What is the plot of ‘The Retirement Plan’?
Ashley (Ashley Greene) and her young daughter Sarah (Thalia Campbell) must seek out Ashley’s estranged father, Matt (Nicolas Cage), for help when they wind up in the middle of a criminal enterprise that threatens their lives. Matt is living the life of a retired beach bum in the Cayman Islands when they track him down but are soon found by crime boss Donnie (Jackie Earle Haley) and his lieutenant Bobo (Ron Perlman). The more time Ashley spends with Matt, she realizes he has a secret past she knew nothing about.
Who is in the cast of ‘The Retirement Plan’?
Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with filmmaker Tim Brown about his work on ‘The Retirement Plan,’ crafting the story, shooting in the Cayman Islands, directing Nicolas Cage and his unusual acting style, his character’s parental skills, Ron Perlman’s fantastic performance, putting the cast together, and creating the action sequences.
Moviefone: To begin with, can you talk about how this project came together and why you were excited to direct it specifically?
Tim Brown: I think I’d be excited to make any movie, frankly, but certainly this one. I think it came about almost in a bit of a different fashion. The Cayman Islands was Covid free at the time and the financier of the film was trying to find a way to bring a bunch of productions there. So I had an idea for a story and I said, “Well, what if John Wick just became a drunk on the beach for 20 years? What would he be like if it had to be pulled into action again after really not doing anything but being a drunk on the beach?” So it spawned from that idea. I thought it’d be like a Shane Black movie in a way, an action film that had a lot of comedic elements. I really like when the bad guys come into play and start talking about things that normally when you’re about to assassinate someone you wouldn’t talk about, like having a conversation about the bad service at Starbucks. Just something that takes you away from the real seriousness of the situation that you’re in to keep it light. So it really spawned from that and from having the location in the Cayman Islands and then having this sort of loose concept of a guy who has to be called back into action. And I just began writing, and as you write, that just evolved into what it became. So it was really an organic process for me.
MF: Tell us about shooting on location in the Cayman Islands during Covid, what was that experience like for you?
TB: Amazing. They brought everybody in since they were Covid free. They had a very strict policy. They were one of the only places on Earth at the time that had no Covid whatsoever. So when you got there, they decided to do a slate of movies, and I was one of four at the time. I think they ended up doing two or three more films there. So they had built up a crew and they brought in every nut, every bolt, every dolly, every camera, and every person to operate that stuff, including the cast. When you arrived, you were put into a strict 16-day quarantine in your hotel room, bracelet, phone, lockdown, and two months in jail if you broke quarantine. So it was crazy strict. But when you got out of quarantine, I didn’t put a mask on for six months, so we were going to buffets, we were hanging out, living the life that we lived prior to the whole Covid business. So on production, having that freedom, I think the cast were initially kind of shocked. I remember talking to Ernie Hudson about it, and so I’m saying, “What’s it like?” And he’s like, “I feel like I’m walking around naked without a mask on my face.” I go, “You’ll get over that in about three hours.” Sure enough, he’s hugging people, high-fiving and running around the beach. So it was an amazing experience. The weather was phenomenal, although I know it was tough. Ronnie Perlman who was there, we’d keep him in an air-conditioned car because it’s 95 degrees, the humidity is about 98%, and the moment you get outside, it’s similar to being in a steam bath. He’s got to wear sharkskin suits, so he’s really in heavy clothing and doing fight scenes and things of that nature on the sand and the beach. So when it came to that aspect of shooting in the Caymans, that was probably harder on the cast than anyone. Because if you just walk outside, you start sweating, and you obviously don’t want that too much within your character, obviously on camera. So I think I evolved Bobo’s character a little bit into commenting on how hot it was. So anytime Ron’s saying how hot it is, he’d be telling me on the side, “Oh my God, it’s so hot.” So I’d go, “Say that. Just say that because at least it lends believability to your character who’s currently about to pour with sweat in about 30 seconds if I keep the cameras rolling.” So that was a bit of a challenge. But the people of the Cayman Islands are absolutely extraordinary individuals. It’s literally one of the nicest places I’ve been on Earth because they’re just so friendly and welcoming there. There are beautiful people there across the board, and we were really super lucky to be there.
MF: Can you talk about your experience directing Nicolas Cage? What did you learn from working with him and can you talk about his approach to playing Matt?
