Boss Level, the latest Hulu original film arriving on March 5, is an action-packed adventure that dabbles heavily in time travel. Coming from the mind of writer-director Joe Carnahan (The Blacklist) and the WarParty Films production company he shares with actor Frank Grillo (Avengers: Endgame), the movie contains both self-aware sci-fi and tender-hearted family drama.
When Roy Pulver (Grillo) finds himself trapped in a Groundhog Day-esque scenario of repeating the same day over and over again before he’s killed in all manner of crazy ways, he sets out to simultaneously stop whoever is behind it and reunite with his family in the process.
Carnahan and Grillo spoke to Screen Rant about the journey from filming to Hulu, the joy of working with family on set, and the special shorthand that only the two of them share.
Joe, there are so many great time loop stories already out there, but you made it unique and put your own spin on it. Did you have any inspirations that brought this film out of you?
Joe Carnahan: I’ve tried to not ever make the same film a second time if I can help it. But obviously, I have a penchant for these types of things. I love action, I love to laugh and have fun, and that’s just the movies I grew up on.
But I thought to be able to have your cake and eat it too… At some point, this goes from being this high velocity action comedy to this touching story between an absentee father and his son. I thought that if we could make that gear change, it would level up, to use a bad pun. But it would be something that exceeded the sum of its parts. It’s not just this easily dismissible, “Yeah, it’s great,” which it certainly is, but you have this wonderful heart in it.
I’ve said I think Boss Level is in a lot of ways like Smokin’ Aces. It’s not dystopian and kind of nihilistic in its conceit; it’s very open, very warm and sentimental. I think as you get older, you get softer. I’m certainly prone to that stuff. So yeah, I’m very proud of that quality.
Frank, you are already you know, an action star in your own right, but this is action all day long. How did it stretch you physically and creatively?
Frank Grillo: It’s so funny be called an action star, because it’s amazing. It stretched me in every way. I’m repeating myself, but we originally had 41 days for this film, and it got cut down to 27 days in the 11th hour. It was already a difficult task at my age to pull it off, both physically and emotionally.
But Joe and I have a great working relationship, and I think because of that, it gave me the confidence. If I made mistakes, or if I needed help, he was there. I think more than ever, the relationship between him and I was really vital on this film.
Because you’re both producing together, but he’s the boss, what is that collaboration process onset?
Frank Grillo: Yeah, I think it’s amazing. To me, it’s a singular relationship. We speak shorthand to each other, and it’s really more of a problem for everybody else. Because he and I, when we butt heads, we can butt heads. But if you go against either one of us, then we’re back to back.
That’s kind of the way we make movies together. So, there’s this innate trust that we have in each other. Not that we agree all the time, but we trust each other all the time. And I think that gives us the ability to execute things a certain way.
I remember there was a screening for this about a year ago, and it’s been a journey to get here to Hulu. Joe, what has that post-production process been like for you?
Joe Carnahan: We were kind of dialed in on this movie a while back. We had the version that we were happy with, and wanted to take that out to the world.
Obviously, the pandemic’s done a number of dreadful things – this is certainly not going to qualify as anything that’s like what people have been dealing with throughout this whole ordeal. But I do think what’s great about what’s happening, particularly with Hulu, is that we’re now going to reach an extraordinarily broad audience. The movie may not have had those kinds of eyeballs on it, and they’ll have now. That, to me, is really exciting.
Frank had mentioned in an earlier interview that in the old days, you came out in the movie [theater], it didn’t work on that weekend, and you were just kind of banished and see a downrange on the streaming or pay-per-view or what have you. This is not that world anymore, and I’m actually glad. I think I welcome it. I think it’s a good and necessary paradigm shift. It’s a necessary thing that we’re going through right now, and I think it’s going to allow a lot more people to see a lot of works that they normally wouldn’t, which is great.
I was very invested in Roy’s relationships with his son, who is your son. And of course you worked with Naomi Watts too. What were those dynamics like?
Frank Grillo: It was amazing to work with both, and for different reasons, obviously. But for my son, Joe early on said this was this was gonna happen. And I kind of fought it in the beginning, but it was the best thing that’s ever [happened]. It was such a beautiful experience to work with my own son, and he was so good. He and Joe had their own relationship, and it was a gorgeous thing to watch this little boy. And for me to watch him, I think in the film, you can see in my eyes how much I love this kid. that’s why Joe wanted my son in the role.
And Naomi, I’ve done a few movies with Naomi. I mean, she’s Naomi Watts. It’s the top of the food chain. It doesn’t get better than that. She’s as talented as she is beautiful. And we were lucky to get her, definitely.
There some really great cameos in there too, like Michelle Yeoh. Joe, how do you get this cast together?
Joe Carnahan: Michelle just came in, and… It’s Michelle Yeoh. We were just so flabbergasted and honored to have her, and she basically did all that work in a day. She really left this great imprint of who she is on that movie. Anytime you get the opportunity to have someone like that bless your movie and grace the screen, and you can direct them, it’s just a rare and wonderful thing.
I think Frank and I were both completely smitten with her as well.
What’s next for you guys? What are you gonna bring us after this?
Frank Grillo: Well, Joe is actually in the cutting room. He’s in an editing room right now. We finished a film a couple months ago called Cop Shop that Joe wrote, and directed. It’s myself and Gerard Butler and a bunch of great people, like Alexis Louder, who’s a beautiful young actress who we’re going to introduce to the world. It’s another great WarParty film. We’re excited about it.
Boss Level premieres through Hulu on March 5.