"The Losers" is supposed to be Jeffrey Dean Morgan's coming out party on the big screen. Sure, the former "Grey's Anatomy" star played the Comedian in "Watchmen" and sparred with Uma Thurman in the barely seen romantic comedy "The Accidental Husband," but "Losers" should be the one action flick that at least gets Morgan a slew of leading roles, right? That was certainly the thinking seven months ago as a select number of journalists visited the set in Puerto Rico.
Based on the comic book series of the same name, Morgan describes his bad ass character Clay as "a Cornell of this small group of men who call themselves 'The Losers' and basically they get set up by an unknown CIA manipulator and are left for dead. They kind of claim their lives back with some sweet revenge."
Pretty simple, no?
Joining Morgan on his crew are Chris Evans as Jensen (the tech guy), Idris Elba is Roque (second in command), Columbus Short is Pooch (the funny, "heart "of the group) and Óscar Jaenada is the quiet, but deadly sharpshooter Cougar. Their adversary is a man they know only as Max, played by Jason "don't call it a comeback" Patric. Along the team's journey to restore their names, they meet a "mysterious" operative named Aisha who is played by none other than Zoe Saldana. What producer Joel Silver and Warner Bros. didn't necessarily count on (or perhaps they are smarter than all of us and did) is that two of the film's other stars, Saldana and Evans, would be close to red hot by the time the movie came out. Saldana notoriety was already rising after the huge success of "Star Trek" a few months before, but no one knew that "Avatar" would become the record-grossing, Academy Award nominated industry game changer that has made everyone in Hollywood question their business model. And at the time,Evans was coming off the bomb "Push" and hadn't had much heat since "Fantastic Four." Now, he's got a key role in "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" and just beat out a laundry list of his peers to play Captain America in a slew of upcoming Marvel movies.
On this day in August, however, the press visited a pier (under the jurisdiction of the Dept. of Homeland Security it should be noted) where a massive action sequence was in the middle of shooting. As Morgan notes, "We've hunted down the unknown CIA guy Max, Jason Patric's character, and we track him to this area and one of my teammates has done some dastardly deeds and everything is coming to a head here, so really, this is gonna be about a 45 minute scene the way things are going."
In a slew of different camera set ups, the entire team jumps out of a van under fire only to find shelter behind large shipping crates. Short's Pooch has been shot twice in the leg and has a large bandage around his leg as he's helped to safety by Evans' Jensen. You can view a good chunk of the sequence in the film's trailer embedded on this page. Sadly, Saldana did not fire the portable rocket launcher in our presence.
Both Morgan and director Sylvain White (making a big jump from "Stop the Yard") said the spirit of the film was in the vein of a "Die Hard" or "Lethal Weapon." Sylvain says, "I love that light-hearted tone that's gone from the genre now. It's become very realistic and gritty and in this movie I'm trying to marry the visceral grittiness that the kids really like nowadays, but also bring in a tone that's light and fun. Like a 'Bad Boys' or a 'Beverly Hills Cop."
Saldana, who is covered in fake tattoos from her stunts during the shoot agrees. Especially with lots of "witty jokes" thrown into what would be some pretty heavy subject matter without a wink or two at the audience.
"It's already dark. They are being framed, they can't go back home," Saldana says during a break from filming. "You have a very dark villain, Max, [in] that I mean this man is really evil. And if we only played the drama of the intensity of what was being experienced than you might as well slash your wrists. You've got to keep it light in order to keep going with the story and to really care about the characters."
Fans of the original series, which ran from 2003-2006, are not as rabid as some other comic book to movie franchises, but they'll be happy to know that a major storyline fuels the movie.
"I read all 'The Losers' and this is kind of a combination of a lot of stuff. Jamie Vanderbilt, our writer, has kind of done some stuff as well, but we're kind of encompassing [a good deal of it]. It's mostly the graphic novel 'ATL,' but we are trying to keeping it as true as we can to it, but keeping it going for hopefully a second run here." Morgan admits.
While White didn't even bring up the word "sequel" he did talk about how he's trying to stick to the novel's tone and color palate.
"I think the look of the comic is beautiful and I love when they go from one environment to the next," White says. "They are always switching cities and countries and the colors in the graphic are always very contrasting and different and that's something I wanted to bring to the movie. In this movie we travel a lot, just like the comic and every day we shoot is a different environment. The port is the longest we've been at one location."
And Puerto Rico has been able to stand in for quite a bit of South and North America. This means the cast and crew have also spent a good chunk of time in the Island's jungles where Morgan cracks, "the bugs are as big as my hand." And while most of the actors have a few nicks and scraps, it was during that early portion of the shoot that Morgan was seriously hurt.
"On day one, I got hurt and ripped a hamstring chasing after a helicopter and I've been limping through this ever since," Morgan says. "What I've discovered is that being an action star at the age of 43 [is that] maybe should have started this little thing earlier and graduated to doing bed scenes, y'know?"
If Morgan had gotten his way he would have. The actor has been attached to the project since he first read Peter Berg's intended script for the film 3 1/2 years ago. It just took a bit longer than he, producer Joel Silver or Warner Bros. anticipated. Morgan jokes, "I've been attached to this movie for a couple of different directors and it finally came to fruition after so long and I think I was just persistent enough to keep it going for them to hire me."
While Morgan, Saldana and Columbus Short were all visibly enthusiastic even with only a few weeks left in a physically grueling shoot, Evans was less so. Everyone has bad days and unfortunately this group or journalists caught Evans on one particularly down one. The interview was particularly and surprisingly uninteresting, but he did describe Jensen as "pretty crazy" and unlike anyone he's really played before (except for the wisecracking of course).
Evans says, ""He usually wears very bright colors and Hawaiian shirts, and he has bleach-blond hair and this ridiculous facial hair. He's the goofy one. He doesn't take things too seriously."
Morgan divulges that the entire shoot will end with a major stunt off a massive 120 foot tower. He was already planning to participate. Evans? Unclear. Saldana? Well, she's gonna give it the old Na'vi try.
"I hope so. I think I can. My mom isn't that keen on it," Saldana says as she points to her bruises. "This is not Jane Austen."
Is is not indeed.
To read a more in-depth Q&A with Zoe Saldana, click here.
To view brand new character banners of the entire cast, click here.
"The Losers" opens nationwide on April 23.