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Extraction 2 director Sam Hargrave is part of a current wave of stuntmen turned directors, and so he’s routinely mentioned in the same sentence as John Wick co-creators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Hargrave actually cut his directorial teeth by creating stunt-viz and fight-viz for the likes of Stahelski and Leitch, as well the Russo brothers, Gavin O’Connor and Francis Lawrence. And so when Hargrave got called up to the majors to direct 2020’s Extraction, starring Chris Hemsworth, he executed the action filmmaking at such a high level that Netflix knew they had a franchise in the making, pre-release.
Hargrave admits that there’s good-natured competition between him and his contemporaries, even if John Wick: Chapter 4 made him doubt himself ever so briefly.
“If you’ve seen John Wick: Chapter 4, it’s a masterpiece. Sometimes, it makes you want to go home and hang it up and say, ‘Yeah, there’s no reason to keep going. These guys are so good,’” Hargrave tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But then there’s another part of you that wants to keep going because you feel like you’ve got a story to tell … So, yes, I would say there’s definitely a friendly competition that keeps me going and keeps them going, but the competition is mostly with yourself.”
Prior to the release of Extraction, Netflix started having sequel conversations based on positive test screenings, but the rub of the situation was that the film had killed off Chris Hemsworth’s heroic mercenary, Tyler Rake. So Hargrave and his team reunited for some additional photography, which resulted in the concluding swimming pool scene that’s set eight months after Rake’s death. Rudhraksh Jaiswal’s Ovi, the teenage boy who Rake protected from a Bangladeshi drug lord, emerges from the pool and turns his head to see a blurry figure that resembles Rake, alluding to his survival and a potential sequel.
However, Extraction 2 does not offer any clarity on the moment, especially since the timeline of Rake’s nine-month recovery from near-fatal wounds doesn’t align with the timing of that swimming pool scene. According to Hargrave, the sequel simply became too convoluted when they attempted to connect the dots.
“It did (get too convoluted). There was a draft of the script (with Ovi), and we even shot a piece in the hospital where we brought the character of Ovi back into the story,” Hargrave says. “Ultimately, because Tyler is going to save a family with another teenage kid, we didn’t want to add too much confusion for someone who hasn’t seen the first movie. And so to take Tyler away from the main story of saving this family from a prison and having him do a detour to revisit that swimming pool scene from his point of view, it was just too much for this movie.”
Prior to the release of Extraction 2, the film’s marketing campaign let the cat out of the bag that Idris Elba would appear as Alcott, a mysterious handler who sets Tyler’s new extraction in motion. Elba’s casting began with a phone call from Hemsworth, given their shared history together in the Thor franchise. So, if all goes well, there’s a lot more to come involving Elba.
“We’re looking to expand the Extraction universe in potential subsequent films, and so we wanted to surround Chris with really talented actors that bring an interesting energy to the screen and have great chemistry with him. And so Chris had a couple names in mind, and he made a couple phone calls. And then we landed an amazing actor (in Idris Elba) for this movie,” Hargrave shares.
Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Hargrave also breaks down the 21-minute oner that he had to design twice due to the production’s last-minute move from Australia to the Czech Republic.
Well, based on the data that we have, the first movie seemed to do quite well. How quickly did the sequel conversations begin?
Probably before the movie came out, actually. When it was testing internally, we saw the desire of Netflix to have an action franchise in their stable, so to speak. They were very excited about the possibility, and they loved working with Chris. AGBO is also a big client for them. So we did three test screenings with audiences around town, and then they started to talk about a second movie, internally.
During the making of the first movie, did everybody discuss a contingency plan for Tyler’s survival in the event that there was demand for a sequel?
I never did. Maybe AGBO had one. Maybe (screenwriter) Joe (Russo) had one in the back of his mind, but in the script that I got, he died at the end of it. It was a one and done, and I was happy to have the chance to direct a movie. I don’t want to compare it to this, but I was excited to have a movie like Gladiator, where it’s a complete story. A guy completes his journey and then moves on. So that was how I directed it, and once people started to screen the movie and enjoy it, then the sequel conversations started popping up.
