Haywire Opens January 20, 201
Mallory Kane’s journey takes her across the globe, from Washington, D.C., to Barcelona and Dublin, then back to the United States, with stops in upstate New York and the mountains of New Mexico. Production designer Howard Cummings, who had previously worked with Soderbergh and Jacobs on The Underneath, accepted the challenging assignment of pulling together the movie’s disparate locations.
“Howard thinks like a producer,” says Soderbergh. “He understands how to maximize every dollar. He did not bring any of his own crew with him, which a lot of other people would do. It required him to run multiple departments, sometimes from remote locations, at all hours of the day and night.”
Jacobs agrees: “Howard is like a one-man band. I don’t know any other designer who would have agreed to go it alone and who could make it work. He makes everything feel real, not art-directed. Every location is very carefully selected. He spent weeks scouting and then brought great subtle touches of his own to each of the practical locations.”
Cummings welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with Soderbergh again. “Steven always works on interesting projects and always finds something new to explore,” he says. “There’s very little downtime on his films, because Steven makes decisions in the moment, so you have to be nimble. There isn’t a storyboard sitting on the side of the set with illustrations for each frame. It’s all in Steven’s head—and you have to be able to make it happen.”
Part of Cummings’ assignment was finding ways to keep the film from becoming a run-of-the-mill thriller that relies on over-the-top stunts and action. “We discussed how we could make it feel as though we were really there,” says Cummings. “To enhance that feeling, nearly the entire movie was filmed on practical locations. We only built three sets.”
“The trick was going to be how to give the movie the most scale possible given the resources we had,” says Soderbergh. “Barcelona was selected because it seemed believable that a young American woman could blend in backpacking around the city, which is what special ops teams do. And Barcelona is so warm and interesting visually, which made a good contrast to Dublin and its gloomy skies.”
In the heart of Barcelona’s old city, the company shot on many of the small, winding streets that make up the Gothic Quarter, as well as in the palm-lined square known as the Plaza Real and a section of Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas Boulevard. Originally the city’s flower market, today it is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, lined with artists selling their work, flower vendors, mimes and kiosks selling newspapers and magazines from around the world. It is also the site of the city’s legendary farmer’s market, La Boqueria, and, until recently, its traditional bird market.
For Antonio Banderas, who had tried several times previously to arrange his schedule to fit in with Soderbergh’s, an added treat was that his first scene would bring him back to his native Spain. “The scene takes place with Gina on the patio of Les Quinze Nits Cafe in the Plaza Real in Barcelona,” explains Banderas. “We shot it using only the beautiful late afternoon light.”
The filmmakers wanted their second European location to be in an English-speaking country. Dublin, they thought, seemed a fresher idea than London and would be a logistically simpler place to shoot. “We felt audiences have seen London in so many movies,” says Jacobs. “You don’t often see contemporary Dublin on film.”
Mallory’s flight through Dublin takes her past many of the city’s iconic sites, including The Wynn’s Hotel, established in 1845, where she runs to evade her pursuers, as well as Heuston Railway Station and many of the streets in old Dublin including Grafton Street near Trinity College.
“Dublin lent itself well to the chase scene,” says Cummings. “It has very good rooftops for the sequence when Mallory tries to evade her pursuers, running and jumping across several buildings in a great cat-and-mouse sequence.”
For a crucial scene set at a charity auction, Cummings was able to secure the magnificent Russborough House in Blessington, County Wicklow, an hour southwest of Dublin. Considered one of the most beautiful houses in Ireland, the Palladian-style mansion was built in 1741. The owners of the house had never before allowed filming there.
“It’s an authentic Irish country house, an historic mansion,” says Cummings. “It hasn’t been through the kind of extensive renovations that many places have. Some of the other houses we looked at were stunningly beautiful, but felt like museums. Russborough had a sort of decayed quality that lent itself very well to the script.”
The art department moved the manor’s lavish tapestries, porcelains, silver and paintings into storage to facilitate the shoot. “Steven wanted to be able to move the scenes through all the rooms,” says Cummings. “There’s a scene where Mallory goes up a back staircase in the dark to a hallway overlooking the garages. There were curio cases with lights in them and I thought it would be great if the entire scene were to be lit solely by these cases. That’s how Steven shot it. Gina is seen mostly in silhouette and it is stunning.”
