A DAY'S WORK: ROB COHEN ON DIRECTING "DAYLIGHT" Image

[ Was there any feeling in the back of your mind about working with Sylvester Stallone? How did you build your relationship with him? ] ^ By the time we got to shoot, we had many, many, many interactions and many, many conversations about character, about everything, about costumes, to co-stars and so on. All of those initial conversations are tests of whose going to prevail. Whose vision is what? Where the relationship is going to be? How it’s going to function? He’s feeling me out about what I know. I’m feeling him out about what his expectations are and letting him know quite clearly that I’m not some young, rock video director and I’m not going to be a surrogate director for him. He was finding out that he was dealing with a force he has to respect. That dance is a dance that is very necessary. And it’s a dance, where many times, a movie will fall apart. You hear that there was problems and creative differences. Suddenly, there’s no movie. It’s kind of like dating. You go out and you start sending signals toward one another, you’re attracted to one another, and you start sending out, “Do you want children?” Suddenly, you’re getting into the core issues of the thing. For me, it was when we began to discuss his character, that he was not going to be Rambo, that I was not going to let him take his shirt off. That he was never going to do something that didn’t reflect the danger of the thing that he was going to do. If it was a fear inducing situation, he was going to look afraid. And that Kit Lituro was a life-saver and a consensus builder and not a dictator. When I began to feel him come along in that direction, I knew we were heading to make the same movie.
To say, I had no trepidation about directing Sylvester Stallone would be a lie. Many people had warned me. They said, “Oh, he’s so difficult. You two will never last more than a day. You’re so headstrong and he’s so headstrong, you’ll kill each other.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. We never had a fight. We never had a day of disagreement, or a moment, a problem. It was the most pleasurable and constructive experience. There was a real synergy. And I think it shows on the screen. There’s a very consistent vision of his character throughout the movie. I think it was a real relief to him to just act and do his stuff and play golf and not try to take up the slack for a director who doesn’t know what he’s doing. For me, it was a great relief to direct such a powerful, world-wide figure for my growth and my career and really bring the picture in on budget and on schedule with no problems of those unpleasant kind. And, hopefully, a picture that will be very successful.
[ What surprised you the most about him? ] ^ His wicked sense of humor. Do you remember Sam Kinison? The preacher turned…you know. Sly’s take on the world can be like as wicked, and as dark, and as razor sharp as Sam Kinison’s. I didn’t think he would be as funny as he is. That was a real delight. In a movie like “Daylight” where there can be as much as eight hours between two shots because the shots are so complex to set up, say in the bedrock chamber at the end where the breaking staircase. You get one shot at that a day. So there was a lot of time spent with the actors and the crew just waiting. To sit around and really laugh and relieve the tension of all those fires, and the water, and the discomfort was really a pleasure and that surprised me. How funny he really was, in real life.
[ Your films certainly feature a lot of fire effects — in “Daylight” and “Dragonheart” — what’s the attraction? ] ^ Fire has played a major role in my life. I almost died in a hotel fire in Boston. Right before we did Daylight, my house burned down. It’s purely a coincidence, like all the films I’ve done recently all begin with D. Fire is a very visual element. Very, very mesmerizing and it usually represents a certain kind of power and life force. We talk about the flame that burns inside someone or the eternal flame. In “Dragon” that was very important to me with Bruce Lee.
I felt this life force was transcended and burned with a dying intensity and all those lines. In “Dragonheart,” obviously, dragons and fire are the mythology that goes together. In “Daylight,” I wanted to do the fire to end all fires. And to try to generate with the computer a kind of fire that took on a personality. That was like an animal that just was there to eat. And to analyze how an explosion like this would work in a very confined space. Like watching a bullet travel out of a gun barrel in very, very slow motion. It’s not a conscious thing. It’s just appropriate to the subject.
[ After there’s been all this press about movies with physical situations, anything you did to prepare yourself for this picture? ] ^ Me, physically.
[ Physically, or the way you dealt with your crew? ] ^ When we got down to the finalists of the cast, after Sly was cast, and the movie was green lit, as we say, we’d get an actor or a group of actors that were in the semi finals. I would sit them down and I’d say, “Let me show you the model of the tunnel. This is a third of a mile long. It’s going to be filled with water. You are going to be in the water. You are going to be in the water day after day, week after week. This is the side of the chapel. It’s not much bigger than a living room. You’re going to be in there with 2,000 rats. You’re going to have to swim from here to here underwater. You are going to have fire explosions along this wall through most of the shoot. The air is going to be filled with non-toxic smoke but it’s going to be smoke. You are not going to be doubled. You are going to be there. Now, if you want the part. Let’s go into the final round of readings and auditions. If you don’t want to do this, drop out now. Don’t come to me in week three and say it’s too tough. It won’t work. Only a few–theater actors mostly–withdrew. When they realized that they would not…some pulled out. Especially, a lot of the older people who were being looked at as the Collin Fox, Claire Bloom couple. No, that’s too hard for me. My this, my that. Claire Bloom–the funny story about her–is that she took the part. I made the speech. Later on, when the gas main blew up and she wouldn’t go back into the tunnel, she was crying and this and that. I went to her dressing room and comforted her. “Well, I didn’t know, there was going to be real fire.” I said, “I told you.” She said, “I know. May I confess something? I never really read the script.” She said, “I was going through a terrible divorce with Phillip Roth and I just wanted to get out of London. And my agent told me what it was about and I knew you told me there would be fire, but I didn’t know there was going to be that kind of fire. That’s real. I explained how we make these things safe and, knock on wood, the only thing that went wrong on this film in terms of anyone getting hurt is one stuntman get four stitches in the fan sequence. It wasn’t even a stunt. We were getting ready to go and he fell and hit his head on the blade. He got four stitches. He was taken to the hospital. He got stitched up and he was back in the afternoon working. That’s the worse thing that happened on the entire picture.
