Alanna Bale, George Tchortov and Chris Mark
The Dark Side of Being Enhanced
By Jay S. Jacobs
Remember old school, kick-ass, action-adventure b-movies?
Writer/director James Mark hopes you do. Growing up on the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, he always wanted to become a Ninja. He started working in film as a stuntman but has made the leap to direction.
“As a filmmaker and fan of the action genre, I’m drawn to films from the 80’s and 90’s, as the greats exploit a unique type of raw, physical talent that is presently rare to find,” explained Mark in a recent statement. “I intend to bring back the simplicity of timeless action films while integrating modern cinematography and sci-fi elements that speak to audiences across the globe.”
The end result is Enhanced, a tense sci-fi chase film about a bunch of regular people who were given special powers by a shadowy government cabal. Years later, they are trying to live quiet normal lives when they start getting hunted down by the same agents who originally kidnapped them, as well as the source of their strength, a stone-faced superpowered killer named David.
Mark put together a cast full of hip indie actors for the project, including George Tchortov (Molly’s Game), Alanna Bale (Cardinal) and his brother, actor Chris Mark (The Boys).
In the week leading up to the wide release of Enhanced, we caught up with the film’s co-stars Bale, Tchortov and Chris Mark to discuss the film.
What was it about this script that intrigued you and made you want to take on the role?
Chris Mark: Well, a big part of it is obviously, is working with my brother over the last 10 years. Whenever there’s opportunity, we always want to try to work together. In terms of the script, I really liked how it had that sci-fi, superpower feeling, but not in an over-the-top way. In more of a grounded, darker world. In terms of my character, I just like the idea of playing an antagonist – somebody that’s not out to be the hero of the film.
Alanna Bale: [I play a]hot, badass woman taking on the world. But Anna is as empathetic as any human being out there is. She’s empathetic and soft and kind. [She] just so happens to have these powers, which she reluctantly has to use.
George Tchortov: I really liked the character of George. Besides him being named George, obviously, which I like. (laughs) There’s something really interesting about him where I saw through the script that he as a person didn’t really change. His allegiances change, and his perspective changes, but he stays the same. I thought that’s a really interesting journey where someone can go from serving a higher power to serving what they believe in, without losing themselves along the way. We never see him change. We just see his allegiances shift from bad to good. I thought that was really neat.
The movie is called Enhanced, yet somewhat ironically, all the characters who had those special powers – with the exception of David – seem to think that the enhancements were really not worth it. Did you find that kind of juxtaposition intriguing in the role; the amazing things you could do versus what you had to go through to get them?
Alanna Bale: Definitely. For my character, specifically, she was taken from her family when she was four years old and was programmed to kill. Programmed to become a weapon. These subjects were stolen from their lives and programmed to become killers.
Chris Mark: I think for my character – for David – without him, they wouldn’t be able to have powers, essentially. They took the powers from me. I have no problem taking back what’s mine.
George Tchortov: I thought it was a very interesting take that all of their powers were derived from one source.
Chris Mark: From my character’s perspective, I’m not doing anything wrong. [They] took me from my home. I’m just trying to get home. To get home, I need to do A, B, C and D. By the way, that sweater I let you borrow, yeah, I’m going to need that back now. (laughs) Unfortunately, there’s consequences to it. It goes on the theme of something borrowed that isn’t yours. Kind of like greediness, of technology and humans. They’re trying to harness this stuff that they shouldn’t be harnessing.
George Tchortov: Although they had powers that made them stronger than human, they weren’t super super. They weren’t all like X-Men. They were all just a little bit stronger, a little bit faster. It was interesting to see these fights on steroids that still felt grounded, and not superhuman until we get to the later acts of the film, when David has started to grow his power. Now he can blast through doors and flip people and throw people through the air.
Alanna Bale: Once they escape, except for the exception of David, they really do choose to live a passive life. I think that it really is interesting. Specifically for my character, the only times that aggression is shown is in defense, or in protecting someone else.
George Tchortov: I thought it was a good, grounded approach to superhumans. Because generally, when I watch a superhuman film, it’s X-Men or something fantastical, and we have to save the universe every single time. This movie Enhanced felt more grounded, felt more real. It felt more like just save the girl, which is a lot easier for an audience to get attached to. The stakes feel more real.
It’s a science fiction movie about people with extraordinary abilities, but in what ways do you feel like your character was most like you, and what things as an actor were most difficult for you to grasp?
