Adrian Askarieh Talks Agent 47 and Deus Ex

Adrian Askarieh is one of the producers attached to the latest Hitman movie titled Hitman: Agent 47, which is available now on Blu-ray and DVD. This interview took place on Jan. 7 2016,  where he talks about Agent 47, trouble with adapting videogame movies, and what projects he has in store.

CGMagazine: Hey how’s it going?

Adrian Askarieh: Hey Cody, It’s nice to meet you

CGM: Nice to meet you too! So I have a few questions for you.

Adrian: Please.

CGM: So this was your second Hitman Movie Correct?

Adrian: It was. Correct

CGM: So as a producer how much input do you have on these films?

Adrian: Well, they were both a little different. In the first one, I was a baby producer, so I was pretty involved in the development and picking the writer. I wasn’t as involved in the production because Luc Besson’s company [Europacorp] was brought onboard by Fox to make the movie for, let’s say, for a price. It was a different Fox regime. But we stayed involved in post and marketing. This one I was involved from beginning to end. Just about every aspect about it you can imagine. So, it was a little different in that respect. This one was development, casting, pre-production, production, post-production, and marketing.

hitmanmovieinsert7CGM: So one thing I was interested in: you guys had Hanna Ware and Rupert Friend taking the lead roles. Friend has a reputation for being a bit of a badass in Homeland, but Ware didn’t have as much of a reputation. How did you decide on her?

Adrian: Well look, obviously Rupert, we were big fans of his from Homeland playing Quinn. We thought he could translate well to this world and to this character. With regards to Hanna, Hanna was one of those by now cliché Hollywood stories: we saw about 400 people for the role of Katia and it took about nine-and-a-half months just to see every one. There were a lot of great ones, and the movie got pushed back a couple of times, so that actually contributed to us seeing more and more than we actually wanted to because people fell out and were unavailable and the context of the role changed a little bit. And Hannah we saw early on, and we went back to her in the final round, and her audition was strong and we wanted someone for Katia that could nail down the strength and sensitivity of the character, but at the same time have someone in the movie that has no baggage so people can just buy her as this person that kind of comes into this world unbeknownst to her and is kind of a vessel for the audience. And her chemistry with Rupert and Zach Quinto was really strong so we felt that she would be the right Katia.

CGM: So you went with a more inexperienced director as well with Aleksander Bach. Did you want a bigger name director and couldn’t because of the stigma attached to videogame movies?

Adrian: Not at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. We had a certain budget, and we had a certain amount we could spend on a director. Having said that, it was always first and foremost, for us, about getting the right director for the piece regardless of the budget. But the reality of the movie business is the reality of the movie business, and this was not a big budget movie. And it actually became bigger after we hired Ally, but at the outset it was a lower budget film. And we received a lot of interest and reels from various directors, and a lot of them made movies before and were very well known. And Ally’s reel was very unique, fresh, it had an asymmetrical approach to the action genre. It had an elegance to it and his previous work in commercials really blew us away, and he put together a sizzle reel for Agent 47, specifically, that really conveyed that not only did he know the world and respect the project, but he knew that he wasn’t just making the movie for the gamers but for the general audience as well. And he had a very smart tactile approach to it that we liked. We met him, he has a very engaging personality, he never tires and he’s got great taste. So we felt that he’d be the right guy.

hitmanmovieinsert3CGM: Okay, so what is one of the main difficulties when translating a game like Hitman, which is a pretty simple concept, into an hour-and-a-half movie?

Adrian: That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? I think in regards to translating anything from one medium to the other, especially where the originating medium has a lot of fans and a lot of predispositions attached to it, it’s difficult. It involves walking a tightrope of pleasing the fans—with regards to videogames, you know as well as I do that the hard core fans are merciless sometimes—and general audiences. I think that’s what every successful movie needs to achieve.

