Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dania Ramirez star in Columbia Pictures' PREMIUM RUSH. Photo By: Sarah Shatz. Copyright: © 2012 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Premium Rush (2012)
Opened: 08/24/2012 Wide
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Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: PG-13 for for some violence, intense action sequences and language.
Dodging speeding cars, crazed cabbies, and eight million cranky pedestrians is all in a day's work for Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the best of New York's agile and aggressive bicycle messengers. It takes a special breed to ride the fixie -- super lightweight, single-gear bikes with no brakes and riders who are equal part skilled cyclists and nutcases who risk becoming a smear on the pavement every time they head into traffic. But a guy who's used to putting his life on the line is about to get more than even he is used to when his last envelope of the day -- a routine "premium rush" run -- turns into a life or death chase through the streets of Manhattan.
Columbia Pictures presents a Pariah production, Premium Rush. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, and Jamie Chung. Directed by David Koepp. Produced by Gavin Polone. Written by David Koepp & John Kamps. Executive Producer is Mari Jo Winkler-Ioffreda. Director of Photography is Mitchell Amundsen. Production Designer is Therese DePrez. Edited by Jill Savitt, A.C.E. and Derek Ambrosi. Costume Designer is Luca Mosca. Music by David Sardy.
About the Film
With Premium Rush, David Koepp -- the acclaimed screenwriter of Jurassic Park (co-writer), Mission: Impossible (co-writer), Panic Room, Spider-Man, War of the Worlds (co-writer), Angels & Demons (co-writer), and countless other movies -- returns to the director's chair to take audiences on a suspense-filled, action-packed race up and down the island of Manhattan. "I wanted to do a movie more or less in real time, very compressed, but wide-open in terms of space," he explains. The answer was a race, uptown to downtown, in less than 90 minutes -- all from the point of view of one of New York City's omnipresent bicycle messengers.
"Walking the streets in New York, you see bike messengers everywhere," says Koepp. "Or more often, you don't see them until they blast by you with about six inches to spare. They're irresponsible as hell, they never follow the rules, but they're the only ones that seem to be fully in control out there."
The hero of the story is Wilee, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a young bike messenger who is the best at what he does. "Wilee is the fastest bike messenger in New York City," the actor explains. Wilee rides the fixie -- one gear and no stopping. "He rides with no brakes, which is a good metaphor for who he is and how he is. He's the type of person who lives in the present and goes for it."
Koepp says that Wilee's fixation on his fixie identifies him as more than a bit of a daredevil. "The fixie is harder to control," he says. "You have to be a master of it; there's a certain artistry to it. The bike's an extension of who he is: a young guy, focused on his machine and his ability to ride it, and his desire to ride it, over all else."
For the actor, the excitement of the film came in the way the characters and plot unfold through the action and pacing. "David is a real storyteller -- a classic storyteller," says Gordon-Levitt. "He makes the action exciting, not by making it huge, but by crafting the story and the characters just right. It makes the movie really dynamic."
"You realize immediately on meeting Joe that he's a serious guy, treats what he does with real respect, he's after honest entertainment," says Koepp. "He immediately took to this. He started training as soon as he could, started talking to people, listening. He wanted to get on a bike and get in shape."
"The whole movie is on the bike," says Gordon-Levitt. "I trained for six weeks or so, five days a week, leading up to shooting. I had to be in good enough shape to spend 12 hours a day doing those scenes. I knew I wouldn't be able to say, 'Oh, I'm tired,' while a 500-person film crew was waiting for me to catch my breath."
But even though he took his role and the preparation it required seriously, it wasn't strictly business for him. "I just loved the idea of riding a bike in New York City all summer," he says. "I've done a lot of different movies and it's always really fulfilling, but this job in particular was fun. Not just satisfying -- big-smile-on-my-face fun."
Gordon-Levitt was also attracted to the project by his character -- one who is very clearly living for today and not worried about tomorrow. "He has a very present-oriented personality -- he's not so much about the future or anything other than right here, right now. And I think as the movie goes on, it reveals the merits of that way of present living, but also, in Wilee's relationship with Vanessa, its flaws."
For the role of Vanessa, Wilee's fellow bike messenger and on-again, off-again girlfriend, Koepp cast Dania Ramirez. Gordon-Levitt and Ramirez trained together in Los Angeles before filming began. "Actors talk about being vulnerable, but there's no vulnerability quite like going down a hill at 40 miles an hour with no brakes -- I don't know a lot of actresses out there that would throw themselves into it and get on a fixed-gear bike and go for it," Koepp says. "But she really did. I love working with people who are game like that."
The entire cast and crew spent time with real bike messengers, but Ramirez says her research was especially informative. "I went around with this one girl who was a bike messenger, and what I saw was that the stuff that women bike messengers have to put up with is the same stuff women have to put up with in any field." Just to get by, she says, women bike messengers need to fight a male-dominated system. "You're out there and need to make yourself seen. You let people know that you're nothing to be messed with, and that's especially true in New York City. The one thing that I can say about all these female bike messengers that I've met is that they're tough cookies."
In the movie, Wilee finds himself racing against Bobby Monday, a police detective who wants to get his hands on the package Wilee is slated to deliver. Michael Shannon plays the role. "Bobby is a detective in New York Police Department," says Shannon. "He's got a gambling problem. And when the movie starts you see him playing Pai Gow, which is a Chinese gambling game with tiles. He quickly gets himself into some pretty deep trouble with the gambling and he has to pay off a debt."
"Shannon's completely captivating -- you don't want to look away," says Koepp. "His height is imposing. His voice. The way he can stare at you: his eyes can be disconcerting. He's got a great deal of command."
For the character of Manny, the rival messenger with the expensive bike, Koepp cast actor Wole Parks. "From the first reading, he was terrific," says Koepp, who had cast Parks in an earlier movie from which the actor's scene was cut. "He comes in with an enormous amount of confidence and humor and charisma, and physically, he was completely up to the part."
"Manny gets a lot of flak in this movie," says Parks. "He's definitely a little cocky. But I see him as a guy who's had to work for a lot and that's made him the man he is today." And not only does he work -- but he works it, making a move on Wilee's sometime girlfriend, Vanessa. "Manny is a guy who likes to mark his territory," Parks explains.
One role in particular called for an expert: as he was casting for a bike cop who chases Wilee, Koepp realized that most of the scenes involve the character crashing and eating pavement. To take the falls as the bike cop, Koepp cast stuntman Christopher Place. "I did a lot of crashing and rolling right into the lens with my face," he says. For Place, it was difficult work, but it was also a chance for some of the glamour that stuntmen rarely see (and a well-deserved credit in the main titles). "I don't think many stuntmen get a prominent role in a film, like this one, so I loved it," he says.