Cast as Nick’s girlfriend, the perky-buttough Southern girl Gina, was actress Kiele Sanchez. “Kiele is a revelation, and I have a soft spot in my heart for her,” relates Twohy. “She was simply the best of about a hundred people we read for the role.”
It was several weeks into shooting before the director realized that one of his leading ladies had a secret of her own. Sanchez had learned her character’s spot-on accent not from one of Hollywood’s master dialect coaches…but by watching hours of Designing Women to nail Gina’s cadence.
The longtime-thriller fan enjoyed attempting to decode Twohy’s screenplay upon first read. “Whenever I read thrillers or murder mysteries, I always think, `I know who did it,’ or `This is who they want you to think did it,’” says Sanchez. In this case, the actress admits she didn’t foresee what was coming. “I was really surprised by the ending, which is how I knew it was a good one.”
The final performer to join the ensemble was worldwide action star Milla Jovovich. Having created unforgettable characters in thrillers from The Fifth Element to the Resident Evil trilogy, Jovovich was no stranger to grueling shoots and treacherous stunts. Several years ago, producer Tooley had made the crime drama .45 with the actress and was keen to work with her again, so he reached out to get the script in Jovovich’s hands. She responded to the multifaceted Cydney and agreed to the part.
Olyphant, Zahn and Sanchez were not the only members of the troupe affected by the screenplay. “When I read David’s script and realized that everything I thought about the story was completely wrong, I said, `I have to be involved, because he really pulled one over on me,’” says Jovovich. She also enjoyed that Cydney is a naive newlywed who is having the time of her life being young and in love in Hawaii. The performer laughs, “That was fun for me because it’s not every day I get to play a nice girl.”
Naturally, Jovovich and Zahn had distinct approaches to their craft, and the director believed that helped the chemistry between them. Twohy elaborates: “Milla likes rehearsals and wants to hear the other lines before she can understand how she’ll respond to them. She doesn’t lock in until the last minute. Their work approach was so opposite, yet they were so damn funny that they kept each other in stitches and made it all work on the set. Hopefully, that results in chemistry you see on the screen.”
Completing the core group of mysterious hikers are Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton, cast to play unpredictable boyfriend and girlfriend Kale and Cleo. Australian actor Hemsworth’s American theatrical debut occurred this summer in Star Trek, while Shelton has been seen in a number of successful films.
When casting the parts, Twohy knew he needed two actors who could come across as both sane and a little crazy. He notes: “Cleo and Kale are two hitchhikers that Cliff and Cydney quickly regret stopping for. As written, the script doesn’t give the actors a lot to go on, so I looked for inventive actors who could, with my blessing, co-create the characters. To that end, I invited both Chris and Marley down to Puerto Rico early, put them in costume, and told them to go out and spend their days together in character. I even gave them a camera so they could snap photos of themselves that we used in the movie. They both worked out great.”
Twohy imagined an ambitious shooting schedule when he wrote A Perfect Getaway. From Cliff and Cydney’s entry into the reef lagoon of Ke’e Beach to their dangerous walk across a narrow trail aptly named “Crawler’s Ledge,” re-creating the terrifying island getaway set on the pristine expanse of Pacific would prove challenging to all involved. To lens the thriller, the production would travel from Puerto Rico to Jamaica and on to Kauai for certain aerial and cover shots.
Originally, Twohy planned a guerilla-style shoot for the film. Since the majority of his suspense thriller was to be shot in exteriors, he wondered if he even needed a production designer. But when the production eventually landed in Puerto Rico, production designer Joseph Nemec III came in to help Twohy re-create Kauai, one of the most beautiful and distinct places on earth.
Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest was a rich stand-in for the lush Na Pali Coast State Park, home to Kauai’s rugged hikes and the crescent-shaped beach that spoons the emerald coastline at the end of the 11-mile trail.
“Since the script takes place in the jungles of Hawaii, along the Kalalau Trail, my first thought was that there’s not really a lot to do here as a production designer,” recalls Nemec. The challenge was to “take this existing place and make it interesting for the audience.”
The volcanic range that the Kalalau Trail follows has dramatic cliffs that can reach almost 4,000 feet high. The production used visual effects to top off the Puerto Rico vistas to turn them into Kauai. Nemec counts almost 50 sets that his crew created during an eight-week shoot that spanned the entire island.
While some locations stood on their own, such as a bamboo forest or the slippery valley spillways that hikers cross, others demanded complex greens installations or large-scale builds. A portion of the trail that forces intrepid adventure seekers to their knees, the mythic Crawler’s Ledge, was, as Nemec explains, “one of the larger builds that works in concert with matte painting.”
