Interview: Director Nick Powell Talks Wild Thriller PRIMAL and Working With Nicolas Cage

Nick Powell worked as an actor and award-winning stuntman for over thirty years before directing his first film Outcast, starring Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen in 2014. He studied Martial arts and was a London fencing champion and won Fight Choreographer of the year for his work on The Bourne Identity.

Powell’s second feature film, Primal, is a high-octane action thriller that stars Nicolas Cage, Kevin Durand, and Famke Janssen. The film takes place on a freighter full of wild animals on the loose and features a fun script and some incredibly intense fight scenes.

Dread Central had the pleasure of chatting with Nick Powell about Primal, working with his all-star cast, including Nicolas Cage, the struggles of making independent film, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!

Lionsgate will release Primal in theaters and on demand on November 8th.

Dread Central: You’ve been a stuntman for over thirty years and Primal is your second feature film as a director. When did you decide you wanted to direct movies?

Nick Powell: I trained in London as an actor. I went to drama school in London and I started out as an actor and I directed some theater when I was very young, when I was nineteen or twenty. I became a stuntman after that. I was doing a lot of theater work, and as you’re probably aware, theater doesn’t pay very much. I’d been very physical and done a lot of sports and fencing and martial arts as well. I had a friend who was training to be a stuntman and I thought I would give it a shot. So, the stunts came that way.

My first big movie was doing all the fights in Braveheart, which was obviously a very big thing. It was one of those things where you start talking to actors and they start to realize that you’re not a typical stuntman; you’re a guy who understands drama and story and everything else. After Braveheart, I was offered a bunch of sword movies, which I didn’t want to do because I wanted to be an all-around stuntman and stunt coordinator. So, I went back to doing other stuff, car chases and everything else on other movies. As I was doing it, I was talking to directors and actors and producers and they were all saying, “You should be directing!” I did all this in and around London. I think I’ve worked in twenty-eight countries now, so I’ve got a lot of experience worldwide. I was being told, “You should be directing.”

I got offered some TV work to direct twenty years ago in England, but it was stuff that I didn’t really see myself doing at that point because it was episodic things and I wasn’t really enamored with that side of things. I wanted to do more interesting work if I was going to direct. So, it’s been on and off for a long time. The reasons there haven’t been a lot credits as a stuntman is because I transitioned to directing about eight to ten years ago, but I had a lot movies fall apart the finance stage or just before filming.

I was asked to do Angels and Demons, The Davinci Code, and Wolverine, as an action director and I was turning them down, so that I could focus on trying to get the directing work going. And the directing work was falling apart, so I’d be sitting at home for quite a long time. Independent movies today are very difficult to get made. Lots of promise and lots of financing falling apart.

DC: Primal is the second film you’ve directed starring Nicolas Cage. He also starred in your first feature film Outcast. Why did you want to cast him in Primal and what do you enjoy about working with him?

NP: I get on very well with Nick. The first time with Outcast, that was a sort producorial choice. That’s where I met him. We all sat down together and thought about it. But on Primal, the producer sent the script to me and they basically said, “Nick, read the script and if you like it, let’s start talking about cast.” I read the script and liked it and they said, “Well, look, we can probably get this made with either this actor or this actor or this actor.”

They gave me a list of ten actors and Nick was one of those actors and I said, “When I read this script, I actually thought of Nick straight away as soon as I read it. Nick is great for Frank Walsh.” I know Nick and we’ve been talking about working together since the first one and Nick and I have another project he wants to do with me, and we’ve been talking about working together for a while. So, I sent it to Nick to see if he would be interested and he came back within minutes. Within two or three days, his manager was on the phone saying, “He wants to do it.” He loved the script.

So, basically it was one of those fortuitous coming together of the minds and the script came in with a list of actors they thought they could get it made with, but I was already thinking of Nick when I saw the list of actors, having read the script. And then I sent it Nick and he was onboard straight away.

Famke Janssen, Michael Imperioli, and Nick Powell on the set of Primal
(Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate)

DC: Primal was written by Richard Leder and it’s quite a wild story. What appealed to you most about the script?

NP: I think the script is a fun, action romp. It’s a popcorn movie and it does exactly what it says on the can, so to speak. It’s one of those things where you read it and you go, “Okay, it’s a thriller, but it’s got a little bit of humor in there.” It’s an enjoyable movie. It’s an enjoyable romp. That’s what I got from the first reading. It was a page-turner when you’re reading it. It felt a little bit like a throwback to some of the great movies that I watched when I was younger from the Indiana Jones type series. I’m not comparing it to Indiana Jones.

It was on a ship and all the animals are there, plus a killer and everything else. There was a little bit of an Alien type feel in the script. It had a of elements that I thought would be fun. That’s what I tried to do with the movie, was make it a fun movie. It’s a thriller, but it’s a fun thriller. I thought it didn’t take itself seriously. It was just fun and as I said, a bit of throwback to the late eighties’ kind of action movies. You know that period of the Schwarzeneggers and the Stallones, and everything else. And I thought with Nick onboard, it would be a fun thing to do. It’s one of those things where you want to come in and enjoy making the movie and enjoy the lines and not take them seriously. Let the audience enjoy it. Let them participate in it.

DC: Were you involved in choreographing any of the fight scenes in Primal?

NP: I was. We were shooting in Puerto Rico and they had a local stunt coordinator that was onboard. It wasn’t a big budget movie in terms of we could bring everybody in from anywhere we wanted in the world. We were using local guys in Puerto Rico and the stunt coordinator was very good, a really hard-working guy. Basically, I sat down and gave them the brief of what I needed to happen and then this is going to happen before this happens and I’d walk them through it. I let them go and start to put some stuff together and then I went to the rehearsals and sort of fine-tuned it. With the background I have from Gladiator to The Last Samurai to this, I’d done a lot of this kind of fighting work. So, yes, I had quite a bit of involvement in the action side of things.

DC: Can you tell me what you’re working on now?

NP: Right now, I’m putting together a project and I was talking to the producer this morning. It’s kind of a human trafficking thriller set in London that I wrote. We supposedly have financing. This is one of those things, like I said, with the independent movie world. I’m being told we have full financing now and we’re moving ahead with that one right now. It’s actually a little bit more of a serious project. Obviously, it’s not a popcorn thing with human trafficking and things. It’s more where my real heart is in terms of, I like drama. I’ve done so much action that I don’t really watch action movies anymore. I’m going back to my acting roots and really want to be more involved on the drama side.

With Primal, I tried to get all the actors to see from an actor’s point of view, it’s a fun romp, but it’s also getting involved and having the dramatic side of it. I think we got some really nice performances. There’s some great scenes with Nick and Famke and Michael Imperioli. I’ve known Kevin Durand for years, so I brought Kevin onboard sort of just before we started shooting. Kevin’s such a good guy. I’ve known him probably twenty years now, and this is the first time I’ve been able to work with him properly. I’ve worked with him in a stunt capacity before, but this is the first time I’ve been able to work with him properly. I love getting involved in the dramatic side and shaping the performances and the scenes.

DC: I really do appreciate you taking time to talk with me today!

NP: My pleasure! Thank you so much!



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