NYCC 2013: OLDBOY Screenwriter Mark Protosevich Talks Film’s Transition From Steven Spielberg To Spike Lee

Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy starring Josh Brolin and Sharlto Copley is on deck to hit theaters on November 27th. Film District saw to it that the dark psychological revenge thriller had a presence at New York Comic Con last week with a Main Hall panel featuring screenwriter Mark Protosevich in addition to cast members Micheal Imperioli and Pom Klementieff.

I participated in round table interviews alongside several other online outlets with the available talent and among the things brought up during the paired interview with Mark Protosevich and Pom Klementieff was the film’s early stages as a vehicle for Will Smith to be directed by none other than Steven Spielberg.

Protosevich elaborated on the remake’s interesting genesis with the two unlikely Hollywood icons:

“I first got involved in this because I got a call from Will Smith, who I worked with on I Am Legend, and he said, ‘I want you to write my next movie. It’s a remake of Oldboy and Steven Spielberg is going to direct it.’ Two days later I was on a plane to LA and I was meeting Spielberg. That was going to be the package, and then it completely fell apart.”

“That may have been the initial interesting hook for me, working with them on this, as opposed to just being asked if I was interested in remaking Oldboy. But when that fell apart, I had become so passionate about the material and had worked out a 30 page treatment. I had the movie clear in my head and the producer still wanted to movie forward, so I said, ‘I’m in.’”

“This one really meant something to me. You can get into the whole issue of fundamentalists out there who feel that the original movie should never have been remade. I respect their feelings and there’s nothing I can do to change that, but there are in the course of history, some fairly good pairs in terms of English language versions of foreign films and remakes of classics. I’m glad David Cronenberg remade The Fly. There’s a Japanese version of Unforgiven that’s coming out. See, I’m curious about that! I’m not saying, ‘How dare they remake that!’ I’m curious about that. I think there’s something good to keeping an open mind.”

I followed up with Protosevich on this by asking how his approach to the project changed once Spielberg and Smith departed and Spike Lee signed on, and whether it allowed the tone to go from a tent pole feel into far darker territory.

“The interesting thing about that whole situation is that I had about three meetings with Steven, and in one of the first meetings he said, ‘My son will kill me if we don’t make this movie as intense as the original.’ In his mind, we were going to go there. Now, I don’t think he ever had that conversation with Will, so who knows what might have happened, but even in those early stages there was encouragement to go for it. One of the other assumptions is that we were going to wimp out and make it a little more palatable for mass audience, and I can assure you that we did not do that.”

“Then it became the producers and I sitting in a room saying, ‘Let’s go forward. Let’s get a draft of the script we’re all happy with, then get an actor and a director to put this together.’ That became the process at that time. It was a lower budget movie at that point. It was not going to be big. It was a fairly modest production even then. I can’t remember anyone ever expressing that we were going too far. I think we all just jumped in the pool with a hammer and a razor to see what would happen.”

Directed by Spike Lee, Oldboy is set to hit theaters on November 27th and stars Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Reddick and Michael Imperioli.

Jim Kiernan
Founder and moderator of Nerdy Rotten Scoundrel. Steering this ship the best I can. Lifelong opinionated geek & pop culture enthusiast. Independent television & film professional. Born & raised New Yorker. My dog Nicholas is awesome.

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