Though the story constantly moves along the waterline, the characters zigzag throughout the inland and then return to the coast. The cat-and-mouse game outlined in Twohy’s script gave the production many opportunities to interweave different landscapes- from forests and cliffs to rock walls-and gives the audience a sense that it is only a matter of time before another murder happens.
Some of the locations were incredibly treacherous, and it was impossible to bring ATVs and gators (four-wheel drive equipment) directly up to the set. The grip and camera departments often had to lug their gear to places that were difficult to reach. “The crew was constantly exposed to the elements, and what we did in the time we did it was pretty incredible,” says Brenner.
Twohy felt director of photography Mark Plummer’s interest in shooting in a wider format would work well with the story’s expansive Hawaiian vistas. The perspectives they were able to capture are breathtaking. “I’m happy to see small actors against a big, dangerous backdrop with craggy mountains and great rock formations,” says the director.
He and DP Plummer discussed ways to use a fascinating camera technique while lensing A Perfect Getaway. “One of my favorite films is I Am Cuba,” says Twohy. “Russian filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov shot it almost entirely on infrared black-and-white film. For our film, we created this extended flashback sequence where it is all shot on digital infrared film, black-and-white, using the RedCam.
“Infrared sees below the surface of the skin, so actors’ faces can take on this creamy, sultry, burnished look,” he continues. “It can be spectacular, but it can also give you some surprises. You can see straight through sunglasses, to the point where they look like they’re reading glasses. We had to put our actors in welder’s glasses when we wanted it to look like they were wearing shades.”
Some of the most difficult sequences for the director, Plummer and cast to film were the kayaking scenes in which Cliff and Nick are out in the ocean. “No matter how many times they tell you it’s tough to film on water, you cannot appreciate it until you actually get on water,” laughs Twohy. “It’s one thing to get the actors up to speed in kayaks; that takes a little time. We went out there with all kinds of image-stabilization equipment to keep the horizon steady and to keep us [on camera boats] steady…so people wouldn’t throw up in the theaters.” When the elements didn’t sync up for the production, he remembers, “We had to go old school, basically throwing the cameras back on our shoulders and using our legs as gyro-stabilizers. It was hell.”
That said, calmer days on set included the scenes in which the director was able to concentrate on the actors’ performances without the distractions that visual-effects scenes can create. “When you shoot action, you chop things up into small pieces and then build the scene in the editing room,” Twohy notes.
“But the scenes I’m most fond of in A Perfect Getaway are those where I could just be an actor’s director. The idea that I could stage Steve and Milla in a foreground tent and let them speak for almost three pages of dialogue? While Kiele skins a goat behind them? I love the staging of a scene like that, and I love that I can let it all play out in real time.”
The rugged backdrop and the goal that the cast would do much of its own stunts required that the actors be in top physical form for the filming of A Perfect Getaway. In addition to the tough cardiovascular and anaerobic training prior, they arrived in Puerto Rico to rehearse two weeks before the beginning of principal photography. They were asked to prepare with serious training and daily kayak lessons.
“It wasn’t the kind of movie where you just prepare before you start,” offers Canton. “They had weapons, there were 20-foot swells out there and we shot in caves. They had to train every day in order to be ready.”
“Tim was a competitive swimmer in college, and both he and Steve were on a serious workout regimen before they came to do this movie,” adds Brenner.
Sanchez, who was well into a rigorous training schedule for an AIDS benefit marathon in San Francisco, felt she was ready aerobically. But she realized she would need to incorporate weight training into her routine to build muscle and, as she relates, “get through how intense it was going to be physically.”
Jovovich trained rigorously in Los Angeles before she came to the islands; she brought her trainer to Puerto Rico and continued working with him during preparation for the shoot. The actress, who had a baby about six months before filming began, admits that the strenuous shooting conditions “were a great opportunity to get back into the swing of things.”
Her on-screen husband agrees. “Any time you’re on location, it’s more demanding-physically and mentally,” admits Zahn. “This one was a lot harder because we’re in the elements, which I prefer. The surf, sand, tents, hiking and the waterfalls add a fantastic ruggedness to the film.”
A Perfect Getaway (2009)
Directed by: David Twohy
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Steve Zahn, Marley Shelton, Kiele Sanchez, Chris Hemsworth, Katie Chonacas, Dale Dickey, Wendy Braun, Angela Sun, Leandra Gillis
Screenplay by: David Twohy
Production Design by: Joseph C. Nemec
Cinematography by: Mark Plummer
Film Editing by: Tracy Adams
Costume Design by: Laura Goldsmith
Set Decoration by: Lisa Alkofer
Art Direction by: Zina Torres
Music by: Boris Elkis
MPAA Rating: R for graphic violence, language including sexual references and drug use.
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: August 14, 2009