PART TWO: JOHNNY DEPP? CHRISTIAN SLATER? BON JOVI?! CASTING ERIC DRAVEN
By Ryan J. Downey
Before “The Crow,” Brandon Lee’s biggest role was in “Rapid Fire,” an above-average action flick carried mostly by his grace, charm and combination of various martial arts styles years before the phrase “MMA” was popularized. His other credits included “Showdown in Little Tokyo” opposite Dolph Lundgren, little seen low-budget foreign action flicks “Laser Mission” and “Legacy of Rage” and the televised “Kung Fu: The Movie,” with David Carradine.
Brandon dropped nearly 40 lbs. to play Eric Draven and was deeply involved in his characterization and fight choreography. His performance was at once natural yet supernatural in style throughout the film, which would define his legacy and remove him from the shadow of his famous father. Here, one of the producers, one of the writers, and one of the actors in the film reflect on Lee’s casting and contributions.
Jeff Most (Producer): I saw reports after the movie came out that we were in discussions with Johnny Depp or Christian Slater. Certainly, we’re big fans of both of those guys. We did look at a number of actors, but we only fixated and were serious about one person.
John Shirley (Writer): I myself pushed for Christian Slater, who seemed cool and quirky and had a great voice. And the voice seemed important to me. I seem to recall [producer Ed] Pressman wanted to use Jon Bon Jovi! He had a whole fixation on Bon Jovi, as I recall. I am afraid I recoiled, visibly, to that prospect.
Jeff Most: Brandon Lee was the only person we ever made an offer to. We were looking for somebody who could be empathetic, likable, believable and yet have the ability to fight and be an athlete. Brandon had a unique set of traits that were really necessary for the role. We just believed that he embodied everything we were looking for in this action hero who was an athlete, musician, lover, romantic. We really never gave any thought to anyone other than Brandon in any serious way. And certainly he delivered in spades.
John Shirley: I wasn’t involved in selecting him. He did, though, seem to understand the character. He was of a generation that got dark heroes, I suspect. And there is that martial arts component. Not just the martial arts, but also the Hong Kong / Japanese Samurai film antecedents. Brandon wasn’t so ’martial arts’ as his father, but it was definitely there.
Jeff Most: It was a bit of a risk because he wasn’t a big star name. He had a bunch of Hong Kong films he had done. He had gone to the hospital on every movie because he was always trying to push the envelope. He wanted to push himself physically and what could be accomplished on film. He embodied the spirit of his father in trying to re-imagine how one can put action on screen intelligently, with substance.
Jon Polito (“Gideon”): I went in for a wardrobe fitting and ran into Brandon for the first time. He was such a charming man. He was incredibly positive about me being involved, he knew my work. I had heard about him from an earlier film and had heard he was a pretty great guy. My experience with him right away was terrific. As were my experiences with [director] Alex [Proyas].
Jeff Most: When he arrived in North Carolina, one of the first things he had me do was find a guitar teacher because he was dead-set on doing some of the guitar work in the movie, most of which he did. Brandon was virtually his own choreographer. He was going to have that little Yugo car come at him, jump up in the air onto the roof, end up standing on his feet facing the opposite direction. We were like, ’That’s great, but that’s on the last day’ [laughs]. He kept working at it and insisting he wanted to do it.
Jon Polito: My first shoot with Brandon was the scene where he comes through the glass door and I say the infamous line, ’S— on me!’, which I think I made up on the spot. Brandon walked through the door with the crow on his shoulder, smashing through the breakaway candy glass. We had to stop because we realized Brandon was covered in blood. He had cut himself in several places.
He said, ’C’mon, let’s just go ahead and keep shooting.’ And I said to him, ’Brandon, let’s not pull a Vic Morrow,’ a reference to the actor that had been killed on the set of ’The Twilight Zone.’ Which turned out to be a really bad thing to say, in retrospect. But the shoot went well enough. We were all enjoying that the script was so good and that Brandon was so damn energetic and wonderful to be around. It was creepy to look at him and talk to him [in costume]! He was frightening to sit next to. But he was so wonderful.
Come back to Splash Page tomorrow for the next chapter in our week-long look at “The Crow,” its origins and legacy. Here’s what we’ve covered already: