'Extraction 2' director Sam Hargrave loves putting Chris Hemsworth through hell
The stuntman-turned-director discusses why it's so much fun making Thor's life miserable.
At some point in between getting thrown out of a fifth story window dressed as Captain America and fighting the hordes of Thanos on the plains of Wakanda, stunt performer Sam Hargrave and Avengers: Infinity War co-director Joe Russo took a break to talk about…comic books.
Russo just happened to mention he had a script based on the 2014 graphic novel Ciudad he wrote with his brother Anthony and artist Andre Parks that he thought would make a great movie—more to the point, he thought it would make a great first movie for Hargrave to direct himself.
“Joe said to me, ‘Hey, this might be a good first one for you,’ which is crazy thing to say,” says Hargrave. Cut to 2020, and Hargrave’s Extraction, starring Chris Hemsworth (“We looked over and saw Chris swinging his hammer and were like, ‘Hmmm…is that Tyler Rake?’”) scores huge for Netflix during a time when the pandemic has shuttered movie theaters.
With his confidence boosted, Hargrave and his team set out to amp up everything for the sequel, which has just been released on Netflix.
With one holy-shit-how-did-they-do-that? sequence after another we had no choice but to, well, ask him how he did it.
Is your goal going into these movies “How much can I beat the crap out of Chris Hemsworth”?
[Laughs] Partially, yeah. I mean, the challenge is you don't want to just carbon copy the first movie and give the audience the same thing but bigger, which sometimes happens in sequels. It's more like, how do you take that idea, and that feeling from the first film that people enjoy, and grow and expand and make it its own thing, while staying true to those roots?
So yes, beating up Tyler Rake, that's in the movie’s DNA, so we had to beat him up more. But also trying to learn more about who he is and deepen the relationships between him and his team, between Tyler and the people he is rescuing, learn more about his past.
You’d been a stunt performer in the MCU for a long time. Do you have a favorite or signature stunt?
I mean, there's a lot of them, but one I could definitely point to was in the Joss Whedon Avengers movie, when there's an explosion at the bank and Captain America goes flying out the window and lands on the car—that was me.
Parts of Extraction 2 feel like a video game in the best way—the action sequences seem to level up in intensity as it moves along. Were you influenced by gaming at all?
Maybe subliminally. I really didn’t play many games growing up—I think the last video game was GoldenEye , which dates my video game experience. [laughs] But what I do appreciate about games is how well that medium does immersion. The entertainment is taking up another level because you’re consuming the action and participating. So tried to kind of bring that to this, where we wanted the audience to feel the adrenalin and feel the pain. Hopefully that comes across.
There is one sequence in particular that is off-the-charts insane—essentially, Tyler has to fight his way through a full scale prison riot in a fenced-in courtyard. Was that a logistical nightmare to shoot?
It was a dream! For some people maybe it would be a nightmare, sure, but for me, it was an exciting dream. But it was a challenge, too. We had hundreds of performers on camera, there's no digitally enhanced people—that's all real, in camera. We had an insular layer of 70 stunt performers who were interacting directly with Chris. And a layer beyond that were what we call “action extras,” so specialty background performers, they're doing fights with each other, but not interacting with the main characters. And then beyond that, we just had background performers. So we had these layers of people, with it was really snowing, we were shooting at night, and it's below zero. We did that over the course of three nights.
Do stuntpeople keep a mental list of crazy stunt ideas in their heads? Like, “One day, I’m going to try THIS in a movie…”
Of course! Even this movie, what makes it in the final movie is probably a quarter of what you've come up with. And so it becomes, “What can fit into the next movie?” or “What from the Marvel universe that we didn’t get to do could we change slightly and put into this movie?” Yeah, you carry with you a suitcase full of tricks.
Please tell me the Avengers were going to fight Thanos using hotel gym equipment and you stole that scene for Extraction 2?
Actually, that gym sequence was inspired by YouTube fail videos. Stunt teams do sit around and look at these crazy things. And it's like, "Hey, how can we incorporate that in a way?" The treadmill gag especially came from that. Because it's entertaining and you think, “How can we put that in an organic way to our movie so people can share that enjoyment that we do watching these things on online?” Yeah, we take from everywhere, man.
How did you figure out you wanted to be a stuntman?
The first thing I remember seeing video of me, I think I was five years old—I had these cowboy boots on that came up to my knees and a hat, and little mask, and little holsters that came down to my ankles. I was trying to recreate a scene I'd witnessed in a rerun of the Lone Ranger, where the guy gets shot and he rolls down a hill. I would do that over and over and over. Then once I started doing martial arts, and was introduced to Hong Kong cinema and Jackie Chan films, it was over—that was definitely my path.
Finally, do you think the Oscars should have a Best Stunt category?
I do. I think it's an art form, just like there's a category for best visual effects. And stunts have been around since silent movies. I think it's as artistic and as impactful to storytelling as some of the other art forms, so I think it is definitely worthy of a category. Now, will it ever get there? I don't know. But I would vote yes for stunts in the Oscars, absolutely.
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