The action film “Hitman: Agent 47” (based on the video game) centers on an elite assassin named Agent 47 (played by Rupert Friend) who was genetically engineered from conception to be the perfect killing machine, and is known only by the last two digits on the barcode tattooed on the back of his neck. He and 46 earlier Agent clones are the culmination of decades of research, endowing him with unprecedented strength, speed, stamina and intelligence. His latest target is a mega-corporation that plans to unlock the secret of Agent 47’s past to create an army of killers whose powers surpass even his own.
Teaming up with a young woman named Katia van Dees (played by Hannah Ware), who may hold the secret to overcoming their powerful and clandestine enemies, 47 confronts stunning revelations about his own origins and squares off in an epic battle with his deadliest foe. Zachary Quinto also stars in the movie as a mysterious agent named John Smith. Here is what Quinto, Friend, Ware and director Aleksander Bach said when they sat down together at a press conference in New York City. Here is what they said, including Quinto’s great response when a reporter from the Boston Herald tried to make a strange parallel between Quinto’s sexuality and the character that he plays in the movie.
First, for the three actors, what were the biggest challenges for your roles in “Hitman: Agent 47”? And for Zachary Quinto, as an openly gay actor, do you find that you are the go-to guy for gay roles? And in that sense, do you see your “Hitman: Agent 47” character as gay?
Quinto: Clearly, you think it’s being gay. I just don’t see the correlation. That’s a leap that I would never take. I feel like the separation between who we are as actors and the characters we play is what makes the whole thing interesting.
So that, to me, is an outdated mode of thinking, the one that you just presented to me. So, I don’t really have an answer for you there. The character I play in “I Am Michael” is gay. That’s the only gay story that I’ve been a part of telling recently. Weird question, my friend.
But the biggest challenge, I think, in this film? The stamina, the action, keeping everything at the level that it needs to be at in order to stay engaged with one another was a challenge that we were all happy to meet. It was good fun to work with these two.
Friend: Yeah, did you think that Hitman was gay?
You could say that these two guys were having this sort of homoerotic dance …
Quinto: It’s a bizarre way of thinking. We need to move on.
Ware: I’m a bit distracted. It was a very physical role for all of us. Throwing ourselves into the physical aspect really lent itself well to the journey our characters were going on. And the human component is what really brings the film to life and makes it not just a straight crossover from it being based on a video game to a movie. It’s extremely well-written, and we have some multi-faceted characters played by all three of us.
Quinto: [He says to the reporter] What outlet do you write for?
The Boston Herald.
Quinto: I just realized, sorry, I can’t move on from the fact I do, I find it really borderline offensive that you would make this leap and ask that question. I find it really as a journalist sort of perpetuates these modes of thinking that have done nothing but hinder people’s progress in the world and in our industry. So I think you have to be a little bit more mindful of how you talk to people and ask them questions because it doesn’t really make any sense.
There is this idea, though, that some people think that it’s best or it’s wonderful when gay actors can play gay roles, whereas straight actors have always played gay roles. And it is sort of uncharted territory to have a star who is an out actor.
Quinto: OK, but that’s a different question, and that’s a different point. And that’s something that I could engage you on, but to just take the leap to ask me whether or not because I’m gay as an actor, the character’s gay, that’s where I find the offense, so it’s good to move on from it. I just think it was important to clarify it. And thank you for indulging that.
What was the most important thing you’ve learned about adapting a video game into a movie?
Bach: I think to make this successful, if you do a video game adaptation, what you need first of all — it doesn’t matter if it’s a video game or not — you need a great story, and you need great characters, and you need great actors to bring it to life. When you have this and you combine it with great action and something which feels fresh, then you have a chance to put the puzzle together in a very nice way and that you create something which feels right. I think that’s the most important thing: You have great characters that you care for. When it’s based on this game, on “Hitman,” and you have this cold assassin Agent 47, you also need to care for this guy. When he’s just too cold, it doesn’t work.
To the actors, “Hitman” is probably the most physical movie all of you have done. Knowing what you know now, what have you learned that you will take with you if you have to do another physically challenging movie?
