While promoting the debut of Hammer Down across the internet, Simon Hatt and Chris Sullivan spoke to Screen Rant about their work on the film, from telling a story set within a larger world that is ripe for further exploration, to nailing the chemistry between its two lead actors. Finally, Sullivan discusses the fears and joys that come with raising a young baby during Coronavirus quarantine.
I just watched Hammer Down. It’s awesome. I like movies that cut through all the plot and the jargon that comes with building a world, and gets straight to the soul of the characters, because that’s what’s most important. Does that always come first for you, for both of you, or does that approach come with the territory of making a 12-minute short?
Chris Sullivan: I’ll comment on Simon’s aesthetic and Simon’s writing, just because I love it so much. The way Simon approaches storytelling, he respects his audience. He doesn’t talk down to them. He doesn’t over-explain. He assumes that his audience will get it, or that the audience will fill in the gaps. Especially in this little 12-minute short, instead of giving them all this information, he shows them who these people are by their actions, you know? That’s not only helpful for a short film, getting the maximum amount of information in a short amount of time, but it’s just… For me, it’s more interesting to perform and to watch.
Simon Hatt: I agree. To me, in terms of how to start a story, it always comes back to James Bond for me. James Bond always drops you in, every movie, and so does Indiana Jones, to that extent, he’s mid-mission somewhere, you know? How he got there, at that point, doesn’t really matter, and it really gets you off on a ride right away. That’s something I really believe to my core. I would be surprised if I ever made a movie that didn’t start with something loud and noisy. We get that on two sides of a coin, in that we start the movie with a truck roaring through the desert. And then, emotionally, you’re right into the middle of this family situation. Like Chris said, I know the audience have seen thousands of movies, you know? In a way, it’s fun to give them something familiar, and then subvert it, do something different with it, and take them somewhere unexpected with it. In this case, I feel like we’re giving the audience a grounded, independent family piece about two people in a truck that could be its own movie with no action, just two people reconciling their differences. But then, we flip it on its head and turn it into an action piece.
Chris Sullivan: It’s also the most economical opening to a movie I’ve ever seen. To have a 12-year-old girl pop her head out of a big rig truck and yell at a very large man, “This is f***ed” tells you everything you need to know about her, about him, about the situation, about who they are, about their relationship. In three words, you know what could take 15 pages.
Simon Hatt: Right. We could have… Look, there’s a version of this movie that starts in a hospital as they both watch someone die, and then they go to a funeral, you know? In my head, he sold their house to pay for healthcare because he’s a smuggler and doesn’t have insurance. And it basically didn’t pay off, and he had to move the family out into a truck until he gets this big score, which will get them back on their feet. But none of that matters. For a short film, none of that matters, but in a way, it’s all there.
Yeah. It’s the soul, the acting, I guess the subtext.
Simon Hatt: You really feel it.
I feel like I maybe already know part of this answer, but why Chris? What does Chris got that I don’t got, by which I mean, what makes him stand out from the perspective of a filmmaker trying to tell a story?
Simon Hatt: Um… Why Chris?
Chris Sullivan: Answer quicker! Answer quicker! Quicker answer! (Laughs)
Simon Hatt: Look. Chris has an imperfection to him that is very real to me. Chris is one of the warmest people that I know, and he has a vulnerability to him that is in immediate contrast to his size. He’s a really big guy, and there’s an energy there that reminds me of my dad, which is who this character was. There’s a strength to him, but also, I always imagined his character would have a clumsiness. Like how Indiana Jones and Han Solo have a clumsiness. They kinda “get by,” and I knew Chris could do that. And he was wearing a f****** plaid shirt and a trucker hat the day I met him! So he was in costume. He came to work in costume for a different movie and didn’t even know it.
Chris, as an actor, tell me about the leap of faith that is required to create his person, maybe drawing from your own experience or whatever school of acting you subscribe, and having the confidence in Simon that he’s going to take care of you, he’s not going to embarrass you, I mean, unless the piece calls for it.
Chris Sullivan: I had faith. That didn’t even require any faith. Simon and had been talking about this project for four years. We’ve been through six different versions of the script. We went through all the different options, we talked through all the different possibilities. Simon and I didn’t just meet five years ago and then we did this; we’ve been friends the entire time in between. There’s a trust and a bond there. It was an easy partnership. I have faith in him as an artist, and as a creative leader. That’s really all I needed.
