As far back as he can remember, Rawson Marshall Thurber always wanted to make an action movie. In fact, he’s been jonesing for make-believe mayhem since he was eight. But the filmmaker, who cut his teeth with comedies such as 2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and 2013’s We’re The Millers, had to wait for more than three decades before he could pay homage to the ’80s and ’90s action thrillers he was raised on. And one of those defining works from his childhood was 1988’s Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis as an off-duty cop battling terrorists in a skyscraper on Christmas Eve.


So, instead of waiting for an action movie script to land on his desk, Thurber — who was reportedly considered to direct Ant-Man after Edgar Wright bailed on the project — went off to pen one himself, his own Die Hard that eventually became Skyscraper. But he’ll be the first to admit that his movie isn’t as good as Die Hard. “But only because nothing ever is!” said Thurber, now 43, in a Total Film interview. “As soon as I came up with the concept I knew it would be compared. But you just have to wear that and own it because it’s absolutely what Skyscraper is — it’s Die Hard meets [the 1974 disaster pic] The Towering Inferno with the biggest action star in the world.”

Anatomy of a (fictional) megastructure: Three times the size of the Empire State Building, The Pearl — located on the edge of the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour, facing the Hongkong Convention and Exhibition Centre Complete— has a five-star hotel, three full-sized gyms, two 16-screen cinemas, a driving range, a concert hall, a six-story shopping mall, a Michelin three-star restaurant, the 30-story Jade Park, and more than 100 floors of luxury residential suites.

And “the biggest action star in the world” happens to be Dwayne Johnson, the Franchise Viagra whom Thurber collaborated with on Central Intelligence. In Skyscraper, Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader-turned-security specialist who’s framed for setting ablaze the tallest building in the world, the fictional 225-storey The Pearl in Hongkong. But that’s the least of his problems: Sawyer’s wife (Scream queen Neve Campbell) and two children (newcomers McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrel), are trapped in the burning building with some trigger-happy party crashers on a mission to recover a package of considerable importance. 

Rounding off the diverse cast are our own Chin Han as the billionaire who built The Pearl, Arrow’s Byron Mann as a local cop who thinks Sawyer is behind the explosive mess, and Hannah Quinlivan (see p44), aka Mrs Jay Chou, as a clad-in-black leather henchwoman.  

Pull yourself together: To play an amputee, Johnson worked closely with Jeff Glasbrenner, the first American amputee to scale Mt Everest. Glasbrenner taught Johnson how to use a prosthetic leg and how wearing one  affects his posture.

While The Rock, like Thurber, is a big fan of the ’80s and ’90s action movies, he isn’t interested in making a Die Hard copy. The thing about Thurber’s story that appealed to Johnson the most is that Sawyer isn’t a gun-toting hero (come to think of it, he steers clear of firearms much of the screen-time and uses quite a lot of duct-tape) — and that he only has one leg. “He’s a wounded warrior and an amputee, but he won’t [let his handicap] stop him [from saving his family],” says Johnson, 46, flashing his killer smile at the press conference at The Ritz-Carlton, housed in the 108-storey International Commerce Centre, the tallest building in the former British colony. 

It’s not very often that Johnson gets to play someone as vulnerable as Sawyer, and even rarer to have an amputee portrayed as a lead hero in an action movie. “It was an opportunity to play a character in a story that was quite different from what I’ve played in the past,” adds Johnson, who’s joined on stage by Thurber, Campbell, Chin Han, Mann, Quinlivan, Roberts and Cottrel.

For Thurber, it’s just as challenging for him to make an action movie. “It was not only incredibly fun to make one,” pipes Thurber, who bears a fleeting resemblance to Eric ‘McDreamy’ Dane, “but it was also really nice not to have to make the audience laugh three times a minute. That was very relaxing for me. If you’re ever going to make an action movie, I recommend you make it with Dwayne Johnson. It really helps.”

By the way, is Thurber aware that Skyscraper is opening globally in the same week as the original Die Hard exactly 30 years ago? “Is that right?” answers Thurber, looking kinda surprised when 8 DAYS shares this pop culture minutiae with him. “That makes me so happy. Fingers crossed that we can honour that film and do some business.”

Here, Johnson & Co. reflect on their experiences making the vertigo-inducing thriller…


Photos: TPG News/Click Photos, UIP 

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