Rupert Friend will be best recognised by international audiences for his role in the hit Showtime series HOMELAND, as Peter Quinn. He has attracted a committed fan base and stellar reviews for his part in the series, in which he co-stars alongside Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, and in 2011 he picked up an Emmy nomination for the role.
Friend made his feature film debut in THE LIBERTINE in 2004, starring alongside Johnny Depp. He played Mr. Wickham in Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of PRIDE & PREJUDICE and had key early roles in THE LAST LEGION, OUTLAW and THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS.
In 2009 he played the title role in Stephen Frears’ CHERI, starring alongside Michelle Pfeiffer. That same year he played Prince Albert opposite Emily Blunt’s Queen Victoria in Jean-Marc Vallee’s THE YOUNG VICTORIA.
More recently, Friend made a cameo appearance in Terry Gilliam’s dystopian sci-fi adventure THE ZERO THEOREM, and starred in Alex Holdridge’s indie MEET ME IN MONTENEGRO, which debuted at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival. For his role in 2014’s STARRED UP, from director David Mackenzie, Friend was nominated for a British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Friend steps into the iconic black suit and bright red tie of Agent 47 in 20th Century Fox’s new take on the character in HITMAN: AGENT 47. Based on the hit videogame series, the film is directed by Aleksander Bach and also stars Zachary Quinto and Hannah Ware.
Speaking from the film’s set at a tool factory outside Berlin, Friend explains more about the mysterious assassin, and what to expect from the film.
How did the HITMAN journey begin for you?
It was a long time ago, when they were prepping this film, and they asked me to read for John Smith, who’s the antagonist Zach [Quinto] plays. And I clearly did a terrible job because that didn’t come back around. [laughs] It was very, very fast when it happened, and they apparently had presented the studio with a number of options. You would have heard of all of them, and I was the one that they hadn’t heard of. So they took a gamble on me for which I’m enormously grateful.
You’ve come back for additional photography to enhance the action – do you enjoy the physical stuff?
I love it. You know, I think audiences are so smart these days. Nobody wants to see the back of someone’s head doing a load of fighting, and then you cut and the actor kind of goes, “Whew.” You’re like, “Oh, come on, that clearly wasn’t you!” So I said to them from the beginning, “I want to do everything.” Depending on the cut, you should always see that it’s me – unless it’s super dangerous.
The team behind JOHN WICK – Chad Stahelski and David Leitch – have been behind these Second Unit sequences. How have they been to work with?
They’re the best in the business. They run the most successful action design sequence company in the world, actually. So they came up as stuntmen, then fight coordinators, stunt coordinators, and then second unit directors, and now they’re absolutely flying. People can’t get enough of them.
I think they understand action in the best way that I’ve ever seen working on set, and when you see them design a piece and then how they film it, it’s pretty damn thrilling. They want it to be real, so I’ve been working and training in Krav Maga, Filipino knife fighting, judo, karate. They call it Gun Fu – which they devised for HITMAN: AGENT 47 and JOHN WICK – which is basically kung fu, but with guns in your hands. So as you saw in the trailer, I’m breaking people’s necks with my legs, which I did about 65 times. It’s full on and they want full contact. Their guys are tough as all hell, and they don’t pull any punches.
How did you feel when you first watched the trailer?
I thought it was excellent. I don’t actually tend to watch my work, but I pre-recorded an introduction to a version of that trailer at Comic-Con because I couldn’t make it while I was doing HOMELAND. So I watched it mainly because I wanted to know what I was introducing, and I wanted to know if we could be proud of it, and I was super proud of it. I think it’s stylish; I think it’s slick; and I think it’s true to what the game-makers set out to do. I think it’s definitely true to what we set out to do, which was make an intelligent, original, thrilling version of this world. I just thought it looked badass.
What went into recreating the iconic suit and shaved head look of Agent 47?
We went through every major option you would imagine. Every fashion house you’ve heard of, we had them all begging to do it because it is so iconic. Eventually we got a tailor from Madrid flown in and he designed the suit, and cut each one just for me, along with all the shirts. So everything was tailor made. There’s no elastic or anything in them, so they’re tricky to fight in, but I’ve been doing it for some time now.
Were you at all familiar with the games?
I’m not a huge gamer. I had heard of this character, and I played the game to prepare for this, and I was struck by the intelligence of the gameplay. Even though I grew up with WOLFENSTEIN and all of that when I was a kid, I found there was only so much brainless gunplay you could do before getting bored, no matter how bad the boss was. What I loved about HITMAN was, you know, don’t pull the gun out. Do it without that. Use stealth. Use cunning. Use disguise.
As an actor, the idea of disguise is very attractive. So when I came on board, I wanted to involve more costume changes, more stealth. I wanted to do all the stuff that, to me, was important about the game, which was that this is not just a brutal killer, but also a fiercely intelligent killer.
What was the biggest challenge of bringing a games character to life?
For me, the important thing was to translate the game, not trans-literate the game. The game is wonderful and you play it; it’s interactive. A film is not interactive. What I didn’t want was for you to be just standing behind 47’s head in third person – I mean I’m not directing this film, but none of us wanted to do that. We wanted to go into this brilliantly created world, and then tell our own story. I approached it as I would approach any part, really, and didn’t try and do an impersonation of a video game, but to create a flesh and blood version of 47, which I think is much more interesting.
He’s also a bit of mystery. We don’t really know where he came from and what his design is. Does that add to the challenge of creating a character for you?
Yeah, I mean, I was super fascinated by the idea that potentially he’s a little bit of a corrupt clone, you know, that the 47th incarnation of this uber-human, had a couple of flaws. I loved the idea that he’s not quite perfect, and that his makers were a little bit threatened by that. He did go rogue, and he did try and take them down. It implies original thought and all that stuff about machines taking over. I find that debate very interesting and so that does play in, at least to open the conversation a bit.
How does he relate to those around him?
He feels that there is a very strong connection between him and this Katia figure, who’s central to the whole film, and really there’s a cat and mouse going on between John and Katia and 47 and Katia. She’s the lynchpin, the answer, the secret to the whole story. And then we have wonderful supporting turns from Ciaran Hinds and Thomas Kretschmann, and lots of other great actors that came on board. We have a cameo now from Jurgen Prochnow from DAS BOOT, and it’s a great honour for me, personally, to be in a film with him.
How much has playing Peter Quinn on HOMELAND helped to play this role, in terms of skill and training?
I’ve had a gun in my hand for three years straight, so that’s been helpful. 47 is ambidextrous with his guns. That takes some doing – safeties and reloads with two hands. It’s a bit of a tricky one. But I’m very familiar with weapons and fighting, and again with doing all my own stunts, so that’s been hugely helpful. But 47 is an engineered human being. He’s better at everything than everyone, and Quinn is kind of psychotic in some ways. I don’t think 47 loses his cool in that way. Things are way more thought out than Quinn has the ability to do. Playing 47, I did have this one image of a wolf just sitting on a hill watching over something. There was something about the way that wolves can work in a pack and can kill very effectively. They’re incredibly loyal, but they go straight for the throat very efficiently.
How would you describe working with your Main Unit director, Aleksander Bach?
I think Ali’s a very visual director and his vision for the film was this iconic, sleek feel for Syndicate International – which is the corporation that’s trying to use agents for bad – full of very clean white lines. I wouldn’t say futuristic but I would say modernist. And I think that translates to the whole colour palette being very cool and blue. Ali had a great understanding of the nature of the world. He seemed to have it innately pretty licked.
By Joe Utichi – www.joeutichi.com
Hitman: Agent 47 is available on Digital HD 20th December and Blu-ray and DVD 26th December.