Interview with "The Guardian" Director Andrew Davis

Director Andrew Davis during 'The Guardian' Madrid Premiere - October 5, 2006 at Palacio de la Musica Cinema in Madrid, Spain. Lalo Yasky/WireImage/Getty Images

Director Andrew Davis explores the world of Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers in the dramatic film, The Guardian, starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher. Davis was so dedicated to getting the story right that he even went as far as to cast real members of the Coast Guard in the film to make sure he told the story as accurately as possible.

Was it important to show the real Coast Guard Rescuer Swimmers in their own feature on the DVD?
“I always felt that it was important to make reference to the fact that these are real people.

And I was able to do that in the end credits of the movie, to visualize the history of the swimmers and the Coast Guard. But yeah, it was important to me because this is what was so inspirational. It was the basis of the whole movie was looking at real footage, real people, understanding what they went through.

Ron Brinkerhoff, the writer, met these guys early on in the process. When I met them, I said, 'You've got to be in the movie. I can't get an actor to do what you guys do in terms of the finesse,’ and the way they just sort of approach certain things. It rubbed off on Ashton and Kevin and all the other actors.”

How did the real Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers react to the film?
“They loved it. What can I tell you? It's their life. They were very impressed with how hard we worked to make it honest and real, from the waves tank to the way we trained, to how we cast the kids in the class who were - some of them were - Olympic swimmers, a lot of them were triathletes.

To how hard Kevin and Ashton, especially Ashton, worked getting in shape. They were very impressed with it. I think that I haven't heard anybody in the Coast Guard who knows anything about what these guys do, have anything to say but glowing things about it. Which is what was the most important thing to me, these guys as they really are, and gals.”

Why do you think no one thought of this movie before?
“People had been doing stories about people killing people. To me it was important to do a story about people saving people. The military, Top Gun, they're learning how to blow the blank out of people's villages and lives and planes.”

But we've seen firefighter movies. What took so long for this?
“There's only 270 of them and they only work in bases near big storms where there are helicopters. So they're sort of spread out on the edges of our world or where there are big storms. Some people don't like to live in those areas.”

Kevin Costner's had experience doing films in water before. Did he have any trepidation?
“No, I think on Message in a Bottle there were some situations where he was a little uncomfortable being underwater in that. But not at all. We had top, top people around him and he knew what he was getting involved in. He was a trooper. It's very rough to be banged around like that. You get seasick. It's cold and it was windy and stuff was blowing in your face, and you can't see or hear. It's scary. But he knew that that's what these guys did and he was portraying them. He got to go to a comfortable place after being beat up versus having to get in the helicopter and fly for three hours - so he accepted it.”

Was this your first CGI experience?
“In detail, yes. There was some CGI in Holes but not nearly as extensive. I've walked away from other big effects movies because it's just so mechanical and the director's so removed, really, from what's happening in so many ways. But with this project, first of all, I was challenged as someone who loves the sea and the water and having been a sailor and a lifeguard myself to portray this properly. And also, the fact that we could create a postage stamp-sized piece of what we were trying to do in broad strokes. We had a little postage stamp piece of the Baring Sea, which was just as violent and windy and crazy as it would have been like to be out there. We could control things.

I think the fact that we relied on a real world rather than a synthetic world of documentary footage and real waves and real storms and real rescues allowed me to feel like I was a part of what was going on all the time.

And designing shots completely from scratch where you can sort of literally sit down and design how you want to fly over the water, where the helicopter's going to be and how the camera's going to move, that was a lot of fun.”

Did you have some fun with conventions from military-themed training movies like Top Gun?
"I think we were criticized unfairly by having images and scenes that you've 'seen before' and my response to that has been if you do a Western and you have a horse and a bad guy and a jail, a pretty girl and a sheriff, people are going to say, 'Well, I've seen that before.' In these kinds of environments where you have to push people to their limits and you have to work to a certain standard, and you have to have a certain level of discipline and tragedy, those things are going to come back.

