Tommy Wirkola: ‘Violent Night’ producers told me the movie was ‘Die Hard’, but with Santa Claus – Times of India

Turning a tale as old as time into a swashbuckling modern-day rendition is child’s play for director Tommy Wirkola. After turning the beloved fairytale ‘Hansel & Gretel’ into ‘Witch Hunters’, he is now set to give the puggy old Santa Claus an action hero upgrade. With David Harbour stepping into the red suit with white fur lining, Wirkola presents the new kind of Santa for the young generation, with ’80s style action. In a candid conversation with ETimes, Tommy tells us the inspiration behind his movie, getting David Harbour and John Leguizamo on board the film, the message of Christmas he wants to send out with the movie and so much more…

What does Christmas mean to you and what was the inspiration behind this film?

Christmas means a lot to me. I grew up in the very north of Norway, above the arctic circle where Christmas is a sacred thing. There’s a lot of cold weather and darkness, so you stay inside for a lot of the celebrations where you sit by the fire and watch a lot of movies.

When the makers sent me the script, they told me it was Die Hard, but with Santa Claus, which was correct to some degree. But, I just thought it had something more. It was funny and had edgy jokes, humour and action, but the key was at the heart, it was still a Christmas movie. I wanted to emphasise that we can do all these crazy things, but at the end of the day, it is still a Christmas movie.

What made you pick David Harbour to play Santa Claus? Was his role as The Red Guardian sort of his audition?

I hadn’t actually seen his role as Red Guardian at the time, so no. David is obviously a great actor. With Santa, we need someone with a great physical presence, who in the fights, can be very intimidating. David has all those things and more. We worked together on how to unravel his character and the tattoos, hair and hammer to reveal who he really was. He was able to create the perfect kind of Santa Claus.

This movie is sure to change the stereotype about Santa from being an old guy to an action hero. Is this upgrade of the Christmas story to suit this generation fed with stories of superheroes and villains?

For sure! Santa has always been a hero, in one way or another. When I got the script, I asked how we were going to make him fight these guys. I thought what the writers did with his back story was brilliant. They tied him to Viking mythology and I thought that it grounded him and made him a real person.

It is definitely a new kind of Santa for our generation, but it is also going back to the kind of action movies we love. The kind of flawed hero with great character traits, goes on a very violent journey.

This will not be the first time that you improvise on folklore and fairy tales. ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’ was among the first fairytale-turned-action hero movies we saw. What do you like best about reimagining these tales?

There’s something fun about taking something people know and love and have grown up with, and you still give it to them, but do so in a very different way. These are universal stories and obviously, Santa is one of the most famous characters on the planet. Everyone has their idea of Santa. There’s an appeal to taking something that everyone loves and slightly messing with that.

What can you tell us about casting John Leguizamo as the antagonist in this film?

John Leguizamo is a great actor. He has done so much great work throughout the year. He has been funny, charming and dangerous. It was David Lee, one of the producers, who suggested him after working with him in John Wick. John is amazingly funny. A lot of the jokes that the character has in the movie are mostly his.

We also wanted to make sure he wasn’t the standard villain who wants money. So, we gave him a backstory that plays into Christmas and set him up as a good nemesis for Santa. When you have David Harbour as Santa, then you need someone equally great to play off.

When they were sitting in that room, shooting dialogues at one another, it was one of my favourite scenes to shoot because it was two great actors having fun.

What Christmas message do you hope people take back after watching this film?

‘Violent Night’ was really a fun movie to make and I think it shows in the film. We had a lot of fun playing with Christmas tropes and decorations. It was also satisfying that we were contributing to the genre of Christmas movies. Hopefully, it can be one you can put on for years to come.

It’s great when people say it is their new favourite Christmas movie because when you make a movie like this, you hope that people will play it years from now, when the kids have gone to bed, you put this on and have some fun with it.

When people leave the theatre, I still want them to feel like they have seen a Christmas movie. I want them to go out filled with Christmas joy and the classical message about what this festival is really about, what’s important, why we celebrate it and what’s important to you. It’s all about being with your family and spreading that love. All this, within a crazy action movie, was the ultimate goal.

‘Violent Night’ hits theatres worldwide on Friday, December 2.


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