Behind a tightly packed assemblage of monitors, a group of journalists, film crew members, and I gather together to watch Game of Thrones and Conan the Barbarian star Jason Momoa unleash hell on a squad of gangsters. Momoa, his long hair tied tight to match his perfectly cut suit, is playing and replaying a scene from his new movie Bullet to the Head. In each take, the actor steps out into a room and quickly disposes of his foes with precision shots from his silenced pistol. His character Keegan does it with a wicked snarl, obviously amused by his lethal performance. Or maybe that’s just Momoa having a ball.
Talking to Momoa on the set of Bullet, the actor is visibly excited to be working for legendary director Walter Hill, costarring alongside action titan Sylvester Stallone, and playing Keegan like a maniacal badass. Being evil, as it turns out, is a lot of fun. “He’s sadistic. I’m playing him that way,” Momoa says. “I thought it would be fun. He loves it. It’s like, ‘Open the safe.’ Maybe I didn’t get it right. ‘Please, open the safe.’ Just wasted everyone in there. ‘Thank you.’ Then shoot his face off.” To make Keegan even more sinister, Momoa altered his well-known look. It works — the already-intimidating experience of sitting across from the actor becomes even more terrifying when he shoots a glance with his piercing eyes. “I’ve got these contacts. His eyes are black, mine are green. I wanted him to have shark eyes. Cold. Doesn’t have romantic comedy eyes.”
What stands out on the set of Bullet to the Head that is rarely found in today’s blockbuster is a light tone. On screen and off. Hill has a ball throwing Momoa direction from behind the camera. Momoa can’t help but chew up the scenery. Even though Momoa is a crazed assassin, having just committed the ultimate no-no by kidnapping the daughter of Sylvester Stallone’s cop character, the sequence is played more for laughs than shocks.
Sung Kang (Fast Five) plays Stallone’s partner, Taylor Kwon, in the film — a character whose background doesn’t help his stature with the rough, tough James Bonomo (Stallone). It’s a relationship prime for comedy. Making reference to Hill’s past work, Kang says that Bullet redefines “that whole 48 Hrs dynamic between Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy” and the culture clash becomes the meat of the story. “In the past, any time there was an Asian in a film, let’s say, opposite an African-American, the jokes were always on the Asian guy,” says Kang. “Like, ‘You don’t speak English!’ ‘What do you do, kung fu?’ It’s more making fun of his ethnicity, but he couldn’t return it. But this is more acceptable, because it’s this old-school guy in his 60s, and it’s a guy’s guy kind of thing.” The comedy found in Bonomo and Kwon’s pairing is pure science in Kang’s mind. “You put these two people together, and it’s water and oil. You shake it up, and it becomes humorous. It’s really funny.”
Nearby Hill and Momoa’s set, Stallone prepares for one of the film’s major stunts. After rubbing the bad guys the wrong way, Bonomo watches as his Louisiana bayou home is blown to pieces. To escape, he dives into the water — one of those classic flames-above-water shots. To pull off the trick, Stallone and an elaborate stunt film crew are taking residence in a local swimming pool. Not the fanciest movie set ever, but with Stallone up to his chest in water, ripped and ready to go, it’s nothing less than golden movie magic. Hollywood follows Stallone, not the other way around.
The aura surrounding Stallone has rubbed off on his costars. Independently of one another, Kang and Momoa both geek out over working with the actor. Kang remembers calling his dad when he started filming and saying, “Remember when I just to pretend I was Rocky? [Laughs] Remember when I was a kid? … Rocky actually punched me! It’s off my bucket list!” Momoa refers to Stallone’s iconic boxing movie as well, going wide-eyed as he describes one of the fight scenes in Bullet.
“At the very end there’s a big axe fight and I pull out my gun… it’s f**king great,” says Momoa. “In a dilapidated building after I kill everyone. [Stallone] is looking around … I throw the bags of guns away, and there’s this plaque — ‘the people who tried to save this building’ — and there are two fire axes. So I basically smash that thing open and grab the axes. He shot me a couple of times by surprise. I had a Kevlar vest. I throw him the axe, ‘What are we, Vikings?’ and we star going like a Cuisinart.”
Both actors are refreshed by Bullet — rarely do they get to work on movies that merges character and action the way Hill and his team have done with the Stallone vehicle. In fact, Kang already wants more. Having had such an amazing time working with Stallone, the actor is already imagining sequels. “It’s Bullet to the Head, but we’ll have Bullet to the Ass and Bullet to the Groin, you know?!”
Bullet to the Head arrives in theaters Feb. 1, 2013.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches