Die Hart Director Eric Appel Shares Behind-the-Scenes Stories and More - Full Interview
You can officially watch all of Die Hart on Quibi! The new comedy follows Kevin Hart as a fictionalized version of himself who wants to become an action star. The series also features John Travolta as Ron Wilcox, an unhinged teacher who runs "the world's greatest action star school" as well as Game of Thrones' Nathalie Emmanuel as a "tough-minded rival student." You can even catch Penny Dreadful star, Josh Harnett, playing himself. Recently, ComicBook.com had the chance to chat with Eric Appel, the show's director, and he told us about working with the cast, his dream cameo from The Rock, and much more. You can read the full interview below...
Die Hart: Movie or Show?
ComicBook.com: Die Hart feels more like a movie put into parts rather than a typical series. Was this different from how you usually approach directing TV? Did you film it episode by episode or did you shoot it more like a movie?
Eric Appel: We always thought of it as a movie, internally. On set, we filmed it like it was a movie, too. It wasn't episode by episode, it was all... We mixed everything up and shot all of it based on what locations we were at, and actors' availability and schedules. But it was always thought of as one big narrative piece that would be broken into chapters. It was definitely thought of as a movie, more than it was a TV series.
CB: It's eventually revealed in the show that there's a secret movie happening within the show. Did that create any challenges for you as a director? Did you try to have any fun with making it known?
EA: I will say, on the more spoilery side of things, the way that the actors approached it, knowing that they were playing themselves as actors acting in something. In a movie within a movie, I think that's really where the fun was had, which is... And actually, you know what? I think justifying a lot of these things in the story, like anything that might seem a little big and broad and silly. We'd always say, "Well, this is a movie within a movie, so we can get away with that stuff." If something seems ridiculous now, when it's revealed that it's a movie within a movie, it'll retroactively make more sense.prevnext
CB: Did Kevin Hart talk to you at all about the direction? Or was he just strictly in front of the camera?
EA: No, I mean Kevin's also a producer on this. His company, LOL, this was his project from the beginning. He actually went into, this was his original pitch at Quibi. He met with Jeffrey Katzenberg and wanted to do something where he was playing himself as an actor, wanting to do more action movies.
He was really involved and there were a lot of discussions with him as far as his character goes, because he's playing himself. But I would say that Kevin has great comedic instincts... He's not precious about anything and he's fine making fun of himself. I think he always wanted to just follow the funny. And just do the funniest version of any scene that we're doing, regardless of how it makes him look. I think he really does care about just making the absolute funniest thing that he can make. So he was a joy to work with.
CB: Did the cast ad-lib stuff?
EA: Well, I mean, I come from an improv background. I was a performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater for years and years. And Kevin does improv and he's our edge. In every role that he plays, he does a lot of ad-libbing and a lot of improv. So that was a discussion that was had with all the actors beforehand and everyone was cool with it and comfortable with it. It's mostly Tripper [Clancy]'s script, but I did give everyone the freedom to play around and have fun with it. I'd say in just about every scene, we discovered new things through improvisation. We always get what's on the page, but then we play loose with it, have fun and see what we can find through exploring the scenes.prevnext
CB: I loved this role for Travolta. I loved seeing him go unhinged. I know that the last movie he did, he stayed in character on set. Did he do that for Die Hart?
EA: No, he was not Ron Wilcox after I called cut, he became John Travolta again... He's definitely unhinged as Ron Wilcox, he was a little more hinged as John Travolta.
CB: You don't normally see him throwing out those types of vulgarities. Was he hesitant at all or did he dive right into it?
EA: No, he dove right into it. Travolta was, it was a dream come with Travolta. I snuck into the movie theater to see Pulp Fiction when I was 14 years old, so it was a real formative experience for me. I'm such a huge John Travolta fan. It was such a blast working with him and he's so, he likes to improvise.
We had a discussion before he signed on. I spoke to him on the phone before he signed on play Wilcox and we had a discussion, just about my directorial approach and how he likes to work. And we were very much in alignment in the way that we work. We like to explore things and he likes doing improv, Kevin loves improvising. And yeah, he had a blast.prevnext
CB: Kevin and Josh Hartnett both play themselves. Would you say that they played it pretty close, or were they extreme versions of themselves?
EA: I think Kevin is one of the funniest people I've ever met and we were just constantly laughing on set. So if that comes across on screen, I would say that, yes, Kevin played it very true to himself in that he is hilarious all the time, the crew was constantly laughing. Nathalie was constantly breaking and laughing when we'd be filming a scene.
Hartnett, discussing with him, not a lot of people know he's a pretty private guy. So I would say that in the discussions I had with Hartnett about how to approach playing himself, it was really like a blank slate we were starting with... He admittedly is a pretty private guy. So, he was like, "Let's just have fun with this character. I'll play it however you want me to play it." I think it's fun inventing who Josh Hartnett is in the reality of this [series].prevnext
NutNut the Squirrel & Dream Cameos
CB: Do you remember a moment that was the hardest to film and was it the squirrel?
EA: They kept assuring me that that squirrel, which by the way, the squirrel's name is NutNut. It's a real live squirrel. They kept assuring me that NutNut was the best squirrel in the business. NutNut does a lot of commercials, this is like the top squirrel in the business.
That said, it's still a squirrel at the end of the day, extremely difficult to film with a squirrel. Squirrels do not respond well to direction from humans, and that's actually, a lot of our CG budget went into painting out the... there's a string that's tied to the squirrel. The squirrel is basically on a leash whenever you see it, and they had to go in and paint out the leash. So the squirrel won't run away into the woods while we're filming.
There were three squirrel handlers with butterfly nets... Yeah, just in case, to catch the squirrel if it ran away. So I would say that you are correct in your assumption that the squirrel was the most difficult thing to film.
CB: There's a lot of good jokes about Kevin and The Rock's history, and Kevin has made cameos in Rock movies. Was there ever any discussion about The Rock showing up for a cameo?
EA: There wasn't when we were filming, I always wish we could go back and shoot... What I would love to shoot, The Rock cameo that I dreamed of having here would be, I want to see a scene from the movie that Kevin is promoting at the beginning of Die Hart. I want to see exactly, what is this movie that you did with The Rock, because he's on this talk show to promote. I wish that we had a clip to show from that, but no. There was never anything in the script as far as The Rock making a cameo.prevnext
CB: Has there been any discussions about a second season or a sequel?
EA: I don't know if I can talk about that, but I'll just say we are very hopeful and we would all love to do another season.
I will say, as far as it being a movie, since we all thought of it as a movie from the beginning, and this is the actors as well. Once it's all out on Quibi, you can definitely watch it, it's there in these bite-sized, digestible chunks. But it's also real easy to sit down, it's a great show to binge, and watch as a movie.
And on Quibi now, you can watch it on the go on your phone, or you can stream it. You can cast it to your TV and each episode we'll just roll right into the next one, and we structured it so it could be watched in one 85 minute sitting.prev