Look Back Without Remorse
By Jay S. Jacobs
In a post-COVID world, the movie business is learning a whole new model. A big action thriller like Michael B. Jordan’s new film Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse – the first of two planned films with Jordan based on novels about the regular Clancy character of John Kelly – is foregoing theaters and debuting on Amazon Prime.
The film – the first movie from the new production company helmed by the popular actor Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) – brings back to life a favorite character from Clancy’s fictional universe. Clancy’s fiction has been a fertile ground for the big and small screen – with films like The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, A Clear and Present Danger, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and the current Amazon Prime Jack Ryan TV series based on his bestsellers. There are also plans of Jordan following up Without Remorse with a movie version of the novel Rainbow Six.
As a producer, Jordan has put together a strong supporting cast – including Jamie Bell, Guy Pearce, Jodie Turner-Smith, Lauren London, Brett Gelman and Colman Domingo – to star in the spy thriller, which is helmed by acclaimed director Stefano Sollima. The movie follows Kelly as a Navy Seal whose team is being targeted by assassins after a botched mission in the Middle East. He is determined to avenge a hideous betrayal and a tragic situation, going down a rabbit hole of mental and physical danger with a new squad, only to find that the whole scheme goes much deeper than he ever imagined.
A couple of weeks before the release of Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, we were one of the lucky media outlets who were invited to participate in a virtual press conference to discuss the movie with Michael Jordan and his co-stars Jodie Turner-Smith, Lauren London, Brett Gelman and Colman Domingo, as well as director Stefano Sollima.
The movie world has been turned upside down. A lot of movies that would have played in theaters are going directly onto platforms like Amazon Prime. Do you think that can help a film to find an audience? Why or why not?
Michael B. Jordan: (laughs) I think it’s given access to films that quite possibly [people] wouldn’t have an opportunity to go see. Certain films are obviously intended to be shot and played in a movie theater. But we’re in an evolving time where obviously, the pandemic this last year had everything [to do] with the shift. We were victims of that as well, in a sense of trying to figure out: where are we going to pivot? How will we get our movie out to the masses, so everybody had an opportunity to watch it and see it? Luckily enough we were able to land a place like Amazon to house this film. I think it’s the evolution. It’s going to be a healthy balance between the two. There’s something to sitting at home and being able to have instant access to the movies that you want to see. There’s also something to going to the theater and having that movie theater experience as well. So, it’s going to be a nice little healthy balance in the future.
What about you, Colman, because this is at least the second film I know that you’ve done that’s going direct to an audience. How have you found this experience as a creator?
Colman Domingo: Just as Michael said, it feels great to have that accessibility. That people can watch it when they want to watch it. Hopefully, everyone has been setting up their adjacent bedrooms into screening rooms. So now I think they can get the full experience. You know what I mean? I feel like, especially for a film like this, you want to see Michael and Jodie in all their glory on the big screen. So, you can do it in your own. I think that’s awesome.
Stefano, as a director what has this moment been like for you? I know that this film was shot to be seen on the big screen, but what does it do for you that perhaps you’re even going to get a bigger audience for this film than initially you may have gotten?
Stefano Sollima: The movies, in a time like this, in which the movie business is facing a crisis like never before, I think that this solution may save a lot of films.[It] gives to the audience in this particular moment – and it’s sad that the audience is forced home – gives them a gift. A film with such scope and cinematic complexity, and we need to be tactful to that.
Jodie, how about yourself? What are your thoughts?
Jodie Turner-Smith: As has already been said, what the benefit is that with everybody taking this in the comfort of their own homes, that means many more eyes on it. It’s a way for us to be together now, really be together. When movies come out now you go on Twitter, and you see that like everybody’s watching it and talking about it and live tweeting. There’s a different sense now of community taking in films because we’re not going to the cinema. Everybody’s at home to do it. We can’t really go to see each other and high five each other.
Lauren and Brett, what are your thoughts about that?
