3 Days to Kill Latest for "We Are Marshall's" McG

Director McG receives an honorary award from Marshall's College of Business. HNN's Tony Rutherford is on the right of the director who at that time revealed his own fear of flying that he had to overcome to direct the plane crash film.
Director McG receives an honorary award from Marshall's College of Business. HNN's Tony Rutherford is on the right of the director who at that time revealed his own fear of flying that he had to overcome to direct the plane crash film.
Photo by Chris Spencer

In this heart pounding action-thriller, Kevin Costner ("Hatfields and McCoys)  is a dangerous international spy, who is determined to give up his high stakes life to finally build a closer relationship with his estranged wife and daughter, whom he's previously kept at arm's length to keep out of danger. But first, he must complete one last mission – even if it means juggling the two toughest assignments yet: hunting down the world’s most ruthless terrorist and looking after his teenage daughter for the first time in ten years, while his wife is out of town.

3 Days to Kill stars Kevin Costner (“Hatfields & McCoys,” Dances With Wolves), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Amber Heard (The Rum Diary, Paranoia), and Connie Nielsen (Gladiator). The film was directed by McG (Charlie’s Angels, We Are Marshall, This Means War) from a script written by Luc Besson & Adi Hasak based on a story by Besson.


"He’s beaten up, punched, shot at, his car crashes. That’s part of the gristle that goes into this Ethan character." - McG


3 Days to Kill Latest for "We Are Marshall's" McG
(c) Relativity Films

Ethan Renner, the CIA operative at the center of McG’s new action-thriller 3 Days to Kill, finds himself trying to save the world from Europe’s most dangerous terrorists while trying to reconnect with his wife and daughter in Paris. Academy Award® winner Kevin Costner plays Ethan, the cunning, dangerous, and semi-retired spy who has always been more successful taking care of bad guys than taking care of his daughter. When a beautiful yet mysterious woman named Vivi, played by Amber Heard, presents him with an offer he can’t refuse, he is forced to balance his job and his family for the first time ever with the highest stakes yet.

As with his previous films, Charlie’s Angels, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and This Means War, McG explores the personal side of international espionage, though this time it’s through the eyes of a veteran secret agent returning to family life in Paris. “I am fascinated by what happens to James Bond when he goes home. You never really see him off the clock” says McG. The film discovers some universal truths about family and work that takes the story beyond its spy hero premise. Ethan finds himself in over his head when he is left alone with his teenage daughter Zooey, played by Hailee Steinfeld, for 3 days. Ethan knows exactly what to do when it comes to work, but keeping his career away from his increasingly curious teenager becomes his most challenging mission yet. Like many teens, Zooey feels like Ethan is constantly choosing work over her – even when she doesn’t know exactly what “work” is. “I think that's a theme that many people can relate to in the real world. Many of us spend too much time on things that matter less than that which matters the most to us, and that's what this film is ultimately all about,” said McG.

McG sees Ethan’s expert killing skills as counterintuitive to being a good father and it is that struggle that drives the film. “Ethan doesn’t know much about contemporary teenage culture like Twitter or what’s online. He is very analog in a digital world. You have a guy that’s been out in the field with a very, very strong sense of duty who has now come home to try to reconnect with his daughter, and it’s emotional.”

3 Days to Kill Latest for "We Are Marshall's" McG
(c) Relativity Films

3 Days to Kill represents a departure for the American filmmaker as the production was shot on location in Paris, France. McG says, “For me, it was great to shoot in Paris, because I'm very specifically American. If you look at my earlier films - Charlie's Angels, We Are Marshall, Terminator: Salvation – they are very American films and my style is very Americana.” On top of having a French crew on set, the script was co-written by iconic French filmmaker Luc Besson, who was one of the reasons McG came on board the project. “I have always been a fan of Luc since the earliest days of Leon: The Professional. Luc wrote the script with Adi and I responded to the mix of styles that the script represents. I liked that challenge in the interest of bringing it all together in one cohesive film. So, to me, the film jumped off the page, and I jumped at the opportunity.”

