Bullet to the Head: Interview with Sly Stallone

Two icons of the action genre team for the first time on the film “Bullet to the Head.” Walter Hill directs vet star Sylvester Stallone in the new action thriller.

Stallone, who first approached the director with the project, notes, “I thought it would be great to work with Walter Hill on this type of buddy movie, which is a genre he knows well. Although, in this case, the main characters are not really buddies at all, but rather adversaries who have to work together against a mutual enemy because their lives depend on it. But out of that, an interesting relationship evolves.”

Hill offers, “Sly and I have known each other a long time and have talked about working together in the past, but we could never quite make it happen. I admire him very much and always wanted to do a movie with him, so this proved to be the perfect opportunity.”

The story is based on the popular graphic novel Du Plomb Dans La Tête, which, although originally written in French, was very much inspired by the American cinema. Acclaimed French author Alexis Nolent, whose nom de plume is Matz, confirms, “I’ve always been a big fan of buddy movies, which is a genuine American specialty. I was playing with some ideas and thought it would push things up a notch to team a killer with a cop—to have a bond that has to cross the line of the law and ethics and principles. The cop is, of course, a little more square than the hit man, who is more able to think outside the box. But the concept was that these two characters who seem to have nothing in common actually have much more in common than they ever imagined.”

Producer Alexandra Milchan initially developed the project with producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. A self-described fan of Matz’s work, Milchan remarks, “I thought it was a fun and gripping story, and Colin Wilson’s illustrations were really powerful. It felt like an homage to Hollywood movies and the possibilities for bringing it to the screen were instantly apparent.”

Milchan showed the graphic novel to screenwriter Alessandro Camon, who loved it. He recalls, “I thought it was a great genre piece, highly cinematic, with a wild and attractive premise—a kind of anti-buddy movie, where the two character embarking on a mission don’t only have a clash of personalities but may actually want to shoot each other. That seemed like good fodder for both tension and comedy, and ultimately a good way to let the characters make huge choices: between loyalty and duty, and between what they feel and what they believe.”

Sung Kang, who stars opposite Stallone as the man on the right side of the law in this pairing, observes, “They’re like oil and water: no matter how hard you try to shake them together, they are constantly splitting apart.”

Hill says, “We want the story and characters to be taken seriously, but in a movie like this, I think it’s good to add a touch of humor. Finding that balance can sometimes be tricky, but I think it’s an important part of the entertainment value. I think that’s also one of the things Sly responded to.”

Interestingly, the cover of the graphic novel unwittingly provided inspiration for the filmmakers’ choice for the central role of James Bonomo, aka Jimmy Bobo. “The image of Jimmy Bobo looks remarkably like Sly,” Milchan notes. “We realized it was right there in front of us. I’ve always had tremendous respect for Sly, and when we met with him, he offered great insight. Right away, he was totally involved in guiding the project, so having Sly and his producing partner, Kevin King-Templeton, on board felt like the perfect match.”

Producer Kevin King-Templeton remembers, “I read the script for ‘Bullet to the Head’ and immediately thought it was the kind of project Sly was looking for. We were just coming off of ‘The Expendables,’ which was a huge ensemble piece. This felt a little more contained, with elements of action, drama and humor. I got the feeling it was something he would really sink his teeth into.”

The film gave Stallone and Kang, along with fellow cast member Jason Momoa, a chance to sink their teeth into some challenging stunt sequences. The fight scenes culminated with a thrilling mano a mano axe fight between the two hardened killers, played by Stallone and Momoa.

“Bullet to the Head” also reunites both Stallone and Hill with another premier action veteran: Joel Silver, Chairman of Dark Castle Entertainment and an executive producer on the film. Silver previously produced the Stallone films “Demolition Man” and “Assassins” and collaborated with Hill on several projects, including “48 Hrs.” Says Silver, “It was exciting to be back in business with both Walter and Sly. Walter is a director who knows what he wants and comes to the set with all the answers, which is a joy for any producer, and it goes without saying that Sly is an iconic star the world over. We had a great time working together on this film.”

“I’ve been working in this business a long time and I can tell you that Joel Silver is a true original,” Stallone states. “He’s an incredibly creative and hands-on producer. Between him and Walter, I was in good hands.”