[ How did you cast Amy Brenneman and were there other actresses that were more well known who wanted the part? ] ^ There were and that’s just what I didn’t want. I didn’t want it to be “Sylvester Stallone just happens to be in the tunnel with Cindy Crawford.” I wanted a real woman. I wanted an intelligent woman. Amy had graduated from Harvard, from the divinity school. I’d seen her on NYPD Blue. What I liked about her in NYPD Blue was one minute she looked like a salesgirl and the next minute she looked like a woman of incredible charisma. But she always radiated a kind of intelligence. When of the things these action films never have is an intelligent woman. They have Linda Hamilton whose like a man but she’s a woman. Or Sigourney Weaver who’s a man, but a woman. I want a woman who’s a woman. So, when I did the first re-write with Kevin Wade, the playwright, his idea was make her a failed playwright. I said, “That’s great. Because I wanted her to be an intellectual. I’d like her to be a person of the mind.” Not a physical buff. An ærobics instructor who just happens to be in the tunnel. Then I wanted to bring Sly up. Sylvester is known for liking to be with very beautiful woman.
Well, Amy showed up for our first meeting. Big hair. Short, little black skirt. Long legs. Crossing her legs. Doing all this actress stuff. And I said to her, “Would you do me a favor? Would you go home. And would you put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and come back tomorrow. And stop fighting your clothes.” She said, “What do you mean.” I said, “I’m not interested in the long legs and the breasts and the hair and the thing. Come back as yourself. Cause this isn’t you.” She came back and she was very much herself. And funny and earthy. And full of really crude jokes. But smart as a whip.
I called my friend Michæl Mann and she was shooting Heat. I said I need some dailies of her acting with De Niro because I know that as soon as Sly sees her–if he just sees her alone, he’ll say “She’s not pretty enough.” Or whatever. But if he sees her acting with DeNiro, he’ll see the real value of her as an actress. So Mann sent me some scenes. They were still shooting, which was very generous of him. I should him the slide. He said, “I love this girl. She’s great. She’s exactly what we should have. She’s real. She reminds me of a Sandy Fuller. Instead of that beauty thing that gets in the way.” I said there’s not going to be a lot of beauty in this film because everybody’s going to be wet and charred and full of soot and dirt. He was completely embracing of her. All the way through the picture. He helped her a great deal. Some of the stuff they had to do together was pretty scary to Amy who had never done…you know, you come near 1 100,000 gallons of water that are pouring near you in the milk truck. He was very, very good with her. I’m happy because I got a woman character up there I’m proud of.
[ The scene with all the rats coming out from behind the cross — who came up with that idea? ] ^ That was me. The whole rat thing was me. Back when I was making Dragonheart. I was this lackey and I did a lot of traveling through Europe. I was in Salzburg and I went into the salt mines on a tour. In the salt mines they carved chapels. Miners carved chapels into the salt, including crucifixes and other icons. There were candles and so on. They would pray before the went down to the lower levels of the salt mines. If I were a miner, I’d pray a lot, too. Not to be buried alive in salt. I never got that image. When I was doing the research on the tunnels, most of the people worked on building all the tunnels in NY at the turn of the century were Irish immigrants. Most of them were most likely Irish Catholic. I began thinking about using that imagery of a chapel where the miners would pray to not be buried alive in the muck or have a blowout. All of which happened in the building at this time. Then I had this idea of the rats. The thought was–in keeping with the idea that there is no savior. The community is the savior. When you band together, that’s when you save yourself. God doesn’t save you. Stallone doesn’t save you. You have to save yourselves by getting together to save. If I can do this rat thing, the rats–you’ll first think it’s a Spielbergien critters scene–here comes the worst thing that could happen: snakes, rats, roaches, insects. But, what if the rats really show you the way?
When I was at Harvard in Anthropology, we’d do these rat experiments. Rats can memorize and infrastructure in the dark better than any other animal in the world. If anyone would know how to get from the tunnel into a sewer system, it would be a rat. Once I had that idea, I thought what a great idea. You come to the Chapel. You think it’s going to be one of these quasi-sentimental religious scenes. Then come the rats and you think it’s going to be one of those kind of scenes, and then it’s something completely different. That rats don’t give a damn—they don’t give a rat’s ass–about the people. They’re simply getting out of the water. They’re deserting a sinking ship where they’re not going to drown in the tunnel. When Stallone sees that there’s a hole in the wall that they assume is a steel wall, that there is no going further, that’s the big thing. I was very excited about doing that scene. It involved training 2000 rats. These are the rats that are the descendants of the rats of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. Their grandparents were famous. These rats have never been out of labs and never out of cages. Otherwise, we’d be taking a chance eon plague and all kinds of problems. So, these rats were imported. We had to account for everyone of them. So, we would put fifty rats in a container. Then we would pour–I would call, I would say, “I need about 500 rats for this shot”–10 containers and they’d pour them out. When the shot was over, they would go pick up and recount them Until we had 200 or 500 rats back, we couldn’t shoot again because we couldn’t take a chance they would get out of the set, mingle with diseased sewer rats and then come back in and infect the entire colony and, possibly, kill people. So, the set was built with a cage around it that was rat proof. The floor around it, so forth. And, their home was behind the crucifix.
So, they learned, when they were released at one end of the set, after 8 weeks of training, that if they made it up the stairs that had to be specially designed for them to make it, and that they could get through the alter tables that had structures underneath it they could climb, that they could get into the hole, get back into the darkness, get back to the food, get back to where they slept. And, that’s how we trained them. That’s just one little detail of a movie that had a billion details.
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