In his native Iceland, Baltasar Kormákur is known for his acting, his work in TV and film production and, of course, being a movie director. In the States, he’s still making his name—you might know him from Contraband—and his latest project, this week’s 2 Guns should help to cement it.
Based on a popular comic book, the film—which stars Denzel Washington and Kormákur pal Mark Wahlberg—follows two law enforcement offers on the lam after a fouled-up attempt to infiltrate a cartel. So in addition to star power, audiences can expect the sort of explosions, chases and action that summer blockbusters are made of.
We caught up with Kormákur to chat about movie stars, comic books and how owning a bar made him a better director.
This is one of your first American movies. How did the project come about?
I had worked with Mark before [on Contraband] and he said to check this out. From there I got involved. I liked the tone and wanted to play with it.
This is a film based on a comic book. Are you a graphic novel kind of guy?
I read comic books as a kid, mostly European ones, less of the American stuff. For me, whatever the source it comes from, I’m fine with it. I don’t mind if I do a remake or a comic book; if the idea is good I’m open to it.
So what is it about comics that seem to be eminently adaptable for movies?
In some ways they lend themselves better to the medium than a novel because they are a visual medium. They use pictures like films and that helps a lot. It’s based on a movement in action, so it’s easier to adapt to the screen. There’s nothing lost. Also just the tone of it, that’s what interested me: the lightness of the tone. The playfulness that comic books often have works very well for certain types of movies.
Speaking of playfulness, what was the mood on set like?
It was great. It was a hardworking set because we didn’t have the big budget like the other films coming out this summer. We were a relatively modest, 50-day shoot. Because I like to improvise with the actors and find things as we’re doing it, we have to be very focused.
Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington have such an interesting dynamic in the movie because of the difference in their ages and attitudes. How did they work together?
That’s why I wanted to pair them, because I believed there was something that would go well. Fortunately, they were really friendly on set, they seemed to like each other, so that was good start. You can create the atmosphere and you can direct the scene for that, but at the end of the day there’s a connection and if it doesn’t happen you can’t go, “Oh, we’re missing the chemistry, let’s put in the chemistry.”
Look at Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That movie is prized because of the relationship between Paul Newman and Robert Redford. So, I was very much aware that that was an essential part.
You’ve worked with Mark before. What’s your relationship like?
He’s a very charming and sweet guy. I’ve directed him several times and I also shot an HBO pilot for his company this spring in Budapest. It’s called Missionary. It’s a Cold War thing that happens in 1969. It’s about an American missionary who’s working there and gets involved in the Underground System helping people get across the Berlin Wall. [Wahlberg] is a producer on it.
What was the most interesting part for you directing 2 Guns?
Creating a movie that’s solely on the relationship between two movie stars isn’t something that I’ve done before, so that was a new approach. It’s not always necessary, but in this case it was vital. You’ve got to find a way to release this the right way into the movie. The work is concentrated on how I can get the best out of these two guys.
You have an interesting career path: actor, bar owner. How did these prepare you to be a director?
The bar owner one taught me not to drink, and the acting did a lot to help understand the dilemmas you can get into with the most simple things. Having that understanding of how acting works is very helpful when you’re directing. It doesn’t make you a director but it’s very valuable.