“I’m a fan of the books. That’s how I got to this property, actually,” producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (pictured above left) told LifeZette in an exclusive interview about the film “American Assassin,” which hits theaters this Friday.
“American Assassin” is based on the popular book series by the late author Vince Flynn, about counterterrorism agent Mitch Rapp.
Rapp is a simple college athlete when his world is shaken after his high school sweetheart is killed in a terrorist attack. In his grief, Rapp builds himself into a focused machine, ready to take on any terrorist threat around the globe. He's soon recruited by the CIA into a secretive program as an assassin.
Bonaventura, whose credits include everything from the "Transformers" series to 2007's "Shooter," revealed he worked closely with Flynn before the novelist's death to get the story right for the big screen.
"Vince was a great guy," said the producer. "I got to know him quite well, because unfortunately [‘American Assassin'] took 10 and a half years to get made. He went through a lot of the frustrations of Hollywood with me."
"Vince was a great guy."
Though Flynn originally had apprehensions about the idea of Hollywood taking on his violent and honest look at Islamic terror and global politics, Bonaventura convinced him of his good intentions.
The producer won the author over when he said, "I'm from New Hampshire. I'm from the Live Free or Die State. You don't have to worry about me and violence."
The novelist laughed — and the rest is history.
Before his unfortunate death in 2013, Flynn consulted with the filmmaking team on scripts and encouraged them to be open-minded in their casting choices and storytelling decisions.
One cast member that has some fans worried is that of lead actor Dylan O'Brien. Some people have taken to social media to say the actor is too young and small to capture Rapp properly. Bonaventura was convinced O'Brien could take on the role, however, after casting him in last year's "Deepwater Horizon," a film that depicted the 2010 BP oil spill.
"He's in a smaller, smaller role [in 'Deepwater Horizon']," said Bonaventura. "But what we saw in that, when I came to the decision of Dylan [for this new film], was that standing among men — Kurt Russell, Mark Wahlberg, etc. — he did not feel like a kid."
In the book, Rapp is actually quite young — Bonaventura said they were looking for "a young man about to become a man" — but many fans tend to have an older Rapp in their heads because the series of books has been running for so many years. The first book was published in 1999 and the latest, "Enemy of the State" by author Kyle Mills, came out just this month.
It was one of the hurdles, Bonaventura revealed, that they had to tackle early on. "As readers, we came to this story with a guy that was, I'll say, 40 years old in our heads," the producer said. Once the filmmakers dropped that line of thinking — O'Brien became a clear choice.
Bonaventura said it was the young actor's athleticism and intensity that convinced everyone very quickly.
However, he is aware it can be difficult to convince movie audiences with a younger hero. "We, the audience, have been trained over 80, 90 years that the hero of a movie tends to be someone in their mid-30s to 60s," he said.
LifeZette was afforded the opportunity to view the film early — and book fans will likely not walk away dissatisfied. O'Brien is intense and committed in his role as Rapp; the action is some of the best of the year; and the film retains and expresses the brutal honesty and unflinching depictions of terrorism for which the novels have been so well-known.
"We promised Vince we would absolutely be faithful to the spirit of the books and the character," said Bonaventura.
He said there were two essential elements to the novels that Flynn cared deeply about; they tried to imbue both into the film.
"Vince cared tremendously that the people of service ... never get any recognition ," said Bonaventura. "And we're hoping this [movie] is going to [give them recognition]."
He said Flynn also tried to bring across in his work "that [those who serve] are the victims of the winds of politics" — and Bonaventura hopes this is an element to the movie audiences don't miss.
The producer said of his ultimate wish for fans going to see the film, "I want them to have fun with it, and that's what Vince would have wanted, too."
(photo credit, article image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)