Lauren London: I think it’s important that we as artists are always in the flow of how times change. We must be like water and flow with it. I also think it gives everyone an opportunity to watch the movie multiple times. As many times as you want, with just a click of your thumb. I know I had that experience with my kids when a movie came out recently. My kids wanted to watch it at least three times a day. I know I gave a lot of money (laughs) renting the film. It just gives you an opportunity to be aligned with the times then be able to have a right there on demand.
Brett Gelman: Jumping off what Jodie said about community, and what Lauren said… I’m echoing what everybody said. There’s not too much to add to but to echo as we come out of this, that community will lend itself hopefully to the theater and being out. What we’ve learned while we’ve been locked in will then continue on in a fuller way when we can be around each other in a safe way again. Also get everybody more excited about movies. I just think it’s been great to see the excitement around this film. Like Stefano said, how it is this gift, this treat that we’re giving people in the midst of this horrible year. (chuckles)
Stefano, I want to go back to you. Can you talk about how your experience as a war zone camera operator has informed you as a filmmaker, particularly in a film like Without Remorse?
Stefano Sollima: When you work in a war zone area, you have the responsibility to report the reality you’re living in, in a truthful and respectful way. Most of all, I think that you cannot dirty the reality with your own point of view. You don’t want to judge what you are experiencing because this is up to the audience that is going to judge on their own. This is the period of their objective reporting. I feel that the movies translate more or less in the same way. I need to inform, to study a lot, to know everything about the world that I’m going to portray. When I work on a character, I don’t want to judge him. I try to leave this pleasure to the audience. It’s a way to be close to the story and to your character, but at the same time to be respectful, a step ahead.
Michael, this film is the first action movie from your production company. What can you tell us about producing this film through that layer compared to its previous features?
Michael B. Jordan: That’s a good question. Just being involved from the absolute beginning to the end. It was very hands on in a way of how to build out stunts. What the process would be. Having experienced producers, like Akiva [Goldsman] and Liz Raposo and other people who really have been through the process before – that worked on high stakes action movies. Really following their lead on how to package together, “Okay, we’re going to do this intense airplane crash.” Working with the visual effects supervisor, to work out that sequence and how we’re going to practically shoot it. “All right, we’re going to use the crane on this shot, and we need water tanks” and this and that. It was just going through the process of building that out. It was a learning curve for myself. I walk away from this movie with more knowledge and experience on how to put those sequences, those movies together. I know when I shut up and listen and learn. I was a sponge on this one. We walked away with something that we could be really happy about.
I want to bring in Jodie here and have you both talk a little bit about the relationship between John Kelly and Karen Greer, about their chemistry and the uniqueness of it. It’s not an onscreen romantic chemistry, like we might normally see between a man and a woman. It’s really one of professional courtesy and admiration. Can you both talk a little bit about creating that dynamic on film?
Jodie Turner-Smith: It is so important. Every time you speak to somebody, your relationship is alive in that conversation. Whether you’re actually talking to them about something that is concerning your relationship or not, it’s the trust that you have, the respect that you have. The love that you have is always alive when you speak to someone that you have a relationship with. It always felt important to me and Michael that we just tried to infuse that in our scenes, even when we’re coming and we’re butting heads. Even when I’m really not understanding mentally what he’s going through, but I’m trying to be there for him. All of that, and especially when it came to what I give him that lets him decide to go, “Okay, I’m going to take these actions.” I think it’s really wonderful and really brave to have a relationship where it’s just talking about and really displaying platonic love, you know what I mean? Which I think is the purest form of love that there is. These two are deeply bound by that.
Michael B. Jordan: Yeah, I think it’s finding the balance. I guess putting my producer hat back on, Stefano, and Akiva, we really wanted to work through finding that balance, [that] camaraderie. That brother or sister relationship that they had. To make sure that the audience understood that. That it was it was deeper than [just co-workers]. [We] didn’t want anybody to be misunderstood by the relationship, by the dynamic. We wanted to be really clear that they loved each other, but it was like, “we got your back, no matter what. Through thick and thin, I’m not going to leave you behind. This might get me in trouble, but I’m still going to give you this. I still have to look out for your best interests, because you’re not actually all the way thinking clearly at this moment.” To be able to really define those dynamics and relationships, but also be very respectful to John’s relationship with Pam. We didn’t want anybody to assume or try to forward think that their relationship would go down a road that it wasn’t supposed to. We want to make sure we honored John’s motivation throughout this movie. That was something that we kept a close eye on as we developed those scenes. I think we found a pretty good balance between the two.
