Celebrity Interview: Director Ric Roman Waugh Talks on the Making of Kandahar

Kandahar, starring Gerard Butler and directed by Ric Roman Waugh, remains one of the top ten theatrical movies, taking on tentpoles and alt-universe fan favorites, as "adult driven action" films continue to make a box office comeback.


I recently had the opportunity to interview Kandahar Director Ric Roman Waugh. We spoke on the making for the film, what's next and shooting in Saudi Arabia and of course, the film's star Gerard Butler. Below is an excerpt.

Janet Walker: Good morning, Ric. Congratulations on the film. I really enjoyed it.

Ric Roman Waugh: Good morning. Thank you.

Janet Walker: You're welcome. So, why don't you tell me if you don't mind how Kandahar came to you?

Ric Roman Waugh: I'm always looking for unique points of view in movies when I'm reading scripts. You know, I think we've seen almost every genre done many times over. When I read Greenland for the first time, I knew it was a different point of view than we've ever seen in a comet movie, and it was no different with Kandahar.

You know Kandahar reminded me of the movie Sicario when Sicario took us into the war on drugs and humanized the experience on both sides of it; until we understood who the characters were and what was at stake and why that cycle continues to this day and that's what Kandahar does, it shows you that even when the war is over the spy game continues. It doesn't just give you the western character's point of view, it show you the other side who we would consider our adversaries that a lot of them aren't the policymakers they're just sent to enforce policy and they're trying to get home back to their families just like we are so it humanized the experience of the region but also diversified it where we're not treating the Middle East as one singular thing like a cardboard cutout.

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Janet Walker: Great. Thank you. So, this is your third collaboration with Gerard Butler and there are always intense action sequences in your films with him, so describe what goes through your mind or the process with those intense action scenes like staging the helicopter crash or the market car bomb so what's your process and what are you thinking?

Ric Roman Waugh: It's always about the emotional journey of what the character is going through. When I'm designing the action I never think of the action first I'm always thinking about what I want the audience to feel and how I want them to be in the thrust of it so that if my characters are being chased by a helicopter in the sky that looks like Jaws in the air it's really about what they're feeling and so that the action doesn't just become action for the sake of action.

You know I'm a former stuntman and I get asked a lot what was like to be in the action and doing stunts and so here's a guy that loves action but when I go to see movies and it's just gratuitous action you know my eyes roll over like everybody else. So, for me it's always about finding the emotional integrity and the emotional thrust so that if I'm living it through the characters it becomes more of an IMAX experience where then I understand what that action is like and if I'm being chased by you know 50 different cars of Taliban you know like Fury Road and explosions going off around me I'm in the emotional thrust of what that is.

Janet Walker: Interesting so how long was the Kandahar shoot?

Ric Roman Waugh: We had two different incarnations of it. We were over there in Saudi Arabia; we were the first Hollywood major motion picture to shoot in Saudi Arabia since "Lawrence of Arabia" and so we were inventing their infrastructure as well at the same time and it was fun.

Selfishly I got to shoot landscapes that nobody had ever seen on camera and the interesting thing about showing the beauty of the region and that's what you get with shooting in Saudi Arabia and again shooting landscapes you've never seen before. I didn't want the movie to feel dirty and grimy and desaturated like the last 20 years of movies that I've seen. I wanted to show the beauty and the more visceral side of it.

So, you know it was an amazing experience for everybody we brought 450 people from 25 countries all religions, both genders, sexual orientations, and it was a big melting pot, and it was just an amazing experience for everybody, and it was amazing for the Saudi's as well. We were shooting in regions that I don't think they let alone seeing a westerner with let alone 450 of them sitting hill or surrounding them and it was it was really a great experience.

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Janet Walker: It sounds like it was. So, if you don't mind if we can go back to the market car bomb scene. That's a huge explosion and there's looks like a lot of extras were in that scene. Can you break that scene down for me and describe the action of that car bomb scene?