So, when we went back to get some additional photography, we planned a very ambiguous ending, because, yes, there were talks of a sequel, but we didn’t know how it was gonna be received. If it totally tanked, we’d just leave it as is and fade away in a memory. But we purposefully did that out-of-focus shot at the pool, so you could argue in the parking lot or on your couch with your friends and say, “I think Tyler Rake is alive. I want more Tyler Rake.” Or you could say that his journey was complete, and the kid (Rudhraksh Jaiswal’s Ovi) was just seeing things. It was the pool cleaner. (Laughs.)
Speaking of that swimming pool epilogue, the new film doesn’t really add any clarity to that moment that’s eight months after the events of the first movie. In the new movie, Tyler leaves the hospital nine months after the events of the first film. Did the story become too convoluted when you tried to tie that swimming pool moment into this new story? Maybe it really was the pool cleaner.
It did (get too convoluted). There was a draft of the script (with Ovi), and we even shot a piece in the hospital where we brought the character of Ovi back into the story. But we wanted to make a sequel that honored the first film and moved Tyler’s story forward for new viewers, in a way that’s less confusing if they saw the second movie first. And ultimately, because Tyler is going to save a family with another teenage kid, we didn’t want to add too much confusion for someone who hasn’t seen the first movie. We didn’t want someone to say, “Wait, who is this kid? How is this related?” And so to take Tyler away from the main story of saving this family from a prison and having him do a detour to revisit that swimming pool scene from his point of view, it was just too much for this movie. So I appreciate that you wanted some clarity, but it was too much to bite off in this movie.
Once Tyler is discharged from the hospital, he’s put up at a remote cabin, and there’s a brief moment where he watches some other country’s Dancing with the Stars. Was this your way of trolling Chris’ own Dancing with the Stars past?
(Laughs.) 100 percent. But I wouldn’t say trolling; it was more like paying tribute to his past. So, however he feels about it, positive or negative, it was something that he did, and it was a nod to his experience on that show.
Remaining on the subject of Chris’ past, Idris Elba has a cameo/small role that bookends the film. Did Chris engineer Idris’ appearance himself given their history together in the Thor franchise?
Yes, he did. That was a Chris call. We’re looking to expand the Extraction universe in potential subsequent films, and so we wanted to surround Chris with really talented actors that bring an interesting energy to the screen and have great chemistry with him. And so Chris had a couple names in mind, and he made a couple phone calls. And then we landed an amazing actor (in Idris Elba) for this movie.
You, Chad Stahelski and Dave Leitch are three of the more prominent stuntmen turned directors in recent memory. Is there a friendly competition between you guys? When you watch their work, does that inspire you to up the ante even more?
Definitely. Those guys are two of the best, whether it’s stuntmen directors or just directors in the action space. If you’ve seen John Wick: Chapter 4, it’s a masterpiece. Sometimes, it makes you want to go home and hang it up and say, “Yeah, there’s no reason to keep going. These guys are so good.” But then there’s another part of you that wants to keep going because you feel like you’ve got a story to tell or things that you want the world to see. So, yes, I would say there’s definitely a friendly competition that keeps me going and keeps them going, but the competition is mostly with yourself. It’s the voice inside your head that either goes, “Ugh, I’m not good enough,” or, “I have to keep going because my life will feel unfulfilled in some way.”
I’ve had many conversations with Chad over the years, and he’s got some very strong opinions on the subject of oners. Have you ever debated oners with him?
We’ve talked about it briefly, yeah, and in John Wick 4, he does his own amazing oner. I just love what he did with it, and all of his work is incredible. For me, the oner is a way to embed the audience in the story, non-traditionally, so to speak. And this is my point of view; (Chad) can argue his. But a oner is a little more like a video game or an interactive play. Traditional cutting and coverage is traditional filmmaking, and that’s how it’s been done for a long time. So the idea of the oner is to follow a character through a scenario and experience it with them in real time. It’s its own version of forced perspective. Yes, the camera is looking where I want you to look, however, it feels a little more organic than putting the camera over here and then cutting to over there and forcing the audience to see and feel something. The oner allows the audience to feel something during the course of these action sequences, and it’s one way to differentiate yourself. I’m never going to be able to out-kick and out-punch and out-choreograph (Stahelski and Leitch), because they’re the best. So the best I can do is to offer a slightly different perspective on action and say, “This is how I see it. This is how it’s fun for me to experience it.” And hopefully, audiences appreciate that when they watch it.
