Feature photo credit: Nicolas Aproux
The legendary writer, director, and producer Walter Hill recently talked with HorrorGeekLife about his new film, The Assignment, which stars Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, and Tony Shalhoub. The film follows hitman Frank Kitchen (Rodriguez) who wakes in a room to learn that he’s now a woman, completed by a rogue surgeon (Weaver). Kitchen goes on a hunt for answers and revenge. You can check out my review for the neo-noir thriller here.
In addition to the The Assignment, we also discuss Walter’s love of comics, which inspired his graphic novel for the film, as well as his role in the much anticipated Alien: Covenant and other upcoming projects.
HorrorGeekLife: Thank you for taking time to talk with us about your new film, The Assignment! This idea for the film has existed for decades; what was it about the story that kept you interested all this time?
Walter Hill: Well that’s a very good question and I’m not sure that I even have an answer. There is obviously a lurid tale here that, when one stumbles across something like that, it tends to hang in the mind. I first read it in 1977. Denis (Hamill) had written a rather different story and script than we’ve ended up with. It was much more of a detective story, with the police actively involved, and it was a male doctor and the Frank Kitchen character was really kind of a juvenile delinquent type. I always thought it was a fascinating idea for a film.
When I read it, I didn’t do anything about it because I was very busy doing other things. I think, also, I didn’t know how to do it. But it would come up in conversation now and then. About 20 years later, I decided it had hung in my mind. The biggest thing that I think happened was I had done these Tales from the Crypt. So, I thought maybe I could get into that thing. I called Denis, I optioned the material, I co-wrote a script. I didn’t think we did a very good job, I just didn’t think it came out right. I let the option lapse again and didn’t really try to do anything with it. Another 10-12 years went by and I was rooting around in the cellar. I ran across Denis’ script and I looked at it again and said, “I think I know how to do this now.” I called Denis to see if the rights were still available, they were, and I re-optioned. I think I wrote a script in about two weeks that very much resembles what the film is now.
I was also marked by the fact that I had written a graphic novel, which had been published in Paris a couple of years before. Well, roughly that time. In getting the finances setup to make the movie, modest as it is, I sold this as a graphic novel in France as well. They’ve now both been translated into English, and there are other considerations. I wanted to do something with women playing the leads. I wanted to do a neo-noir thing. I wanted to do a comic book thing. I knew that I wasn’t going to get a big budget for this, so I had to scramble around to raise money to get it made. They were very straight forward, my French financiers, “As long as you don’t spend a penny over the amount we’re going to agree upon, and as long as we get some names in the casting, we’ll make it.” So we went ahead.
HorrorGeekLife: You definitely brought on a great cast, including one of my favorite actresses, Sigourney Weaver. You’ve worked with her quite a bit while producing the first three Alien films. What was it like reuniting on set?
Walter Hill: Well, we’re old friends. The character was a male doctor for a while and I decided it would be more interesting that the “mad scientist” be a woman. But I thought, in the gender fluid age that we live in, that it would be a good idea to change the doctor over to a woman. Once I decided to do that, I did it very quickly. I think I did it in a day in the revising of the script.
Sigourney was the first person I sent it to. I said, “Look, this one is a little different. You may want to do it, you may not want to do it, but if you don’t want to, I’ll understand. Our friendship will survive.” She laughed and called back a day later and said, “I’d love to do it.” About the same time Michelle (Rodriguez) came into it, and away we went.
HorrorGeekLife: They were both fantastic in their roles; I can’t believe how well Michelle played a man! (laughs) Going back to the graphic novel, I’m curious if you have a love of comics? Is that what inspired the graphic novel and the decision to incorporate comic art style into the film?
Walter Hill: Oh yeah, from the time I was a kid. When I was a young kid, I was that kind of cliche- the sickly kid. I was an asthmatic, and then that came along, it seemed like I got it. I was kind of homeschooled, and I don’t want to sound too forlorn, but I largely played by myself a lot. And I was a great reader, I learned to read at a pretty early age. My grandmother, who kind of half raised me, taught me how to read. Along with my mother, but mostly it was my grandmother. I read the usual children’s literature. And the adventure stories, Treasure Island, etc. But I was very very taken with comic books of a certain nature, I wasn’t too interested in Disney things and all that. I liked some of the DC stuff, but I very much liked the EC horror comics and all that. I was a twisted soul, even as a very young person. I have to plead guilty.
HorrorGeekLife: I can relate completely. Growing up, I retreated to films and comics, mostly of horror or a darker nature. I just wanted to stay in my room and immerse myself in other worlds.
Walter Hill: Well, you are very much a sister sensibility to the way I was when I was a kid. What’s that Beach Boys song… “In My Room.” I always think one of the most beautiful statements is that a kid’s room is a castle, where you are there with your private thought and dreams.
HorrorGeekLife: And it’s true. Before we wrap up with what’s coming next, I have to say that speaking with you is such a personal experience because of the impact your films, especially The Warriors and Alien, had on me. I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity.
Walter Hill: I do have to say this, it does make a fella feel good that 30 or 40 years ago you did something that people still kind of respond to. It’s been an amusing and fun journey and I just drifted into all of this. Amazing to me that I could even make a living out of it. You never know where it’s all going. And that I have a movie coming out and still doing it.
HorrorGeekLife: Not only that, but it’s a really enjoyable film.
Walter Hill: Well, I think whatever can be said against it, it doesn’t seem to me like it’s an old man’s movie, ya know? I don’t say that pridefully, it just seems to me to be a different kind of sensibility… I don’t know, that’s for you to write about. (laughs)
HorrorGeekLife: Well, for what its worth, I agree! Your name is listed as producer on the upcoming Alien: Covenant, how involved are you in the film?
Walter Hill: My involvement in that is minimal. It’s largely contractual. I got in a fight with FOX many years ago and we got a divorce. I haven’t really had anything to do with the Alien series since the third one. They went in a direction that I didn’t appreciate. It’s now gone in another direction again. But for contractual reasons, David’s (Giler) name and my name are still on it. At their insistence I might add, and that’s fine. I certainly wish them all well. Ridley’s got a whole new life on this stuff and that’s great.
HorrorGeekLife: It does look like the franchise is getting back on track. Fingers crossed. Do you have any upcoming projects you can discuss beyond The Assignment?
Walter Hill: There’s one I think that will be announced in the next couple of days that will occupy my summer, I’m not supposed to say anything. And I’m also working on a script with a playwright, it’s unannounced too. But I can say this- I’m working on a script with a woman who wrote an Off-Broadway play a couple years back, which I think will make a film. Kind of in the vein of this one, in the same approach to filmmaking, the story is very different. It will be a low budget female lead sort of thing, I’m rather excited about that. I think that’s probably would happen first part of next year.
HorrorGeekLife: I can’t wait to hear more about your projects as they get announced. Again, thank you for your time. It was truly a pleasure!