Olivier Megaton Admits ‘Colombiana’ Inspired By Luc Besson’s Unmade ‘The Professional’ Sequel Script

Olivier Megaton Admits 'Colombiana' Inspired By Luc Besson's Unmade 'The Professional' Sequel Script

French Director Admits They Have To Step Up Their Game For Liam Neeson’s ‘Taken 2’; Says Maggie Grace Plays A Bigger Role

Exclusive: If you’ve never heard of the director of “Colombiana,” it’s not because he lacks a cool-sounding name: Olivier Megaton. Rather it’s probably due to the fact that he made one movie in his native France, “Red Siren,” which failed to find its way to Hollywood, and then helmed a sequel, “The Transporter 3,” whose behind-the-camera bona fides were of less interest to viewers than the on screen body count. Perhaps appropriately, his new film is primarily noteworthy because it began its life as the follow-up to an imminently more famous one: “The Professional,” whose writer-director Luc Besson wrote and produced both of them. But at the Los Angeles press day for “Colombiana,” Megaton insisted that it became its own entity because too much time had passed between Besson’s 1994 classic and this would-be next installment.

“It’s very tricky, because as soon as you put some details from the past, you don’t know how the audience will take it,” Megaton said. “In the initial script, we had much more references to ‘La Femme Nikita’ and ‘The Professional,’ but after the first reading, I said maybe it’s a little too much. There was a little too much of pointing your finger at things, and they know everything, and fifteen years after [‘The Professional’] we have to be a little more light.”

Megaton has been friends with Besson for almost two decades, and knew the labyrinthine history of “Colombiana” before it became a vehicle for “Avatar” and “Star Trek” actress Zoe Saldana. “Ten years ago we decided to make ‘Mathilda,’ which was the ‘Professional’ sequel, but we couldn’t do it because of the evolution of a lot of things – about Natalie [Portman], about [estranged distributor] Gaumont,” Megaton revealed. “Luc tried to do this movie again and again — he proposed it to me 12 years ago. But when we decided to change the script and to make another movie with a revenge story like ‘Mathilda,’ he had to give up everything about Mathilda.”

When asked why he and Besson didn’t merely reinvent the character in more subtle ways, Megaton indicated that finding a new story demanded a completely new character as well. “When you write a script you always think about what your heart is asking,” he explained. “If Mathilda was there, she should have done this or that. He had to forget everything, because it’s a new story.” Notwithstanding the ethnic differences between Portman’s Mathilda and Saldana’s character, Cataleya, Besson provided “Colombiana”’s heroine with slightly different motivations, and perhaps instrumentally, a different origin story. “She’s half-black, half-hispanic, she’s from Colombia, and she lived in the U.S. for a long time where she learned everything,” he said, although he observed that none of the differences were directly addressed during the making of the movie. “I’ve only talked about this since the beginning of the [press tour],” he said. “During the shooting of the movie, nobody talked about this.”

With the film completed and set for release Friday, Megaton has turned his attention to yet another sequel – albeit one whose predecessor is decidedly fresher in audiences’ minds: the surprise-hit Liam Neeson thriller “Taken.” Ironically, Megaton says that the film’s runaway success was the first challenge for him when deciding to tackle its follow-up. “‘Taken’ is a really difficult project because it was a big surprise for everybody,” he observed. “When the movie was released in France [in February 2008], it didn’t work, and one year after in the U.S., it made a huge success. It was the same movie. So when you’re making ‘Taken 2,’ you have to think about all of this – why it worked, and how did this movie work in the U.S.”

Megaton acknowledges that audiences have low expectations for the film thanks to its stripped-down, violent approach, but he said that the biggest obstacle to its success may be the niche it already created for Neeson as an action hero. “As everybody is waiting for the minimum, we have to be more clever,” he said. “So Liam is going to be there like he was, but even better. But it’s a little tricky because Liam already did ‘Taken 2’ with ‘Unknown,’ even if it’s not the same story. It’s not far from the same kind of thing, with a secret agent; they took everything and tried to make this movie with it. But whatever.”

Although he insisted that this was not a paycheck he particularly needed, Megaton revealed that he ultimately chose to direct “Taken 2” because of one particularly original element – the location where it was being shot. “The first thing was to see what can I bring to this movie, because I don’t need to do it,” he confessed. “My U.S. agents said, hey – don’t do this movie. We have so many projects here, so you can leave France a little and be in the U.S. And I said, wait a minute – it’s going to be shot in Istanbul? Because except for ‘The International,’ no other movies have been shot there, and it’s a fucking great town to shoot. So for me what was interesting was giving new images to the audience.”

That said, Megaton also revealed that the story would be significantly different as well, and would feature a beefed-up role for actress Maggie Grace, who played the young woman who was “taken” in the first film. “The story is not the story you’re waiting for, because it’s totally different. Maggie [Grace] has a huge, huge part in this movie, and then that was the really interesting thing.” In fact, the most familiar element for Megaton may be manufacturing another ass-kicking female, although he acknowledged that he wasn’t eager to take on that responsibility too many more times. “The real challenge was to make her like Zoe in ‘Colombiana’,” he said. “I don’t want to be the specialist of girl action heroes, but that is the real point of me taking ‘Taken 2’.”

When asked whether Grace might be the one saving the day in “Taken 2,” the director clarified, “No, I am not saying that. Liam Neeson will be very, very important in this movie.” But with “Colombiana” under his belt, Megaton admitted he is looking forward to giving his female lead as much to do as her male counterpart. “Liam will be all throughout the movie like he is – the same bad ass – and maybe a little more human. But Maggie will exist, because she was not really existing in the first one. She was the victim, so we were tracking her. But really she will be there in this one.”

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