A long, twist­ing path to the big screen

Kingston Whig-Standard - - ENTERTAINMENT - JEFF BAENEN

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

MIN­NEAPO­LIS — Af­ter twists and turns wor­thy of the very spy se­ries it sprung from, a movie fea­tur­ing the in­domitable fic­tional ter­ror­ism fighter Mitch Rapp is about to hit movie screens na­tion­wide — four years af­ter his creator, au­thor Vince Flynn, died from prostate can­cer.

Amer­i­can As­sas­sin, the first movie based on a Flynn best­seller, pre­mieres Fri­day, fea­tur­ing Dy­lan O’Brien (The Maze Run­ner) as Rapp and Michael Keaton as his weath­ered men­tor, Stan Hur­ley, on a mis­sion to avert nu­clear war in the Mid­dle East.

Get­ting Rapp to the big screen has been a decade-long odyssey, said Amer­i­can As­sas­sin pro­ducer Lorenzo di Bon­aven­tura, a fan of the se­ries who got to know Flynn be­fore his death in 2013.

“When Vince died we re­dou­bled our ef­forts to get this made. I owed him that,” said di Bon­aven­tura, who pro­duced the Trans­form­ers movies.

Flynn, a na­tive of St. Paul, wrote 14 po­lit­i­cal thrillers, start­ing with his self-pub­lished Term Lim­its in 1997, and fea­tured his CIA coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tive Rapp in 13. His books have sold nearly 20 mil­lion copies in the U.S. and mil­lions more world­wide, and in­clude for­mer U.S. pres­i­dents Bill Clin­ton and Ge­orge W. Bush among fans.

But mak­ing a Mitch Rapp movie proved elu­sive. Orig­i­nally Flynn’s novel Con­sent to Kill was con­sid­ered, then put aside. Train­ing

Day di­rec­tor An­toine Fuqua orig­i­nally was at­tached to di­rect

Amer­i­can As­sas­sin, but moved on to di­rect Olym­pus Has Fallen. Chris Hemsworth passed on the lead role be­cause of sched­ul­ing is­sues, and Bruce Wil­lis was in­ter­ested in play­ing Hur­ley but no deal was made.

Pro­duc­ers had to get cam­eras rolling be­fore the film rights re­verted to Flynn’s es­tate, di Bon­aven­tura said.

“We weren’t at an ur­gent level but we were ap­proach­ing them,” he said. Film­mak­ers also had to wait while O’Brien re­cov­ered from an in­jury suf­fered dur­ing an ac­ci­dent while film­ing a Maze Run­ner se­quel in 2016. Fi­nally the 55-day shoot be­gan last Septem­ber and jumped from Lon­don to Rome and Malta be­fore fin­ish­ing in Thai­land.

Changes were made to the plot of the film. In­stead of hav­ing Rapp out for vengeance af­ter his girl­friend is killed in the 1988 Locker­bie bomb­ing, the movie moves the ac­tion to present day with Rapp’s fi­ancee slain in a ter­ror­ist beach mas­sacre in Spain. That cre­ates an ori­gin story and places Rapp, who is 23 in the story, closer in age to the 26-year-old O’Brien.

“We were not mak­ing a pe­riod piece,” said co-screen­writer Stephen Schiff, who said he came up with the beach mas­sacre open­ing. “That seems like no way to launch a fran­chise.”

Eigh­teen months af­ter the beach mur­der, Rapp is re­cruited by a CIA leader played by Sanaa Lathan for in­tense train­ing by Hur­ley and given a mis­sion to stop a for­mer Hur­ley pro­tege known as Ghost (played by Tay­lor Kitsch) from start­ing a world war. (In a nod to Rapp’s creator, a bat­tle­ship in the film’s thrilling cli­max was named Flynn).

Di­rec­tor Michael Cuesta, whose cred­its in­clude the movie Kill the Mes­sen­ger and the Show­time se­ries Home­land, was quick to praise his star. “I think Dy­lan brought an in­no­cence and a boy­ish­ness, boynext-door qual­ity to the char­ac­ter,” he said. “Dy­lan doesn’t look like your typ­i­cal as­sas­sin.”

O’Brien said he was taken with the story of Rapp’s jour­ney from young man — “a wounded hu­man” — to as­sas­sin.

“I thought that was a re­ally fresh con­cept,” said O’Brien, who is mak­ing his own tran­si­tion from the teen roles of The Maze Run­ner and TV’s Teen Wolf. O’Brien did about eight weeks of train­ing, go­ing to a gym with his trainer every day and learn­ing dif­fer­ent mar­tial arts.

“This is a happy time. It’s just such an hon­our to see the movie fi­nally hap­pen­ing,” she said, adding that Vince Flynn will “al­ways live on in his books. It’s like hav­ing him back for a time.”

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