Yeah, that’s one of the things I really loved about the film is that as much as it is an action film, it’s really a love story. So, I want to bring Lauren in, because the relationship between John and Pam is really at the center of this film. How did the two of you build that relationship in order to make it feel as natural as it felt and hold the emotional weight that really was carried throughout the course of the film?
Lauren London: You bring your life experiences to your art. I always love artists that work like that. I try my best to be honest in that way. I think just being a mother and a partner and experiencing love to the degree that I was able to experience it. I brought that tenderness and vulnerability to his character. Michael, being a really good friend of mine before we ever worked together, made it really comfortable and respectful and held a space for me to be able to be so vulnerable in this character at the time in my life that I was in.
Michael B. Jordan: Everything Lauren just said. It was something that us as actors and artists, being able to have an opportunity to express ourselves through our work is sometimes the only release that we can really get in that type of way. We were so lucky as a project and [I was] as a scene partner for Lauren to be so generous, to help me personally get through and understand the mind state and some of those emotional beats of what a person would be going through in certain situations. I think it just added so many layers to the performance across the board. Also [it] was my driving force throughout the movie as well. Sometimes in movies, you just get those X-factors. That special whatever it is that just makes things just pop the way it is. Lauren for us was definitely one of those things.
Lauren London: Real quick, I want to add that we did have very open conversations about grief, and just what it feels like to lose someone so tragically, so soon. Those conversations really helped the movement of our characters and their relationship.
Michael B. Jordan: Completely. Completely.
Jodie, you were so bad ass and strong in this film. Tell me about the more physical aspect of it pushing your body to the limit to get the shot.
Jodie Turner-Smith: First of all, I was pregnant at the time.
Jodie Turner-Smith: Yeah. So that definitely added a level of intensity to it that I didn’t even myself anticipate. I’m used to feeling like, “Okay, I’m a strong person, I’m an athletic person. I can push my body to the limit to do this, this and that. To jump into this.” I have a little bit of a background in this genre, being that I started on a television show on TNT called The Last Ship. That was my first big role on television. I was all about just running around, getting the bad guys, jumping in and out of stuff, getting exploded. So, I thought this was something that I was definitely ready to throw my body into. But to sort of add that really unique… I mean, nobody really tells you all that your body is going through. It’s so funny because I’ve trained for many things in my life. But what was required of me physically with carrying this baby doing this film is unlike anything that I have ever experienced. So, in terms of what was it like, it was intense, obviously. I worked with a trainer as well. Michael was so gracious to let me borrow his trainer sometimes.
Brett Gelman: I’d like to borrow his trainer. I mean, if I can look like Michael Jordan… (everyone laughs)
Jodie Turner-Smith: That man doesn’t even need a business card.
Michael B. Jordan: I’m out of here guys.
Colman Domingo: I guess the group class is happening right after this. On Zoom. Let’s do it.
Lauren London: When you see [trainer] Corey [Calliet], he’s going to be like, “Oh, okay…” (everyone continues laughing)
Jodie Turner-Smith: I was doing that. Then also, obviously, as part of the production, they had us working with these guys on set that were making sure that we had integrity with the way that we were moving. The way we moved as a team. The way that we were moving in combat. The way we would use our weapons. The way that we would command each other in groups because these are men that are working together all the time, to the point where they become a unit. They become like one. We’re needing to emulate this idea that we have been years, living this life and working together. It was all of that and just throwing myself into all of it. One thing about Stefano is he really wants to make it look as cool and interesting as possible by having us do as much as we can. I saw what I was capable of because I was working twice as hard. There are so many things you don’t know. I didn’t even know I wasn’t going to be able to breathe like everybody else. Lauren, why didn’t you tell me? (laughs) You should have pulled me to the side when you got to walk through.
Lauren London: I know! Everybody is different. She handled that like a superhero rock star.