The film’s fiercest and most desperate hand-to-hand battle takes place between Paul and Mallory in a suite at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel. Built in 1824, the hotel overlooks St. Stephen’s Green, one of Europe’s grandest garden squares. Cummings duplicated one of the Shelbourne’s suites on a soundstage at Ireland’s Ardmore Studios for the scene, in which Mallory realizes she’s being set up and will be killed unless she can escape quickly.
Cummings’ painstaking replication had several important adjustments. “I made the set as close to the real suite as possible, down to the window details and the moldings,” says the designer. “I selected upholstered paneling designs often seen in hotel suites. When Gina and Michael Fassbender were slamming each other into the walls, they were actually hitting padding. The bookcase had columns that were made of foam so he could smash her face against them. I had never done this extensive amount of padding and wasn’t entirely sure what would work.”
New Mexico, USA
Back in the United States, the company filmed throughout New Mexico: at the Terrero General Store, an hour’s drive from Santa Fe, continuing on to Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument, the American Springs section of the Santa Fe National Forest, and the small, isolated Las Vegas, New Mexico, airport, as well as in Santa Fe itself.
New Mexico stood in for upstate New York in scenes in which Mallory leads police on a wild car chase through snow-covered woods.
The filmmakers prepped an area in Bandelier National Forest, starting two months before shooting. “Because Bandelier is a national park, we were required to get permission for everything we did,” says Cummings. “The greens crew came in ahead and packed down the road by hand. We compressed the snow to about a foot and then took in snowmobiles to make specific tracks. In order to make it feel as if she is in deep woods, we brought in shrubbery and trees and lined the path for about a mile. A lot of it had to be brought in by sled so we didn’t ruin the road that we had established.”
Making that chase scene stand out challenged even Soderbergh’s considerable ingenuity. “Car sequences are time consuming and there is always something that can go wrong,” says Soderbergh. “It’s really difficult to find a way to do something that hasn’t been done a million times before and done very well. I felt that it would be exciting to have the audience really feel like Gina is driving the car. We got what they call a ‘go rig’ that sits on top of the car and allows you to film the people in the car as if they’re driving.
“There was a lot of discussion about how the vehicle should be rigged. The grip department came up with the idea of a librahead, which is a very sophisticated gyroscopic stabilizer, which we attached to a snowmobile. Then we put in a parallel path to track the length of the car. It’s not as ‘cutty’ as most car chases. We were able to get shots that go on for quite a long time to really sell the impression that she’s driving.”
The film’s climactic confrontation takes place in Mallory’s father’s house, a modern, wide open structure made primarily of wooden beams and glass, and set on breathtaking promontory in the New Mexico mountains. Soderbergh told his production designer that he envisioned the Kane House like a house he remembered from the Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest.
“It took us a while but we finally discovered the perfect house in Los Alamos,” says Cummings. “It sits at the end of a butte and feels very isolated, which was exactly what Steven wanted.”
But while the house was perfect visually, says the production designer, it presented challenges when it came to shooting the action scenes. “One of the big fights takes place inside a small bathroom. There were so many hard surfaces that the cast could injure themselves on. Gina is not a stunt woman, she’s a fighter, which is an entirely different thing, so we had to be careful.”
To prevent serious injury, Cummings used neoprene foam painted to look like marble or wood. “There was a stone counter in the bathroom,” he explains. “I took the owner’s sinks out and put my own fake neoprene rubber counter on top of it. We made rubber sinks sprayed to look like porcelain and I covered the tiled walls with theatrical flats also made with neoprene rubber. Even all the drawer faces and handles were rubber.”
Soderbergh differentiated his locations by using unique color palettes for each. “When I have a film that has multiple settings, I’m always looking for ways to distinguish them visually and make you feel like you’re in a restricted environment,” he says. “We used the cool tones for upstate New York as a framing device that feels very separate from the rest of the movie.
“In Spain, I went to a warm but muted palette, so we used coral filters for a slightly warmer tinge and desaturated it for a tobacco kind of look. Dublin is pretty straightforward and its look comes from the fact that it’s overcast there most of the time. New Mexico, on the other hand, takes place almost entirely at night.”