Kevin Costner & Ariel Vromen on being ‘CRIMINAL’-ly unapologetic

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

“It’s the kind of movie we have to go all in and not be apologetic in any kind of way.”

Director Ariel Vromen has assembled quite the stellar cast for his latest, mind-bending action film, CRIMINAL. Kevin Costner radically and magnificently plays against type as Jerico Stewart, a ruthless death row convict whose mind is implanted with the memories of those of a CIA agent’s (Ryan Reynolds). A Frankenstein myth at its core, the film is complex, compelling and a throwback thriller.

Casting proved to be the most critical aspect when it came to this project co-penned by Vromen’s cousin David Weisberg.

“The main thing was the challenge. I knew this is an actor that when he’s going to reach the moment to perform with emotion, I don’t need to worry. I’m going to see how I’m going to transform him. I looked at Liam Neeson movies and what he did with TAKEN. What was in his persona, hitting in his late 50’s that you can bring some coolness into these guys. I knew there was something there that I wanted to tap – that nobody else had tapped. I don’t think Kevin allowed anyone else to tap it. When you have a brand, you keep just wanted to sell it – the good American that will save the day. It was a challenge to see if I could get Kevin Costner to attach some sort of danger attached to him.”

Costner wasn’t sure what made Vromen think he’d be perfect to play the anti-hero.

“I don’t know why they cast me. I wouldn’t have thought that I would be cast because the movie they saw me in was DRAFT DAY. I say, ‘Pancake-eating mother f**ker.’ Was that enough to do it?”

Costner wasn’t immediately sure what his character would look like.

“I went to London in way I didn’t like – I didn’t know how I was going to play it. I didn’t have a clue. I had grown my hair long and had grown a long beard and I go to the set and I’m supposed to rape Gal [Gadot] on my first day. ‘Hi, Gal. How are you? I’m just going to rape you, right?’ The next thing I know I’m going to have to cut my hair – that was a look that was supposed to happen in prison. I had to go into makeup trailer without the director because he’s shooting. I just started really slow. We know where he has the operation and I saw what it was going to look like and I said, ‘Let’s just go like they didn’t care about this man and they went zip, zip, zip, zip with a hamburger patty on top. And I started taking my beard down – once you go too far you can’t go back. It wasn’t easy.”

Even the stitches were something he was tasked to come up with.

“I started to see it come alive and it looked like a pretty fierce look to me. I said let’s put the big stitches on and leave the strings. This is a big concept we’re trying to get people to believe. It’s a popcorn movie. At least we can make this look vicious. Let’s not make it cosmetically beautiful. Also you can’t film it that way – you can’t avoid it. I’m not saying you have to do a close-up on it, but you can’t avoid it. It’s gotta be a part of me – being in pain.”

Costner also had to feel out finding Jerico’s voice and tonal inflections.

“I wasn’t sure how my voice would be. It’s not fair. You’re supposed to be able to rehearse two, three weeks where you try to find these things. I started thinking about being chocked by that chain and I thought, even if it’s not chocking me, if I go too far, it’s hurting me. What if that’s affected my voice? As soon as I knew that, I knew I could go.”

The concept of a first choice is a bit of a misconception explained Vromen.

“In Hollywood, there’s no such thing as your first choice. There’s the choice you get. This role was a vehicle for a lot of people. But there’s availability and timing and price, taste, script. I saw an opportunity to get a lead person and everyone else jumped on the train.”

Vromen felt that selecting Costner for the lead role was a wise choice as he came to the project with a keen sense of the character from a filmmaking background.

“We had a good connection when it came to our vision. Script-wise, Kevin was constantly looking for the sense of humor – for where can I be funny? That was his chance. What is nice, when I did my first cut, my first cut was way less sense of humor and more violent. It’s the kind of movie we have to go all in and not be apologetic in any kind of way. Kevin brought back in some moments that I thought were out of tone. When he goes to the library and calls her, ‘Sugarpuss.’ I thought he’d just go in and look for the books. He said, ‘No, no, no. Let’s have that moment with her.’ If you’re working with a great director, you need to remember that. If you come into post [production], it’s important to use their experience. It’s not about my ego at all. It’s about how to make the movie better. Having him involved is awesome.”

Costner augmented,

“It’s not an M.O. of me, to come in and put my thumbprint on things. I really love writing. Sometimes writing is mixed up and doesn’t make sense. My first question before signing on was, ‘I’m going to have to have some things changed,’ as opposed to, ‘I love it,’ and you get to set and start changing things. That really f*cks everybody up. It’s not fair. My approach is I tell the bad news first. It’s, ‘I think this needs a lot of work. It needs more humor in this that’s not winking at itself. He needs to have some good moments – to be pleased with things that happen that he wouldn’t normally be pleased with.’”

Surprisingly, Costner had turned the role down at least two times prior.

“I turned it down two or three times before. I said, ‘I don’t even know why you would come after me for this.’ When I looked at it, I thought, ‘I could play this guy. I can play this high level of violence.’ The way I have to play it is not fancy, not like clear a room.”

Tapping into Jerico’s primal personality wasn’t therapeutic for Costner.

“I tried to keep it all about animal instinct to sort of provide. Not like, ‘Oh. I can really let loose.’ The writer writes something, but they don’t know I’m going to rip that metal off with my teeth. That everything he can do to survive, he’s going to survive. If you tie into it, you know what to say. I copied what I saw in my head. It just comes out. It’s almost like tracing – it just comes to you.”

CRIMINAL opens on April 15.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.