Mark Williams recently spoke with The AU Reviews about working with Liam Neeson and their collaboration on Blacklight, continuing with the 15 years long action-centric career of Neeson. Now taking on the torch for the creator, Mark Williams said that though it takes work to create something on the line as Neeson, there is no pressure regarding it.
"I wouldn’t say it’s pressure. It’s an understanding that yes, if you want the fans that are loyal to him to show up, then you have to give them what they expect out of him, and that comes out of action and fights and being a badass," he explained. "I don’t want to disappoint the fans in that way, but I have been looking for ways to differentiate by character, as opposed to action sequences."
And at times when he needed Neeson, he was there to look at the script and work with him. The two became friends during the creation of their latest work. "I had an early draft of the script, and I always had Liam in mind," said Williams. "I knew him, and he became a friend, and I thought he was perfect for the part."
Blacklight was shot in Australia, and while it could have been a difficult task, Williams has his friend, Paul Currie, to help him in the new locality. "A friend of mine, Paul Currie, who’s a producer on the movie, has been trying to get me to shoot there for about 10 years, " he said.
Williams had a different vision for the film. However, the specific scenes he wanted could not have been shot in Washington DC, and the idea of shooting in Australia then appealed to him. "You can’t really shoot in Washington DC the way we wanted to shoot it, so I was looking for a city that could be a good replica. I just liked the idea of Australia," he explained. "I’ve been there a couple of times, and I really wanted to go back. We just got really lucky at the time too. It was Covid-free which made it a lot more user-friendly."
The team shifted to the capital of Australia to shoot a car chase scene. Revealing why they specifically chose Canberra ideal for the exact purpose, Williams elaborated, "I assume you know Melbourne enough to know there are train lines over every street you want to drive on, which is a problem. Technically too, to get the shots we wanted was difficult to do in Melbourne."
"We had previously scouted Canberra before shooting just to check it. With COVID-19, Victoria was hit pretty bad early on, so we didn’t know if we’d be able to shoot," he revealed. "When I was walking through downtown Canberra I thought it looked a lot like Washington DC. They were very nice to us in saying we could shoot on the streets for four full days."
Hence, given permission for the shoot, they had endless opportunities to explore. "We did that shot for real. I wanted to minimalize special effects, so we really needed that space and that time. We rehearsed and spent a lot of time making sure it was safe so we could do some crazy things," said the director.
Liam Neeson is someone who likes getting hands-on with his stunts and does not shy away from doing it himself. Given his age, it is not easy to undertake extremely difficult stunts, but Blacklight is not short on those.
"He knows his boundaries. His stunt double/stunt coordinator knows his boundaries too. We designed the stunts for what we know he could do," said Williams about Neeson's expertise in the field. "Obviously, if there was something that crossed the line… we got Liam to do it, but then with his double, it might have some more oomph to it. He’s done it so many times that he knows what he can do, but the reality is when you do a stunt, you’re not just doing it once. It’s six takes from one angle, and six from another… and he just keeps on doing it."
Getting back to his experience of shooting in Australia, Williams said that his "crew was all top-notch." "They put their backs into it and had a great attitude. A massive shout out to my art department, led by Michelle McGahey, who’s an Aussie, who just made the sets bigger and better than I could have imagined," he said, appreciating the people who brought his vision for Blacklight to life. "I’d walk on a location to scout it and say that it works, and then I’d come back, and she had made it even better. It was amazing to see."
The director also made sure that he gave a platform to local artists of Australia and tried "to cast as many Australians as possible. I had slightly started before getting there, but once I got there I was open to anyone being Australian. I was looking far and wide."
Regardless, shooting in Covid was not an easy task, especially as the cast had no idea what to expect of the pandemic and how to safeguard themselves. "We were in Covid version 1. We were one of the earliest big movies to shoot, so there were no rules, no rule books. It was hard to find a test. We basically created our own rule book by using the best information we could gather. It was challenging," he admitted.
The cast got lucky and managed to evade the pandemic, "There were definite hiccups along the way. Fortunately no Covid related hiccups. But everyone understood the procedure of being safe and wearing masks," he revealed. "But, it was also in Australia at the time there were no cases. We started shooting in Victoria when they had gotten down to zero cases."
Finally, Williams shared that he is more inclined towards working on films that he has himself written as "you actually understand what the intent is on the page, and you’re not going to get it wrong."
"At some point as a director, you take ownership regardless of whether you’ve written it or not. You’re the one that has to answer the thousands of questions that come at you through the day, so at some point, you just have to speak the truth," he ended.