I imagine that you’re all probably part of that gang, of Yarvo and the Gunns and Rosey, etc. By the way, I listened to every episode of In Love with Michael Rosenbaum and Chris Sullivan, it was a really special show.
Chris Sullivan: Oh, thanks so much!
When you have, like, game night or whatever, do you discuss your projects and pass notes? Is it like a forum to share and compare, like I guess the old gang of Scorsese, George Lucas, and Spielberg?
Chris Sullivan: That whole crew, I mean, obviously Rosey and I have a special bond, and I mean, that whole crew is an amazing group of creative people, but yeah, Simon and I kind of forged a deeper friendship. We both adopted sibling dogs, we live about four blocks apart from each other, we’d see each other almost every other day. We have that type of relationship.
Simon Hatt: Can I borrow a cup of sugar, Chris?
Chris Sullivan: Yeah, do you want brown or white?
Simon Hatt: Uhh, I’ll just come and see what you’ve got!
Chris Sullivan: Just rummage through the cupboards!
Simon Hatt: They are all great creatives. Obviously, I have my relationship with James, where I’m a producer who works on his movies. And I worked super closely with Yarvo on Brightburn. I was with him every day. That was, like, really great. I learned so much from that movie that made me feel confident about going in to direct Hammer Down. If it wasn’t for Brightburn… That movie is where I gained a lot of confidence. And Rosey, to me, he’s just a great guy and a friend. We all kind of did a couple of days together on Guardians Vol 2, in the snow, where he played Martinex, but yeah, that’s it. I haven’t really worked super closely with Rosey, but he’s a good friend.
Maybe I’m putting the cart in front of the horse, but I don’t think this is the last we’re gonna see of Hammer Down and Power Whels, right? Is that anything you can talk about yet?
Simon Hatt: I mean… I was just finishing the outline for Hammer Down 3. (Laughs) Which is called, “Hammer Down 3: The Revenge of Power Wheels.”
Oh god, what happens to Hammer Down in part 2?!?!
Simon Hatt: Well, that would be an assumption! Maybe that’s a spoiler, maybe you shouldn’t write that. (Laughs) But I could write about these two for a long time.
Chris Sullivan: Making short films is a rare… Sometimes short films stand on their own, and other times, as in this case, we have the rare opportunity to let the public in on the creative process, you know? It was an opportunity for us to figure out where the story goes, what the future of the story looks like… And by making the short film, we were able to answer a lot of questions about what this movie looks like as a feature.
Simon Hatt: Right. It’s really exciting for me to see people… To read people writing about the movie and see two words live together in the headline, which are, “Trucker” and “Western.” I come from a world of huge movies where an art department has a huge room covered in concept art and reference material. I don’t know how to make a movie without that. So, me, staying in my friend’s guest house over Christmas, I started putting up pictures from Westerns and pictures of trucks all over the walls as I sat there, kind of refining the script in the days before we shot and I was storyboarding. It’s really exciting to see that be received. Yeah, that “trucker western” world… I mean, you’ve been on a road trip, it’s a rich environment. If you’ve ever been to a truck stop, every person… The woman who brings you your coffee at that diner on the side of the freeway, 50 miles outside of a major city, she has a story. She’s her own Bond Girl, you know? In this world, those stories are going to seep into the Hammer Down/Power Wheels adventure.
I’m looking forward to whatever happens next in this world, whatever happens next in your worlds, I’m there. Before I let you go, Chris, if I may ask, I know you have a young son, Bear. Just… How are you doing? With quarantine and a baby, is that absolutely terrifying, if that’s not too personal of me to ask?
Chris Sullivan: No, I think… Ironically, this time has been, for Rachel and I, has been very special. As she was pregnant and preparing to give birth, we were afforded the… I guess you would call it an unfortunate opportunity in a lot of ways. But we were at home, and we were together, and we weren’t going anywhere, and we didn’t have to do anything. We had the luxury of being in a position to quarantine in a safe, comfortable home. And then, you know, production for This Is Us was delayed two-and-a-half months, which gave me two-and-a-half-months at home with newborn Bear Maxwell. It’s actually been a really magical time for us to just exist and be together. Obviously, the things that are going around in the world are terrifying, and they definitely color the way we… As we sit and look each other in the eye and figure out how we want to raise our son. All of the things that are going on right now color those ideas. The time, unfortunately, is dangerous and scary and unjust, and on the inside world of our home, we’ve been very lucky.
You’ve been able to make one hell of a glass of lemonade.
Chris Sullivan: Seriously.