Monday August 12, 2002
New York. Cannes. Los Angeles. Hamilton Hamilton!? Im off to Hamilton, Ontario, steel capital of Canada, to visit the set of the new action adventure film Detention, starring Dolph Lundgren.
According to the press information the movie is set in a tough inner city high school where "drugs and guns are part of the unofficial curriculum." Actually the high school is the not-so-scary Glendale Secondary School, a fairly average looking facility in the suburbs of Hamilton but back to the story. Sam Decker (Dolph Lundgren) is a teacher who is disillusioned with the school system and wants out. Its his last day as a teacher, and he has been assigned to oversee a detention class after hours. In his class is a pregnant teen named Alicia (Danielle Hampton), Willy (Dov Tiefenbach), a bitter student confined to a wheelchair, Mick, (Corey Sevier) a skateboarder with attitude, the foul-mouthed Tee Jay (Mpho Koaho), the street-wise Hoagie (Chris Collins) and Charlee (Nicole Dicker) a troubled teen. Of course that alone wouldnt be much of a movie, so its at this point we discover that some generic Eastern European bad guys are planning on taking over the school and using it as a base for their nefarious operations. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Decker is a former U.S. Special Forces unit leader. Sit back and watch the bullets fly; its like The Breakfast Club with bazookas.
We arrived on-set at 11:15 few minutes later than planned. Ill let my poor navigational skills take the blame for that. North, south I get very confused when trying to read maps. I have two Tissot watches, one has a compass, and one doesnt. I must remember to always where the one with the compass when travelling anywhere even when just taking the streetcar uptown. I literally have no sense of direction. Anyway, we arrive to find that things are running slightly behind. This is pretty much status quo for any film set, so we occupy ourselves by setting up an interview area in an abandoned classroom. I dont know about you, but I still get the willies when I am in a high school classroom. The smell of the chalk, the desks, and the stacks of textbooks reminds me of a lifetime ago when ruler wielding teachers always seemed to be yelling, "Richard! Report to the principals office right now!" Those feelings of dread passed by the time we started to set up.
While we were waiting for the first interview of the day I passed the time by chatting with the prop guy Andrew. He showed me the wide variety of fake guns used in a production like this. There are rubber pistols used for clubbing the bad guys over the head, realistic looking plastic machine guns that pop when you pull the trigger and electric guns that produce authentic sounding gunfire. Hes very protective of the props. The guns are quite expensive, even the small rubber pistol costs about $300. He also had an array of American text books (the movie is set in the US), portraits of George Washington, bullet proof police shields, squibs, and bows and arrows.
The first interview was with the star, Dolph Lundgren. Hes a huge man. Im almost six feet four and he towered over me, and is very pumped up. He looks the same as he did in Rocky IV, although he doesnt really speak with the thick Russian accent. Hes actually from Sweden, although his accent sounds more American than anything else. He came to us directly from the set, so he was in costume, with dirt smudged on his face, with a tourniquet on his leg. Hes an imposing guy, which, I guess, is why hes done so well in the action genre.
After meeting him, I realized that peoples perceptions of him have very little to do with reality. His on-screen image is just that, an image. In person he is soft spoken, funny and introspective, a far cry from the gun totin ex-Marine or superhero that he usually plays on the screen. He came to the United States in the early eighties to finish his Masters degree in Chemical Engineering. The acting bug bit him while he was attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the Fulbright Scholarship. When I asked why he left the world of academia to become an actor he said, "I got tired of shaking test tubes." I pushed the issue with him a bit, and tried to discover a link between his academic studies and his work as an actor. He joked that as an actor the only thing his science background helped him with was "counting large sums of money." He was funny and charming and answered each of my questions thoughtfully. When he left the room he thanked me for asking him interesting questions.
Next we waited as one by one the rest of the cast came into the classroom for their interviews. We were grabbing them between shots, and as this was the last day of shooting the schedule was pretty crazy. First up was Dov Tiefenbach, a young Toronto actor who has two movies at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, and will also be seen in the soon-to-be-released Vin Diesel film Knock Around Guys. He plays the wheelchair bound Willie in the film, and is a very funny guy. I didnt so much interview him as sit through his six-minute monologue on everything from the ringing in his ears caused by the gunfire to how to manoeuvre his huge wheelchair from scene to scene.