Quinto: Ultimately, with that stuff, it’s about taking care of yourself. We all trained a fair amount before we got to Berlin, and then we continued training through production. And I think that was a key element to making sure you’re on top of it. You’re challenging yourself every day. With a movie like this, that’s something that becomes really important.
Do you think an engineered hitman would be effective in the real world?
Friend: Well, I remember we were talking about it the other night. You had some interesting thoughts.
Ware: When was that?
Friend: Don’t be shy.
Ware: Don’t be mean. What was the thought?
Friend: It was a good thought.
Hare: Tell me the thought. I want to know the thought.
Friend: It was your thought. Sorry about this, guys.
Quinto: This is what it was like the whole time.
Bach: I have to think about this question.
Quinto: You stumped us.
Will there be a sequel to “Hitman: Agent 47”?
Friend: I think it entirely depends on whether people like this one. I’m not a film producer.
There aren’t too many action films that have a woman as a central character. Were you aware that you were doing something different?
Ware: I think what immersed me in the story and what drew me to it was the “strong female character.” I hate using that term. It’s annoying that it exists. When you’re immersed in making a movie, you’re not really thinking, “Are we doing anything different?” Or monitoring or engaging on where it fits, in terms of what’s going on in the current mode of moviemaking. That’s why I did it. And I’m pleased that it stands out.
Quinto: And there’s also something Hannah brings to the role, which is, “Yeah, she kicks a**, but she’s also operating on all these emotional levels, which are really complex and magnetic.” For her first big studio movie, it’s such an impressive feat to watch it evolved and to watch the finished product.
Ware: Thanks, Zach!
Have you ever played the “Hitman” video games? And how did you prepare for the physical aspects of your role?
Quinto: I had never played the game. For me, it was about the point of entry from a creative standpoint and engaging my imagination and inhabit the character in the world. I know it’s the derived from the history of the games, but I know that wasn’t the most effective way [to prepare for the role]. For Rupert, it was different.
Training was six weeks of conditioning after I got the job and before we started shooting. Once we were in Berlin, it was more about focusing on the fights themselves and working with a stunt team to build ourselves up to speed to be able to do it together and make sure where we needed to be for the cameras and all that stuff. Rupert did some really fun stuff, and I joined him in the boxing gym about six weeks before we were there. It was all good.
Bach: I was studying the game from scratch, because I knew it was my job to bring this character to life in a great way, especially when there’s such a big fan base. I needed to find the right DNA for Agent 47. I learned from the game that his DNA is his intelligence.
And the way he does things is never about random killing. It was very important that’s it’s never just random. He’s always killing because he needs to make the next step. And I think this is all about we tried to capture this from the very beginning, that 47 is just smarter, probably than all of us. And to make a smart movie. Otherwise, when it’s about random killing, it’s just boring.
Friend: I found the games very useful, particularly the later “Absolution” game. The game makers have clearly used an actor for the character because there was a motion-capture thing I could feel. The way that the character moved was very interesting to me. There was something very graceful about him.
This is a guy who takes such pride in his clothes: the iconic suit and tie. And yet, he’s able to fight very efficiently in a very inefficient kind of uniform. That deadly grace, if you like, was at the center of something very physical for me.
When I got the role, I began training with Zachary in a boxing gym with a great guy at the Krav Maga Academy here in New York, so I was doing this very brutal, efficient, Israeli self-defense technique and trying to marry that with something a lot more balletic.
To the actors, what did you do to build your camaraderie?
Quinto: Hannah and I already knew each other before we started the movie, so that was a great extension of a budding friendship, to bring it to work. And that’s always a cool thing when you know and enjoy somebody and you find an occasion in to work with them. And then because I’ve seen Rupert’s work and really admired it, I got a sense of who he was as an actor, perhaps. We both came with a real openness.
And to play adversaries, to come at it with a little bit of an open mind and open spirit actually helps. So I thought that was something I felt in our connection of working together. When you have to fight so much and be there for somebody, you have to be eye to eye and show up in a way that is so physical, we had a lot of time in the training process and establish that foundation.
Rupert, did you dig into your dark side to play an assassin? What was your process of preparing for this role?
