Walter Hill switches things up in “THE ASSIGNMENT”Movies/TV,News Adam Lee Price
My jaw dropped about five minutes into the film, then fifteen more minuets into the film…it happened again. So, needless to say by the twenty minute mark of the sci-fi/gangster/gender-bender film, I was hooked. Staring Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver, THE ASSIGNMENT is the latest project from acclaimed filmmaker Walter Hill.
Now out in select theaters as well as VOD, THE ASSIGNMENT follows Frank Kitchen, (Rodriguez) a male chauvinistic, gun-for-hire who unwilling undergoes a sex change operation performed by a crazed surgeon (Weaver) with a personal vendetta. After waking up as a woman, Frank begins to hunt down the men responsible for his gender reassignment in hopes of finding the surgeon responsible.
Yes, this sounds insane, and if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I would have thought someone made it up. However, it works and writer/director Walter Hill is here to give readers an inside look on how THE ASSIGNMENT came to be.
FANGORIA: Where did the idea for THE ASSIGNMENT stem from?
WALTER HILL: It started out as an original script and story that Denis Hamill that he wrote back in the late 1970s, the original title being TOMBOY. It developed from there and it’s been 40 years in the cooking. So, I had optioned it 20 years after I first read it and I allowed the option to lapse; I’d written a script that I didn’t like. Then I ran across the original material again and I think based on the TALES FROM THE CRYPT, I had done in the meantime, gave me the idea of how to pull this material off; how to organize it as a story and stylistically.
FANGORIA: There is also a graphic novel of the film as well. How did that come about?
WALTER HILL: What happened was I now have the script I wanted to shoot, it was revised a bit after that but I have the script I wanted to shoot, based on the kind of TALES FROM THE CRYPT approach. So, I took the script to my agent and he immediately said, well nobody is going to finance this, this story is too weird. Then, I was on my way to Munich for a film festival there and they were doing a retrospective on some of my films and my agent said stop in Paris on your way back. There’s a guy there, a producer, and he might be attracted to this. Of course when someone says stop in Paris, you don’t have to be asked twice. So while I was in Paris I contacted the publishers who had published a graphic novel that I had written a year or so before, it was a gangster piece. I told them about the story and they read it and they said they’d like to do it as a graphic novel. So, as I was getting the movie financed, we made the deal to do the graphic novel. The graphic novel came out in Paris last May and it’s now been translated into English.
FANGORIA: The characters in the film are, to say the least, quite unique. How did you go about casting these roles?
WALTER HILL: The four main characters are really perfect casting. Sometimes you just get lucky and hopefully you can bring some intelligence to the decision making. But at the same time, you never quite know how it’s all going to work. Sigourney’s part was actually written for a man and I switched it to a woman because the kind of mad scientist thing would be much fresher if I brought a woman sensibility to it.
FANGORIA: Had you always had Sigourney in mind for that role?
WALTER HILL: Sigourney was the first person I sent it to after switching the sex and knowing that the situation would be pushed further if she agreed to do it; she brings so much. When you’re casting it’s not always someone’s ability to play the part, you also have to be very aware of what people bring to the film from previous films; the image and the star persona shall we say. I thought that Sigourney would be very good and not only could she physically handle the part but she also brought such a reservoir of positive characterizations. And even though what she was playing here was, shall we say a somewhat twisted persona; there would still be a residual of respect and affection from the audience for her.
FANGORIA: And that there was, specifically during a rather intense moment in the film when Sigourney offers a sort of confession to past crimes committed.
WALTER HILL: Well, that scene was a rather small seen originally and after Sigourney and I started working, and she only worked about six days, I could see this scene was working and I could see it was way under written. So, I took out my pencil in my hotel room and and that weekend drafted it up. So she not only had this really big speech, this monologue she had to do, she had no real significant amount of prep time. She had to really learn it very quickly and she did it magnificently, fabulously played. We shot that sequence, which on some films I worked on would have taken two or three days, we shot in about two hours.
FANGORIA: Both Rodriguez and Weaver play pretty horrible people. How was it creating such villainous characters?
WALTER HILL: I didn’t want just a villain. I wanted somebody with a very big sensibility. In fact, that was Frank Kitchen, Michelle’s [Rodriguez] part. I think one of the jobs I set out for myself was I wanted both the audience and the characters to have grown with each other. The characters shall we say, we didn’t try to turn them into saints, they were sadder but wiser about who they were. And even though these two lived very wicked lives, the audience would have a degree of sympathy for their plight. I think the movie actually kind of does that, there’s this kind of wistfulness to the ending. I would say, almost every good story ends with a tear, and this one doesn’t end quite with a tear. But, I was trying to get some ambiguity into the villainy, even at the comic book level.
FANGORIA: Now that the film has finally made it to the big screen, did you feel you accomplished what you had set out to do since its inception?
WALTER HILL: You play the cards you’re dealt. It’s a story that stuck with me and I don’t like to use the word obsession or anything, but it stuck with me for a number of years. I thought it would be a good story, I thought it would play. I also thought it would be very difficult to get anyone to understand why you should make this one. But I think, in the end, it is a good story, it does play, and I’m hoping that the movie has a good reception.
Check out an exclusive clip from THE ASSIGNMENT below: