Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Steve Austin Interview, The Condemned

Steve Austin Interview, The Condemned
Original Post Date: 2007
Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline caught up with World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar Steve Austin at the Los Angeles press day to promote his new film, The Condemned, an adrenalin-charged action thriller directed by Scott Wiper from a script by Wiper and Rob Hedden. The Condemned co-stars Vinnie Jones (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, X-Men: The Last Stand) and Rick Hoffman (Hostel), and is produced by Joel Simon and executive produced by Vince McMahon, Michael Lake and Jed Blaugrund.

In this action-packed thrill ride, Austin plays Jack Conrad, a death-row prisoner in a corrupt Central American prison who is "purchased” by a wealthy television producer to take part in an illegal reality game show. Brought to a desolate island, Conrad finds himself trapped in a fight to the death against nine other condemned killers from all corners of the world. With no possible escape – and millions of viewers watching the uncensored violence online – Conrad must use all his strength to remain the last man standing…and earn his only chance at freedom.

Both WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and WWE Films producer Joel Simon had long sought to turn Steve Austin into an action film star. One of the best-known and most successful wrestlers of all time, Austin had already proven himself to be a capable actor, having appeared in The Longest Yard opposite Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, and played Detective Jake Cage in the television series "Nash Bridges.” But the producers had yet to find the ideal starring vehicle that would ignite Austin’s career as a bona fide action star. That is, until Austin himself brought them a script called The Condemned.

"We thought it was the perfect material to make as his first movie,” remembers Simon. "It was a great role for him, and it fit the kind of movies that we want to make at WWE Films, throwbacks in the vein of classics like Dirty Harry, Die Hard and 48 Hours. The Condemned is a character-driven, rollercoaster action film – with incredible action and a great story. It’s very real, and it’s very in your face.”

"You’ve got ten convicts who have all been condemned to die on death row,” explains Austin. "But then they’ve been bought up by a TV producer and put on this island to fight for their lives. And he’s going to broadcast this over the worldwide web. It’s taking reality television to the extreme, and I think it asks a few hard questions about our fascination with those shows. Of course, it’s also designed to take you out of your world for a couple of hours and give you a real rush!”

"We’ve become a society of voyeurs,” adds Simon. "The Condemned begs the question of who should now decide what we can or can’t watch. It’s a fascinating story.”

Both the producers and Austin recognized that The Condemned’s violent story line would require a physically demanding shoot. The story features many large-scale fights and extreme stunts; but for a seasoned WWE wrestler like Austin, that was hardly a concern. ”For me that was part of the attraction,” he says. "And it’s pretty much all filmed outdoors on incredible locations, and coming from a background of hunting and fishing, I thought I would enjoy that. And when I got together with Scott Wiper, I knew that WWE Films had picked the right guy for the job. He’s an excellent writer and a wonderful director, and I knew I’d be in good hands.”

Steve Austin is a fabulous guy and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what he had to tell us about his new film:

Q: How did you come to the project?

Steve Austin: The project came to me actually. I had moved to Los Angeles about three years ago to kind of get into the acting thing, and two years ago the script found me, an agent brought it to me, and wanted me to play the part of McStarley, Vinnie Jones’ character, and they said, ‘We’ll basically put a named actor into the Jack Conrad role.’ And I said, ‘Let me read it,’ and I read it and it sounded good, I took it to Vince, he’d already started the WW films division, I was originally slated to – The Marine was written for me, but when they got ready to shoot I didn’t think I really liked it that much, so I was going to wait. So anyway, when I took this to Vince, Vince said, ‘Okay, we’ll do it. But if I’m getting behind this, and I’m going to put my money out, you’re going to play Jack Conrad.’ That’s how that happened.

Q: What’s Vince like to work for as a movie producer?

Steve Austin: You know what, hands on in the initial phases of reading the script many times, when this script came to me, we gave the original writer three different swings at it, and he couldn’t really take it any further, bringing into the picture Scott Wiper, the writer/director, who rewrote it nine times and did a phenomenal job on it, is a wonderful director. So Vince is hands on then, but when it comes time to direct the movie, Scott Wiper was the director, so he trusted him to make all the decisions as far as casting and everything else, and of course, he worked with Joel Simon and Mike Lake out there, but that’s when he stopped being hands on and let Scott Wiper, the director, do his job.