I love how Daniel Bernhardt is the tie that binds all your movies. You, Chad and Dave have all taken turns killing his characters.
(Laughs.) Yeah, shout-out to Daniel Bernhardt. It’s less that we put him in our movies and more that his talent and expertise and skill speaks for itself. He just begs to be put in movies because he’s got such a great look. There were times on our show when our DP (Greg Baldi) and I would look through the lens and say, “Man, he’s out-shining the other actors on screen. He’s distracting. We’ve gotta move him a little further away.” He’s got such a classic cinematic look that the camera loves, and he’s a great stunt actor, man. He can act, period, but his action is some of the best in the business.
Despite all the technical achievements in Extraction 2, I thought you did a really nice job weaving multiple family stories throughout the mayhem, including Tyler’s family, siblings Nik (Golshifteh Farahani) and Yaz (Adam Bessa), Ketevan (Tinatin Dalakishvili) and her two kids, and then the Georgian crime family itself.
Well, I appreciate that. It was the goal. We wanted to deliver on what the first movie delivered on, which was high-level action, and then we wanted to elevate the story as much as we could. The first one was all about Tyler and his redemption story. That was the thread that pulled us through however thick or thin. So we tried to just expand on that and weave a few more strands of emotion throughout Extraction 2. So I’m glad it worked for you.
Alright, so the 21-minute oner. Is that the official number we’re going with?
21 minutes and 7 seconds, but who’s counting? (Laughs.)
The extended sequence includes a prison extraction, a car chase, a foot chase and a train battle. How did you get the ball rolling on such a massive undertaking?
Well, the prison portion was the first inkling of a second movie. That was the first conversation that Joe Russo and I had about the sequel. It was him, saying, “Hey, what if we open the movie with a prison escape and it’s all a oner?” And I was like, “Sounds awesome. I’m in.” And then the placement of that sequence moved throughout, but that was the conception. Once it was in script form, it was written down as the “greatest oner in cinema history,” because it reads well. It was also called a sequence that rivals Oldboy, which has that amazing one shot. So that was a lot of pressure, and I went, “Wow, how do we live up to those words?” And so the prep starts.
I do most of my creative thinking on location. I’m still thinking as we go and prepping on a dual track, but if the fight team is working on fights and gun work on the side, then I’m scouting and trying to find locations that would be beautiful, cinematically, giving us a lot of depth and lighting opportunities. You also want to find locations with a maze of complications, not necessarily for production, but for our character. They still end up being very complicated for our production. (Laughs.) So we started with the planning and scouting phase, and once we found the locations we liked, then it was putting the four different pieces together. It was a huge puzzle.
We had the prison, the car chase, the small foot chase and then the train. And one of the most difficult logistical challenges was the order in which we had to shoot because of actor schedules, rehearsal time and location availability. So we actually started with the ending; we shot the train first. It was very challenging because you have to make decisions while knowing that you haven’t really shot the other parts, so you don’t know exactly how it’s gonna go. You might want to change your mind, but now you can’t because you’re backed into it. If there’s this much blood and bruising on Tyler or he’s burned on one arm, then you’re locked into that because you’ve shot it now. So, working backwards from that, it limits the creative choices. On the first movie, we shot in order, so we’d change things around as we went because we could.
So, starting with the train, the necessity was the sheer amount of rehearsal and manpower it took to accomplish, and it all had to be laser focused. It was three weeks on location with everybody, and we rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed, so that everyone knew what was happening on day one of shooting. That way, everything could flow smoothly and we could be a well-oiled machine. We spent seven days in the mountains of the Czech Republic to shoot this train sequence on a moving train. We landed a real helicopter, with five stunt performers inside, onto a moving train. It was wild. We had Chris Hemsworth standing on the front of a real train, firing a minigun with a real helicopter ten feet in front of him. You had helicopter blades buzzing super close, and that was Fred North, who’s the best stunt pilot in the business.