That cultural change to McG’s workflow was a positive experience for the director. “The approach to filmmaking, the camera package, the crew, every single thing that goes into the tactile experience of making a film is very, very different in France than it is in the United States. I embraced that.” Paris serves as its own character in the movie; acting as a constant reminder that Ethan is feeling out of place in every sense of his life. He is alienated culturally as well as from his wife and daughter. “I think it is interesting to play somewhere that is so beautiful – perhaps the most beautiful city in the world - yet you’re a foreigner in such a lovely place. And that is indeed Ethan because he is an American Cowboy in Paris. He is not of this place and he is searching for identity in a place other than his home. He comes to realize that home is defined by where his family is: Paris.

3 Days to Kill Latest for "We Are Marshall's" McG
(c) Relativity Films

Whether Ethan is stopping a global catastrophe or preventing his daughter’s meltdown after a hair crisis, there is a strong sense of fun and humor throughout the film. McG sees humor as an important aspect of storytelling and one area that he is able to implement his life experiences. “I know from my own personal experience, even in terribly dramatic and serious times, humor is always present.” Humor is an essential emotional release regardless of the situation.

Connie Nielsen, who plays Ethan’s wife Christine, loved that McG found it so important for parts of the film to be funny. Of McG, she said, “He really understands the role of humor and real emotion mixed together with just a great action story.”

It was important for the cast to drive home some of the universal themes of the film. A running gag in the film is that Ethan’s daughter has programmed his phone to play a certain ringtone when she calls him. Just like in any job, a child may call their parent at an inopportune moment. That relatable part of the parenting experience wasn’t lost on Costner who said, “Part of the charm of the movie is that Ethan is unable to do his job as effectively because he's on a short leash with his daughter. Every time that phone rings he seems to be in the middle of a situation that normally speaking, you would want to say, ‘Honey can I call you right back?’"



“Vivi is digital in a digital world and Ethan is decidedly analog.” - McG

3 Days to Kill Latest for "We Are Marshall's" McG
(C) Relativity Films

In a film with several relationship dynamics at play, often simultaneously, it was important to find the right combination of talent to bring these characters to life. McG and Costner found their way to the project around the same time, which led to a number of discussions about the film and the character. McG jumped at the chance to work with Costner seeing it as a tremendous opportunity to work with an Academy Award® winning director and to elevate his own work. “He is a beloved character who has had an established, long standing career.” McG saw Ethan as a strong American presence, much like Costner. “It is a tip of the cap to Kevin in regards to how much the global film audience appreciates him.”

Filling out Ethan’s family meant finding two women who would have unique chemistry with Costner. Ethan’s daughter Zooey is your typical American teenager living in Paris, France. The key for McG was finding an actress who could convey all of the conflicting emotions Zooey feels about not understanding her father’s life and someone who would be able to match Costner’s presence on screen. McG found that in Academy Award® nominee Hailee Steinfeld. “Hailee was absolutely my first and only choice. She is one of the most natural actors in her age group. She just completely owns the dialogue; she makes difficult scenes go down very easily. It’s not easy to emote and have it feel natural and she puts the audience at ease. That’s a gift that can’t be taught.” McG further said of Steinfeld, “She is an extraordinary screen presence who we are lucky to have in this place in her career. She understands what it means to be young and alive; but, at the same time, she has an emotional complexity which is beyond her years. So it was a joy to turn the camera on and just watch her work.”

Finding the other main woman in Ethan’s life, his ex-wife Christine, provided its own challenges. Christine is an expatriate now living in Paris as a single mother who works for a museum. The character requires a certain worldliness that Ethan lacks and also provides a romantic ideal Ethan can strive for. “Connie Nielsen grounds the film and she's very compelling. Connie is very international in her path, as far as she's from Denmark but she has lived in America for a very long time. She brings an international understanding to the film.”

When it came time to cast Vivi, the agency handler assigned to Ethan’s last mission, McG needed to find someone who could motivate Ethan to do what he must while also maintaining an aura of mystery around her. Amber Heard came into the project ready to become Vivi. “She's someone who has lived this international life and has a deep understanding of what makes people do what they do” said McG. He aimed to have her be reminiscent of some of his favorite screen sirens of all time, such as Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner. The audience sees Vivi through Ethan’s eyes and she is a larger than life character who has ways of getting what she wants.

