Lawrence Bender is mostly known (by film fanatics anyway) as Quentin Tarantino’s producer. Starting with “Reservoir Dogs,” Bender has faithfully produced just about everything Tarantino has been involved with (minus “Grindhouse”). And, while he has produced other projects outside the sphere of Tarantino (including notably, “Good Will Hunting” and “An Inconvenient Truth”), this year is something of a landmark for Bender – not only is he about to unveil his kick-ass action movie “Safe,” but Quentin Tarantino is going to release a film that he didn’t produce. We talked to him about “Safe,” why he thinks Jason Statham is so appealing, and what actually went down with Tarantino.
We first wondered what brought him to “Safe,” which isn’t exactly outside of his genre wheelhouse (Jason Statham’s mysterious stranger versus hordes of Chinese and Russian mobsters), but is more broad and commercial than most of his output. “[‘Safe’ director] Boaz [Yakin] brought me to it,” Bender explained. “I produced his first movie, ‘Fresh’ [as well as his second movie, the little-seen ‘Price Above Rubies’]. He wrote ‘Safe,’ he sent it to me, I read it and thought it was commercial but elevated. I liked the idea of this guy who, by saving this girl, saves himself. Structurally, too, the way he has it all come together appealed to me.” But it really came down to Statham’s character: “I think the main thing was a really cool character set in this crazy world.”
Bender was quick to characterize Statham’s appeal: “The camera just loves him. He’s like Steve McQueen, a type – with all of this charisma. Guys want to be him, girls want to be with him.” But it goes beyond that – Statham was actually intimately involved with the creation of the film’s furious action sequences. “Boaz designed and storyboarded all of the action sequences, then we had our action choreographers which were very involved in the execution of this stuff, but then Jason had a very innate understanding of what worked on camera,” Bender explained. “So once the fight was choreographed, whether it’s certain type of a punch or certain type of a flip, he had his input and was very integral to the filming of it. He just knows his style so well. He does almost all of his own fighting and stunts. He knows what sells.”
One of the niftier aspects of “Safe” ‘s production was that it was split between New York City and Philadelphia, pretty seamlessly. It’s something Bender was very happy with. “First of all, there’s nothing like shooting in New York. There are not a lot of cities like this,” Bender said, as he gazed out of a window overlooking downtown Manhattan. Still, practicality steps in. “But we couldn’t shoot the whole thing here because it is so much more expensive.” They would even cut between locations in the course of one scene, which is pretty amazing. “Like we would have scenes where we would be in one corner in one section, maybe Chinatown, and we’d shoot the scene facing this crazy stuff and we’d turn around and shoot the other half of the scene in Philadelphia.”
What Bender wants audiences to get out of “Safe” is pretty straightforward, though. “I just think it’s a really entertaining, fun, edge-of-your-seat action thriller,” Bender said. “I think what audiences will get are seeing Jason up his ante as an actor. I think he’s always been good but I feel like he pushed himself a little more. And they’ll see some stuff they haven’t seen before in the action.”
But what did happen between him and Tarantino? We were bracing ourselves for the potential uncomfortable story about the long-standing work partnership, but if there’s a juicy story to tell there, Bender wasn’t telling it. “He just decided he wanted to see what it would be like to work with someone else,” Bender said. “We have a great relationship, we’ve worked together a long time, but he just wanted to see what it was like with somebody else. And I told him if he needs anything, I’m there.”
If Bender doesn’t end up sticking with the whole superstar producing thing, he always has acting to fall back on, including a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo in “Safe.” “This is totally off the record, but we’re talking about centering the Oscar campaign around my performance…” Bender joked, pausing dramatically before he added: “as the bartender.” And what does his performance consist of, exactly? “I get killed heroically and beautifully.” Sounds like a Lawrence Bender production to me.
“Safe” on April 27th.