"Exit Wounds" brings together accomplished action veteran and martial artist Steven Seagal with DMX, one of today's most acclaimed urban hip hop artists, who captured audience attention with his powerful supporting role in "Romeo Must Die." "This movie is about doing the right thing in the worst situation," says producer Joel Silver, who creates a new kind of urban police drama with "Exit Wounds" after redefining action with not only the worldwide hit Matrix, the (1999) but also Romeo Must Die (2000) featuring Hong Kong action superstar Jet Li in his American starring debut. "Steven and DMX come from completely different backgrounds, but their styles combined are explosive on screen. They bring a truth and depth to their characters that you couldn't replicate with any other actors."
Steven Seagal returns to the genre that made him a leading worldwide action superstar in such films as Above the Law (1988) Hard to Kill (1990) Marked for Death (1990) Out for Justice (1991) the smash blockbuster Under Seige (1992), and Under Siege 2 (1995) among others. "The role of Orin Boyd has a real resonance for Steven," Silver says. "He has played the super-cop. Now he's playing the other side of that and there is a real honesty to his performance."
Multi-Platinum hip hop star DMX plays the monied, sophisticated Latrell Walker. "People judge Latrell because of what he looks like and what kind of car he drives," says DMX. "But appearances aren't always the truth. Latrell has his reasons for doing what he's doing, and they're not necessarily what you would assume."
"DMX is an incredibly charismatic, magnetic presence on the stage with his music and on screen," Silver observes. "Audiences were riveted by his small but potent role in Romeo Must Die (2000). He brings so much to the table in terms of character and substance that we committed ourselves to finding a very special project to serve as his next step. We couldn't be happier to be doing 'Exit Wounds' and look forward to working with him again in the future."
Seagal himself found a kinship in the role of Orin Boyd. "Boyd's been around for a long time and he knows the job very, very well," says Seagal. "He's just not very good at playing the politics, which is true of many of us. Nothing surprises him anymore; he has seen some pretty bad things in his time. But he doesn't allow himself to be consumed by it."
The role of Latrell Walker was likewise a natural fit for the acclaimed hip hop star, who also contributes to the film's diverse soundtrack. "I know who Latrell is because I've seen Latrell where I grew up," states DMX. "I grew up in the projects, in an environment where succumbing to the many things that come with that environment - the fighting, the guns, getting locked up - is just part of living. But some guys, like Latrell Walker, get off into something else. They know that there's some other place we have to go. He's a very believable character."
"Exit Wounds" originated as a novel written by uniform street cop John Westermann that Joel Silver immediately acquired when it was published, but has waited until now to make. Exit Wounds the novel focused on the exploits of a tough, funny and ironic cop named Orin Boyd - a character loosely fashioned after Westermann's real-life partner. "I had this tremendous partner who was endlessly entertaining and kept feeding me material," recalls Westermann. "He was a Vietnam veteran who had had a drinking problem. He stopped drinking but never lost the craziness."
Producer Dan Cracchiolo describes the material as harkening back to the "edgy, gritty, cop pictures like Dirty Harry (1971) and Serpico (1973), those great '70 movies that were for our generation what Westerns were to earlier generations. The characters in 'Exit Wounds' are hard-edged and colorful. Having Steven and DMX in these roles strikes a resonant chord with respect to their backgrounds."
"Orin Boyd is the ultimate underdog," says director Andrzej Bartkowiak, who made his big screen directorial debut on Silver's Romeo Must Die (2000) after crafting a stellar career as a cinematographer. "He may have been demoted from detective to crossing guard, but he's not going to let them break his spirit - he's going to do whatever it takes to bring down the bad guys."
Bartkowiak continues, "There's a great moment in the film where Boyd returns to the locker room after his first day on traffic duty and puts his whistle and his hat back into his locker, stands there for a moment, and then lets out this long sigh. We realize that he realizes that he has hit rock bottom. That's a very human moment that I think everyone can identify with."
Seagal also enjoyed the comedic moments the material afforded him. "There are a lot of funny situations involving my character in the film," says Seagal. "I get sent to an anger management class; I'm demoted to a traffic cop; and there's a scene I particularly like where I bust in on my commander when she's on a date. I throw her date out and sit down and eat his food. Boyd may be down on his luck but he hasn't completely lost his sense of humor."
To play Mulcahy, the 15th Precinct's tough female commander, the filmmakers chose Jill Hennessy, a veteran of the highly acclaimed American television series "Law and Order." "There are a lot of twists and turns in this movie and it's made even more interesting by the fact that each of the characters is so complicated. Jill got the layers of the character," notes Silver.
"Jill is a fantastic actress," adds Bartkowiak. "In addition to being intelligent and beautiful and having a great sense of humor, she can also hold her own with Seagal, which was important because the interaction between them is a large part of the story."
Hennessy came to the production immediately after wrapping her work on the mini-series "Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot." "One day I was working with all women and the next day I was the only female on a set of very attractive men - talk about your hardships!" jokes Hennessy.
Hennessy continues, "Mulcahy's a great character. She is unapologetically strong and knows how to express herself. She doesn't feel like she has to act like a guy to get respect - she's good at what she does and is comfortable in that knowledge. She isn't afraid to be a woman."
When contemplating the casting choices for Boyd's partner George Clark, and Latrell Walker's man-at-arms T.K., the filmmakers turned to members of what producer Dan Cracchiolo likes to refer to as the "Silver Pictures Players."
