they were used to. So, it was kind of a lovefest, and they asked me to stay. They developed a movie and meanwhile this whole invasion by Hollywood was starting. They were sending over (studio) people for a few days for some Peking duck. I saw how little they knew about China. You don’t learn how China works by going there for a week. I had now spent more than a year there and I still knew very little but I knew that I knew more than these Hollywood types who had a little bit of what you’d call a superior attitude coming in. They’d say, “This is how it’s done,” but you can’t work like that in China.
Mutual respect is important and understanding the culture is very important. So, I saw a great opportunity there. They wanted me to work there. I liked working there. I was helping other Hollywood people there and educating the Chinese (film industry) about international filmmaking—both storytelling and the technical side of it. It became clear and made sense, so I stayed for five years. It’s shocking how quickly time flies. I started my own company there and I still have offices in Beijing and Hong Kong.
Dawson: Why and when did you leave China?
Harlin: I left Beijing right before COVID started. I left with one suitcase (expecting to return). Everything else was in my home and offices, and I still haven’t been back. It’s impossible to go back because of the quarantine and regulations right now. To be honest, the political climate hasn’t helped. If you’d asked me a year and a half ago what I see my future being, I would have said, “I’m going to be living in China for the rest of my life making movies there.” But co-productions there became pretty much impossible. I have many Chinese-American co-productions in development but they are right now impossible (to proceed) because of the political situation. And, COVID has had a huge impact on everything, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
Dawson: What are you doing next?
Harlin: I don’t know where my current path will take me but I doubt it’s going to be in China. So, I’m making The Refuge (in Bulgaria), which is a horror-thriller. It’s about a young US soldier who is returning to his wife after a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Everybody in his family thinks he has PTSD because his whole personality has changed but it turns out it’s not PTSD. He’s actually is possessed by a demon and it has to be exorcised. The movie deals with racial stereotypes and religious stereotypes because the possession is based on beliefs in the Muslim religion. The unexpected hero turns out to be an imam played by Raza Jaffrey (Homeland) who has to save this family. The young soldier’s father, played by Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels), is a racist who comes to realize that the only man who can save his son is the last person he expected, an American Muslim. The movie, while it is very scary horror film, it deals with some real cultural issues. I’m proud to be shedding light on these issues.