Director and Star of Big Game Add Finnish Humour to American Action

When I reviewed Big Game after its Midnight Madness premiere at TIFF last year, I described its premise as being stunning in its concision – “a kid (Onni Tommila) is off on his coming-of-age hunting trip when Air Force One is downed and the President crash lands in a capsule. Said kid takes it upon himself to help out Mr. President, while the Situation Room back in Washington frets. Oh, and the President is played by Samuel L. Jackson.” Almost a year on and this charming film from the makers of Rare Exports is getting a wider release.

Dork Shelf had an exclusive conversation with Jalmari Helander and Onni Tommila, the film’s respective director and star.

I saw Rare Exports at TIFF and it was a remarkable film, establishing you on a more international stage.  Could you talk about the transition from the success of that film to working in English in Big Game?

Jalmari Helander:  Well, we wanted to do something bigger and with more English in it.  We had something like 4 ideas with Petri (Jokiranta) the producer. We finally came up with an idea that what would happen if Air Force One would crash landed in Finland and the President would be in deep shit here somewhere in the middle of nowhere. When we told the idea to financiers or whatever, everybody loved it, and in the end, it went quite smoothly.

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Do you think there’s something specifically unique about the dry Finnish humour that lends itself to these collisions of genre films?

JH: Rare Exports and Big Game both happen in my imagination in North Finland, and because they are happening in the middle of nowhere, it gives the same kind of feel both of the movies, which are totally different than any other Finnish film. I can assure you of that because no one makes action films in Finland.

There’s a normal, quiet cinema coming from Finland, and then yours, which brings in some more “Hollywood” aesthetics to it. Does the collision between the art film and the silly blockbuster coming together appeal to you?

JH:  Yes, I guess so.  It’s important to me to have some kind of social drama behind what’s happening in the film. I want to tell that kind of quiet story but at the same time I want a really unbelievable story that only us can see something that they can’t see or that there is reason to go to the movie theatre to see it.

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Were there specific films that you were looking to echo?

JH: Well, I guess Cliffhanger, First Blood, E.T., Indiana Jones… 

What is it about watching a Spielberg film as a director that you draw from.  Is it simply the big canvas, or is there something as a director that you really respond to?

JH:  Well, I like the heart. I think in every good Spielberg film, there is a really good heart behind the story. It’s hard to explain, but there is some kind of warmth or heart in every movie Spielberg has done.  It really appeals to me, very much.

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Onni, what was it like for you, the transition between Rare Exports and Big Game?

Onni Tommila: The gear was better in Big Game.  We had a big budget compared to Rare Exports, so there’s more people, much better gear.  

…plus getting to work with big Hollywood actors

OT:  Yeah, that was one difference, yes, Ray Stevenson and Samuel L. Jackson.  We had this one meeting where I met the two guys for the first time ever. I was really nervous. We met in a hotel somewhere in Texas and I didn’t really say anything, I just shook hands and all of that.  I didn’t say much. Then we had this rehearsal in the forest with Samuel L. Jackson, me and Jalmari, only us 3 and then it all worked out. We had fun and I wasn’t nervous at all anymore and we became friends.

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Did you learn anything as an actor from these established talents?

OT:  Yes, I say that I pretty much learned by watching.  They didn’t give me any lessons or anything, but by watching I think I learned.

Can you think of something specific?

OT: Samuel L. Jackson, he improvised, and so I improvised. I wanted to try and try new stuff in the scenes that I make in my own mind, and I asked Jalmari is it ok if I say this and this?

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Both these films are not afraid to show children in actual, believable danger, raising the stakes significantly from films of this type

JH: Actually at first Big Game was more violent and it ended up to be not so violent.  It just felt right not to do it as violent as I originally thought. But it is really important to have the real danger. If Big Game would for example be kind of like a Home Alone bandits, in that kind of story, it just would feel really weird.  It was important to have real danger.

Big Game

So where do you draw the line, because you want it to work for an international audience, but you also don’t want to neuter it, you don’t want to cut off its balls.

JH:  Well, that’s a really hard question.  You just have to trust your gut feeling, there’s no explanation.

Do your producers come to you and say you have to do this or your distributors say we will show this film but you have to cut this stuff out, does that happen or no?

JH:  Yeah, there are a few things which are not in the film which I thought were quite cool, but in the end, there were some people against some ideas. I understand very well why they did, but I can’t even tell one part of it.  Crazy ideas in shooting.

So are you two are now the Scorsese and DeNiro of Finnish cinema – are you guys going to be working together for all of your next projects as well?  

JH:  I think so, I think if Onni is still up for it, we’re going to do something else.

OT:  Yes, of course!

Do you think the next film will also be partially in English? 

JH:  I think the next film will be totally in English.  I’m starting to write it after the summer and let’s see what happens.  We have a good idea with the producer, but let’s see what happens.

Is it also going to be a genre film, like an action or a horror film or something like that?

JH:  It’s going to be an action film, more than Rare Exports or Big Game, but I actually can’t say anything else about it. It’s going to be bigger and I hope more fun.

What are you looking forward to in the next couple of years as an actor?

OT:  If I get to choose, action films.  But any film is good.  I’m happy in any film.  

What is your favourite action movie?

OT:  Jalmari, you go first.

JH:  Favourite action movie? I have a lot of favourite action movies, but if I have to say, let’s go with Terminator 2. 

OT:  One of my favourites is Edge of Tomorrow.

JH:  I like that too, it’s really good!

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