John Stockwell began his Hollywood career as an actor, and he’s still known for his appearances in such 80s fare as Christine, Eddie and the Cruisers, My Science Project and Top Gun, where he played Cougar against Tom Cruise’s iconic Maverick. He soon graduated to work behind the camera and today is probably best known for the likes of Crazy/Beautiful, Blue Crush, Turistas, and his newest film In the Blood. In an exclusive interview with Mania.com, he talked about his latest project and the road that took him there.
Question: What was the appeal of this project for you?
John Stockwell: I’ve always been a fan of these kind of tight little suspense pictures, with a little cast and a lot of tension. I’m a big admirer of the Kurt Russell film Breakdown, which has a similar premise to this one. You’re going along minding your own business and suddenly someone very near to you disappears. What do you do? This film was particularly interesting because the main character was a woman. I like showing strong, assertive women in my films and the heroine here was just right. Getting Gina Carano for it was perfect.
Q: How was she to work with?
JS: She’s eager and enthusiastic. She takes direction really well. People think of her as this tough martial artist, and she definitely gets a chance to kick some butt here. But I wanted to bring out a little more of her personality, and the way it’s reflected in this character. She’s a very light woman. She smiles and laughs a lot. She hasn’t had a chance to do that very often onscreen and I thought this would be a great opportunity for it. I think she has a lot to offer as an actress and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of it.
Q: Do you think your own background as an actor helps you with directing?
JS: In some ways. Acting is a balancing act and with directing you have a lot of things on your plate. But I think I understand a little more about where actors are coming from than I might have if I hadn’t had those experiences earlier in my career. I can show actors where we need to go more clearly and can convey to them what we need in terms that they can use.
Q: Any trepidation about shooting in the jungle, in Puerto Rico?
JS: There’s always some concerns when you’re out in nature because the conditions can change very rapidly. This was a low-budget film and we needed to make the time count. But Puerto Rico has amenities, and though you sometimes have to rough it a bit, you’re not quite in the jungle primeval. I had a solid cast and crew behind me, so we got it done in a professional manner. Truthfully, as long as no one gets injured and you have a finished movie at the end of it, that’s one for the win column.
Q: It used to be you could get films like this in the theaters without a lot of problems. That’s changing. The new realm seems to be VOD and cable stations, with the theaters being reserved for big budget movies….
JS: The business is changing and filmmakers need to change with it. There’s still markets for all kinds of films, it’s just a question of the platform being used.
Q: Are you more comfortable on smaller films? Do you think you’d be happier on a big-budget blockbuster?
JS: Small films have their challenges, with tight timelines and the need to make your dollars stretch. But with big budget films, you’re mostly trading one set of concerns for another. The inertia of those giant movies, those $200 million movies, can be tough to stop once it gets going, and you have to respond in a different way than you would with a smaller film. I’d love to take on that challenge if it was offered to me. But there’s a camaraderie on small films that I find I really like. When I was making Blue Crush, the cameraman and I really rolled up our sleeves and got down into the surf. It’s a challenge, but you come through it with a sense of the experience that’s just terrific.