Q: What were the challenges for you filming on location, we heard from the director you guys were on an island where there were hardly any amenities?

Steve Austin: The lack of amenities was okay for me, because just from growing up in south Texas and hunting and fishing and camping. I pretty much stayed in my bus most of the time anyway, because I didn’t feel like driving back into town, so to me it was almost like being paid to camp out and make a movie. Tough locations, some treacherous conditions as far as fighting on the side of cliffs, in the river gorges and slippery rocks and stuff like that. But it was all real safe, challenging I think for everybody, but because I enjoy the outdoors so much I loved it.

Q: What about working with Vinnie – that last fight scene was intense?

Steve Austin: The fight scene was a great fight scene. I remember we had two days blocked off for that and it took eight days to do, because we were standing there in the riverbed, we had these special boots with moleskin on the bottom of them so we wouldn’t slip around so much, which didn’t really help that much, but we’d fight for ten minutes and the rain would come down, and we’d stand in the river for three hours with umbrellas, and we’d get a break, and so then we’d start fighting again, and with no stretch, and the rain would just stop, so you’d go up completely cold and start fighting again. I really enjoyed that fight scene and it was fun working with Vinnie because the guy’s a riot. He’s a walking wise guy, so we had a lot of fun pulling jokes behind the scenes, but he’s a great guy to work with and I had fun fighting with him. [Laughs] I think he got a couple bumps and bruises and a few knots, that was my fault, but that’s kind of the way The Condemned happened.

Q: How does the fight choreography in the film differ from stuff that you do on television?

Steve Austin: It’s a completely different ballgame, and when people say, ‘Because of your background with professional wrestling, you must have been really able to pull off these fight scenes.’ And I say, ‘No, no, you’re completely wrong.’ Because at the top level of professional wrestling, you don’t choreograph anything, you don’t set anything up, you work in ad lib, it’s improv. You’re doing something to illicit a response from that crowd. Based on that response, you go accordingly and you make decisions continuously. You’re working on the feedback from that crowd. You’re dictating to them, but when you get that response that you think is going to happen, you keep going. So then you take a loose brawling style which I incorporated in the ring and the technical fighting aspect that a guy like Jack Conrad should have for the military background, and then all of a sudden I have to take a new fighting style and remember a choreographed fight move for move. It was very frustrating until I just kept doing it over and over again and then getting the hang of it, but I have to give credit to Richard Norton and Sam Greco, the two guys that were basically training me, and it made for some frustrating days until I started getting the hang of it. But completely different, athletic ability required in both, execution way different.

Q: Did you do your own stunts?

Steve Austin: No. I did not do the major stunts in this movie. We had great stuntmen and women and they did an outstanding job. I did all of my fight scenes one hundred percent, that was all me, but we left the big stuff to the guys who are excellent at what they’re doing, and we had good ones.

Q: Did you work with them to help them, or did they help you?

Steve Austin: No, I don’t claim to know everything about the movie business. I’m very proud of this movie, I’m proud of my performance, but I’ve got a lot to learn and I learned a lot on this movie set, so those stunts guys would come around to me and we’d talk and carry on, and as they saw me walking across the parking lot, they were starting to mold themselves after me so they could pick up my physical characteristics, the way I did things, and that’s kind of the way they worked. We’d shoot the breeze and have fun, but when it came time for them to study or do what they do, that’s what they did.

Q: What have you got coming up now that you’ve moved to L.A. and are full on into acting?

Steve Austin: With WWE Films this is the first picture of a three picture deal. We’ve been trying to find for the last few months something to start shooting asap. I think right now, because of my comfort zone, I would imagine it’s going to be something a little more action oriented, hopefully with a good story. I think The Condemned has a great story. It’s a lot more than a mindless action flick. Something that’s going to be more solo-driven, I want to carry more weight in the movie, it’s going to be something that I’m going to have fun making, and I think I still need to do something that my core fan base completely expects me to be in. A movie like The Condemned, completely different, but the same adrenaline type packed thing with a good story, lots of action.