George Tchortov: As a person, and I shouldn’t probably say this, but I’m not always into authority figures. So, playing an authority figure who follows authority figures blindly and unquestionably, off the top of the film is really… for me it’s always interesting playing someone who’s like “Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir. Whatever you say, sir. I’ll do that, sir.” For me that that is always an interesting aspect to play.
Chris Mark: The hardest part to get a grasp on is just not having any emotion or sympathy or empathy. Embodying this all-powerful being, essentially. I found my way through that through movement. That was my biggest aid. How would he move? How would he walk? What kind of animal would he be like? He’s obviously top of the food chain. What kind of animals walk around [and] have that presence, right?
Alanna Bale: In terms of similarities, I’m always very keen to bring as much as I can to the role. That is, in essence, who I am, because it just makes it so much more naturalistic and more enjoyable and intriguing for the viewer to watch if it is rooted in some sort of truth. So, I think her empathy, and her kindness. That was pretty easy to access. Never wanting to see someone hurt. I didn’t have to stray far from my own beliefs to tap into that.
George Tchortov: I fell in love with the character George more as he starts to fall into his own. [He] thinks for himself and breaks free of the organization. That’s what really turned me on to the character. I feel like that’s something I would do if I were working for a shadow government agency, and I realized that what I was doing was wrong. I would probably try to become a Jason Bourne myself. Break your cell phone, throw it in the garbage and disappear. That for me was the challenge and the interesting part, to have to play that rigid Yes Man, and then to get to break free of that was fun.
Chris Mark: In terms of relating, I can understand the need of survival, of course, just like most people. The need of just hitting your objective for getting your goal. It supports the themes of what is a good person. What is a bad person? It’s all perspective. It’s all based on somebody else’s views.
Alanna Bale: Honestly, similarly to the character reluctancy to use her strength and to become aggressive. It’s something that I’m not prone to on a on a day-to-day basis. Being able to explore the fight between not wanting to use her power and her strength, but having to in defense, or in protection of other people. That that battle was really interesting for me to explore.
Chris Mark: This theme actually comes up in anime a lot. Japanese anime is a big inspiration for us. You’ll see a lot of these heroes – these protagonists – turn antagonists. From their perspective, they’re right. From [other people’s] perspective, they’re right.
Everyone has their own reasons.
Chris Mark: That’s right.
So many films these days rely on people with powers. In the long run, do you think you’d want any? If so, what kind?
Alanna Bale: Oh, that’s a good question. The first thing that came to my mind is the ability to breathe underwater, which I know isn’t like a super strong, superhuman kind of power. I think I would lean more towards something more subtle and kinder and interesting as breathing underwater. I know, everyone says flying, but it would be pretty sweet to be amongst the birds in the clouds. So yeah, I think one of those.
Chris Mark: (laughs) Sure if there’s no consequences. Yeah, powers are cool. I’m sure they would be a hindrance as well, though. If I could have any superpower it would probably be like, telekinesis. I think it’s pretty cool. Or flight. Just things to make my life more efficient and practical.
George Tchortov: (laughs) I’ve always had this dream where I could swim through the air. Not fly but swim. Kind of like slow motion. Slow motion flying. I think that would be a pretty neat power to have. Flying is always appealing, but to be able to just float and drift around and be unseen – at a comfortable speed – would probably be the superpower I’d want to go for. If I could jump off here and land over there. That would be pretty cool.
Shadowy government agencies always make intriguing villains in films, particularly in this fraught political world today, I know Enhanced is not really a political film, but what do you think that it has to say about the way the world works?
Chris Mark: It’s definitely a popular theme, especially in today’s climate. (laughs) I think it really loops back around to greed, right? Like, this may be getting little too out there for this interview, but as human beings, all we do is take, take, take, take. Spend resources, resources, use up resources. It’s obviously taken an impact on the planet. A lot of themes from the film take [that] into account.
Alanna Bale: I think what we can extrapolate from this movie is that there is always an underbelly of some countries’ – or all countries’ – governments or political leaders. There’s a deep, dark underbelly that the public isn’t privy to.
George Tchortov: It plays on the Jason Bourne type of thing. We all know Jason Bourne was in Treadstone and went through all these things. We all know what those things are based on, like the sort of MKUltra type stuff and all of those crazy things.
Chris Mark: David, he’s energy essentially. They took it from… not from the planet, from an alternate universe… and tried to harness that power. They shouldn’t, right? It’s things that people are doing that they shouldn’t be doing. They’re doing it because there’s money, there’s power and there’s status. I think that would probably be the biggest themes relating.