That is part of what initially drew Amber Heard to the character. “Vivi exists in the world that she made for herself and she makes her own rules and you can’t ask for a better platform as an actor. She gets to call the shots without actually having to fire the gun.”

There was a lot about Heard that McG knew would be right for Vivi. “Amber is a girl from Texas. She’s an accomplished marksman. I think that you need to have life experience to be able to draw upon that to be a great actor and she’s lived a very, very interesting uninhibited life."

Once the core quartet of actors was in place, it was important to populate Ethan’s world with a number of international characters. They exist to stop him from doing his assigned job while simultaneously assist him with his job as a father. Whether it is a Middle Eastern limo driver who shows Ethan the value of a family dinner with teenage daughters of his own or an Italian accountant who cooks the books for a crime syndicate while teaching Zooey how to make tomato sauce, every lackey turns into something more. “These are people that Ethan would traditionally be at odds with, frankly trying to kill, but in our film they are the teachers who educate him on what matters most in life and most particularly how to be a good father. So he is learning how to be a father from the most unorthodox sources – your adversaries.”

With McG at the helm, the cast felt comfortable and free to explore the various facets of the characters. Steinfeld was effusive in her praise of McG saying, “He's with you every step of the way after every take. He trusts me and that makes me feel really confident in myself.” The collaborative nature of McG’s direction was something various members of the cast enjoyed on the set.

For Connie Nielsen, McG’s supportive nature really helped her find her character. “Just, no matter what you do, he finds a way to make you feel good about it and no matter how little you’ve slept the night before or if you even screw up your line, it’s all A-okay and great.” For Nielsen, McG’s desire to ground the film in reality was a huge asset on set. “He has a great understanding of how important truth is in a story like this. He really understands how we need to bind this fun, crazy romp of a story to real life; how important it is that real life is recognizable and that we talk about real things that people can relate to.”


“I’m particularly proud of the car sequence in this film, mostly because we did it for real in the center of Paris which is very hard to achieve.” –McG

3 Days to Kill Latest for "We Are Marshall's" McG
( c) Relativity Films

Daring escapes from a hotel hallway, a fist fight in the Paris Subway System, and a climactic cat and mouse nail biter at the Prom all allow for McG to put together heart pounding action sequences. Instead of relying on computer generated sequences, McG utilizes in-camera stunt work that grounds even the most exciting of scenes in a reality the audience can understand. “I think people have become numb with computer generated effects. I really like in-camera, physically correct action scenes. I think they have a grit and an energy that computers can’t replicate,” said McG.

McG’s hands-on approach begins well before any of the stunts begin filming. To prepare for the car chase, McG used Hot Wheels®, a lot of carpet space, model work, and storyboarder Adolfo Martinez Pérez. “Adolpho Martinez, who I have been with ever since my very first movie, helped me design these sequences shot for shot.”

When Ethan isn’t crashing a car into the Seine, he is giving and taking punches in exciting and intense fight scenes. In the past, McG has worked with Chinese fight teams and done wire work for his films. By pushing the envelope, McG created a grittier, more physical challenge for his team. “I’m very hands on with the fight choreographers. I interview extensively the stunt guys to make sure they can take a punch. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the stunt people and I have a high demand. I really expect excellence and they need to be able to subject themselves to a great deal of physicality.”

The most intricate sequence in the movie is a multi-car chase inspired by both Claude Lelouch’s 1976 film Rendezvous and John Frankheimer’s Ronin. Filmed on the actual Paris streets seen in the film, the result is a thrilling, high speed chase that the audience feels they are witnessing firsthand. This experience was something Costner was looking to have as he initially insisted on being behind the wheel of the car for the sequence, despite the fact that there was a good chance that the stunt car would end up in the Seine. McG eventually convinced Costner that, given the dangers involved, it was best if he not do it.

3 Days to Kill Latest for "We Are Marshall's" McG
(c) Relativity Films

Costner’s dedication to the stunt mirrors Ethan’s commitment to his job and his attempts at being a good father. The Prom in particular provided the ultimate backdrop for both of Ethan’s missions to come to a head: supporting his teenage daughter on the most exciting night of her life while completing his last agency assignment with explosive consequences.


 * Adapted from Press Release

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