Brett, I want to kick it over to you. What was it about this evil character that attracted you to the role so much?
Brett Gelman: First of all, I played some not-so-great guys in the past. This was really kicking it to a whole other level of evil and sickness. And really, the chance to work with Michael was huge. It’s like, “You want to do this with Michael B. Jordan?” Yeah. (laughs) Absolutely. Also Stefano, again, the chance to work with him. I was just such a huge fan of both of these guys’ work. It was a no brainer. Not too shabby to go to Berlin, either. It’s a great city.
Not at all…
Brett Gelman: [My character]’s really interesting to me. Without giving anything away, this is a movie where everybody has a very distinct code.
Michael B. Jordan: Yes. Yes.
Brett Gelman: It’s really about [being] willing to die for that code, no matter what that code is. Really believing. That’s your whole belief system. That’s your whole mentality. That’s your whole soul, really. To really get into that with this character was just so fascinating to me. A lot of the time the bad behavior in past characters of mine, it came out of a desperation or a deep loneliness. That’s not what this guy was coming from. It was from a deep belief system that he has, as dark that is. Again, without giving it away, he’s a great villain, because you’d not only experience his villainy, but then you ask who the true villain actually is. Even in the heroes, it’s just a beautiful movie of complicated people. Stefano brought that out so much because like he said, he’s not judging any character. He’s just letting us exist. There is the bad in the good guys, and the good in the bad guys, in a way. Not the good in terms of my character, but at least some humanity there that, as twisted as it is, I hope you can see. It was just amazing. Then also just getting to be a villain, in an amazing action movie. That’s one of those childhood dream things. I didn’t really think about it for too long. (laughs) I’m very grateful to be a part of it and be able to work with Michael and Stefano on this.
Colman Domingo, this film touches on deeper themes, like the lack of trust in the government, how far one would go for their country, and revenge. What theme in this film strikes you the most and do you feel will resonate with the audience the most?
Colman Domingo: It sounds like now. It sounds like things we’re wrestling with now. Right? In every single way. What attracted me to it was the fact that at the center of Michael’s character, he’s just a man who’s trying to do good in the world. Who believes in country, who believes in family, who has a spiritual core. Then you look at what happens when all is taken away from this person, and what they have to do. Sometimes I feel like these are the arguments we all have, which is like, what happens when you don’t when you can’t play the grace card anymore? That’s been taken away from you. You’re like, “What do I do to try to right the wrongs in society? What access do I have? What agency do I have? What am I up against?” It’s just a great moral quandary that we have that’s in the center of the film. I think that’s Michael’s character and the way he portrays it so beautifully. What he’s in the midst of. You get behind him. We’re just trying to right some wrongs in the world. (laughs) We’re trying to right some wrongs. This is what we’ve been dealt and how we’re going to deal with it. We’re up against the system. I think it’s going to resonate with audiences, in very deep and meaningful ways. And who doesn’t want a big action film right now? You need to get in there and feel like you want to fight good. Good against evil. It’s clear lines. (laughs again) I think we really need that right now.
Michael, there are multiple intense sequences of your character underwater for extended periods of time. Can you talk about the preparation that went into those scenes? How long can you hold your breath underwater?
Michael B. Jordan: Oh man. Right now?
Lauren London: For a whole song. For a whole song.
Michael B. Jordan: At least the song. It’s one of those things. Your breath in breathing is definitely a trained thing. It’s an exercise. If you stop training, and you stop exercising that muscle, you can definitely lose it. Underwater training was definitely something that we spent a lot of time on. We knew we had these sequences. Earlier in the script development phase, Stefano looked at me and was like, “Mike, you know you got to do all these, right?” I was like, yeah, yeah, of course. Easy, easy, no problem. We hooked up with some military divers. We spent time in the tanks and put us under stressful situations where we would have to problem solve. Work through malfunctions, gear failure. Work through military rebreathers, which is basically machines that these soldiers would wear to suppress all the bubbles so they could breathe in the water without leaving any physical traces.
