We’ve got a pretty special interview for you this evening as in light of the recent announcement that US producer Jim Jacks, whose track record includes the Mummy franchise and A Simple Plan, has signed on to produce Hellboy co-writer Peter Briggs supernatural action thriller Mortis Rex, we sat down with Briggs to talk in-depth about this project, among numerous others. Beyond the break you’ll find this massive interview, along with some concept art we’ve posted previously.
“Bloody Disgusting” — who have been covering “Mortis” since its announcement at the last American Film Market — managed to grab Briggs this morning and score an exclusive from him.
“Well, naturally we’re all thrilled and gratified a guy of Jim Jacks’ stature is eager to get involved with the movie. I’m personally excited, as I count “Tombstone” and several other of his films amongst my all-time favorites. I know Jim’s been carefully weighing up various properties for his own new production slate for a while now…the movies he’s been involved with over the years have grossed billions and billions of dollars, and he doesn’t just rush into these things without a great deal of thought. There are a couple of other Roman movies out there. While I’ve been watching them carefully, I know they — frankly — don’t have the same odd combination of elements we have. I was fairly concerned when “Outlander” was released, because it had a monster in a period setting. And then, greatly relieved when I saw it! So far, though, I think the bar’s set with “Brotherhood Of The Wolf”…and I’m very confident we’re going to be raising that bar.”
Briggs laughs, “Funnily enough, I had the idea for “Mortis” just prior to “Brotherhood” being released. At that point it was simply called “Untitled Roman Monster Movie”…the name “Mortis Rex” came out of something one of the characters says about half an hour into the story. In the early concept, our hero — Cassius Virius — had a female African sidekick, who was mute and did martial arts with a giant carved elephant bone. As soon as I saw “Brotherhood”, I tossed that notion right out the window! And, really, I was glad I did, because the story evolved into something less fantasy-oriented, and became a more grounded and gritty story. Visually, it’ll hopefully be like Ridley’s earlier work. Much more “Gladiator” than “300”. I bumped into “Brotherhood’s” director, Christophe Gans, at Warners a few years ago and told him how I’d had to change my characters…we had a laugh about it.”
Briggs returns to Jacks’ involvement on “Mortis Rex”.
“I was talking with Harry Knowles at Comic Con months back, and asked him to keep a lid on Jim’s involvement until we were ready to announce it. I knew Harry had been working with Jim on Favreau’s “Princess Of Mars” a while back, and I was very gratified that Harry kept it under his hat this long. Jim really wanted to sink his teeth into “Princess”, and I know he was disappointed that that didn’t bear fruit. And Jim’s familiarity with that kind of level of heavily-effects oriented production, with his “Mummy” movies…and “Mortis” is a very FX heavy piece — really puts us in very, very good stead. When you guys see the beast for our movie, your head will spin. I know “Bloody Disgusting” has been sneaking our concept art out in the last year, but…trust me…you guys haven’t seen anything yet!
“I’ve been working solidly the last month with our creature designer, Paul Mendoza, and our intention’s to portray onscreen the baddest, nastiest, Lovecraftian-level monstrosity you’ve ever seen,” Brings elaborates. “If you’re a fanboy, you’ll know Paul’s work…he sculpted Wayne Barlowe’s “Decurion” for Sideshow a while back, and the guy’s really a pocket genius. I’ve never seen anything like our creature, onscreen, ever. Period. I zap sketches to Paul, and he blasts finished renderings back over the internet, and then I scribble and Photoshop over them, and zap them back. I’ve had a vision in my head about what the thing should look like since I started writing “Mortis”, but right now we’re about 80% there, and our Big Chap just keeps looking scarier and weirder every time my email goes “ping”. He’s an extremely visually complex creation. He’d eat “Hellboy’s” Ogdru Jahad for breakfast.
“I talked to Thilo Kuther, the head of my FX company, Pixomondo, this morning after the announcement,” he continues. “Those guys have just come off “2012” — there’s a lot of their work in the trailer — and they’re hard at “Last Airbender” and “The Gate” right now. I first spoke to Thilo about “Mortis”…man?…when I met him at the Berlin Film Festival about 18 months ago, and he was just coming off “Red Baron” (a German production). I’d seen the FX reel for that on “Ain’t It Cool”, and was absolutely blown away by it. I actually hadn’t put two and two together when we had the meeting, and realized Pixomondo had done those effects, so I turned into a squealing thirteen year old girl across the table when I discovered this. I’m a big FX junkie…I’ve been buying “Cinefex” since the Enterprise was on the cover in ’79. Thilo’s been one of the biggest supporters on this flick…their company has actually turned down a couple of other creature productions, so that they can work on “Mortis”: that’s how strongly Thilo feels about it. He’s chomping at the bit to get going on this. The guys at Pixomondo can — and this isn’t just hyperbole — do stuff that I don’t think anyone else in the Industry can do, for the budget. There were shots in “Red Baron” which, when I saw their FX reel, I had to go back and ask Thilo exactly WHAT was an effect in the shot, because it was literally invisible. We have a Fort on Hadrian’s Wall under construction by the Romans in our movie…and then under destruction by our title character! We’ve got big epic desert battles. We have supernatural sirens. Other odd supernatural apparitions. Pixomondo did a slew of combat stuff on “Ninja Assassin”, and we have three or four close-quarter fight sequences in our flick, so they’re going to likely be subtly augmenting those. We’re not talking Wire-Fu fights, but our combat will be very aggressive and realistic…kinda “Bourne Identity” meets “Gladiator”.”
