The Expendables 3: Patrick Hughes on The Expendables 4

The Expendables 3 Patrick Hughes Harrison Ford Arnold Schwarzenegger

Patrick Hughes is wolfing down a massive plate of fresh fruit. I tell him to keep eating, he’s had a hard year making an ambitious action thriller starring over a dozen big name Hollywood stars, full of crazy stunts, huge explosions and scheduling nightmares.

The director of The Expendables 3 was full of laughter as he recounted stories from the set about his first stare down with Harrison Ford, the unexpectedly easy casting of Mel Gibson and his claims that co-star Ronda Rousey broke his rib on set. (An accusation Rousey denies, but only because she “didn’t hit anything hard.”) And although he’s skeptical about whether The Expendables 4 would fit into his schedule – he’s going to be very busy with the American remake of The Raid: Redemption – he is willing to share his very unlikely pitch for the fourth installment, in which The Expendables go back in time to fight Hitler.

The Expendables 3 is in theaters now.

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CraveOnline: You’re eating healthy. Hanging out with all those body builders must make that a necessity. Do you ever find them just eating a cheeseburger?

Patrick Hughes: A lot of protein shakes on set. And a lot of dumbbells.

Did you ever work out with them?

Well they pump up before shots and get in the zone. I think the whole training regime helps them get in the zone as actors. 

We have a bit of a discrepancy in your stories about Ronda hitting you, and whether or not you broke your rib. Did you get it x-rayed? Do you know for sure?

She freaking cracked my rib. But it’s kind of awesome because who else can say, “You know what? I got taken out by Ronda Rousey!” 

Well anyone who’s fought her, apparently.

[Laughs.]

But it’s still a small group. Not many directors, that’s for sure.

Yeah.

This was a hell of a movie. It’s my favorite Expendables, I just want to get that out of the way.

Thank you. It was a lot of fun.

I’ll bet but I’ll bet it was also a fucking nightmare.

Yeah. Absolute nightmare.

I’m watching this last sequence – which lasts forever, but it’s fun – and I’m thinking, “Wow, no one was probably in the same room together the entire time.” I would have been losing my hair over this. Tell me about that. Did you know it was going to be a hassle from day one?

Yeah, Sly said to me as the start. I signed on to do it, I was working with Sly… because we didn’t have a script at that point, we were talking about how we were going to put this thing together, and he said, “Listen, this is going to be the hardest production you are ever going to be involved in.” And I was like, “Yeah, I’m sure it’s going to be.”

I remember with my first film, which I made for nothing, no distributor, it was all stunts at 2am in the cold… I thought with that one that nothing will ever be as hard this movie! And I look to put it as how much weight I lost in my first one. I lost 20 kilos during production. This one, I lost 25. Literally, three times I had to send out my assistant to go and get a new belt because I was so skinny. You’re running on adrenaline, you know? 

You should name a production company after that. “25 Kilo Productions!”

[Laughs.] 25 Kilo Productions! You know, it’s a great way to lose weight is to just direct a big action movie with thirteen movie stars. [Laughs.] God damn, I looked good at the end of it though. 

I know a lot of people look at the cast and get starstruck. You’ve got to get over that pretty fast, right? Does it ever linger on set, and you go, “Holy crap, that’s Harrison Ford and I’m supposed to tell him what to do?”

Here’s the deal. I grew up watching these guys. They’re frickin’ icons. And as a kid too, there’s that fantastical thing of… I remember my seventh birthday party was going to watch Star Wars and watching Han Solo run around, and everybody wanted to be Han Solo! There were so many arguments at school and on the playground about who’s going to be Han Solo, because he was the coolest kid in the world.

The only guy who could make open vests cool. 

[Laughs.] Totally! And then to be working with him 20-something years later is a crazy experience, but at the same time he’s an actor! My favorite part of the process is working with actors, and I remember I sat down with all the actors and I always said the same thing: “I’m going to be open and honest with you, and I know you’re an iconic movie star, and I know you’ve won Academy Awards. If at the end of the day I don’t like something I’m going to let you know,” and you have that open and honest relationship.

I remember Harrison, that first day, I sat with him, had breakfast with him in his trailer, and he said, “Now listen Patrick, I don’t want you to be shy.” And I was like, “Harrison, I don’t get shy, brother.” And he goes, “Good.” And I go, “Good! So don’t you be shy!” And he goes, “I won’t! No don’t YOU be shy.” And I was like, “I WON’T. I’ll see you on set!”

You do a killer Harrison Ford impression.

[Does the voice.] “Hey Barney, how was your vacation? Ready to go to work?” [Laughs.] He’s got one of those voices. He makes everything sound cool. 

When you’re doing a big action movie I think a lot of people get confused and think the second unit doesn’t do a lot of it. Tell me about the second unit on this movie. Were you actively involved? Do you like to shoot a lot of the action yourself if you can?

You know there’s a lot of action, so much action in this film that we’d have two units shooting back-to-back. Sometimes we’d be at the same location together, and it becomes a logistical nightmare. There was so much to shoot. Working with Dan Bradley [second unit director] is phenomenal. He’s a lovely guy and full of so much wisdom on set. For me, as a director, as a young director, you’d be an absolute bloody fool not to sponge off them. All these people have done this stuff, between them all they’ve done like fucking 5,000 movies.