Alanna Bale: I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I do believe that there’s a lot that the public isn’t aware of. There are shady things going on within our political system and governments around the world. So, I think that the secret government initiative in Enhanced – who knows, that could exist in Canada. Who knows?
George Tchortov: I felt that this was just more about, sometimes there are elements of government that the government doesn’t even know exist. This was just another exploration into that. What if there were some enhanced people running around? They would probably have a special task force dedicated to keeping this mute. I don’t think that the movie makes a political statement so much about shadow government as it does play on existing archetypes. Worlds that we’ve seen in movies such as like the Bourne films, or the existing X-Men films.
There was a lot of fighting and a lot of martial arts. Did you have to take any kind of training for that to get ready for the role?
Alanna Bale: The training was interesting. I booked the role. We had a week before production started. I was starting from zero. I have no experience whatsoever with fighting or choreography, or even dance.
George Tchortov: I do have quite a bit of experience as a stunt performer. When I’m not acting, I’ve often worked as a stunt coordinator and fight coordinator as well. I studied martial arts as a kid. So, my understanding of action and how action is developed and rehearsed and shot is pretty good.
Chris was it interesting because you are somebody who does martial arts regularly working with other people who are not necessarily as into martial arts?
Chris Mark: Yeah, it was fun to be honest. Sometimes it can be a bit of a nightmare but with Alanna it was it was so much fun. She’s a natural. She doesn’t have any martial art background. Sometimes it’s better to have nothing than to have something that you had to change. It’s harder for people to break habits than create new ones. Sometimes it’s like you’re painting. You just want a blank canvas.
Alanna Bale: I had a week to learn the choreography. The first day was all the basics. We touched on what we could touch on in the span of five hours. Then the following four days were dedicated to choreography. We had a solid week, and then throughout filming, it was really just stolen moments. While the crew was setting up, I’d grab one of the stunt guys and go through the choreography, or one of the stunt girls who was doubling me, to just refine and tune all the sequences.
George Tchortov: I did rehearse. I did do all the rehearsals and stuff like that. Alanna and I were in the studio, working hard with the stunt team. Alanna especially did such an incredible job. I trained really, really hard. We did learn all the fights and rehearse all the fights. I did most of the stuff myself. Whatever I could, whatever I was available for. We were on a very tight schedule with two crews sometimes. And yeah, I there are some instances in the film where if there was a double in place for me, but for most of this stuff, I do all the fights myself.
Chris Mark: It was really cool. We have an amazing stunt team – Team 2X. It was really cool to see them train her and get her up to a level where she’s kicking butt on screen. She should be really proud of what she did. Because she looks awesome. She has a great presence, everything. She’s just great.
George, you said that you work in the stunt world. James also comes from that world. What was he like to work with as a director?
George Tchortov: James is an incredible director. He doesn’t have the typical demeanor of what you would expect from a stunt coordinator or stunt types. That’s one of the things that really excites me about working with James. When you meet him, he’s very soft spoken. He’s very eloquent. He knows what he wants. He communicates well with people. His voice is quiet. It’s a really nice presence to have on set. For someone who started in stunts and has that experience. I think James’s demeanor really betrays that background. If you met him, you would think he was something far gentler than a stunt person.
Chris, this is a second movie you’ve made with James. What’s it like working with your brother?
Chris Mark: We have so much history. Even before films, we work together in the stunt industry. Before that, we were live stage performers. Doing martial arts shows, at like busker festivals, and company retreats. It’s been like 15 years of that. We’re very professional. We know our roles. We appreciate and respect each other’s crafts. If I’m there as an actor, he’s the director, that’s [the] relationship. We leave personal feelings at the door, for the most part. Obviously, there’s going to be some bickering on things, but I think that’s no different than any professional relationship.
Did you see James and Chris’s earlier film Kill Order? It’s not an official continuation or anything, but it did have a lot of the same ideas. If so, did that film affect how you approached this movie?
Alanna Bale: I didn’t watch it. I was told by James to not watch it, because he wanted me to have fresh eyes on this project. I think I did see the trailer of it. That was just my own research before I got the role because I just wanted to see the type of style that James created. But I didn’t watch the movie. I was told not to.
George Tchortov: I did watch Kill Order. I thought it was a great movie. The action in it is really, really incredible. It’s a great demonstration of what this team can do on their own with little to no resources. That’s one of the exciting things about working with them. I know it’s not a matter of potential or existing skill or demonstrated skill. It’s just a matter of time and patience and budget.