So all of those logistical safety challenges had to be worked out ahead of time in order for it to go smoothly, and because of competence built through rehearsal and preparation, you have the ability to make a few adjustments. One of the challenges of a oner is that you’re really limiting your choices later. You’re having to make bold choices in the moment knowing that you don’t have a B-camera to trim something or a get-outta-jail-free card or a different way of editing it. We’re also mixing dramatic moments with action moments, and you want to make sure that you’re not just blowing right past the emotion. You have to stop and check in with your characters, and we’re not just following Tyler through the escape. So there were a lot of different points of view to service, and that made it a very challenging oner.
Was there a terrifying moment in post where you realized you were missing a piece?
Well, there were different iterations of it. There was a time when we were like, “Let’s chop it in half. Let’s chop it in four pieces. Let’s skip past this bit.” But then it ultimately came down to trusting the process and trusting the fanbase to be willing and able to go on this ride with us. We asked ourselves, “If we set up the emotion strongly enough and they’re on board with these characters, will they follow us for 21 minutes and 7 seconds?” But at a certain point, it’s overload, and there’s so much going on that you’re like, “Wow, what is happening?” I liken it to the Family Guy joke of when Peter bangs his knee and he keeps saying, “Argh, argh.” It’s funny at first, but then it goes on a little too long and you’re like, “What are you doing? This is not funny anymore.” And then it keeps going and it gets funny again because you realize now that it’s self-aware. So, for the action stuff, you’re like, “Wow, this is crazy. I’m in it.” And then you’re like, “Okay, this is a lot, but they’re gonna get on a train now? Wow.” And then you’re back into it, at least that’s the intent. Who knows how it plays, but the intent was to take people on a ride that they’ll hopefully never forget.
Someone will have to check the Guinness Book of World Records, but at this point, you must have the record for taking down the most helicopters in a movie.
(Laughs.) The reason I get a good laugh out of that is because we cut out a couple helicopters that we took down. There were too many! When I read the script, I was like, “Joe, do you have something against helicopters?” Every helicopter goes down, and we tried to service that as best we could. But we should check the Guinness Book of World Records. I would be very interested. I wonder if Arnold holds that record in Commando or something.
You were supposed to shoot the film in Australia originally, so how different would the oner have been if that location stuck?
That sequence was actually originally designed for Australia. That was where we were shooting for a number of different reasons. We had a prison, we had a forest, we had a train and a lot of those gags were built around the stuff we found in Australia. The difference would’ve been the cold. By the time we started shooting, it would’ve been summer in Australia and we were trying to double for winter in Eastern Europe. So it would’ve been a tough challenge because there are certain things on screen that are hard to fake, one of which is the breath and that feeling of cold. You can do it with CG, but it doesn’t quite feel as real. You don’t have that visceral reaction when you see the actors in the cold and in the snow, so it would’ve definitely changed the feeling.
A lot of the action stuff would’ve been similar because it was designed there, and we were actually there for many months. We were only a few weeks away from shooting in Australia when we had to pack up and move to Prague. So a huge lesson for me was learning how to let go of preconceived notions and reconceive based on where you are in the moment. We had to let it all go, and so we didn’t have our original prison anymore. And I kept finding myself going, “Gosh, this is so hard. It was so perfect in Australia.” So I had to let it go and ask myself, “What’s the reality now?” And in Prague, the reality was that we had to break it up into two different locations because the (replacement) prison didn’t have the courtyard that we needed. So we had to find what we needed in different places and adapt and overcome, but it was a good lesson in filmmaking and in life. It’s about what you can do to affect the present moment with what you have and not be caught up in how it used to be or how you wish it was.
The movie ends in a way that treats a third film like a foregone conclusion. Are you feeling confident about its chances?
I don’t think any conclusion is necessarily foregone, especially in this business, but as far as I understand, there is a third movie in the works. It is definitely something that is a desire for Netflix. I know Hemsworth wants another one, so I definitely think that’s happening. Now, how it’s gonna go, what the story is exactly and when that will happen, a lot of that is based on the reception of Extraction 2.
Extraction 2 is now streaming on Netflix. This interview was edited for length and clarity.