Michael Brandt and I do not really have much in common. I write reviews for cheesy horror films, he writes (and now directs) wildly successful Hollywood blockbusters. But we do have one link: I happen to live in Madison, Wisconsin, and Brandt was born here.
Brandt tells me that he “grew up on Lake Mendota” because his grandparents had a house there, his parents went to school in Madison, and he has spent countless summers here. Have the frozen lakes, cheap booze and endless varieties of cheese influenced him much? Hard to say. Sounds like his biggest influence would have to be Robert Rodriguez. Brandt “worked for Robert for a while”, he says, and “pretty much everything I know came from Robert”.
His credits support this, with early work including a stint as editor and production manager for “Full Tilt Boogie”, the behind-the-scenes documentary of “From Dusk Till Dawn”. He also worked as an editor for Rodriguez’s “The Faculty”. Soon he moved from under that wing to his own success — he wrote films you may recall seeing: “2 Fast 2 Furious”, “Wanted” and “3:10 to Yuma”. His latest project (available now on DVD and Blu-Ray) is “The Double”, a non-stop action spy thriller with a few twists. Brandt wrote and directed.
What inspired this story? “I grew up reading Clancy and Ludlum… I like the spy genre,” he says. The thriller “works best with a level of realism”, the audience has to believe this could happen without the story straying into science fiction. With plenty of geography, history and politics just beneath the surface, realism was a must on this project and Brandt went the extra mile — he “did research on how Soviet spies operated.”
If you are like me, when you think Richard Gere, you think the charming, romantic comedy Richard Gere. You think “Pretty Woman”. This is again where Brandt and I differ, when he tells me that “the Richard Gere I think of is ‘Officer and a Gentleman’ and ‘Internal Affairs'”, what he calls “the intense, badass Richard Gere”. With just a touch of sadness, Brandt was quick to add, “I miss the badass Richard Gere.” Apparently, so did Gere himself! When approached with the script, “he didn’t think twice about it” and immediately fell into the role. And the action did not slow him down, either, despite being 62. There was “one shot of a stuntman throwing a punch”, but otherwise every scene was the real Richard. He was in “Top Gere”!
The film marks a bit of a milestone for its co-star, Topher Grace. This was the “first time Topher Grace held or fired a gun, or held a baby,” says Brandt. And he was much more natural with the gun. I was curious what would happen if the co-stars would have to fight in real life. Says Brandt, Topher’s “very unique frame” would give in to Gere’s “wiliness”.
Why did Brandt decide that this was the time to move from writing to directing? “Derek and I have been saying a long time we should survive or fail on our own,” he says, referring to co-writer Derek Haas, who has been with him since their days at Baylor University. For Brandt, the “best part of directing was being involved in post-production all the way through”, but he is a perfectionist and this added responsibility caused him to see many “missed opportunities and budget constraints”. (As a viewer, I have to say such “missed opportunities” were not noticeable.)
For those keeping score, this was the first time Martin Sheen and Richard Gere have been in a film together, and “I’m proud to be the one who was able to bring them together,” says Brandt. Also, “we made Detroit look like Washington, DC”. Now, THAT is a small miracle!
If you like action, suspense, twists, turns… or Odette Yustman… I strongly urge you to rent “The Double” today.