Roger Donaldson of The November Man

After decades of movie-making, Roger Donaldson isn’t slowing down — and his new thriller, The November Man, is testament to both his skill and his strength. We spoke with Donaldson by phone from L.A. about making sure violence means something, working with the already very wealthy Brosnan and the pleasures of crashing real cars. 

Schistodb: I had the pleasure of being at the premiere, and you noted — rather graciously — how if it weren’t for Mr. Brosnan, you wouldn’t have been involved in The November Man. Is that accurate?

Donaldson: It’s absolutely true. Pierce and I have been friends for quite some time — we made Dante’s Peak together — and he was producing The November Man with his partners, and they came to me and said  “How about directing?” So, Pierce is the reason that I’m doing it.

Is it great to have somebody you’ve worked with in the past reach out to you with a great piece of material, as opposed to you having to reach out to them, frankly?  

Well, I think … Yeah, it was. It was good.

This is from a series of novels that have a great reputation; were you at all familiar with them, or were you surprised?

I think the latter; I was not familiar with the books or the character, and have deliberately not even read the books, as the script had already been written, and so my job was to make sure that it fit into this period, as the books were written back during the Cold War. So there’s all this technology that had to be embraced to make the film contemporary; there was a lot to do to make sure it worked

now, and to go back to the books — while I’m sure they must be great books, or they wouldn’t be as popular as they are — to me would have been counter-productive.

In the period since the book’s publication in 1981, it’s weirdly fortunate that the Cold War kind of went away and came back …

It’s true; I made a film about the Cold War, Thirteen Days, and we sure as hell don’t want to revisit that period of history …

But does the chance to say, geopolitically, “Oh, it’s our old ‘friends’ the Russians …”, does that work out well in terms of people getting what you’re talking about? It doesn’t have to be so modernized that it gets confusing?

I agree with you there; we also gotta remember that we’re not making fact, we’re making fiction — you know what I mean? In a way, what’s happening in the Ukraine sort of happened in tandem with us making this film, so the movie was never intended to be a comment, really, on what’s going on right now …

… But the fact that things seem to have worked out that way cannot hurt.

That’s very true; it’s a reminder that  there’s always more to the real story than we know.

As much as I like living in our current age of technological marvels — without which I wouldn’t be talking to you on my cell phone —

(Laughs) Exactly!

— But I also like a good, old-fashioned, old-school real car, real fistfight practical effects movie. And I know that stuff isn’t especially modern right now, but you deliver, and is that just the only way you know how to go?  Would you much rather crash a real car than pretend to crash a digital one?

Yeah, I guess I am attracted to … the fun of making a movie from my perspective is that, you know, when you crash the car, you crash it with the right people driving and you film it so it looks worse than it is — but it’s still a real car, and there’s still someone driving it, and there’s Pierce racing through the streets of Belgrade, and it’s really Pierce driving, and he’s not being back-projected, and the backgrounds aren’t put in digitally — they’re really there, he’s really there and the car’s really there. So there’s a certain sort of adrenaline rush out of doing stuff for real.

Another interesting thing in this film: Mr. Brosnan has of course played Mr. Bond, but I don’t recall Mr. Bond cutting an innocent woman’s femoral artery so he can make his getaway.

(Laughs)

Is it nice to play rough in an arena of action filmmaking that’s maybe gotten a little too bloodless?

Well, in a way, I see this movie as an sort of extension of previous movies I’ve made that … movies like No Way Out and The Recruit and The Bank Job, movies that are thrillers with a sort of an edge to them; so maybe it’s more in terms of my own work than what Pierce has been doing.

A lot of American films are PG-13, so you get movies like The Expendables 3, where hundreds die without a drop of blood …

Well, I was glad to make this film with an R — because, sometimes, yes, movies are a bit bloodless … I know there’s a cartoon element to this, but you don’t want to forget that violence is violence …

The November Man is currently in theaters.