As far back as Julius Avery can remember, he’d always wanted to make a World War II movie. Growing up in Western Australia, the Pemberton-born Avery would visit his grandfather who had served in the Allies’ North African campaign during the conflict. “He would show me his medals and photographs of his adventures. Since then, even as a kid, I was completely fixated on making a war movie.”
Avery, now 41, finally got his chance to make one when JJ Abrams offered him the script of Overlord. The movie is about a squad of paratroopers on a suicide mission to destroy a radio tower on the eve of Operation Overlord, aka D-Day, the Allies’ invasion of Normandy. But along the way, the men cross paths with something far scarier than Nazis — Nazi monsters!
“It has this crazy horror sci-fi element which makes the movie completely bonkers,” Avery tells 8 DAYS over the phone from LA. “It’s Indiana Jones on acid!” And light years away from Avery’s 2014 feature debut Son of a Gun, a crime thriller about the volatile relationship between a hardened crook (Ewan McGregor) and his protégé (Brenton Thwaites).
While making his first Hollywood studio picture means more responsibilities (“more people to manage, more action to shoot”), the film-making rules are no different than the ones on an indie movie. “Bulk of it basically involves me with a couple of actors in a room with a camera. I have to get the emotion and drama right.”
Action and horror mean jack if you don’t care about the characters, says Avery who won Best Short Film for Jerrycan at Cannes in 2008. “You have to love them before they go into Hell. If you are not invested in the characters, the action becomes less tense and real; you don’t care about them when the bullets start flying or when crazy super-soldiers starting chasing them down the corridor.”
One way of doing that is to make the action as immersive as he possibly can, like he did in the opening parachute jump from a crashing C-47, a harrowing sequence seen through the eyes of Jovan Adepo’s rookie GI. “I really want the audience to feel like they are on the inside rather than on the outside looking in, like they’re riding shotgun with our soldiers.”
Elsewhere, Avery says Wyatt Russell’s explosives expert Ford is emblematic of the Everyman action heroes he was raised on, like Bruce Willis’ John McClane in Die Hard. “The thing I don’t like about today’s action heroes is that they are versions of superheroes. They can never die. [Ford] looks like he can walk through walls but he’s just a normal guy like you and I, with a lot of vulnerability.”
Interestingly, there’s a line in Overlord that references The Thing, the 1982 sci-fi classic starring Kurt Russell — Wyatt’s father — which happens to be one of Avery’s favourite movies. That movie and James Cameron’s Aliens are a big influence on Avery. “They have a great mix of horror, action and drama, the same elements we have in Overlord, and we aspire to achieve what they did with our movie.”
Overlord (M18) is now in cinemas.
Photos: UIP, TPG News/Click Photos