Friend: Yeah, I went on a killing spree. I get this question a lot. “What is it about you and people who kill people for money?” Because I seem to do it a fair bit. The answer is I don’t know. I think the world we’re lucky enough to work in is a world of wonderful make-believe.
And when you’re really given an opportunity to stretch your imagination, as we were with this movie, it tests what I think is the most limitless muscle we have as creative people, which is: “Can you imagine it?” And if the answer to that is “yes,” then can you do it? And that’s our challenge.
All of us actors do that on a daily basis. Special-effects people do it, and photographers do it. And it’s the single most fascinating element of the job for me. You can’t really literally prepare to play an assassin unless you want to be thrown in prison. There’s a few things you can’t prepare for in that way, other than in your mind. And in that respect, it’s a leap of imagination.
“Hitman: Agent 47” doesn’t fall into the cliché of having a romance in the movie. Can you talk about your decision not to have a romance?
Bach: First of all, I was thinking about Agent 47, and there is no romance in this character. The question was, “How much humanity is there left?” When it’s too much, you don’t buy it. He’s a killer. He’s a clone. He’s stone cold.
But the interesting thing is Hannah’s role of Katia who is actually triggering this. She’s challenging him. And that’s exactly the reason why he is, step by step, we feel there is something left — especially those scenes in the hotel room where she is asking those questions: “I don’t think you can get rid of love, that you can get rid of fear, these basic emotions in a human being.” He doesn’t answer it. He’s just there. You just see his cold eyes. And I knew when you put in some romance there, audiences are smart; they just don’t buy it.
Can you talk about bringing the humanity to your roles instead of making them superficial characters? What was it like filming in Berlin and Singapore?
Quinto: That was one of the most appealing things, to me, about the film in the first place: taking a genre from a video-game past and drawing that fan base into a larger narrative and expanding the story and exploring the characters and giving them different shades of complexity and dynamic interaction. I remember the first conversation with Ali [Aleksander Bach] really solidified where they were coming from as a creative team behind this project. I think that went a long way in drawing me in.
And also it was shooting primarily in Berlin, which is probably my favorite city after New York, and that was an incredible experience to be in a city that I’ve known so well for such a long time. I’ve been going there a while. I have friends that live there and stuff. So, to work there, to live there, and to use the city as a kind of playground for this film.
And then, the architecture of Singapore. This is the first Hollywood studio film to shoot in Singapore. That was a real milestone, I think, for all of us involved. It’s an incredibly, stunningly beautiful architectural city.
And the way that Ali [Aleksander Bach] and Óttar Guðnason, our incredible DP [director of photography], brought that to life and put it on the screen is really sleek and dynamic and goes a long way to satisfy the appetite of gaming fans who are really used to this cinematic immersion. I think the movie brings that into focus.
Friend: I was particularly interested by the notion that this guy, who’s been genetically engineered to be “perfect” and that the flaw in that perfection might be his humanity and that his makers might consider that to be a real rogue bit of programming. And yet, if you look at it from the paradigm shift from the other side, that could also be his greatest strength. The idea that this guy who’s not supposed to have feelings or vulnerabilities, hopes, dreams, any human relations might indeed have them, and they would be considered flaws by some and actually be his greatest strength. That was interesting to me because it opens up real wonderful kind of questions about what humanity is.
Ware: Katia is introduced as a girl who’s seemingly normal and not genetically modified, so the human component is there from the outset. For me, personally, I always want to see films where it reflects some universal feelings and themes. Which writer says you need to know you’re not alone in the world? I think people watch movies to, in some way, identify with the characters. So if there was no human component, you would be left cold, and you wouldn’t be compelled to watch. So that’s definitely what drew me in.
[Katia] goes on a reverse journey of Agent 47. He’s sort of uncovering that he has this humanity, and I’m going at him and telling him that he does. I’m trying to find out he works the way he does. Katia is not at ease with herself because she’s not completely human, and it’s making peace with that and understanding that despite being extraordinary in lots of ways … she sees her supernatural strengths as flaws. It’s kind of a universal thing: Once you embrace the bits that you think are bad about yourself, they make you who you are and are integral to the great things. I always thought that was wonderful and human and interesting.
For more info: “Hitman: Agent 47” website