Director Lexi Alexander on Punisher: War Zone

Lexi Alexander (Green Street Hooligans), director of Punisher: War Zone, talked to Superhero Hype! about her latest project that is scheduled for release in September 2008. The German born sports enthusiast knows what fighting and kicking ass is all about. She competed professionally in kickboxing and karate before embarking on a career as a filmmaker. Her background comes in handy when working on the set during fight scenes.

Ray Stevenson is Frank Castle/The Punisher in the film. He is a vigilante-hero who suffered a tragic loss when mobsters killed his wife and child. Dominic West takes on the role of Billy Russoti/Jigsaw, Punisher’s arch enemy. Alexander believes Stevenson and West are perfect for the characters they portray in the action-thriller. She weighed in on a variety of topics relating to Punisher: War Zone:

Superhero Hype!: Does this movie take place in the Marvel Universe or in its own world?

Lexi Alexander: I think in the sense of the other Marvel characters it is definitely its own world. In terms of location though, we call it the Marvel New York. Rather than setting it in real New York, I wanted it to have a little bit of a surreal feeling.

SHH!: What one thing do you think distinguishes your take on the Punisher compared to the last Punisher movie that fans of the comic will truly appreciate?

Alexander: The last “Punisher” movie really wasn’t relevant to us. There is a lot of comparison to it but not any of the people on my team ever looked to that and said, “how can it either be different or better.” We just kind of made our own film. The one thing I concentrated on is to really make it as close to the MAX series as possible. I think we really achieved it in terms of the look, as well as the tone. When I look at the dailies that I am getting, seriously, I think I am looking at a MAX comic book right in front of me. It’s the same color tones; it’s the same tone.

SHH!: Will this be a hard R “Punisher,” and, if so, what sort of guidelines has the studios established regarding as to how violent the means can be?

Alexander: It will definitely be a hard R. Luckily, Lionsgate has been great about it. They haven’t given me any guidelines in terms of violence. I really like violent movies.

SHH!: I just loved your debut film, “Green Street Hooligans.” Are the challenges of making a picture on a bigger scale like “Punisher: War Zone,” more than that of one like “Green Street?”

Alexander: I think that there are advantages and disadvantages. In the advantages there are a lot more toys, it’s a bigger crew, and there’s just more resources. The disadvantages are the more money you get, the more responsibilities you have, the more people you have to answer to. You have all kinds of people that have a say in how the movie should be, or, you know, giving me input on where I can go, and where I can’t go. I think I got really lucky for this being my first studio movie and having people who really believe in me. I usually know from other filmmakers that on their first studio film they hardly make any decisions by themselves. I got really lucky.

SHH!: How does this “Punisher” film differ from the previous film?

Alexander: I get this question a lot. I think that the feeling of it is going to be much darker and I think the one thing that the comic fans will realize immediately is that the world we created feels like the comic book world in terms of the look as well. I think the reason I have been sick all week is I have been shooting in minus degrees all night for eight weeks. I literally haven’t seen daylight; I’m like a vampire. So, you can imagine how this movie is going to look. It’s all dark and cold.

SHH!: What is the significance of the subtitle “War Zone” to the story that we will be seeing?

Alexander: When we were discussing titles–obviously Marvel has a huge input on that–we wanted to angle with something that the fans would recognize as a title. When they suggested a few, “War Zone” seemed the one that fit this one in particular. It has something to do with the ending. It will make more sense once you have seen the film. I think the ending really justifies the title “War Zone.”

SHH!: In an interview, “Punisher” director Jonathan Hensleigh told us that he wanted to darken things between the original theatrical version and the extended cut. What is your feeling on the tone of your film and how far are you looking to push it in terms of the comic book portrayal of the character Marvel MAX versus regular Marvel Universe?

Alexander: It’s definitely Marvel MAX and it is a vigilante story; it’s pretty dark and violent in the comic books as Punisher fans know. There is really no boundary to his darkness. I tried to go there. Hopefully, I have achieved it.

SHH!: Given your background, how much hand-to-hand fighting do you plan on having for Frank Castle to engage in, or will most of the action be gunplay?

Alexander: I would say it’s about seventy percent gunplay and thirty percent hand-to-hand combat. It really didn’t have anything to do with my background, although I love hand-to-hand combat. I love putting on these fights. That is the world I come from in terms of martial arts as well as from the stunt world. But when I make a film it is about the character. I studied his biography; the great thing about Castle is that he is so skilled in so many things. You learn all kinds of martial arts skills. So you have pieces of every single martial art there is. He is also mainly focused on the gun, so, we have some great hand-to-hand combat but it’s seventy percent gunplay I would say.

SHH!: Your storyline incorporates elements and characters from arch nemesis “Welcome Back Frank” comic story. Why was the decision made to bring Jigsaw who is not a part of that storyline?

Alexander: The first script I received from Lionsgate had Jigsaw already in it. At that point I wasn’t really familiar where Jigsaw came in the series. He was there. He was the antagonist and the villain. I fell in love with this character. I think he is a great villain and so I wanted to keep him. I don’t think we strictly went for one storyline in the comic books. We took parts out of the world of Frank Castle and tried to make the best story possible.

SHH!: What makes actors Ray Stevenson and Dominic West perfect for their perspective roles as Frank and Billy?