"When you have good actors that are always there for you, you stick with them and work with them," explains Cracchiolo. "This is a Joel Silver thing and I've always respected it. I guess it's a throwback to Joel's love of the old studio system where you used to have a family of actors that worked on your movie. In some movies one guy would be the star; in some movies he'd be a co-star; and some movies he'd do a great bit part. We hope we can do a hundred movies with this group of guys -- like Isaiah Washington and Anthony Anderson, both of whom worked with us on Romeo Must Die (2000). "These are the performers that have a Silver Pictures Players card."
"I love working with Joel and Dan and Andrzej because they know action," states Isaiah Washington. "You know when you work with them that the film's gonna look good, gonna feel good and gonna move. Besides," he adds with a laugh, "when Joel Silver calls you to do a movie, do you have a choice?"
"I've gotten my butt kicked by the best," jokes Anthony Anderson, who, along with Tom Arnold, provides much of the humor in the film. "Jet Li beat me up the best. But Steven Seagal can still kick a good butt. It's a different kind of kicking, though."
Rounding out the cast are Michael Jai White, David Vadim and Matt Taylor as rogue cops planning the ultimate drug deal; and Tom Arnold as Henry Wayne, the morning man for a Detroit television talk show whom Boyd reluctantly befriends at an anger management class.
Well in advance of the start of principal photography, Seagal, DMX and the rest of the cast spent long hours training and working out in order to meet the physical challenges of the film. Filming intricately choreographed fight sequences demands that everyone be at the top of their game, and fight coordinator Dion Lam put the actors through their paces.
"Coordination and flexibility are the key to a good fight sequence," explains Lam. "Nothing should look rehearsed. All the movements should be controlled but have a smooth and continuous rhythm. It takes many hours of practice and rehearsal to learn the movements."
Both the Chinese style of Kung Fu and the more classical Aikido style of martial arts are utilized in the film. Stunt coordinators RA Rondell and John Stoneham Jr worked hand-in-hand with Lam to bring the film's complex stunt sequences to fruition. Explains Rondell, "While Dion is working with the actors on the choreography, we're working with the stunt people who will also be involved with the fighting, as well as working with the special effects department on the various breakaway chairs, exploding windows or whatever prop is needed for the action."
"When you're working with Dion and his people you just try to stay focused," DMX says. "If you don't, you'll get hurt because they're very good, very precise and very quick. They know when to push, when not to push and they've gotten me in great shape."
Rondell and Stoneham, along with 2nd unit director David Ellis, were also in charge of staging the sensational car crashes, coordinating the high falls and precision driving, and engineering the escapes from various explosive situations in the movie. The high proportion of complicated stunts meant that for the first four weeks of filming, there were two full crews working simultaneously - the main unit and the stunt (or second) unit.
Almost two weeks into filming the main unit traveled to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, to film Mulcahy and Boyd's frantic drive through the city as they are chased by bad guys. At the same time, around the corner, the second unit was shooting a rapid-fire car crash involving a motorcycle, a car, and a couple of dumpsters. Downtown Hamilton had been invaded by the cast and crews of "Exit Wounds," but no one seemed to mind and even though it was the middle of the night, a huge crowd was on hand to cheer the performers on.
Peter Weireter served as police technical advisor on the film. Throughout the shoot, Weireter, a 22-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department - 17 of those years spent on the LAPD Special Weapons and Tactics or SWAT team - was available to both cast and crew to answer questions about law enforcement work. "What I try to do is to give everyone a basic foundation from which to work," explains Weireter. "To give the actors some background, be it methods, tactics, or whatever, to assist them with the storytelling. For instance, most people haven't been in a real shootout before, so in addition to guiding them through the technical aspect, I try to give them a perspective of what they might feel during a real life shootout - the anxiety involved and the emotions that pour out during the heat of the moment."
Production designer Paul Austerberry and director Andrzej Bartkowiak spent many hours during pre-production coming up with an overall vision for the film. "Andrzej wanted a very minimal, very stylized, but very big city feel to the film," Austerberry explains. "So we pushed the envelope a bit and even though the story is set in Detroit, the look of the film is really fairly generic, so the story could be taking place in any large urban center."
Color was also vital to the look of the film. "We spent a lot of time talking about the characters and their relationships to the environment and eventually put together a palette that was incorporated throughout the film," says Austerberry. "Both red and blue figured strongly in establishing the two main characters. Steven's color is red because of his character's anger and passion, so you see red accents in his houseboat - for example, the roof is red - and whenever he shows up in a scene. Because DMX's character is calm, cool and mysterious, we chose to associate him with the color blue. His loft, which is very high tech, featured blue walls, and a lot of his wardrobe is blue."
One of the most difficult locations to secure was the large city bridge needed to film the movie's heart-stopping opening sequence. The filmmakers conducted an extensive search, scouting bridges in a number of locations before settling on the Centre Street Bridge in downtown Calgary. As luck would have it, the historic bridge had been undergoing a lengthy refurbishment and for a very short window, would be available to the production prior to its re-opening. In mid-September, a splinter unit was dispatched to Calgary where for five days - to the delight of Calgarians watching from the riverbanks - the "Exit Wounds" production team held the bridge under siege with intricately staged explosions, gunfire and low flying helicopters.