TB: I learned a ton of stuff. When you just start to look at his resume and think about it, you kind of get overwhelmed. The majority of the process with him that’s so fantastic is the amount of work he does before you start shooting. So all of the conversations and the majority of the stuff that we talked about in prep. He’s a cinephile at the highest level. So If you want to talk film, and certainly, I don’t think I’m at his level because he’ll bring up some German existentialist film from the ’20s that I’m lost on, but he knows it cold. We would talk films a lot, referencing his character. So he likes to dive in, I believe, at least with me, into other past cinema to feed his current performance. He called me up and he said, “I want you to watch a film starring Leslie Howard called ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel.’” Not everyone’s going to know this film, but it’s an older movie set in the French Revolution when this gentleman would dress up as the Scarlet Pimpernel. At day, he’s a very flamboyant, fun-loving, easygoing, rich guy. But at night, he dresses up and he masquerades and he rescues French aristocrats from getting the guillotine. So I watched the film and as I’m watching the film, I’m like, “What the hell? How is this connected?” Then we’d talk about it and we had this expression with Matt, which was “peeling back the layers of the onion.” You realize that this Leslie Howard character in ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ is a master of disguise. So Matt is by all the things you see in front of him, he’s just like a drunk beach bum, but that’s just the facade. So Leslie Howard’s character was the same way. He had a facade, but underneath that he was an expert professional. So we would slowly pull back the layers until at the very end when he’s putting on a flak jacket, now the onion is fully exposed as this ex-agent character who’s fully back in action now. But I tried to do that slowly and with Nic and his focus on character and his engagement into the story is incredible. He’s so prepared, every day. I can’t imagine there’s a director that hasn’t worked with him that doesn’t say the same thing, that he’s just phenomenal to work with because he’s so prepared coming into it. When I first met him, we had a meeting in his hotel and the script was on the coffee table and it looked like someone carried it through Normandy at the beach raid because it was just coffee stained and it was the most worn script I’ve ever seen. So clearly, he had just read it a hundred times. He knew his lines, everyone else’s lines, but he also knew the conversations about how his character gets to where he needs to get to, that was fascinating. Then he brings what I would call, I think I referred to it as the “Nic Cage spice.” It was a secret elixir, a secret ingredient that added a flavor to whatever you were eating, to use an analogy of cooking, that was so unique. He would do it very subtly and he would improvise something very rarely. He was very adamant on script, but he would improvise a small little thing. I realized later it was a nuance to a film he had done in the past or it was a little piece of meta. If you really know Nic, you’ll see things in this movie that he does that have been taken from other films that he’s done, and I didn’t even know he was doing it. I remember he did something in one of the conversations with the little girl. He says, “Sarah, you always knocked me for a loop.” It was an improvised line because he is supposed to say, “You just asked me a million questions. What’s your question?” I said, “Cut,” and I walked over and he goes, “Oh, you didn’t like that?” I go, “No, it’s fine.” I just didn’t know why he added the, “Sarah, you always knocked me for a loop.” I think long after I’d finished the film, I was watching ‘Kick-Ass’ and when Chloë Grace Moretz says, “I want a puppy. No, I’m just kidding. I want a butterfly knife,” Nic says, “Oh, Hit-Girl, you always knock me for a loop.” I went, “He meta-ed himself in this film,” which was to me, and the fact that I discovered it and didn’t even know he did it on set, made my day. So things like that and the comedy, the subtleties, he’s a phenomenal comic actor, like crazy good. It’s just these little nuances that he puts into the character. I think he does it a fair amount with Matt, and it was a sheer joy to watch him work for sure. Again, it was tough on him too. There was a lot of fighting and action. There was never a day it wasn’t 90 degrees hot with humidity. So that was a challenge for him. But no, he was just a joy to be around for sure, and on occasion entertaining the entire crew on some days, which everyone just couldn’t have enjoyed more.
MF: Can you talk about the family dynamic between Matt, Ashley and Sarah, and how Matt is adjusting to being a father again, and now also a grandfather?
