Duguay handles the action
Director keeps focus in difficult time. Extreme Ops hits theatres this month. Next up: a controversial look at Hitler
Christian Duguay almost didn't make Extreme Ops.
The extreme-sports thriller, which Paramount Pictures is releasing across North America on Nov. 27, confirms the Montreal film-maker's position as one of Canada's most sought-after directors. But Duguay gave some serious thought to dropping out of the project just months before the cameras started rolling on the $20-million (U.S.) flick.
Duguay - whose previous work includes the multi-Emmy-nominated Joan of Arc miniseries and the Wesley Snipes thriller The Art of War - was seriously shaken up when one of the film's producers was killed by an avalanche as Duguay watched in horror. Duguay and German producer Werner Koenig were scouting locations for Extreme Ops (then titled The Extremists) in the Swiss Alps in the fall of 2000 when the avalanche hit.
Duguay had been skiing with Koenig all day but decided to skip the final run, and was filming Koenig's descent from a helicopter flying overhead. In an interview last week, Duguay said the tragic event left him reeling.
"It's been a bumpy ride," said Duguay, 46. "I lost a friend at the beginning of the film and I had to regain my strength. I asked myself: 'Do you really want to go on with this?' I wanted to quit. My mother died three weeks after and that was something I also was not ready for. You just hit a major bump and you ask yourself: 'Is it worth doing all this?' I guess I heard (Koenig's) voice saying: 'You just go for it.' If the mountain goes, it goes.
"There's nothing you can do about it. I'd been skiing all day long with him. It was the only ride I didn't go on because the sun was so beautiful and I was shooting from the helicopter. It was the only ride I didn't do and it took him down. That's how life is. I still did all my stunt work on the film. I took a lot of fairly important risks. But I always wanted to do this film."
The irony is that an avalanche plays an important role in the plot of Extreme Ops. Advertising executive Jeffrey (Rupert Graves), director Ian (Rufus Sewell) and cameraman Will (Devon Sawa) are shooting a commercial for a new digital video camera and the ad captures three star skiers outrunning an avalanche in the Austrian Alps.
The skiers are downhill Olympic gold-medal winner Chloe (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, wife of tennis star Pete Sampras), wild snowboard whiz Kittie (Jana Pallaske) and maverick all-round daredevil Silo (Joe Absolom). Things take a turn for the sinister when the skiers stumble upon a group of eastern European terrorists.
Echoing this summer's Vin Diesel hit XXX, Extreme Ops taps into the craze for extreme sports with high-adrenaline sequences featuring extreme skiing, wild snowboarding and other high-risk stunts. Even though he lost his friend to a skiing accident, Duguay has no qualms about showing audiences some of the more dangerous sports ever invented.
"These are elite people who are able to take those risks because they have the skills to do it," Duguay said. "Look at television. You see extreme sports all the time. This is just about young kids having fun. They don't need heavy drugs. They're into sports, into nature and, again, we show that these are guys with really special skills. You're not supposed to do this in your daily life out on the streets. So that is not an aspect I'm ashamed of at all."
In the past decade, Duguay has become the go-to guy for action-film producers.
He first made a name for himself with the second and third films in the Scanners series, and has since solidified his action reputation with the sci-fi flick Screamers, smart terrorism pot-boiler The Assignment, and the Montreal-shot espionage thriller The Art of War
But Duguay has always argued that he is more than simply a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am action shooter and he has the more thoughtful credits to back up his argument, including the Gemini-Award-winning Dionne-quintuplets miniseries Million Dollar Babies and the epic 1999 CBS miniseries Joan of Arc, which nabbed 12 Emmy nominations.
Now he's set to tackle his weightiest project ever. He begins shooting in Prague later this month on Hitler, a four-hour miniseries for CBS based on historian Ian Kershaw's biography Hitler: 1889-1936, Hubris. It is a look at the man and the society that shaped him. Many journalists and groups have slammed CBS for agreeing to make a biography of the Nazi leader, with Maureen Dowd penning a column in the New York Times under the headline Swastikas for Sweeps and the Jewish Journal calling it Prime Time for Hitler.
Duguay stresses that the miniseries will not be an apology for the fascist leader's actions.
"A lot of people have been attacking us, but our motto has always been 'The way for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.' " Duguay said. "If there's anything to warn people about, it's that you can't let evil flourish. So I think it's important for generations to come (to know about this history). It's fading. Today, a lot of people are not aware of what was World War I, what was World War II. The miniseries is about how so many people followed this man."
Duguay still likes the thrill of shooting while careening down a snow-covered mountain or while plunging over a waterfall harnessed to a rig, as he did on Extreme Ops. But he's keen to focus on more challenging fare as well.
"Now I want to go for the character pieces because I think I've proven myself in terms of the high action. I feel I need to go into more thoughtful pieces that ask universal questions."
Extreme Ops opens in Montreal Nov. 27.