Hitman In Theaters
"Hitman" - Based on the top-selling, award-winning videogame franchise, the "Hitman" is a genetically-engineered, elite assassin known only as Agent 47. His hallmarks are a lethal grace, unwavering precision, and resolute pride in his work. But even 47 couldn't anticipate a "random equation" in his life of exactitude: the unexpected stirrings of his conscience and the unfamiliar emotions aroused in him by a mysterious Russian woman. Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood; Live Free or Die Hard) stars in the title role, a mysterious and complex man of profound contradictions: He was bred from the world's deadliest criminals, but raised by an exiled brotherhood of the Church. His very existence seems to be a sin, but he wages a quiet war to rid the world of evil. He's brilliant, charismatic and charming - yet reveals little about himself, has no name, and is known only by the last two digits of a barcode tattooed on the back of his head. "Hitman" is the second feature from director Xavier Gens , who imbues the film with a look reminiscent of a graphic novel rich with religious iconography. Gens' approach to the material is, like its protagonist, stylized and cool. The producers are Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, Charles Gordon and Adrian Askarieh.
STARRING: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper, Ulrich Thomsen, Michael Offei
DIRECTOR: Xavier Gens
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
RATING: R (For strong, bloody violence, language, nudity)
Behind The Scenes
"Hitman" began its journey from game console to big screen when producers Charles Gordon and Adrian Askarieh, along with co-producer Daniel Alter, brought the property to Twentieth Century Fox. EuropaCorp, whose partners include filmmaker Luc Besson (whose directing credits include the classic action films "The Professional" and "La Femme Nikita") and producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, later joined the project. At the time, EuropaCorp was in post-production on Frontier(s), from young French director Xavier Gens. Besson and Le Pogam were so impressed by Gens' debut feature that they suggested that Fox executives take a look at some scenes from the film. "At the end of the screening," recalls Le Pogam, "the Fox executives said, 'Done! Deal! He's the director.'"
In addition to Gens' work on Frontier(s), which had its North American premiere at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, the producers and the studio were impressed by Gens' extensive experience in many other production capacities - from runner to first assistant director - on several large-scale action films. Moreover, Gens has a genuine and contagious enthusiasm for films and filmmaking.
"Xavier is totally passionate about movies," says Le Pogam. "He is in love with all of the tangible elements of filmmaking and with getting the best from actors. He's interested in the journey of a character from start to finish. Like other very talented people, he also has a gift for attracting a team of equally creative people in every department to work with him."
Timothy Olyphant credits Gens with his decision to take the title role in "Hitman". "Xavier is a real cinephile," says the actor. "Sitting down and talking to him about his ideas and what kind of movie he thought this could be was the closer for me. He got me very excited about the project."
In addition to his passion for films, Gens is an avid gamer, and he was thrilled to be asked to direct a film based on one of his favorite games: "Hitman", from Eidos Interactive. As a gaming enthusiast, Gens wanted to remain faithful to the game's unique style and spirit. As a filmmaker, he was determined to avoid the pitfalls of the videogame-to-film adaptations. "We wanted the motion picture HITMAN to tell an original and exciting story," says Gens, "and not just turn the game into a movie. Our goal was to make something 'real' out of an imaginary universe while respecting all of the iconic aspects of the game, which has a lot of devoted fans."
To that end, Gens and screenwriter Skip Woods retained much of the game's mythology and imagery, including 47's elaborate weaponry, sartorial choices, and trademark fleur-de-lis. "Skip wrote a great script from the source material," says Le Pogam. "It's a totally different approach but he kept all the beauty and the basic elements of the videogame and its main character: black suit, white shirt, red tie, bald, and barcode. The psychological ambiguity and the mystery of the "Hitman" are still there - where he comes from, what kind of education he received to develop his impressive skills.
"Agent 47 is a killer who doesn't take any pleasure from killing," Le Pogam continues. "He is a professional. He just does his job. And this is why he is so enigmatic. We are always considering why he does what he does."
Armed with Woods' script, an expert production team and a stellar international cast, Gens drew his inspiration from other films far removed from the computer game genre. "What attracted me to HITMAN was the originality of the different characters and the atmosphere - the graphic universe in which the movie is set," he says. "I thought I could make something really dark, a combination thriller and action movie."
In creating the film's title character Gens and Woods looked to the compelling loners more associated with Westerns or the solitary spies of Cold War-era thrillers. "I wanted 47 to be a kind of lone hero," Gans says. "He has a profound loneliness and an almost mythical quality."
Every fan of the "Hitman" videogame franchise undoubtedly had an actor in mind to fill the well-polished shoes of Agent 47. But after seeing Timothy Olyphant's performance in Live Free or Die Hard, the filmmakers knew they had found their man.
"When I met Tim, it was a real revelation," says Gens. "He has something interesting going on - he's a really nice guy, very cool, but he also has a 'dark' quality. I thought he could really pull off 47's search for his own humanity.