Q: You said it’s the first of a three picture deal, would those other pictures involve the same Conrad character or something completely different?

Steve Austin: We’ve talked about doing something with the Conrad character, because the way this thing turns out, and I did the movie but I’d tell you if I thought the movie was average. I would. I love the movie and I’m proud of it, and I’ll stand by it all day long. We talked about doing something like that, the next one probably won’t be, but if we could get something out of it we would, or will.

Q: You’re in fantastic shape, is there any chance that you would go back and actually wrestle again?

Steve Austin: If The Condemned doesn’t do well, I might be forced to. [Laughs] No, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. I’m extremely frugal, I saved all my money and paid my taxes. No, I’ll tell you why, and I tell everybody this, if I wanted to, I could go back and get into the ring and I could make two years of flat out, full schedule, on the road and doing everything it takes, and I would perform from the top level because I’m a top guy in that business, but I look down the road now and I think, okay, so I did those two years, what am I going to feel like in 10 or 15 years after that? And I think for a long time I always thought I was bulletproof, and back in those days I was bulletproof, but as you get on, you start thinking a little bit about the future and I love living and I love life, and I love hunting and fishing, and I want to be able to do it was long as I can and do it pain free.

Q: How’s the neck and the knees?

Steve Austin: The neck is great; the leg braces were for wrestling, part of my gear, part of my uniform, part of my equipment. In The Condemned, if you saw the movie, that’s all me; so I’ll go toe to toe with anyone in an action movie.

Q: How do you like LA compared to Texas?

Steve Austin: I’ve been here three years, and I still make adjustments every day. I love Texas, but I know LA’s the place to be. And Los Angeles, in it of itself, is a cool city, great weather; the traffic is brutal, the real estate prices are sky high. It took me a long time before I could even think about buying a house because very, very small houses cost a lot and for that lot, you could buy a mansion in Texas. But I think it’s a very interesting town, and when you look at the entertainment aspect of Los Angeles, when you realize what the business is all about, and you realize where people are coming from, and what the town is about, the agenda that everybody has, what the system is – it levels the playing field. When you first come out here, you think everything’s on the up and up, you’d like to think that, but it’s not; this is a tough town. I’ve been in the entertainment industry – wresting, but the entertainment industry since 1989. If you have thin skin, you’re going to have a tough time in this town, but I’ve got thick skin. We’re going to take it on the chin from a couple people on this movie, but with my experience, everybody’s going to enjoy this thing. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have a good reason to stay here, because I’m gonna be busy.

Q: Is there any good fishing in LA?

Steve Austin: [Laughs] No, I went to San Diego; we go shark fishing off the coast of San Diego. We caught a few, but no, I wouldn’t eat a fish in LA, other than the ones in a restaurant. I live in Malibu and Venice, but I’ve heard bad things about the water. So, no, I’m not going to go fishing in LA.

Q: Do you throw them back?

Steve Austin: The sharks? They didn’t get thrown back; we did eat them.

How are you going to promote the film through the WWE?

Steve Austin: I’ll tell you what, they’ve made some unbelievable vignettes and packages and stuff that they’ve been broadcasting on all their shows through the WWE on their end; that’s how they’re doing it. Lionsgate’s doing their end. I’d answer that question more, but that’s all I know, this is my first gig; I’m not trying to play the dumb guy, but that’s how we’re going about it.

Q: Have you modeled your career on anybody? I’m thinking like Arnold Schwarzenegger who had a career as a body builder and then went on to acting.

Steve Austin: No, because it’s so early on. I don’t think I’m at the stage where I can say if I could have or if I can have. When I got into professional wrestling, I started and I starved for two years, and I finally got some breaks. And then I didn’t get any breaks and then I finally got the biggest break, and I made the most of it and took wresting to its highest level ever. I think I did things my own way and I never tried to model my wrestling career after anybody, but forged my own path, and certainly made my own share of mistakes, and learned from them. So I think I take that approach into the movie business. I know it’s a very tough industry, I know it’s a tough town, I know you need some breaks, but I have somewhat of a name. All I need is to make it a bigger name with the mainstream. But I have a core fan base, who I know is going to help me out; but I just have to be smart and make my decisions. And I’m going to screw up every now and then, but if I learn from that, and I’ve surrounded myself with some very good people that I’m happy to be with at Paradigm. And so I think with a good team, and thinking positively and working hard, I’m looking forward to making good things happen.

