Finnish director Jalmari Helander is breaking into the Hollywood game with a new actioner starring Samuel Jackson – Big Game. We talk about his breakout success film Rare Exports, what’s wrong with most action movies today, and who he wants to make the next big action star.
Let’s start by talking about Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010). The movie quickly became a cult classic, at least here in Canada. What was your goal in creating that film?
I didn’t have any kinds of goals. I tried to survive the whole thing and get the movie done. That was my goal. I also had a goal to make a different kind of Finnish movie, because in Finland all the movies are really boring, and I wanted to do something else and I’m really glad it worked out.
What were some of the things you learned when you were making that movie?
Well of course I learned quite a lot. It was my first feature film. I have to say that the biggest lesson I learned was that if something doesn’t work in the script it will not work when we’re shooting it, and it will give you nightmares. You have to solve that problem when you are writing, it’s not going to solve itself later on. That’s my biggest lesson ever.
Were there things about that film that you felt didn’t work? Or that you wish you could go back and change?
Of course, but I actually watched Rare Exports two weeks ago, and I hadn’t seen it for many years, and now those problems didn’t bother me anymore. It’s weird. It somehow has evolved into a better film.
Would you ever think of doing a remake where Santa Claus is really Canadian? Because we’re closer to the North Pole and our national colours are red and white…
Well I’ve been asked to do a remake from Hollywood, but I think that would be a really big mistake. And try to imagine if you were to do that, and you get all the resources you ever wanted, and have the same story but in a bigger way, and in the end you realize something is missing, like, where is the original magic that was in the original film? That would be so terrible that I could never do that. Because it might happen, and you can never tell where it comes from. Whether it works or not.
Your new film, Big Game, is about a boy who needs to prove that he’s a man by killing a big animal. Did you feel like there was a parallel there for you as a writer to prove yourself to Hollywood by shooting this big American-style action movie?
Yes, there is this idea of...it’s almost like when I was a kid and I always said I was going to make a big action film and everyone always said to me that it’s a stupid dream and it’s never going to happen, and trying to get me to realize how unlikely that is to happen. But I somehow managed to get my dreams to reality and it makes me feel good. And I like that kind of underdog stories where no one believes you are going to do something really amazing. It’s always nice in a movie, and in real life.
What about the fantasy you sort of created in the film about saving an American president. Is this a typical fantasy for a young Finnish boy?
(Laughs) I don’t think so. It just happened. We had a crazy idea with the producer and we just went with it.
I’m sure you’re a fan of Hollywood films, but what would you say is the worst habit of Hollywood action films today?
I think there are a lot of action films nowadays that are missing some kind of heart, or warmness. I think in the 80s or early 90s, when I was a really big action film fan, and would always go many times to see the same movie, there’s something different from what Hollywood is making now. I don’t know how to explain but something is missing.
If you were to make a truly Hollywood film, who is one movie star you would both love to work with?
I’m a big fan of Chris Pratt at the moment, which I think quite a lot of people are. If you look at something like Guardians of the Galaxy, I think a lot of what made it a good movie was Chris Pratt, if you ask me. I think he’s pretty cool.
So Big Game sort of brings the American president to Finland, and I’m just wondering; is there a Finnish story that you would like to bring to America?
A lot of Finnish folklore are so dark, I don’t think it would be a big success. I already did Santa Claus which I think is a Finnish thing, although you think it’s a Canadian thing, so that’s one folklore I already did. I’m writing the next one so let’s see what happens.
Finally – is there somebody on set, like a crew member, who really just does an incredible job and you would want to bring with you on any film you ever made?
Somebody who was super great was Kiante Elan who was the stunt guy for Samuel Jackson. He also does the stunts for Will Smith, and he was one of the nicest people I have ever met. Always in a really, really good mood, and he doesn’t have a problem with anything and he’s super talented at what he does. He’s super great
Do you kind of see yourself doing what Quentin Tarantino did or Keanu Reeves did where they turn a stunt person into a star of one of their films? Could you ever see him being a star in one of your films?
I definitely could see. And I think he’s done some acting also, not anything really big but definitely, yes.