As a fan of the recent resurgence of science fiction noir, Vaughn Stein‘s Terminal film starring Oscar-nominated actress Margot Robbie was right up my alley and something I very much enjoyed watching.
The film feels sort of familiar, but decidedly different enough to stand on its own in a world of Mute, Legion, and Blade Runner: 2049. Also, a kickass leading lady paired with the talents of Simon Pegg and Mike Myers make for an interesting viewing experience.
I was lucky enough to chat with the writer and director of Terminal ahead of the film’s release on May 11th. While this is his first time directing, Vaughn’s experience in the British film industry really came through with the slick and focused production.
Mab: Let’s talk about The Terminal, which I got to see a few nights ago and was really impressed with because it’s not your typical film, and I love twists like what was in it.
Vaughn: Oh wonderful. I’m delighted to talk to someone who’s seen it; what a pleasure. Thanks though, I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Mab: Was the plan always to have that twisted the end the reveal of [SPOILER] and [SPOILER]? Was that part of the process from the beginning?
Vaughn: It was part of an overall sort of narrative structure. When Margs and I first started really working on the script it was actually the end of a different film. It was the end of a sort of follow-up to this one. But Margs looked at me like I was crazy. It was like, “This is a kickass ending.” Like, why why would we not? Why would we not blow our beans with it? But I thought yeah, absolutely right.
I’ve always loved films which do those amazing sort of [Christopher] Nolan-esque rug pulls, you know, they have that sort of M. Night [Shyamalan] feel where you were taken on a journey and you’re trying to spot both those reveals and those breadcrumbs on the way, and then suddenly they just pull the rug out from under you. So for me, we’ve settled on using that concept at the end of the script, and it was all about finessing the script so it all led to this series of tumbling reveals.
Mab: Oh definitely. I am one of those people that has a problem watching things like Law & Order ’cause I can usually guess who the killer or bad guy is in the first scene. But for Terminal, I had no idea, I was completely surprised at the end of the film, so it totally worked.
Vaughn: You’ve made my day, Mary Anne. Made my day. [we both laugh] What we wanted to do as well, I think, was to feed not enough clues but just enough so an audience full of intelligent people would look at it and say, “Oh I’ve got it. I know the guy. So I’ve got my guy. I’ve done my detective work,” and then we reveal that sort of the fake-out in order to really, you know, punch in on that swing reveal.
Mab: I definitely think you succeeded with that. I was delighted — I guess delighted is the wrong word? Pleasantly surprised, and very much enjoyed the reveal and the twist. [You totally will too, I think, readers who are on the fence about seeing the film.]
Vaughn: Thank you. That’s very much what we wanted. We wanted to blend and distill this sort of genre film — one that wasn’t a specific genre film, if you see what I mean. It had a series of touch points throughout, noir and neo-noir, the crime thriller and the sort of quirky slightly existential comedy of Bill and Annie. And then to embrace the crescendo that borrowed from the chiller horror genre to try and give it a different ending to the one that an audience might expect.
Mab: So this is LuckyChap’s first release, isn’t it? How has that been, working with Margot’s company?
Vaughn: One of the great privileges of my career, and what I hope to do over and over again. They’re absolutely brilliant. I mean, Tom Ackerley and Josey McNamara, our producing partners, are old friends of mine. We were runners and assistant directors together in the British film industry. We came up together, we used to be on the same AD teams, good friends learning the ropes together you know seven eight years ago.
To have the opportunity to make a film is a privilege, [and] to make it with some of your closest friends like Margs, Tom, Josie, and a lot of the cast and crew was something that I’ll never forget — something I’ll always be grateful for.
This is the first film they produced, and when they went and did the most astonishing film with I, Tonya, and this comes off the back of that. They’re an amazing company and an amazing people.
Mab: You mention that you came up through the British film industry, and your credits show you’ve pretty much done every job behind the camera. What made you want to go into writing and directing?
Vaughn: It was always my angle, what I’d been passionate about doing. I sort of fell in love with film when I was about 16, 17. I read drama at university, which was a great, but very theoretical. There was a lot about film theory/directing theory, and I really wanted to get my hands dirty, so I sort of wanted to get in the coalface so to speak. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work practically in film. I can recommend it — to actually be on set every day, to work with incredible directors, incredible writers, incredible actors. As an assistant director, you sort of helped bind the film making process together; you’re involved in all the various departments. It was the most amazing sort of apprenticeship for me in terms of practical filmmaking.
Mab: That’s awesome, and it clearly goes hand in hand with somebody who works in the food industry — who started as a dishwasher and does every single job in the restaurant until they eventually become head chefs.
Vaughn: That’s a great analogy. And we did have a fantastic but limited budget, and we had this incredible cast who had other commitments and hard stop dates, and we had a very compressed shoot in order to achieve the style and the tone and the polish that we wanted. I think having the experience of working on set of 60,000-pound TV pilots in the UK up to the 200 million pounds like the Harry Potters and James Bonds — gave me a real understanding of what the important things were. I am very fortunate to have that grounding, because it made Terminal achievable.