Q: As a viewer, what kind of films do you enjoy watching?

Steve Austin:
I love action films, but I love Cool Hand Luke, I love Paul Newman; I can eat 50 eggs, nobody can eat 50 eggs. Cowboy Luke says he can eat 50 eggs, then he can eat 50 eggs. I love Shawshank Redemption, I loved Million Dollar Baby, there’s a lot; I just saw Blood Diamond the other day and enjoyed that. There’s a lot of good stuff out there that I enjoy, but certainly I enjoy action movies. Because of my career in professional wrestling, I do like the adrenaline part of an action movie; but as far as just the ‘Steve Austin’ part of me, I enjoy a regular type. Here’s one – I enjoyed The Notebook; my girlfriend wanted to watch The Notebook, and I’m checking my email. I always like to look at the MLS (multiple listing service) to see what the real estate market is doing out here. She goes, ‘I’m going to watch The Notebook, are you going to watch it?’ I said, ‘No, you go ahead.’ So it’s there, and I start looking up, going back on the internet, I start looking up; I started looking at my computer less and looking at the TV more. By the time it was over with, it was actually a good movie, so I enjoyed that movie, believe it or not.

Q: Who do you look at in pro wresting now who’s having a good career?

Steve Austin: I’ll say the person doing the best job right now is a guy named John Cena. Now, when I say, ‘I was the highest you can get,’ so I look at it from a different approach than anyone else would. Probably like you guys watch a movie differently than normal people do, because you people talk about movies. If we all watched a wrestling match together, I would see something completely different from you ‘cause I know what’s going on there so I know the business. But right now I think John Cena’s doing the best, and I think kids love him. I think he’s a person that corporate sponsors love ‘cause of his squeaky clean image. He’s a good guy, he really is that guy, so I think he’s doing the best. But if I was there – very edgy, but number one. [Laughs]

Q: But John Cena’s a Red Sox fan, so there’s a blemish. Are you a Red Sox fan?

Steve Austin: I’m a sports fan. I was at a San Francisco Giants game the other day, two days ago. I’m not saying I’m a Giants fan, but I enjoyed watching Barry Bonds get up to the plate and swing, because when he stepped in there, you’re looking at a big part of baseball history and the crowd knew it and the players in the dugout knew it and everyone who watches Barry Bonds. The mystique about him, because he’s hitting so many home runs and is probably the greatest player to ever play the game, but just standing in there, he commands respect that’s very interesting to watch. But I follow all sports, I don’t tend to have favorite teams, I follow players. Like I like LaDainian Tomlinson from the San Diego Chargers because he’s a class guy, doing great things with the football, and just as far as the football goes, he’s the best that there is right now, but on top of that, he’s a class guy.

Q: With all your improv skills, would you ever want to write or direct?

Steve Austin: Sometimes, I’d sit there and think, ‘You know, it’d be neat to get behind the camera and act,’ but then when I watch what Scott Wiper did in this movie – his attention to detail, everything so well thought out, and he’s such a good people person, he’s such a good listener, such a good leader -- and I think there’s so many little things I would have missed as a director in this movie. Sometimes I think, ‘You know what? I could have a pretty interesting take on a lot of things.’ But the complete take – I’m a guy that’s good at putting salt and pepper on a steak, not presenting the whole steak. I think that’s what Scott is good at. And so I think, ‘No, I can’t direct;’ and then when I think about the writing part of it, there’s so many deals and different layers to writing great screenplays – or whatever you call it – I don’t see it happening. So I better try to brush up on my acting chops and keep going there – or I will be back in the ring. [Laughs]

The Condemned opens in theaters on April 27th.

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