Did seeing that earlier movie affect how you played George or how you approach the new movie or that was, was that just something that was good for you to know, but really didn’t affect your job as an actor?
George Tchortov: James and I discussed the first movie and how it relates to the second film because the David character carries on from Kill Order into Enhanced, but Enhanced was really supposed to exist as its own movie. Kind of like how at first, we had El Mariachi and then Desperado came out. They existed as its own thing. Enhanced works in that it has a similar relationship with Kill Order, where Kill Order exists and was the original gateway into the world. But Enhanced really is its own thing. So, I didn’t draw anything from Kill Order. In my preparation for Enhanced, I just approached it as if this was a new thing. This is its own thing. We’ve never seen George’s character before. We’ve never seen Alanna’s character before. Their story, their journey is what the movie is about.
Chris, I know that this is not a continuation of Kill Order. But in Kill Order, you actually played a very similar character, even with the same name. Did doing that role before influence the way that you played this character?
Chris Mark: Yeah, for sure. It definitely did. I mean, it’s in the same realm. It’s in the same realm as that movie – the theme and the feeling of it. In the realm of powers and things like that. So yeah, it definitely influenced [my take on the role]. I’ve been asked a lot, “Wait, you’re David and a killer? Is this the sequel to Kill Order? James is like, no. “But his name’s David in both films.” Yeah. (laughs) So, there’s things there I can’t really talk about. I’ll just say it’s definitely helpful being in Kill Order for doing this role.
I saw an interview with James where he said that that was one of the toughest parts of the filming was working up in northern Canada in this remote cabin. You had to get there by snowmobile, and it was like minus 30 degrees. How do you think that that type of camaraderie and going through that type of thing got the cast and crew closer together?
George Tchortov: It’s a great experience. It’s like going to camp together.
Alanna Bale: I think that it absolutely binds people together. Yeah, it was cold. It was like February in Canada up north. It looks so stunning. In the moment, you are so aware of how cold it is. But it’s like the actors, at least, we’re goldfish. So, we do the tape, we get home and we forget that it’s negative 30 degrees. We see the product and what the cold and that atmosphere elicits once you see it on screen, and it’s so worth it. But I had it easy, I was inside of the cabin for 90% of the time.
George Tchortov: We went to this fantastic town in northern Ontario, called Huntsville, which, like James said, is extremely cold. We shot in a real cabin. It wasn’t a dressed-up film cabin. What you see in this cabin is exactly how we found it. It had four feet of snow on the roof. We had four snowmobiles going up and down the trail, carrying actors, equipment, food, whatever we needed. We had a wood oven stove to keep us warm inside the cabin.
Chris Mark: The conditions were tough. Very cold. (laughs) And like you said, you get the snowmobile into location. Everyone – the cast and crew – it was such a team effort in terms of getting it done and supporting where we could. I was driving people on the snowmobile, sometimes back to set, or George was.
George Tchortov: It did create like a camp feeling where we all got to bond. You had to hug the snowmobile driver while he blasted you up the trail. And, yeah, I think it helped. It helped deal with the environment for sure. The fact that we just got to play, because snowmobiles are supposed to be fun, regardless of the weather. (laughs)
Alanna Bale: The rest, they were shooting outside in the snow. There’s that insanely good fight sequence that takes place amongst trees in snow that’s like three feet deep. They were out there for three days, while me George and Chris were inside the cabin. We had a little wood stove that we would go huddle by while we were setting up the next shot. So honestly, we had it easy.
Chris Mark: I was saying this as well in another interview, even doing the fight scenes in the cold, but that kind of stuff is what builds character and builds relationships. I look back on it like: Wow, look what we did. Remember that? That was amazing. That was so good. And we did it together.
The movie started playing in the festival circuit like in 2019. Then of course, the world came to a stop for about a year. So what does it feel like to now finally have Enhanced getting out there and more people being able to see it?
Alanna Bale: It’s exciting. Yeah. I saw it probably three or four months after we shot it. Then, like you said, everything was put on hold. I hadn’t revisited it in almost a year and a half, almost two years. So for myself getting to see it again, it was such was such a joy. I’m excited for people to see it – especially during this time when they need something to escape to. With this sci-fi fantasy action thriller, I think that’ll it’ll take people’s minds off everything that’s going on in the world right now. So, I’m excited. I’m excited that it’s making its rounds.