TB: Well, one of the blessed things about that was Nic loves films that have a family theme around them. If you know anything about Kurosawa or a lot of Japanese works, he thinks Kurosawa was the king of the hill. I think a lot of Kurosawa’s and a lot of Japanese drama deals with a family dynamic. He related to that really well. And actually Ernie Hudson said the same thing. He was really drawn to the picture because of the family element to it. I just think when you add a grandchild into it, it just raises the stakes. So when I gave her the MacGuffin that everyone’s trying to get their hands on, and it was tongue-in-cheek when I called it the “hard drive” because there’s not an action picture around that someone’s not trying to get ahold of the hard drive. So I mean, that was sort of a MacGuffin almost for the sake of the comedy of it. But I think that what family does is, I think it just increases the heart part of it. You don’t want to just randomly kill people and you want to have an emotional connection. I think if you’re trying to help a granddaughter and one you’ve never known before, that might’ve helped Nic and whoever was going to play Matt at the time get into that proper state of mind where it’s just an elevated situation instead of helping a stranger if you’re trying to save your granddaughter’s life or your daughter’s life. Of course, I made them estranged at the beginning so they can have an arc to get to at the end. But I think it adds the element, and I think a lot of films where you have family involved, it makes it a little more emotional. So I think that was probably in essence, the reason for it.
MF: Actor Ron Perlman really shines as Bobo. Did you write the role for him, and can you talk about his performance?
TB: Yeah, Bobo was a great joy to write. It’s funny, I don’t think I really had a person in mind when I wrote Bobo. I think if anything I head in my brain was kind of the character of Marv from ‘Sin City,’ this sort of guy who’s understated, huge and really intimidating, but an old school mob guy. I thought he’s really come down to the end of his days when he’s working for this character that Jackie Earle Haley plays, which was a guy who’s just done his time. So when we first talked about the character, I wrote a pretty detailed biography for Bobo, and I did the same thing for Nic’s character as well, four or five pages of basically where he was born and where he was raised. I wrote a lot about the guy who raised him and it was almost like Charles Dickens. I think I used a lot of that, which is why I wanted to make him smart. I thought it was totally against type, the idea that he’s talking about Shakespeare and Othello and why Iago is betraying somebody. Of course, he’s talking to this little child who’s trying to understand it while he’s kidnapped her and is about to kill her. So I thought those little nuances were kind of fun. Then when someone had suggested Ron, I mean my head exploded. I just said, “He is Bobo. It’s perfect for me.” I couldn’t have fathomed another person for Bobo. I can’t think of anyone other than Ron. When we got him, I was pretty excited. I think the only time I got more excited was when I heard Ernie Hudson was going to come to the island. So that made me really happy.
MF: In addition to Cage, Perlman and Hudson, the movie also includes Ashley Greene, Jackie Earle Haley, Joel David Moore, Rick Fox and Lynn Whitfield. Can you talk about putting together the cast?
TB: I think they were attracted to the script. Ashley talked about this a lot and Nic said it too, that they both thought it was really funny while they were reading it. They said that was different for them, for a lot of the projects they’ve been getting, where they get an action picture and really wanted to add comedy to it. The more I wrote, the more I found that I really wanted the tongue-in-cheek as firm as I could. I wanted to make fun of the genre of action pictures and the sort of dialogue around classic paint-by-numbers action films. So I tried to make fun of myself through the process and make fun of the genre itself. I don’t know exactly why they did it, but I do know that Nic and Ashley were very specific saying they really liked that it was so funny. So I thought that must be the main reason.
MF: Finally, how challenging were the action sequences to shoot?
TB: Well, the whole thing with budget is time. The lower the budget, the less time. We had no rehearsal. So all the stunt sequences, those were done on the day. I mean, we really couldn’t rehearse much. Nic came on his day off to run through the hotel scene and to rehearse just to help us out because we didn’t have the luxury of two weeks of prep. I wrote some big set pieces, especially the hotel out on the balcony when they’re hanging up. So that stuff’s really challenging to do. I was very lucky to have Mark Irwin as my director of photography. His resume is crazy. He’s done a ton of comedy. Obviously the FarrellyBrothers he’s worked with a lot, and Jim Carrey and I learned a lot from him. He helped me a lot in the cheat department where I thought, “How am I supposed to show this POV?” He said, “Ah, let show you what 40 years of cinematography will get you.” He helped me out pretty quickly with that. So that was a great bonus to have that. I was surrounded by a terrific support team, but we were lucky. I had a great rigger who came literally right off of the ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie. He came to help with the rigging of some of that stuff. I figured if those guys can keep Tom Cruise safe, they can certainly keep our guys safe. So it was great to have that. But those sequences even on budgets that are $60 or $70 million, they’re tricky. When you’ve got less than that, to say the least, it’s really tough, but we seem to get through it okay. Thankfully, no one got hurt.
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