I think the fact that the Coast Guard isn't looked at as something that has that kind of rigorous background is part of the story we were trying to tell. I think it's interesting to see what they have to go through. It was interesting to me to learn about the scope of what these men and women have to bring out to rescue people, in terms of being medics. They have to be navigators; they have to know all about the equipment on the helicopter. They have to do everything in the water. So it's quite daunting what the training involves. I think showing that training, even a glimpse of what they have to go through with the psychological aspects of, 'Can I do this? Do I want to do this?' is compelling."

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Was it nice to get back to a big action film after Holes?
“It's always fun to challenge yourself to do something and then pull it off. We didn't know if this wave machine, wave tank was going to work. We built it and we got our asses kicked from Katrina, and then it took us a while to regroup and rebuild the tank. Then we literally pushed the button to see if it would work days before we had to shoot it.

The best part was the Coast Guard guys, our swimmers, who were with us when we turned it on, they got goose bumps. They said, 'This is so real.' So we knew we had sort of hit it. Now we had to figure out how to shoot in that environment, keeping the cameras close to the action and still seeing something and not having actors hurt themselves on camera equipment. It was very challenging and rewarding to pull it off.”

How did this compare to the difficulty of some of your other films?
“Well, let's see. Chain Reaction was pretty brutal because it was so cold. We were shooting some of that stuff in Chain Reaction where the fire department in the city of Chicago had to leave because it was too cold for their work guidelines. So that was rough. The stuff on the Michigan Avenue Bridge in the middle of the night in a storm was pretty rough. They're all different.

The train crash in The Fugitive was a real train crash.

We had a lot of people out there and a lot of cameras, and it was a challenge. Being in the jungles, running in the jungles with Schwarzenegger in Collateral Damage was complicated. Under Siege was complicated, but they're different levels of complications and different logistics. This was hard because we had to create terrible conditions in order for the film to work.

The wind and the water and the waves and the motion of the boats, it was dangerous. You had to really look out for each other.”

Does DVD allow you the budget to shoot alternate endings?
“Well, I was unaware of how popular alternate endings were. This was done as a kind of safety valve for ourselves. We didn't really want to use it, but it was one of those situations where it was just…[spoiler deleted ]. We wanted something in our pocket so we didn't have to go back and do it. We never even tested it with the audience because the scores were so high with the current ending. But yes, the folks that sell the DVDs love alternative endings.”

Has DVD given a second life to your smaller films, like Steal Big Steal Little?
“You know, actually it's funny you mention that. The rights to that movie have been sort of jumping around, and one of the things I want to do is put that on DVD. It was only on videotape so I'm going to go back to Universal, or whoever it is who has the rights now, and try to get that on DVD. I'm sure Andy Garcia would love to participate on that. Then my first film, Stoney Island, was the same thing. I haven't been able to find the time to sell that to somebody, and now I think it's worth a lot more money than it was years ago.”

They're still advertising this as “From the director of The Fugitive”…
“Yeah, they should say from the director of Holes. It depends on the movie you're making.”

13 years later, how does it feel to have done something that iconic?
“It's interesting because The Guardian, I wish it was a bigger hit because somebody says to me, when they saw the movie, some friends of mine, 'They're going to say now ‘From the director of The Guardian.' But I don't think it made enough money for them to say that yet. I don't know.

The Fugitive is a movie I'm proud of. It came about because of Under Siege and I was able to go back to Chicago and do my thing. I had a lot of support and the script was very loose, and we were able to really create something on the scene there with that movie. So I'm proud of the fact that I had so much to do with it.

At the same time, when that movie came out, somebody looked me in the eye and very seriously said, 'You oughta retire. You're never going to make another movie this good.' And I sort of laughed at him. We're trying.”

What’s next for you?
“I'm looking at a couple different projects. One is sort of independent movies that have potential of being really powerful, and one goes back into more of a family kind of story about a father and a daughter traveling around the world together, discovering each other. There's a novel that I'm interested in by T.C. Boyle.”

Which book?
“The Tortilla Curtain

What’s that about?
“It's a story about life in L.A., a Mexican-American couple and a suburban couple, the weaving of their lives back and forth. I've also got some projects at Walden, the company I did Holes for. Sort of a version of Tom Jones and Don Quixote called Tom Quixote, which is a wonderful farce and spoof. I'd like to do a movie about Jean Lefite, the privateer.”