I think videogames have a disadvantage over comic books. First of all, comic books have been around a long time and have a wealth of different stories that Marvel and DC can pull from. But videogames, you’re actually playing as those characters, so they’re an extension of you, so there’s a much more personal relationship with an Agent 47, or a Solid Snake or a Lara Croft. So when you see them brought to the screen, I think you kind of feel like there’s an ownership that you have of what happens to them in terms of being translated to another medium. As a result, I think you’re a lot harder on them than other fans. There’s a degree of that too with comic books or novels or whatever, but with videogames, my experience at least is it’s hardcore, man. So you have to kind of weather the storm. So that’s the difficulty. How do you stay true to the world, but also know that you’re trying to have it achieve a larger popularity with audiences that don’t know the videogames or don’t play them?

CGM: I noticed that in some of the parts in the movie, there were some obvious nods to [the videogame franchise]. Especially when Katia was just getting a grasp on her abilities. And it felt like a level almost lifted out of a Hitman videogame. What other aspects did you try to bring from the game franchise into the film franchise?

Adrian: We tried to pepper that throughout the film as much as we could without it encumbering the storytelling process. It’s in the little pieces we did, like the rubber ducky in the bathtub, or him dragging the victims away after he takes care of them. Obviously the obvious stuff like the Silverballers—you have to do stuff like that, because otherwise why make an agent 47 movie? But we tried to put as many little Easter eggs in it as possible to let fans know we love and respect the games. For instance, the whole idea of Agent 48 at the end is very much from the games, with regards to the cloning. And I think a lot of people were surprised and confused by it because they never thought we’d ever go there, and I think that’s something that we really wanted to achieve, the twist that this isn’t just genetic engineering, it’s literally the cloning elements from the game that we’re bringing in. So, stuff like that. My goal is not to make a movie that feels like a videogame, otherwise it’s not a movie anymore. To go from level to level to level with and have a boss, that doesn’t interest me, I think games do that much better. I think you take the best elements and you try to see a cinematic story in it and you just try to make a movie and hope that people are pleased.

hitmanmovieinsert1CGM: Because videogames are more of an interactive medium and movies are something you experience, are there any difficulties in trying to actually capture that feeling?

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Adrian: I think that’s a trap. I think videogame movies have had a major problem because that’s a trap many filmmakers fall into. And I don’t blame them for falling into it; we’ve fallen into it. When you make a videogame movie, you have to look at that videogame like it’s a novel or a comic book, or a TV show. I think you have to completely disengage yourself from the fact that it is an interactive medium, and you have to tell yourself what it is about this that will make a good story on film. What is it about the concept, the character, the world, what potential does it have to excite the audience on a global level? And I think that should guide you. I’ve certainly learned a lesson from the last two Hitman movies, and I’m going to put it to use on my next videogame movie. I’m going to completely disregard the interactive component of the source material. I think that needs to be almost irrelevant because that interactivity of it is exactly what’s unique about playing videogames, right? As you said, we experience movies and actually play the game. You can’t duplicate that, and if you try to duplicate that you’re going to fall short, and it’s going to be embarrassing. I think what you do is look at it as the potential of a character concept and a story and you try to make the best movie out of that as you possibly can. Otherwise, you’re flirting with disaster. That’s my personal opinion.

CGM: How involved was Square Enix in this? Did they give you free reign over their property?

Adrian: It’s very interesting, the deal. I’m working with Square Enix on several of their other properties for feature film adaptation, and they’re incredibly involved. The Hitman deal goes back to 2005, that’s when the deal was initially made, because the first movie came out at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 in Europe. So they had less control visa vie that originating deal. But given my relationship with them, I’ve kept them involved. They’ve read the draft, they’ve made notes on them, and we’ve said to them, “we want to cast this Agent 47,” and there’s a clause in the contract that says we can’t deviate from the aesthetic look of the character, nor would we want to. But to say they were as involved in Agent 47 as they will be in the other films is disingenuous. I kind of like it when the videogame company is involved. It’s kind of cliché saying “making games is games and making movies is movies, stay out of my way and I’ll stay out of yours.” That’s fine. I think everybody understands that—that’s implicit. But I think having them involved is key. I think it’s something that is very smart to do, and there’s no coincidence that Marvel started breaking records when they started making their own movies. So I think in the future of Square Enix movies, they will be far more involved. In Hitman, their involvement was not as much and that’s per the contract in 2005.