Ric Roman Waugh: I think the first thing I'm again trying to do is give emotional integrity to the action and how you do that is you stage and choreograph action to put a lot of characters within it so that you're not just shooting the cutaways. I'm not a big fan of that. I like to try to integrate everything in and luckily, I have a lot of technical experience on set, to keep it very safe you know to put people in and stage things where it looks like I'm putting them right on top of things and in harm's way, when in fact we're making sure that they're safe.

I don't hurt people that's a big thing for me and make sure people go home to their family just like I want to go into my family and when you have a dance partner like Gerard Butler who is really, really, talented when it comes to doing stunt work and be able to drive and things like that with explosions and bombs going off around them and so forth you know the marketplace sequence wouldn't have worked without him.

And having key being the actors in the mix as well, let alone all the background and extras and a lot of them, and remember we're in Saudi Arabia so almost everybody on that street, had never even been in a movie before let alone watched all we do and so it was really talking to them, educating them, and getting to understand where we needed to be and how to keep everybody safe.

Janet Walker: So, were there any surprises during filming that ended up becoming something that you would use?

Ric Roman Waugh: I think there always is. I think the longer I work, or I guess the more I work, I should say you start your career director where you have a shot list that has every single frame, you know every single thing you want to do and then you get there, and you realize that filmmaking is a communal experience. You're trying to bring talented people in front of the camera and behind the camera and all around you to allow greatness to happen; that it's not just on your shoulders. The longer you go in your career, I'm at a point now where I don't ever say 'it was a mistake' or a 'happy accident' they're just discoveries. My job now is to put my point of view into the way I'm going to shoot it and be very informative and communicative to my crew, and to the cast, and then allow them to bring their wares to the table so that I'm allowing what some people would call improvisation I just call bringing your own sensibilities to things. So, if the dialogue changes for the movement is different, I want people to dance in a way that makes it organic and so these beautiful moments happen because they're spontaneous they're not so choreographed and staged that it feels it feels cardboard or feels stiff you know I want it to feel organic.

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Janet Walker: So, what was your most memorable moment from the entire process?

Ric Roman Waugh: The making of it. It was having this huge melting pot in a country that four years earlier was very authoritarian, no culture, there was nothing but work, prayer, and sleep. Women did not have rights and watching what is happening there it was shocking to a lot of people where I would have to talk to them because I'd been there for a couple months and seen it firsthand, I had more women working on this movie than I've ever had any movie.

I had this melting pot of people that all stuck in together and forgot the divisive world that we live in and came together no matter who they were. We had, as you know the movie is in six languages and, we had probably more languages on set but everybody really just found a way to get together on it and get stuck in and you know we've been through a lot as a human race in the last several years with pandemics and movements and people trying to be heard and that was my favorite experience about this is it really humanized the experience of what we were trying to capture which is the human experience on camera.

So the experience of shooting it I think resonates on what you would see in the movie theater so hopefully people will support the movie and you know these adult driven action movies are now the underdog coming off the pandemic where we're getting people to go back to theaters in the huge tent poles but we're trying to get them back the way that we did back before the pandemic on these type of films and so hopefully people will support Kandahar and many more to come and where I can keep making these movies and doing what I love to do which is trying to tell stories in different ways.

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Janet Walker: Sounds great so what's next for you?

Ric Roman Waugh: we're either going to be we're just circling right now to figure out whether we're doing the sequel to Greenland first which will be less of a sequel it's a continuation it's what the first movie did taking you up to the extinction event the second movie now we'll show you who survived and how they tried to rebuild the earth from scratch again and I'm also in talks right now of doing Cliffhanger which will be a continuation of that of the great 1993 film the original and showing a new generation of where it's going the way Stallone took on the Rocky franchise and passed the torch to Michael B. Jordan and the creed franchise we'll be doing the same with Cliffhanger.

Janet Walker: Sounds great. Ric, thank you so much for your time. I certainly appreciate it. I really enjoyed Kandahar.

Ric Roman Waugh: Thank you. So, let's get people back to the movie theaters, whatever you can do we appreciate it.

Kandahar, a fast action thriller, is playing exclusively in theaters. Check local listings. See it.

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