Another Toronto up-and-comer was next, Mpho Koaho. He went to Clinton Street Public School, and has recently been seen in Salton Sea with Val Kilmer and the television show Doc. He told me the best part about working with director Sydney J. Furie was the amount of improv the actors were allowed to do, and since this was an action movie he didnt have to watch his language. When this movie plays on TV look for a lot of beeps during Mphos performance.
By this time it was about one oclock and we took our meal break with the cast and crew. As regular readers of my on-line diaries will know I always write about the food. As we sat in the school cafeteria at long tables I had an urge to yell "Food fight!" and see if I could get something going, but I think that was just another flashback to my school days. Lunch was very organized and tasty. Two long tables with many choices of salads, hot and cold entrees and desserts. I had roasted potatoes, broccoli salad, beets, roast pork and a delicious peanut butter cookie. Dolph didnt eat with us. He told me he was in training for this film and had to be very careful about what he ate. After seeing the great shape hes in I felt badly eating the cookie. Not badly enough to not eat it, but
Back at the classroom things were slowing down a bit. We had to wait a long time between interviews while they were shooting action scenes in the hallway. It was a little unnerving sitting inside the classroom and hearing screaming and very loud gunshots just outside the door. Visions of Columbine were floating through my head, and I had to wonder what Michael Moore, director of the anti-gun documentary Bowling for Columbine would have had to say had he been there.
On a quick break from shooting we were able to grab three more of the actors. Danielle Hampton plays the pregnant Alicia. She looked familiar to me, but I couldnt quite place her. A quick look at her resume reminded me that she had been in Ginger Snaps, a movie I really liked from last year, but I knew I knew her from somewhere else. Then she told me she used to work at Sassafraz Restaurant where we shoot Reel to Real. She was followed by Corey Sevier a busy teen actor who was recently nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series by the Los Angeles Youth Awards. He plays Mick the rebellious skateboarder, and is destined to become the heart throb of the group. Next was Chris Collins, hot off the set of Bulletproof Monk, another action film shot in Toronto over the summer. In fact, he worked on Detention and Monk at the same time for several weeks. I asked him if he had been injured during the course of shooting, and he showed me a gash on his nose. He took a punch to the face a few days ago and got cut. That has healed, but to keep continuity make-up artists had to recreate the cut everyday.
I really enjoyed meeting all these young actors, although by the end of the day I was feeling really old. Most of these kids were born in the eighties. I have socks older than some of these guys.
More waiting around. Did I mention that there was no air conditioning? The lights from the film crew were sucking so much power they had to shut down the air con to keep from blowing fuses.
Finally we were down to our last couple of interviews. Kata Dobo is a Hungarian actress living in Los Angeles. She has a list of European films and television shows to her credit, although North American audiences would have last seen her in Rollerball. In Detention she plays one of the villains, and came into the room in costume thigh high leather boots, bright pink wig and tight fitting black body suit, carrying her prop gun. "If I dont like your questions," she said pointing at the gun, "I might have to use this." I asked her about how she prepared for her role. "I tried to make her sexy," was her reply. Whatever she did, it worked.
The other villain, Viktor, is played by Joseph Scoren. Aside from Detention, youll be able to catch Joseph in two movies that will be open in Canada within the next year, Who Is Cletis Tout? With Christian Slater and Chicago: The Musical. We talked about playing villains, and he told me that it was important to find some core of humanity in the role, no matter how ruthless they might be, otherwise nobody will believe the character.
With the interviews done we shot some behind-the-scenes footage, and watched director Sydney J. Furie at work. He didnt want to be interviewed, and thats a shame because he has been making movies in Canada and Hollywood for forty-five years. Hes helmed dozens of films, including Lady Sings the Blues with Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams, The Ipcress File with Michael Caine and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace with Christopher Reeves. At age 70 he still works steadily directing two films a year. I would have loved to pick his brain, but he was too busy and couldnt spare the time. It was impressive to see a journeyman like him at work. He stayed calm and collected, even as intricately choreographed action sequences were being shot by four cameras. Add to that gun fire and stunts and it is a pretty high pressure scenario, but you never would have guessed it from watching him. He was the model of composure.
We left the set at six pm for the sixty-two kilometre drive back to Toronto. It had been a long day, but we got some great footage, which will be on Reel to Real in late September, just after our Toronto Film Festival coverage wraps up.