Wanted: Timur Bekmambetov
For his first film for an American studio, Kazhakstan-born Timur Bekmambetov scored not only a cutting-edge comic book series to adapt, but an enviable cast that includes rising star James McAvoy and Academy Award winners Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman.
But it was the setup for the comic-book series Wanted, in which cubicle-dwelling loser Wesley Gibson learns he’s the heir to the world’s greatest assassin, that most attracted the director to the project.
“I think the comic book is the first act of the movie,” says Bekmambetov, who admits the rest of the film is only tangentially related to Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’ Top Cow comic book. “He wants to change his life, he wants power to destroy things. The movie, the second part, provides the reason to be so bad.”
The director says what makes Wanted work is Wesley’s sad life and how he changes it. “He has no chance to escape,” Bekmambetov says. “It’s a very important starting point.”
The Wanted comic book was very obvious in its movie aspirations. Jones drew Wesley to resemble rapper-actor Eminem and Jolie’s character The Fox as Halle Berry. Bekmambetov says he felt free to disregard those casting suggestions and feels he has improved on them.
“I didn’t picture Eminem to play Wesley. I saw him differently,” he says. “I think Eminem is not representative enough for a big worldwide release. James McAvoy is going to be easy to identify with.”
McAvoy, whose star has risen quickly in Hollywood based on performances in such critically acclaimed fare as The Last King of Scotland and Atonement, captures the spirit of Wesley’s arc from loser to confident killer and beyond, the director says. “He’s still alive (at the start). It’s very important. It’s not like in Fight Club, where (Brad Pitt’s narrator) is really depressed and down — with James there is an optimism.”
The director, who still lives in Kazhakstan, was hard-pressed to come up with an influences for the high-octane sequences in Wanted, citing “every movie I’ve ever seen,” computer games and a few innovative visual effects films such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Matrix.
The film’s extensive and innovative action sequences earned the film an R-rating, and prompted extensive discussions with Jolie, who convinced the director that the film would not show innocents being killed by the assassins.
But the biggest challenge of making Wanted was simply to finish the film, which took two years to make. Bekmambetov also says it was a challenge for him to get into Wesley’s head and understand him as “an American boy-man.”
Bekmambetov, whose previous films include Night Watch and its sequel Day Watch, says his next project will be announced shortly, though he says it will involve what he calls a “new type of the martial arts.” He’s also developing a number of projects, including a film based on Christian Gossett’s Soviet-themed sci-fi comic book series The Red Star.
Asked whether he’d consider returning for a sequel should Wanted be a success at the box office, Bekmambetov said anything was possible. “If the audience decides (there should be a sequel), we could figure this out.”