hitmanmovieinsert4CGM: Going back to the movie, I noticed the first twenty minutes or so of the movie when Katia is pretty much running away from Agent 47, it felt like a nod to movies like The Terminator, with the protagonist running away while the antagonist is slowly stalking her. Was that an inspiration for the movie?

Adrian: That was intentional. We very much wanted to have the Terminator model in there. That goes back to the early days of pre-production, or even further back than that, the early days of script development. We wanted the first half to have the Terminator vibe, then flip it on its head when it switches that Agent 47 isn’t the bad guy, and Michael Biehn character from Terminator is the bad guy. So that’s something we were engaged by and excited by and wanted to try it out.

CGM: I know we only have a few more minutes left, but you were saying you were talking to Square Enix about some other movies, I know you spoke a little bit in other interviews about Deus Ex. Are you allowed to speak about those properties yet?

Adrian: Yea, the only thing I can say about Deus Ex is we’re about to announce a major studio for a major deal, knock on wood, within the next two weeks I would say. It’s been in the works for four months and I’m very excited about that, and they’re going to be incredibly involved, as will Eidos Montreal who makes and develops the games. That’s one of the reasons I’m thrilled for Deus Ex. I’m doing that one with Roy Lee. He’s my producing partner on it who did the Lego Movie and the Departed. I think that’s going to be something that should be fun—should be a big deal. I’m doing that, and I’m also involved in Just Cause. The only thing I can say about that is something also cool is in the works with that. I’m really pumped. They’re involved with that, both the UK Square people and Avalanche who made the game, so that’s going to be fun as well. But I think Deus Ex, and this isn’t a knock to Just Cause, but if we do our jobs it could be something very special.

hitmanmovieinsert5CGM: In a past interview, you spoke about how we’re on the verge of videogame movies becoming like comic book movies in terms of mass appeal. Can you talk a little bit about why you believe that?

Adrian: Yea, I think we are, and I think it’s going to happen in the next two years. It’s interesting, it takes one good movie, people have short memories and they forget that comic book movies were very hit and miss and outside of Superman the Movie and Tim Burton’s Batman, they’re really terrible films and people didn’t take them seriously. Nobody wanted to make them, and there was a stigma attached. Videogame movies are nowhere near that. Hitman just came out, you have Assassin’s Creed coming, you have Warcraft coming; they’re in a lot better place. But it will take one big movie that’s critically acclaimed to open the floodgates. It’s going to happen. There area whole new generation that’s grown up playing these games. There are kids that feel more connected to Agent 47, or Lara Croft, or Adam Jensen, or Solid Snake than they do with Batman or Superman. And I think there’s a lot filmmakers, producers, studio executives, and writers who grew up with these games and now they’re getting to make them. I think that’s going to systematically change the quality, and the quality is going to dictate the box office. And once you have a big videogame movie I think it’s a whole new ball game.

Look, Disney owns Marvel and Star Wars, and Warner Brothers owns DC. It doesn’t take much to figure out what the next branded big temples are and as more and more studios are just making temples and everything else is just going to go video on demand. That’s where it’s going, I just hope the quality gets better, and I think once that does, they’re going to get the big budgets that they need to do them right and they’re going to be successful.  It’s everywhere; people are seeing Agent 47 on the plane, or they’re ordering it on demand, or they just bought the Blu-ray, and it’s finding new fans. Once it gets in the pipeline, I think it’s going to generate more interest in the genre.

CGM: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

Adrian: Of course, thank you man!