"The actor playing 47 had to possess physical strength, intensity, grace and elegance," Gens continues. "On the first day of shooting when Tim arrived on set, he was exactly the character everybody had been dreaming about."
Before taking on the role, Olyphant spent six weeks in a gym with a personal trainer, whose attitude Olyphant describes as, "Let's bring Tim into the gym for an hour and a half and see if we can't make him throw up." Olyphant also practiced with automatic weapons on a firing range. The finishing touch in turning Olyphant into Agent 47 was the shaving of his head to mirror the character's iconic bald pate. (Olyphant drew the line at permanently assuming the role: 47's barcode tattoo was applied by transfer before each day's shooting).
Olyphant is sanguine about going completely bald for the part: "I'll be honest," he says. "I thought the costumes were cool but the haircut -- not so much. The day they shaved my head, my first thought was, If only I could do this job with my hair. But you let go of that after a while because there's something about the shaved head and the tattoo on the back of the skull that is really striking.
"There is something very violent and cold-blooded about 47, but at the core he's a guy who's doing his job, day in and day out," Olyphant continues. "It seems like a rather lonely existence and he's emotionally detached from his work - I guess you'd have to be detached to do that job. But it's true of anyone in a very high level position who operates on their own. They try to keep things as simple, unemotional and organized as possible because it allows them to keep the mind clear and be able to do the work."
Agent 47's hyper-orderly life and clear mind are unexpectedly complicated when he meets Nika, a Russian prostitute who stirs Agent 47's conscience and makes him begin to question the nature of his line of work. Actress Olga Kurylenko says the role helps elevate "Hitman" beyond typical action movie fare. "I like emotion, and the film delivers that along with great action," she says. "When I got to the set and I saw how Xavier was directing it, that's when I understood that it was definitely far from all the other movies based on a video game. I hope people are going to really care for the characters."
"Nika is a catalyst in 47's internal struggle," says Le Pogam. "He's in the middle of all this political turmoil, embroiled in external conflicts, and dealing with people he needs to kill and with those who want to kill him. In the middle of all that, Nika appears. She is beautiful, tough and charming - and she cares about him. But he's not used to that at all. Nobody told him that people could have natural relationships, and that turns his life upside down."
Further complicating 47's mission is the relentless pursuit by Interpol agent Mike Whittier, who has been tracking the assassin for years. Like 47, Mike is a multi-layered character that Dougray Scott, the actor who plays him, thinks helps bring another dimension to the film. "It's always to the benefit of any action movie when you have well-rounded characters," says Scott. "It helps the film because it creates a sense of believability about the world the characters occupy. Anything that goes towards realism within the confines of the genre is a great thing. It's very easy just to sit back and say that because it's an action movie, it's all about the action. But it's not. Xavier understands that and all the actors understand that as well."
"Dougray is a really intense actor, he has something deep inside," says Gens. "When we first met, I spoke to him about the character of Mike in terms of his family. Mike is a real family man but he's also obsessed with catching Agent 47. The hunt for 47 is like a disease for him because it's a quest to catch the devil in himself. Dougray found interesting ways to add nuances to his character."
Joining Olyphant, Scott and Kurylenko in the cast is Robert Knepper, best known for his role as the villainous Theodore Bagwell on the hit FOX series "Prison Break." Knepper, too, appreciated the character shadings. "On paper, some of the characters, including mine, do terrible things," says the actor, who plays the role of a devious Russian agent in "Hitman". "Either you're the Hitman and you kill people, or you're the guy going after the "Hitman" who is also corrupt and kills people. And then you find the humanity of these characters and you realize that no one is all good, no one's all bad."
Also taking on a key "role" is the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, which stood in for the story's Russian locations. "We decided to shoot in Bulgaria because we had a lot of sets in the studio and locations with which to make a rich and imaginative world," says Gens. "The story mostly takes place in and around St. Petersburg but we wanted something with more of a 1950s or '60s Soviet spy movie feel - something cold and dark." To provide added richness and texture, the producers sent a second unit under the direction of Olivier Megaton to shoot a big action scene in South Africa.
"We wanted to make a dark, edgy movie which was beautifully shot, with well-drawn characters and a uniquely graphic look and feel," says Le Pogam. "Sofia has beautiful locations, including a cathedral, law courts, universities, and a train station. We put these very modern characters against architecture from different centuries to provide the film with the dark side we were looking for."
As he put the finishing touches on "Hitman", Gens reflects on his hopes for the film. "I want the gamers to be happy but I also want the audience to experience the movie as a kind of modern Western, something gothic but with a bit of poetry. There's a lot of emotion and there's some really strong action. Agent 47 is a violent man, but also a man searching his conscience. It's a story of redemption for him - a chance to find his own humanity and start a new life. Of course, whether 47 will achieve this is a key element of the story."