KTEP - El Paso, Texas

'Skyscraper' Director Made A 'Love Letter' To The Classic Action Blockbusters

Jul 7, 2018

A new movie is coming from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson — former pro wrestler, current action movie superstar. It's called Skyscraper.

It brings together lots of threads. The world's tallest building! On fire! With thousands of people inside! Including the hero's beautiful family! Johnson is of course the hero, a one-legged war veteran who must save the day.

There are lots of scary moments, lots of tension, and — if you are afraid of heights — lots more tension. The director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, is writing and making his second film with Johnson.

"I am scared of heights," Thurber says in an interview. He's speaking from the 116th floor of a hotel in Hong Kong, avoiding the windows. "My mom's scared of heights; I'm scared of heights. Yeah, I guess maybe I made the wrong movie. Maybe I should have made Ranch House or something."


Interview Highlights

On coming up with the stunt where Dwayne Johnson jumps across a gap from a crane into the burning building.

Well, I think a couple things. The first is: How do you get into a burning building when your family's trapped above the fire line, 100 stories in the air? 'Cause you can't go in through the bottom and climb your way up. So how do you do it, right? So first I faced myself with that puzzle, and then there's that lightbulb moment, and I remember it distinctly, and I got really excited 'cause I'd never seen anything like it, and it seemed appropriately over-the-top for this kind of picture. And then the sort of beats that you talk about, where Dwayne's character Will Sawyer first attempts to use the crane hook to get in, and then that goes wrong, and then he doubles back and is going to try another way but he can't and he's cut off, and he's forced to make this leap of faith — you know, this is all stuff that you learn from Spielberg, I suppose, in the escalation of tension, the escalation of problem that pushes you toward character, toward revealing character. So Dwayne Johnson has to make a choice. What does his family mean to him? What is he willing to sacrifice? What is he willing to risk? And it turns out: He's willing to risk everything.

On building moments of humor into a high-tension movie

You know, Die Hard is one of my all-time favorite films. It's on the Mount Rushmore of action pictures. But that movie is about three jokes shy of a straight-up comedy. Now certainly, Skyscraper isn't quite as funny as Die Hard, but we found the moments — the moments of levity. And I think the film is so tense, and people are gripping their chairs and kind of watching it through their fingers, that you want those moments of relief so people can kind of shake the tension out and laugh and then buckle up again.

On Skyscraper's place among this year's big movie releases, and if it's a good year for heroes

It's clearly a good year for superheroes. But I think that's what's so interesting about Skyscraper, is that it isn't about a superhero. We have sequels on either side of us — we have 11 sequels in sort of a five-week corridor — and we're the only original picture there. And we're the only picture that doesn't really have a superhero at its center, when you talk about these big tentpoles. And I'm really proud of that. And they don't really make these movies any more. Skyscraper is like the kind of movie I grew up watching: Die Hard, Towering Inferno, The Fugitive. I don't know, I guess it's my love letter to those movies.

Sarah Handel and Viet Le produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Friends and neighbors, a new movie is making its way to your town from The Rock - Dwayne Johnson, former pro wrestler, current action movie superstar. It's called "Skyscraper."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SKYSCRAPER")

DWAYNE JOHNSON: (As Will Sawyer) My family is trapped 240 floors in the air.

NG CHIN HAN: (As Zhao Long Ji) So what's the plan?

JOHNSON: (As Will Sawyer) Whatever it takes.

WERTHEIMER: It brings together lots of threads - world's tallest building on fire with thousands of people inside, including the hero's beautiful family. Johnson is, of course, the hero, a war veteran with only one leg who must save the day. There are lots of scary moments, lots of tension, and if you're afraid of heights, really lots of tension. The director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, is writing and directing his second film with Mr. Johnson. Thurber joins us to talk about "Skyscraper." Thank you so much for doing this.

RAWSON MARSHALL THURBER: Well, thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you are in Hong Kong, which is where the movie is set. Is that right?

THURBER: That's correct.