Alexander: They really are perfect. Everyday we stand behind the monitor and we just shake our heads. We look at these guys and go, like “Holy sh*t,” how lucky did we get. Ray Stevenson is incredibly intense. Not only does he totally look like the Punisher, he kind of has his life up on his face. He is not a pretty boy. You can definitely see that he has had a life. He is skilled and he teaches all of us now about guns, machine guns and bullets. He is very physical. On the other hand, Dominic is just a really skilled actor. I think people will see a side of him that they haven’t seen before. We use all of his talent. This guy is a real British theater actor. He can have a huge range. He nails this part like there is no tomorrow. I think people will be speaking about this forever. We all say this is the best he has ever done. When you have both of them at the dinner table, privately, you can actually tell the essence of each of these characters is in them. Ray will sit and say nothing all evening and be really intense and listen. Dominic will sit and be entertaining everybody and be loud and a clown. We have two actors who represent kind of the essence of these characters.

SHH!: As a former fighting champ, how do you feel about handing out ass kicking tips to your stars?

Alexander: I have a lot of people hired that teach these guys fighting and do the fight choreography. Once in a while it’s quite funny because I will jump in when I see that a punch doesn’t sell, or a certain elbow hit doesn’t sell. The guys shake their heads because they like power above me. I’m like, “can you turn around and do it this way?” Ray will say, “I can’t believe this little midget is showing me how to fight, but she’s right.” There is a lot of humor about the fact that they think I can kick their ass. This is good for a director–so they listen to me.

SHH!: What has been the most brutal scene so far?

Alexander: The most brutal thing I think has been the location we were in two weeks ago where it was part of the finale. It was a really cold and toxic building. We all had to have these masks on, which didn’t help a lot because we all got sick anyway. It was toxic so we had to basically shoot the entire time with these oxygen masks on, except the actors; they didn’t get any.

SHH!: Do you have a favorite kill without giving too much a way?

Alexander: I do have a favorite kill. Without giving too much away, I can say it has to do with a headbutt.

SHH!: I love that you are a female director working on a film with a franchise that seems so testosterone driven. What sensibilities do you bring to the Punisher as a director?

Alexander: My previous film, as well as my background, is so related to the subject that I think it wasn’t really that far fetched for the studio and for Marvel to come to me with this. I don’t think that the fact that I am a female was ever relevant. I like it that way. Everybody sees me as a director and compares me to other directors. It doesn’t matter what gender. I think, personally, just because of the person I am, I like vigilante stories. I can totally relate to it. A little bit, “Green Street Hooligans” was about vigilantism, honor and standing up for yourself. I really related to this story and I think that part is coming through. There is a lot of action and a lot of violence. The real essence of what happened to Frank Castle and how he is dealing with it will come through. There are a lot of quiet scenes in the film as well.

SHH!: How much did the previous “Punisher” movie inform this one? Obviously, it’s a new cast, and presumably, a new beginning, but is this a complete reboot/revamp of the character or is it more like “Batman Forever” i.e. different guy in the outfit, but the same Frank Castle from the last movie?

Alexander: I would say it’s a completely different reboot because the first, and the previous one, were not relevant to us at all. Castle is one story; the mythology stays the same. I have a very different take on it. I was lucky enough to put it in the right environment where I think Frank Castle belongs, which is very dark and cold.

SHH!: During your research you talked a lot about the MAX series. I was wondering were there any particular storylines that you read of the Punisher that stood out that you enjoyed just reading.

Alexander: There has been so many that I feel like I read hundreds and hundreds when I first took on this job. This is something that stayed in my mind, which is not in this film. I remember reading it and saying, “okay, I am going to make this movie.” Frank Castle was still in his street clothes and his wife had just died. A neighbor comes over with a bottle of whiskey and tries to comfort him. In that conversation the neighbor admits that he is having an affair with his secretary. Castle’s face changes and says, you know, I lost my wife, and you are telling me that you are screwing around on your wife. Then he says “run” and the neighbor doesn’t run. So he throws him through the window and basically trashes him. I thought, now, that’s a cool guy. I tried to put that in the movie but it didn’t fit anywhere. I remember the turning point saying, now, that’s great writing.

SHH!: Is Microchip going to be Frank’s ally or enemy in this film?

Alexander: Definitely his ally.

SHH!: I think it is great that you are a lady and you can kick ass like the guys. What sparked your interest in martial arts when you were younger? Are you still competing from time-to-time?

Alexander: Now, I mainly film make. I don’t have the time to do all the martial arts stuff anymore. I did it for a while very professional, you know, traveling all over the world competing. I retired from that a long time ago. The legend of it seems to follow me. Once in a while I show up at tournaments and hand out trophies and make an appearance, but that’s as much as my involvement goes with martial arts. The way that I got into it was my mother thought I had too much access energy. She signed me up for a class and that was the end of it.

SHH!: Are you looking ahead in the future to possibly doing a “Green Street Two?”

Alexander: No. No “Hooligans Two.” It’s not in the future. Those are the kind of mythologies I like so there might be something in that area.

SHH!: A lot of action movies now concentrate on one sort of martial arts technique. Is there anything in particular you wanted to emphasize, you know, mix martial arts or something specific in terms of defining the way the fight and action scenes could be choreographed?

Alexander: I have noticed that certain people have their style, and films have their own unique kind of martial arts they go with. When you read Castle’s biography, he is basically skilled in many different martial arts. I went to my fight choreographer who I have worked with for years, not only as a director, but when I was twenty years old as a stunt woman. He is a real legend. His name is Pat Johnson. He has done everything from the “Ninja Turtles” to “Karate Kid” from that time on, to every action film you can imagine with martial arts. He did “Green Street Hooligans” for me. We had a conversation before the Punisher started and I gave him Castle’s biography. I said when we do hand-to-hand contact I want to see that he is skilled in all these different things so he can go from one thing to the other. At the same time he is not acrobatic. He is not an elegant fighter. You will see different things but they are not going to be beautiful. I think we have achieved that.

Source: Alice Chapman Newgen