It was a very close relationship. Every night… Dan was staying at an apartment around the corner from my apartment. We’d just go and meet at this one bar across the road, and like, “How was your day? What did you get?” You’d be handballing stuff to each other. “I’m going to do this sequence but I can’t do that explosion.” And then Dan would be like, “Right, I will do this explosion but I need you to do this chopper going down,” or “I need you to do this tank thing.” You’re constantly, just because of the scheduling, and also purely the weather… “Well, I’ve got half of this and I know you’re going to that location next week. It was raining so I need you to pick this up.” 

That’s part of the process, especially on a big action film. Obviously you have stunts that take seven hours to set up, and as a first unit you don’t sit around for seven hours with movie stars.

No… They’ll mutiny after a while, right? 

Any moment you don’t have a movie star in front of your camera, shooting, you’re wasting time on set. Especially with the caliber of the stars we had. I had an absolute blast shooting this film, but at the same time… extremely stressful. [Laughs.]

Tell me about the development. Obviously this is Sly’s franchise in a lot of ways, but did you have any input on the story or the casting, or was that all brought to you.

When I got the call from the agent that Sly wanted to meet with me, and he said it was for Expendables 3, my first question was, well, what’s the hook? What are we going to do that’s going to be different from the last two? What’s the spin on it? And then I sat down with Sly and he was like, “We’ll do this thing with these young recruits, and I want Mel Gibson to play the villain,” and we didn’t have a villain at that point. We hadn’t cast it. And he goes, “What do you think of Mel?” “I think Mel’s awesome!”

I remember there was one day, I was working with Sly in the office – this is early, early pre-production, we were still in Beverly Hills – and I was in the office and Sly was working there, and he came in and said, “What do you think of Mel for the villain.” And I said, “Dude, fuck yes.” And he said, “I thought so.” And then I remember he turns around and goes [dials an invisible phone] doot-doot-doot-doot-doot… “Hey Mel! I want you to do this movie!” And I was like, holy crap, this is fucking awesome. [Laughs.]

Do you have all their numbers now? Could you do that, working on The Raid: Redemption going, “Oh, an extra didn’t come in today… Mel! Get over here!”

Get over here! [Harrison Ford impression.] “Ready to go to work?” [Laughs.]

What about Kelsey Grammer? He came into the film kind of late. He’s been in more action movies this year than ever before. Where did that come from?

I think he was an absolutely lovely guy to work with. Lovely and charming and open and honest. He’s got kids and I’ve got kids and we’re just talking about being dads all the time. But he just really wants… I think he’s at a point in his career where he just wants to do something different, go and explore different avenues and get to work with these guys. It’s just a lot of fun.

I know they’re talking about doing a fourth one. Would you do another one if possible?

Look, you never know. I’ve got things coming up…

You’re busy.

[Laughs.] I’m busy!

So “no” is basically your answer.

No, I had an absolute blast working with Sly and I’d work with him again in a flash. But it depends on what direction they want to go with it. I did pitch to him that Expendables 4, having spent nine months in snow-swept Bulgaria, should be set in Miami. The Expendables air drop into Miami, and they take down a cartel that’s running all the number one nightclubs in town. It opens with Sly in a white Lamborghini, the doors open, and it’s Sly and Christmas coming out with mirrored shades and sun tans.

I like that. I have a pitch for an Expendables movie as well. You know how Jean-Claude Van Damme was the villain last time?

Yeah. 

Well, they always play off what we know about the actors and their characters in movies…

Yeah… 

His twin brother comes back for revenge. But not just his twin brother… the twin brother of everyone who has ever died in an Expendables movie. You’ve got Steve Austin coming back, Gary Daniels coming back… they all had twin brothers!

Brilliant! I did pitch – this is my favorite pitch – I said, “Seriously, if you’re going to do a number four, break outside the box. Let’s do something really different.” I was like, “You need to add a level of sci-fi.” So it’s an action sci-fi. The slant of the sci-fi is something to do with a time machine, where they go through some void, right? And The Expendables land on the beach on D-Day, and it’s them sweeping the Nazis out of France!

I like it. It’s Final Countdown but with just these guys.

So those guys are there with their bloody lock and loads, and the Expendables have Terry Crews going [mows them down with a mini-gun]. Because I would be fucking cheering if it was The Expendables versus the Nazis! [Laughs.]

I like it. A new guy could betray them and team up with Hitler. Right? And Hitler has a modern rocket launcher and shit, and it ends with them versus Hitler.

[Laughs.]

What was the thing you were most looking forward to shooting on this?

Oh, they were all exciting…

Well yeah, but there’s got to be one, right?

My favorite scene of shooting was just that scene in the van with Mel. That was just a lot of fun.

There was acting in there, right?

Yeah, there was acting! Whereas the other ones, I’d be like… “Oh, I can’t wait to shoot this.” I was so excited when we lit up the 700 foot wall of fire. When Mel drops the bomb? See that was for real. I remember saying to the effects guy, the practical effects guy, lovely guy… I was like, “Do you remember that scene in Apocalypse Now when they light up the napalm along the beach? Whoosh! And it’s just this huge wall of flame…?” Because not many people know this, [but] the way you build bombs and what you put into it gives you different textures, colors, adds flames, does it have smoke, does it have black smoke, white smoke?

So I was like, “Remember that scene in Apocalypse Now when the napalm lights up?” And he’s standing there staring at me and goes, “Yeah. I did that.” [Laughs.] 

I go, “Oh. Let’s just do that again!” He’s done so many fucking Academy Award-winning movies. That was the process. Every step of the way.


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.