Killer Elite: The Real World of the SAS
To recreate intimate details of a world that is as secretive, complex and finely tuned, as that of the SAS could not have happened without the actors and the director having special insight into this world. The actors were lucky to have consultants to take them into that world as part of their research.
Clive Owen learned a lot about what it means to be in the SAS from those who know first-hand. He explains: “Well actually I know a few ex-SAS guys so I could pick their brains a bit and then I had a couple of meetings with an SAS consultant, a guy who had been in the SAS for twenty-five years. He really explained the whole selection process of the SAS, which was fascinating. He told me that half of the people are eliminated in the first week of physical training. They’ve been chosen because they are the fittest, but when they are put through the process they are very quickly thrown out.”
Through the process of writing the screenplay and directing the film, Gary McKendry also had some invaluable advisors on hand to give the authenticity where it was needed. He says: “We talked to a lot of SAS and Navy Seal guys. It was interesting because they were from very different worlds, very different approaches, but wound up in the same place. We got some really great advisors who were crucial to get it right. Hopefully we got it right.”
Killer Elite is a story of deeply human themes: belonging, loss and redemption; but at the same time it is an exploration of men who are required to be extraordinary, to ask more of themselves than most of us ever need to. Gary McKendry ties the action scenes, so integral to the film’s flow and story, to these deeper themes: “It was really important to me that there wasn’t this big dividing line between drama and action. The key for me was keeping it real, keeping some truth in it. These characters are physical creatures but they’re incredibly intelligent and the price they pay emotionally is quite deep.”
Keeping it real meant a lot of the action is ‘in camera’, something that is becoming rare in contemporary action films. Producer Steve Chasman is thrilled that having such a talented cast allowed for this. “Because Jason and Clive are both so physically gifted, we wanted to try to do things that would really surprise the audience. A lot of movies these days, if you watch them, the cameras are shaking and all you see is a punch with a fist or a knee or an elbow and invariably it’s always the stunt man and then they do a close up of the actor. In this film, for the majority of it, we see everyone in camera. Jason takes a lot of pride in that, and Clive does as well. Even Bob [De Niro] mixed it up, which is really exciting.”
Clive Owen is no stranger to action on-screen, and the type of work it involves is something he really enjoys. “There’s something very satisfying about doing fights in movies because they are very, very specific. The lines of what you have to execute are very clear. It’s like there are beats, and the precision and the objectives are really clear. It’s different with dialogue because there’s so many different ways you can interpret things but with a good fight, it’s very clear what you’ve got to try and execute and I find that quite satisfying.
I have a very big fight with Jason’s character and that took a lot of training. They had a brilliant stunt team on this, the best I have ever worked with to tell you the truth, and in terms of their discipline and the way they approach the fights. It is quite a process; it is something that you do have to prepare for. You can’t just walk onto the set and start picking that sort of stuff up. It’s a long fight. Even though it’s only a few minutes in the movie, it’s a long time to do a fight for that length and it did require a couple of hours a day for quite a few weeks just getting ready for the fight scenes.”
Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for Killer Elite