George Tchortov: It’s exciting. It’s always nice when people can gather physically together to celebrate something and build that buzz around it. But we also live in a world where more and more people are just sitting down and turning it on and enjoying it in the comfort of their home. As much as it would be nice to celebrate with people that are fans of the genre and the film, I think it’s cool that they’re going to get to see it regardless. I’m excited to see the feedback and to see how people feel about it.
Chris Mark: Yeah, we’ve been waiting for a long time. (laughs) It’s so cool to see it out there. Actually some of the other countries have released it, too, so I have been getting people messaging me about it. But I’m really excited for it to release in North America, because I have a lot of people that keep asking “When is Enhanced coming out?” “Is Enhanced Kill Order 2?” No. “When is it coming out?” Soon. Now I can finally be like it’s coming out the end of March. Check it out. It’s going to be awesome.
Just on a more basic thing, the movie world has been turned upside down with the worldwide pandemic. A lot of movies that might have played in the theaters are now just going straight to streaming or things like Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever. Do you think that that type of thing can help a small film like yours find an audience?
Chris Mark: 100%. Especially since during that time, you look back, how many big blockbusters have come out? Right? Everybody’s holding on to it. People are dying for content. It will probably stay the same way for this year. Things are not going to come out until maybe summer or the end of the year, so it’s a great opportunity for Enhanced to get more recognition.
George Tchortov: Absolutely. Because now when you go on Netflix, you scroll, and you scroll, and you scroll. If you’re bored, you keep scrolling and all the images look the same. There’s very little dichotomy now. It’s not like back in the day. When I was a kid, I’d go to the video store, and you could scan and you’d be like, “No, that’s not going to be a good one.” “That’s a good one.” Now with Netflix and all of the online platforms and viewing apps, there’s sort of a homogeny, to everything. Everything looks the same. You see Kevin Costner next to someone that you don’t know, and so on and so forth. It doesn’t make a difference. People click and people watch, and people fall in love with the show as long as it’s out there. It’s on the same platforms as everything else. To me, that’s a huge score.
Alanna Bale: Definitely. I think that, especially on streaming sites, it has the ability to reach so many people. Whereas if it only got a cinema or theater release, then you’re beholden to only the people that can sit in those seats. Having it circulating online, it reaches a bunch more people than it would if it had a very limited release. And just the way that we consume television and movies now, I think that it is very streaming based. I think that it’s a great platform.
Chris Mark: I know Kill Order, our first movie, during the pandemic has been getting a lot of views. I was getting a lot of messages about people seeing it popping up everywhere because people are home. And what do people do when they are at home? They like to watch TV or go on their phone or Instagram. So, yeah, absolutely. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of response it gets in the next few months.
One last question on a more personal note. How have you been handling the whole new shelter at home, social distancing world?
George Tchortov: For me, it’s been it’s been interesting. As an actor and working in the in the in the film business for over two decades, I’ve always sort of been accustomed to having a few months off here and a few weeks off there. So, the shutdown period initially was interesting. At the same time, it felt okay to me. I’m used to being at home while everyone else is living their life – waiting for an audition, waiting for a job.
Alanna Bale: Honestly, it has been pretty good. I always feel bad saying that, but I know the reason why I’m able to have a relaxed time is because I don’t have children. I was able to audition and work throughout this time.
George Tchortov: Today is one of my days off busy doing another movie with James Mark.
Chris Mark: I’ve been adapting. (laughs) It was definitely tougher last year, at the beginning, but film and TV did open up in September last year for us here in Toronto. It’s been super busy. I was very lucky to work on Man from Toronto as an actor, on a Kevin Hart movie.
George Tchortov: Going out in the world was definitely interesting. Different. It reminded me of the past, actually a lot. It reminded me of the 80s when I was a kid, when things were quieter and calmer. But it came with its own eerie feelings and negative things. All in all, I think, for me, it’s been a good time. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time at home. A lot of time in my bubble as it were, with those few people that I care about the most.
Alanna Bale: It was a reset and a break. And a discovery of nature. The number of walks that I’ve been on and discovering Toronto where it is less populated has been so eye opening, so it has been pretty great. I feel bad saying it. (laughs)
Chris Mark: Right now it’s been really busy as well, so I’m grateful right now and I’m willing to do what it takes to wait until things [fully] open up. It will open up, it’s just a matter of time and patience.
George Tchortov: I’ve been fortunate to continue to work. As you know, the film industry is back up and running. We do an enormous amount of testing. I’m getting tested three to five times a week sometimes. It allows me to keep working. I feel and fortunate and blessed that my world hasn’t changed too much.
Copyright ©2021 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 26, 2021.
Photos #2-4 ©2021 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
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