A glorious Australian winter’s day welcomed cast members Sienna Miller, Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, and Rachel Nichols, as well as director Stephen Sommers and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who made their entrance via speed boat to Simmer at the Bay, located in The Rocks.
After posing for a couple hundred happy snaps, the group took their places and fielded question from a room full of eager media journalists - including yours truly –despite us not having viewed the movie.
“It would be so much fun to do a press junket after the film came out”, would later state Sommers, and it is quite clear that he means it, since this a filmmaker itching for people to watch his film, for he has something to prove with recent speculation has Sommer’s on the outs with Paramount Pictures, and his film deemed a turkey before it even hit cinemas.
But despite the derision, Sommers and his crew stand defiant, with Sydney their first stop of a worldwide trek to promote G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
One would imagine that a major draw to star in a film like G.I. Joe would be the chance to have an action figure – those palm sized pieces of plastic made in China for cents and sold at your toy store for dollars – made in your likeness.
It certainly enthused Sienna Miller: “It’s not the prettiest doll, but it’s really exciting. I’ve got some happy nieces and nephews. But it’s a very surreal experience having a doll. I think certain things have been slightly enlarged!”
Yet as producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura is quick to remind, G.I. Joe – just like his Transformers – is more than some toy movie.
“What is great about (G.I. Joe and Transformers) is that people call them toys, but we don’t view them as toys at all” said Di Bonaventura. “They are mythologies. There are a tonne of characters, and one of the first things we had to do was decide which characters of the many, many characters of the mythology we would choose from.”
Indeed, the G.I. Joe universe is vast. Toys, comics, a cartoon series, all hold a different appeal to budding fans, with Sommers drawing inspiration from one main source: “The comic books. It had all of these great characters with a lot of depth and back stories, and we do a lot of flashbacks, as you will see in the movie... This film is fantastic beyond belief, but at the same time I wanted to fell as real as possible. With this movie I wanted the audience to understand the characters...and there are two romances in the movie, and that is what also drew me to it.”
One of the romances mentioned features fan favourite mute ninja Snake Eyes (played in the film by RAY Park), and intelligent expert Scarlett, played by Rachel Nichols. “Snake Eyes and Scarlett have a great relationship,” stated Nichols. “In the mythology he is very much the protector of her, and there is a mystery behind their relationship. But in this movie he is somebody who looks out for her constantly, and when Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) bursts onto the scene, he is the first guy to start flirting with her, and Snake Eyes is very protective and tends to threaten with his sword. I think that is a nice idea, to have a big brother protector who is always there. With swords. And ninja abilities.”
But for all of Sommer’s declarations of a character driven film, let’s not get too confused: G.I. Joe is an action movie, first and foremost.
“There is an action scene in here that will stand up against any movie, any time,” boasted Di Bonaventura. “It was incredible. There are many wonderful action scenes, but one of them –as I have said to Stephen – is as exciting and demanding an action scene as you will ever see.”
Tatum enthusiastically agrees: “It was single handily the one scene that made me want to do the movie, until I realised that I wasn’t doing any of it at all!”
CASTING AMERICAN HEROES
While Transformers could rely on cutting VFX to bring their robotic creations to life, G.I. Joe had to undergo the task of casting actors in roles which are near and dear to many. Yet for Sommers it was not something that kept him up at night.
“It is interesting, because we didn’t have anything in mind,” stated Sommers. “I just met these guys and talked to them, and then they did it themselves. They made these great characters come to life. So it just fell together. It was not planned. I didn’t say I needed this person or that person. Somehow the casting process was quick. We had all of the strikes last year, so we had a very short prep. So we started making phone calls and meeting people, and pretty quickly the cast came together.”
The cast for G.I. Joe is a mix of American and European talent, headlined by the unlikely choice of dramatic actress and tabloid mainstay, Sienna Miller, who plays the villainous The Baroness.
Said Miller: “I just loved the variety of it and doing something completely different. It was a great project, a really fun role, and I got to learn how to fire guns and how to fight, work with a great director and a great cast, and I just wanted to break from the emotionally exhausting roles I was doing before, and have some fun”.
Yet what was clearly not fun for Miller was her black leather costume: “Five months of talcum powder and squeezing myself into that suit was enough to last me for a lifetime.”
Yet while Miller may have the celebrity factor, G.I. Joe’s real star is rising actor Channing Tatum, who stepped up to the plate and take on the role of the ever popular Duke, which was an experience that held some significance for him.
“It’s more than I could probably try to explain,” said Tatum. “I did a little dance movie (Step Up) and that thing went nuts. Now all of a sudden I’m doing G.I. Joe, and I played with G.I. Joe’s when I was a kid. Now I’m Duke and it is beyond my wildest dreams. And to get to see the film last night...everyone is gonna go for a ride!”
ENTERING A NEW WORLD
With a cast of mostly action virgins assembled, they had to place their trust in action veteran Sommers, whose credits include The Mummy and Van Helsing.
CGI was used immensely during the shoot, leaving many to rely on Sommers’ instincts and experience.
“Stephen kept saying “trust me, trust me”, and it was really hard,” said Tatum. “You feel like you’re four years old again and playing in a card board box, and you’re like (mimics gunfire).”
“But that was the fun part”, continued Wayans. “It was a lot of ultimate acting. Stephen would yell “there is an explosion right now”, and there is nothing but a green screen! It definitely forced you to use all of your chops.”
Yet there was also room for plenty of live action effects work to take place, with injuries a common occurrence amongst the cast.
“I won’t say who, but somebody has burnt breasts”, motioned Sommers to Miller.
“They’re not on the actual breasts! But you know, we were genuinely blowing things up,” stated Miller. “All of the effects that you see, a lot of them were actually happening. That is what gives it its integrity, but it was dangerous.”
“Stephen is the type of director who makes you do your own stunts,” continued Wayans. “He blew up a whole building, and I was behind a car, and it was so hot! And I was like, dude, I’m black, we have all kinds of flammable stuff in our hair...”
To at which point Sommers states: “CGI is expensive. It is better to throw the actors in there and make it real.”
INTERNET COBRA COMMAND STRIKES
With principal photography finished, Sommers heading into the editing room to complete his passion project. Yet controversy would rear its ugly head in the form of an internet rumour which spread like wild fire, stating that a test screening brought the lowest ever results in Paramount history, and as a result Sommers was fired from the film.
It was false news which dumbfounded and outraged Sommers: “I was kind of surprised since I was in the editing room when they told me. I had phone calls coming in saying that I had been fired and replaced. So I was rather shocked. (But) that is crazy about the internet now. I have final cut. They couldn’t throw me out if they wanted to. And clearly when you see the movie you will realise how silly that was. They even said, “This is the worst testing movie in Paramount...” oh, that is crap! When you see the movie you will know that it is false, rather than have me sit here and deny it. It is discouraging.... I had my nine year old come up to me and ask: “Daddy? Did they fire you because your movie is not good?” She was looking me up on IMDB.”
And Sommers puts down the backlash to one reason: “Ain’t It Cool News love to hate. Internet movie critics love to hate, (and) supposedly a bunch of them are freaking, because they have seen the movie and they are so bummed that they can’t be able to hate this movie.”
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra will be released for both lovers and haters on the 6th of August through Paramount Pictures Australia.