Mab: It definitely showed throughout the production, I think. It seemed very focused albeit very dark fantasy noir based; it definitely had the focus of something that is a different type of genre.
Vaughn: I think it was very much born out of three of my unhealthy obsessions. I’ve always loved film noir — I kind of fell in love with classic noir early on, and I love the evolution of it. The neo-noir, the high-fi noir — it’s an amazing genre to play with. I always thought it would be fun to fuse that with the sort of dystopian feel Terminal has. I’ve always loved George Orwell, Huxley, and films like Blade Runner and Children of Men, Metropolis, Dark City. There is this really rich sort of central ground between those two, and that sort of dark fantasy element comes from a sort of aesthetic love I have of graphic novels — the palette and the colors of the urban fairytale of a film that have the graphic novel sensibility about them.
So Terminal was sort of a distillation of those three things that I stop watching because they’re affecting my brain. [we both laugh]
Mab: No no, never stop. If it inspires you to do your own take, then never stop.
Vaughn: It’s just that thing, with films I loved — I mean, Blade Runner was obviously a huge touchpoint for us. Fight Club was as well. You know Se7en, 1984, films that have this really distinctive flavour and sense of genre about them. So on top of that, to try and weave something that’s hugely important to me — really develop character and dialogue that makes you fall in love with their characters the way that Martin McDonagh and Quentin Tarantino do — they were big inspirations for Terminal as well.
Mab: It was really nice to see Mike Myers in a dramatic role again. He doesn’t do it very often, and when he does it’s usually really, really good. Did you approach him or did he approach you?
Vaughn: We approached him. We knew, amongst the producers and I, that we wanted something really special with the role of Clinton, and we wanted to find someone unique and brilliant. I think we were on a rocky path to spitballing ideas, and Mike came up and we sort of looked at each other and grinned. We sent a script to him — he read it very quickly and asked to speak to me. One of the the most amazing moments of the process was having a four-hour conversation with Mike about the character, and what he saw about it and how much he enjoyed the script. He said, “you know, I read 100 scripts a year, and I say no to all of them, but I can’t say no to this one. I’m in, I want to play this character.”
He’s an incredible guy. He’s so precise, so intelligent. He’s a character genius. He brought the physicality, took the character and elevated it to a totally different place as only someone like Mike can. I’ll always be so grateful for him taking my idea and making it something special and as brilliant as he did.
Mab: You mentioned that the ending was originally part of another film — a sequel, I believe you said. Are there any plans to do that, to do another story within this narrative?
Vaughn: I think I have ideas. You know, there is nothing specific but something that I’d love to revisit. It’s a world I love, and I’m fiercely proud of their characters, I love writing, and you know, I would love to. I’d love for them to interweave another note, another narrative. Potentially I have various other narrative strands that I have designed around this sort of Terminal world. So yeah, watch this space. [we laugh] Nothing in the pipeline right now, but the scripts are written, and I do have an idea that I’d love to play with that revolved around this kind of dark, anonymous city.
Mab: I would totally watch another film in this in this world, because more strong female characters are always good.
Vaughn: It was so important to us. I mean, you know, to have someone of Margs’s caliber involved as a producer and as a creative part — that was was an absolute honor. It’s something I believe in firmly. I love the idea of creating characters who could utilize all of her powers, all of her weapons, to manipulate all of the men around her. She’s all things — she can be the kooky waitress, she can be the femme fatale or the sexy stripper — she can be anything she needs to be. She’s chameleonic; she wreaks her vengeance on these unsuspecting and fully deserving men who have wronged her.
It was a pleasure to write, and the idea of empowering — fully empowering — a female noir character was something that I thought was really exciting. To have it realized by, you know, someone as world-class as Margot Robbie was unbelievable.
Just the nuances of her performance — she’s just unbelievable. The difference between her performance and the [SPOILER], one who is more the poisonous snake and the other who has the ability to sort of change herself to be funny macabre kooky, whatever is necessary. It’s amazing to watch. One minute she’s funny, happy-go-lucky waitress with a bit of a sort of dark side; the next moment she’s this astonishing beautiful noir goddess striding through a church. I would see it on the monitor, and it gives me goosebumps. She’s just an unbelievable talent and irritatingly lovely person as well. [we laugh, again]
Mab: Such an amazing description. What’s next for you? What are you working on right now, or what’s the next project?
Vaughn: I’m working on an incredible graphic novel series called Smoketown right now, which is all about a fictitious Rust Belt town in the American Midwest. It’s a small-town thriller that’s very labyrinthine, lots of interesting connected stories, which I’m loving writing. I’m working on a really interesting project about manufactured boy bands in the early ’90s, which is really interesting. Well, it’s sort of all about the music industry as it changes, as everything shifts from CD to digital.
You know just trying to enjoy the Terminal ride. You know, not have any panic attacks in my hotel room. Everything will be fine, it’ll all be right on the nine.
We highly suggest catching Terminal as soon as you can, we’ll have our official review of it up over the weekend. Thanks again to Vaughn and LuckyChap.
TERMINAL is available On Demand and Digital HD as well as select theaters on May 11th.
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