Director Ric Roman Waugh is known for his high-octane, true-to-life action dramas, from Snitch (starring Dwayne Johnson) to National Champions (with J.K. Simmons) to The Angel Has Fallen (starring Gerard Butler). His latest film, Kandahar –– in theaters Memorial Day Weekend — drops us into modern day Afghanistan, deep behind enemy lines, as an undercover CIA operative (Gerald Butler) on a “quick easy mission” gets his cover blown by a leaker. He and his translator, Moe (Navid Negahban), have 30 hours to fight their way through the Taliban, warring militias, and foreign spies to make it to an extraction point in Kandahar.
Written by former military intelligence officer Mitchell LaFortune, who drew from his own experiences in Afghanistan, the plot may sound familiar. But the film has earned praise for its realistic immersion into the region’s war zone and it’s balance between taut action scenes with more nuanced characters. It also takes us deeper into the politics, the cultural forces, and the psychology behind the people entrenched in all sides of a never ending war. And it’s the rare film to portray Americans and Middle Easterns in an even light.
I met the director in person to discuss Kandahar, his experience working with Gerard Butler, and the creative process behind his intense action scenes.
What was the research process like working with Mitchell Lafortune?
It was a great experience. I like how Mitchell helped give the audience a more humanized perspective into the Middle East, instead of how Westerners view it. We just tried to get enough information to make an exciting film that sparks conversations about the topics it covers. It’s not a documentary, just an espionage story that takes place in the Middle East and the human lives it impacts.
You had some intense action scenes in this film, especially the helicopter chase. What is your creative process behind these scenes?
I came from a stunt background working on films like Kuffs, and from those experiences, I have always wanted to ensure that things are authentic. So when a character gets killed in the movie, I wanted to let the audience feel like that was a real event. Of course, we did a lot of storyboarding for the scenes, but my approach is to have the settings be as authentic as it can be.
For the helicopter stunt, I wanted to give it a Jaws effect where you know the threat is there, but you can barely see it —making the moment even scarier for the people being chased by the helicopter.
There is a lot of chemistry between Gerard Butler and Navid Negahban in this film as the two lead characters. What was it like directing them?
Gerard is a great actor I have worked with before and is a good guy, so is Navid, but in the film, the characters are not supposed like each other. They had so much chemistry I had to tell them, “Hey guys, your characters don’t like each other at this point.” They tried, and eventually, I got what I needed out of them to make the film work.
One of my favorite characters in this film is Kahil (Ali Fazal). You do such a great job with development for each of the many characters in this film, what was your approach to achieving this?
That’s surprising because no one has mentioned that Kahil was their favorite. These are real people, but I feel the human element gets lost in these espionage missions, and I wanted to portray that in this film. For instance, Kahil, you can tell that he wanted out of the life of a hired hitman in the desert, and his thought process was different than the older gentleman he was discussing the mission with. Then afterward, you see Kahil listening to hip-hop and smoking a vape pen. He’s ready to move to Europe for a more modern lifestyle, and less of the traditional style of his profession. It’s similar to the other characters in the film; they only want to make it home to their families.
What are some of the series and films that you are currently streaming?
I like the show Black Bird, which I watch with my wife. The funny thing is that I have been watching old action films with my two 15-year-old twins, and they loved First Blood, so much that they watched the other Rambo movies. Then they watched all of the Rocky movies, including the Creed movies. I live vicariously through them as we watch the films together.
Kandahar releases everywhere in theaters on May 26th.