The “Hellboy” writer grins evilly, “But our beastie is…very peculiar. Very singular. He’s a big sucker. Quite terrifying. People will be coming out of the theater with their heads blown off. I pity the poor Roman soldiers who have to go up against this thing with their steel toothpicks…”
But if things go well, will we be seeing a “Mortis Rex 2″? Briggs laughs.
“The first time Jim Jacks and I met, we spoke about this. Obviously, he’s made three hugely, globally successful “Mummy” movies, and I think he sees the business potential in continuing with our characters. When I started “Mortis”, I’d infuriate my agent by telling him that this was a standalone piece, and I really wasn’t thinking at all about a sequel. You see all these pompous announcements of movie trilogy franchises before they’re even off the starting block, and it really makes me wince. But, when I was coming to the end of “Mortis”, I was talking it over with somebody, and something went “click”…and I suddenly realized what I could actually do if we have the opportunity. It’s possible that a second “Rex” movie might be a sequel, OR a prequel. I sort-of know what the idea is for that. But if we get beyond that, I’ve a notion for a third one that’s definitely a sequel, and that’ll be quite off-the-wall, and a major change of pace. Actually, I was talking with my writing partner on another project Im working on, Aaron Mason, and during one of our hikes in the canyons here in L.A. one Sunday, we came up with a whole spin-off T.V. series from “Mortis”: a supernatural “Rome”, if you will. “SPQR” meets “BPRD”! Over a casual lunch with Mike Richardson from Dark Horse months ago, I mentioned the possibilities of a comic book series for “Mortis”. So, yeah. It has the potential to go all over the place. But, right now, we’re just focussed on making the best, scariest, action movie…with tentacles…you’ve ever seen.”
“Well, I originally wrote the part of Cassius Virius for Lawrence Fishburne, and we were actually down the road talking to him about it when he got pulled onto “CSI”, and we lost him. But Jim Jacks has broken-in or raised up a lot of good actors and stars over the years — Brenda Fraser and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson spring to mind. And having Jim onboard obviously makes this movie very attractive to a whole other level of actor. So, I’m looking forward to seeing what Jim will bring to us. We’ve spent a long time talking cast lists. Interestingly –” Briggs laughs again, “I ran into Ron Perlman at the “Sons Of Anarchy” wrap party weeks back, and I just happened to have my laptop with me and showed him what we were doing. Obviously, I knew Ron from “Hellboy”, and I mentioned that I’d had a smaller role in “Mortis” — a rough, Roman drill Sergeant who gets to chew the scenery — written with Ron in mind. Ron really responded to the idea, and asked when we were thinking of shooting. It’d be fun having Ron onboard.”
Having mentioned other projects, what is Briggs working on now?
“Well, I’m racing to the finishing post on a rewrite-polish on “Panzer 88″, which is a screenplay by two American writers, Aaron Mason and Jim Cowan, that I discovered. I really wanted to use “Mortis” to springboard me onto a director slot with the studios…basically allowing me to get my hands on all the projects I’ve been writing for the majors for 19 years, like “Judge Dredd” and “Alien vs Predator”, that then got horribly mangled by others. But when I found this script, I knew I’d be nuts if I didn’t do it, even though it’s a much smaller piece even than “Mortis”. “Panzer” is another supernatural thriller: basically a character piece set in a German King Tiger tank in Russia in World War 2. It’s five guys in a tin can, and something’s trying to stop them making it home. It’s creepy, and smart. I’ll be directing that too. There are a bunch of producers jockeying to get their hands on this right now…I’ve had a few meetings with Gary Kurtz (“Star Wars”, “American Graffiti”, “Dark Crystal”) back in London, and I really like the idea of doing “Panzer” with him. I was surprised by Gary. For a producer with such All-American movies under his belt, he absolutely gets the very dark, European sensibility of the piece. I guess I’m very lucky with my producers right now.”
“Other than “Panzer”, my brother Andy and myself have a T.V. show called “Discmen” that we wrote together, that’s just started making the rounds in L.A., and Andy and I are already raising red flags with that. Now, that’s kind of an interesting project; sort of “The Right Stuff” meets “Fringe”, although the paradigm of “Discmen” is skewed so that it’s almost a Swiss Army knife show. You can pretty much apply anything from “Desperate Housewives” to “Stargate”, to “The West Wing” to it, and it sticks. I think Andy was talking to J.J. Abrams a while back…I’m letting Andy take point on that one, because I’m really in the trenches with “Mortis” right now.
“But, I’ve got to say,” Briggs continues. “This morning I’m feeling pretty damned good knowing that I’ve got Jim Jacks’ hand on the tiller for “Mortis Rex”…I feel like I’m walking into the cantina, with the galaxy’s baddest gunslinger watching my back. Knowing Jim recognizes the enormous commercial potential of this piece…Jim’s a very, very smart and talented hombre. I think we’re going to make something quite special…”