A lot can happen in an abandoned warehouse. Maybe that’s why so many action movies have scenes set in one. Free Fire sets the entire movie in one, with Sharlto Copley and Sam Riley as two players in the gunfight melee.
Copley plays Vernon, an arms dealer trying to make a sale. Things start out sketchy when he brings the wrong guns, but they go really bad when Stevo (Riley) gets recognized by one of the others. Riley and Copley spoke with reporters in a roundtable interview in Los Angeles last week. Free Fire is now playing.
Q: Was it managed insanity on set?
SR: Yeah. Very well managed really. No one wants to hear an actor complaining about their job, do they really, in this day and age? It was uncomfortable at times. It was just filthy. After a point, we wouldn’t bother with the makeup trailer because there was nothing you could do to replicate where we’d left off the day before. So we’d just go into the big warehouse and just start rolling around and putting your face in big piles of dirt.
SC: It actually got quite technical at one point because one day I was lying in something. I don’t know how it got there. It was feathery, almost looked like pollen, or bits of paper. Then it wasn’t there the next day so I’m walking around looking for a very specific type of dirt to lie in, which I found.
SR: You’re busier as well when we were on set. In the beginning especially, we weren’t always sure where you might come into frame at some point during a take. Everybody was a great sport. There were people, Brie Larson lying in case you saw her feet while you were doing your closeup or something. There wasn’t a huge amount of waiting around. It was a lot of work. We used to do these mad takes at the end of a week where the camera’s really wide. We’d do 10 minute takes of everything we’ve done that week.
Q: Were there any heat of the moment ad libs that made it into the final cut?
SR: Quite a lot.
SC: Tons. Ben [Wheatley] would do a take on the lines, on the script, and then he would do a take where you could just do whatever. I’ve done that before. What I’ve never done is then also what would happen is as they started to see what was coming out in the improv and as they saw what we were bringing, I think they made the film a lot funnier as we progressed and what it is on the page when we started. That was something that Ben had said he was very open to right from the beginning. What would happen is Amy, who was his writing partner and wife would go away and you would see the next day they’d com with some different ideas and pages and different ideas for dialogue based on what they’d seen the day before. So it was this ongoing collaborative molding with the character which was great.
SR: It became tailor made for you as they saw how you were and she had a talent for seeing what would suit us even before we’ve thought of it sometimes. There’s quite a lot of it. On the first day, you kicked it all off to me. Then it was kind of okay, here we go. It’s gonna be like that.
SC: They’d shot without me because Vernon comes in later so everything was shot in sequence. They knew I was doing South African accent but I don’t think I had done the voice that I was going to do. So I arrived on camera and put the case down and went, “Okay, guys.” I could see all of their faces for real going, “Is he going to do this the whole time?” These guys came up with a great ad lib that’s in the movie of, “What the f*** is that accent? Is that Swiss or Austrian?” I love throwing stuff at people and seeing what happened. I remember Noah Taylor once, for me improv either happens as the camera’s rolling or just before I’ll think of something that I’m going to do. I was doing this thing where I was going to go under the van and I was like f*** it, I’m going to go under. I’m going to tell Noah that I’ll give him my watch, I’ll give him my Rolex if he gets the case. I just thought about it as they were rolling the camera. I was like, “That’s great. See what he’s going to do.” I did it, I hit him with the line, I think I’m so great and instantly he’s like, “It’s fake, boss.” He coms back at me and I was like, “Oh man, that’s so good. It’s so good.” So those little battles that happen, or not battles but they’re just fun things of what’s he going to say if I do this to him?
Q: What did you get for your character out of the ‘70s accoutrements?
Sam Riley: Well, there’s a lot about the character really, isn’t there? Because there’s a very short amount of time to introduce yourself as a person.
Sharlto Copley: To the audience.
Sam Riley: So a lot of it is sold on how we look and our choices of styling. It was a bit like how it is on set with the performance itself. It’s also quite a collaborative way, the most collaborative I’ve ever developed a look with a costume director. I loved it. You did look the business.
Sharlto Copley: I love this guy. He’s my favorite character in the movie too so it all just works out great.
Sam Riley: When we arrived, we’d all grown mustaches.
Sharlto Copley: The ones with the skinnier mustaches had to shave.
Sam Riley: Well, they let me keep my little ratty thing because it suited me.
Sharlto Copley: Finally, my hairy self was useful. In a day when people are trimming their arm hairs, there’s not a lot of rolls for the hairy man. But there was. This one worked out very nicely.
Sam Riley: The hair was genius. I remember seeing you get it ready.
Sharlto Copley: I arrived with black hair and a monstrous beard and I knew I wanted to shave it down to just a ‘tache, but I just grew it all out at the same time anyway. And then spent 11 hours trying to get my hair to go blonde from black. Then I came out the next day and bragged to everyone with the outfit and the hair. It was terrible.