Jodie Turner-Smith: It’s heavy as hell. (laughs)
Michael B. Jordan: Oh, I don’t know how many pounds they would weigh, but they were so heavy. Then you have a flotation bag that you have to manipulate the pressure of so you can be buoyant enough to stay underwater, but not buoyant enough to float to the top. Anyway, it was a lot of very detailed training that we went through for the water exercises. And yeah, I could hold my breath during filming for pretty long. Maybe about three minutes or so.
Jodie Turner-Smith: Let me tell you, Michael would put this song on. I’m [not] going to tell you what the song was, but he would put this song on. The whole time that song was on I’m looking at this man. He’s under the water, just like… (mimes holding her breath) Meanwhile, in my eyes, I was so pregnant at that point, I was like… (mimes gasping for breath).
Stefano Sollima: Also, as soon as soon as I said, “Cut!” he was dancing.
Colman Domingo: I remember. He was like, whoa.
Jodie Turner-Smith: He was just like, “I’m going to chill here for another 30 seconds.”
Michael B. Jordan: I’m a water baby. I love being in a water. Honestly, if you’re calm and you’re sitting still, you can hold your breath for a lot longer. They created an environment for us to really relax and just be at peace. Without giving too much away, there’s a moment in the movie where you see me be at peace underwater. That’s the one that everybody’s talking about.
I need to know what that song was later, Jodie. Because I feel like it’s a good one.
Brett Gelman: Just to add a little thing from my end, they should call night vision goggles “no vision goggles.” (Everybody laughs.) With my eyes, I’d put them on, and they’d be like, “Run down the hall with the gun.” I hope I don’t hit the walls right now. It was crazy.
Michael B. Jordan: Hilarious.
Stefano has a different approach to the action scenes with his vision. It’s very difficult to work with a stuntman. For those of you who had to do your own stunts, how did you feel on set in your own stunts? What was the most challenging part?
Michael B. Jordan: It was fun. I’m a little play fiend, a little action junkie. As a kid these are the movies that I watched. That I always wanted to be in one day in my imagination. I had the opportunity to train and do most of my own stunts and had an incredible stunt team. When When Stefano says that he wants you to do all your stunts, we still work with stunt doubles and people who actually vet these sequences and make sure things are safe. Teach us the proper way that we’re able to handle ourselves and our situation. So, [stunt double] Clay [Donahue Fontenot] and [stunt coordinator] Doug [Coleman] and everybody that was there, they assembled this incredible stunt team that allowed us to train at high intensity. When we were able to show up on the day, we were able to do the things that we needed to do. It was fun. We got banged up throughout the process, but it was so worth it.
Brett Gelman: I’d never done anything that like that before, that intense. I got to say, it was like a real sense of accomplishment. At the end of every take, like – right, Mike? – we’d hug and laugh.
Michael B. Jordan: Oh yeah. (laughs)
Brett Gelman: It was great. Then you knew when Stefano was happy with it, too.
Michael B. Jordan: Yeah. When we’re like literally hanging on our last leg, then Stefano was, “Good job.” We’re good. We could move on.
Brett Gelman: I was a really uncoordinated kid. I saw an occupational therapist and stuff like that. Stefano was like telling me “great job.” And Michael’s hugging me and telling me “great job.” Mental.
Michael B. Jordan: Yeah, but it’s funny because when you get to know somebody, and you’re working with the stunt guys, that you build bonds and relationships with, and other actors – Brett and Jodie and everybody that we’re working with – it gives you that free rein to actually go that much further. To play against somebody that you don’t like, or you’re trying to kill, or whatever the case may be, it actually makes it more fun when you’re really close, and you like each other. We were all very fortunate in that way that we were able to act like we weren’t cool with one another. And I think he really pulled those performances to the surface.
Colman Domingo: I want to call you back on that. it’s going to be hard to believe, but I have the most difficult stunts of anyone. I do a lot of leaning and holding the Bible. And like just leaning forward. Sitting on a desk, I mean, that stuff is really difficult. I did not want a double for that or anything. Just let me do it, man. My way, we got it done.
Copyright ©2021 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 29, 2021.
Photos #1-2 ©2021 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
Photos #3-7 ©2020 Nadja Klier. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.