MOBILE, Alabama—The cast and crew of the Nicolas Cage thriller “Tokarev” are scheduled to be in Mobile through the middle of July.
But “Tokarev” producer Michael Mendelsohn said it might be tough to make an exit.
“I don’t think they want to leave,” Mendelsohn said. “They want to stay here forever.”
Mendelsohn and fellow producer Richard Rionda Del Castro chatted with us about “Tokarev” on Tuesday at The Battle House Hotel.
Mendelsohn said the cast and crew’s Port City interest was piqued when they found out Mobile is the original Mardi Gras city.
“Some of them actually want to stay here and compete with New Orleans for Mardi Gras,” he said.
In the meantime, the producers, director Paco Cabezas, Cage, Danny Glover, Peter Stormare and the rest of the cast and crew, have a lot of work to get done.
As of Tuesday morning, Del Castro said they’d completed three of thirty three days of filming.
He added that they’re filming approximately three pages of the script per day and working about twelve hours a day.
And Mobile must be doing something right. Even though the producers have only been here for a handful of days, they’re already planning to bring more productions to the Port City.
“They definitely want to come back,” said Alabama Film Office Manager Kathy Faulk. Having a high-profile picture like “Tokarev” made in Alabama “is a huge deal. We’re just so excited to have them here and the city of Mobile has been so good working with them.”
“Tokarev,” which is scheduled for an early 2014 release, is the tough, take-no-prisoners tale of Cage’s character, Paul Maguire.
Maguire, a former criminal who has turned his life around, returns to his violent, crooked ways when the Russian mob kidnaps his daughter.
(By the way, a Tokarev is a type of Russian pistol.)
Del Castro said one of the scenes they’ve been working on in the first days of filming is a flashback featuring three teenagers, including a young Maguire.
The trio of teens committed a crime that “will follow them for the rest of their life,” Del Castro said. “They were planning to do a small crime and it turned bad; worse than they were planning. They got away with it but karma is going to catch up with them.”
Shooting for “Tokarev” is primarily taking place downtown, and scenes have already been filmed on Jackson St. and in the old Gayfers building. On Tuesday night, a car explosion was filmed in a gravel lot adjacent to The Mobile Convention Center.
“We have over twenty locations around the city, from a warehouse to a mansion to bars, to streets for car chases and foot chases,” Del Castro said. One of those car chases will zoom along Royal St.
Del Castro added that Mobile will play itself in “Tokarev.” It’s not going to pose as another city.
Often, Del Castro said, filmmakers will try to make one city represent another. For instance, Vancouver is frequently used as a stand-in for New York.
“We are shooting Mobile for Mobile, so the police station, the buildings, the streets, the signs, everything stays the same,” he said. “We don’t hide anything.”
Del Castro and Mendelsohn said they are very pleased with their choice of shooting location.
“The city looks gorgeous,” Mendelsohn said.
Mobile Film Office Executive Director Eva Golson and her colleagues helped scout locations for “Tokarev.”
“The closer to downtown we got, the better they liked it,” Golson said. “They wanted everything as close to downtown as they could get. Most of them are walking to work.”
Golson added that the cast and crew are staying at downtown hotels. Cage has been spotted studying his lines at the Battle House Hotel pool.
In addition to making a star city out of Mobile, the production is also providing jobs for dozens of residents.
Del Castro said about a third of the crew, which includes more than one hundred workers, is from Alabama. He added that all of the approximately two hundred extras, and a few of the film’s supporting actors are also from Alabama.
Employing locals has financial advantages for the filmmakers and the area’s economy. In 2009, legislation was passed that allowed Alabama to offer attractive incentives to filmmakers.
Faulk said any film project that spends at least $500,000 in the state gets a 25 percent rebate on any expenses exceeding $500,000.
If the project uses local talent, the filmmakers get a 35 percent rebate on however much that talent gets paid.
For instance, Faulk said, if a local makeup artist was paid $500 for her services on the set, the filmmakers would get 35 percent of that $500 back.
According to Faulk, “Tokarev” is the biggest movie project Alabama has attracted since passing the incentives.
With its impressive cast and high-octane action, “Tokarev” has the potential to be a big box office hit.
According to Mendelsohn, the “Tokarev” script is a very hot Hollywood property.
“There was a big competition for this script,” Mendelsohn said. “Three major studios were trying to get the script.”
He added that Del Castro wanted to acquire the script for his production, financing and distribution company, Hannibal Classics, because he was drawn to the intensity of the story and Maguire’s character arc.
It didn’t take long for the actors to commit to “Tokarev” once Del Castro secured the script.
“All of a sudden these actors were all inspired to leave the comfort of their homes in Los Angeles or Las Vegas or wherever they live and join us here in Mobile, Alabama for an adventure,” Mendelsohn said.
This won’t be Mendelsohn’s first adventure with Cage.
Mendelsohn has executive-produced or otherwise helped finance several Cage films including “Lord of War” and “Red Rock West.”
The powerful producer and the Oscar-winning actor have built a rapport over the years.
“We spent two hours working out this morning,” Mendelsohn said. “He’s stronger than I am and he thinks he’s more handsome too. And I have to agree with him.”