WERTHEIMER: Is it true that you are personally scared of heights? I mean, did you search your soul for something that would scare you to death?

THURBER: (Laughter) I am scared of heights. My mom's scared of heights. I'm scared of heights. Yeah. I guess maybe I made the wrong movie. Maybe I should have made a ranch house or something.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) Do you find skyscrapers scary?

THURBER: I do. In fact, I'm talking to you right now from the Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong on the Kowloon side. I'm on the 116th floor. And I'm very, very far away from the windows.

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: You do have some very high-value stunts in this movie. Dwayne Johnson climbs up the superstructure of a massive crane, which is - is this crane used in building the huge skyscraper or is it just parked out there?

THURBER: Well, in the movie, the super crane that Dwayne uses to jump off and enter the burning building is perched atop a building that's under construction adjacent to The Pearl.

WERTHEIMER: So The Pearl, which is the name of the skyscraper, he climbs up the superstructure of a huge crane, then realizes he's not going to make it, so he swings out on the hook of the crane and jumps across the gap when crane plus chain is not quite long enough to get him into the burning building. Now, I feel free to mention this in some detail because it's in the trailer.

THURBER: Yeah. It sounds like a great movie to me.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) Tell us how you arrived at the idea of a crane with a too-short chain and bursting through the glass of a burning building, yadda, yadda, yadda.

THURBER: Well. I think a couple things. The first is how do you get into a burning building when your family is trapped above the fire line 100 stories in the air? Because you can't go through the bottom and climb your way up.

WERTHEIMER: Right.

THURBER: So how do you do it, right? So first, I faced myself with that puzzle. And then there's that light bulb moment, and I remember it distinctly. And I got really excited because I'd never seen anything like it. And it seemed appropriately kind of over the top for this kind of picture. And then the sort of beats that you talk about were Dwayne's character, Will Sawyer, first, you know, attempts to use the crane hook to get in, and then that goes wrong, and then he doubles back and is going to try to - another way, but he can't and he's cut off and he's forced to make this leap of faith, you know, this is all sort of stuff that you learn from Spielberg, I suppose, in the kind of escalation of tension and escalation of problem that pushes you toward character, toward revealing character. So Dwayne Johnson has to make a choice. You know, what does his family mean to him? What is he willing to sacrifice? What is he willing to risk? And it turns out, he's willing to risk everything.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you, and I believe Dwayne Johnson as well, like to leave little scraps of humor around the wreckage of your movies, isn't that right?

THURBER: (Laughter) It's a nice way of putting it.

WERTHEIMER: It's interesting that you build up the scary tension, and then there's a tiny taste of humor, and then you go back to the bad stuff.

THURBER: You know, I mean, "Die Hard" is one of my all-time favorite films. It's on the Mount Rushmore of action pictures. But that movie is about three jokes shy of a straight-up comedy. Now, certainly, "Skyscraper" isn't quite as funny as "Die Hard," but we found the moments, the moments of levity. And I think the film is so tense and people are gripping their chairs and kind of watching it through their fingers that you want those moments of relief so people can kind of shake the tension out and laugh and then buckle up again.

WERTHEIMER: So did you think, you know, thinking about your audience and what does your audience want to see and all that kind of stuff, do you think this is a good year for heroes?

THURBER: It's clearly a good year for superheroes. But I think that's what's so interesting about "Skyscraper" is that it isn't about a superhero. We have sequels on either side of us. We have 11 sequels in sort of a five-week corridor, and we're the only original picture there. And we're the only picture that doesn't really have a superhero at its center when you talk about these big temples. And I'm really proud of that, and they don't really make these movies anymore. And this is like - "Skyscraper" is, like, the kind of movie I grew up watching - "Die Hard," "Towering Inferno," "The Fugitive." I don't know. I guess it's my love letter to those movies.

WERTHEIMER: Rawson Marshall Thurber - he wrote and directed "Skyscraper," which stars a really big, strong collaborator who climbs the building. The movie is out next Friday. Thank you very much for joining us.

THURBER: Linda, it was a real pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.