After more than a decade’s journey to the big screen, New Line and DC Films’ Black Adam opens today, and while he hasn’t been a part of since the beginning, director Jaume Collet-Serra is happy to see this long journey come to its conclusion.
Handpicked three years ago by the film’s star and producer, Dwayne Johnson, to take over the directing reins, Collet-Serra has immersed himself in the world of the titular character in order to prepare for the biggest shoot of his career. Following the successful Jungle Cruise shoot, where he served as director and Johnson starred, the duo were right back to work on Black Adam, even through the pandemic as Collet-Serra began storyboarding and prepping the shoot during the quarantine.
Even with the pressure of delivering the goods on one of the most anticipated movies of 2022, Collet-Serra tells Deadline that his time on Jungle Cruise helped him prepare for this shoot and make him believe he was capable of taking on a film of this scope and made the decision to take the job easier when the offer was presented. The director jumped on the phone with Deadline to talk about this three-year journey while also talking about his next thriller Carry On and why he chose it as his next. He also touches on how his days of directing R-rated movies might be behind him.
DEADLINE: I guess my first question is, it’s been three-plus years, and you’re finally here. Are you relieved, or are you still a little anxious until audiences get to see this film?
JAUME COLLET-SERRA: I think the anxiety never goes away. You know, these productions have kind of overlapped — Jungle Cruise and Black Adam — a little bit. It’s been five years for both of them and we had the pandemic in between, and that kind of pushed Jungle Cruise a year in the schedule. Then that gave us time to prep Black Adam in between. So it’s almost like for me it’s hard to differentiate the experience from one movie to the next. It just feels like it’s like a five-year journey for me and they’re very connected personally.
In the same period, I’ve had two kids and did intense, over-complicated movies that are completely different from anything that I have done before. It’s almost like one cannot separate from the other in the way Jungle Cruise prepared me for Black Adam. I think my whole career prior to the Jungle Cruise shoot prepared me for that film. But in Jungle Cruise I was able to play in a bigger sandbox. I was able to have a team of professionals and technicians that were just beyond this world that kind of showed me what the possibilities were. And in prepping Black Adam, I just grew more ambitious. If you see Jungle Cruise, there was a lot of practical sets in the first half of the movie and then it kind of delves more into visual effects towards the end. It feels like Black Adam is like a continuation, where it just became a visual effects movie. Not by my design but also by the fact that I had to create a whole world, that each character has its powers, and there’s not a way to do it. But the confidence that I gained in doing Jungle Cruise and because it’s back to back and I almost kind of transitioned with the same crew, I was able to push the limit.
That plus the pandemic, which a lot of people obviously saw as an obstacle and is an obstacle for many reasons obviously, but it gave us a lot of time to prep, right? I think that really shows sort of the resilience for me of my crew and the industry. Where we were prepping the movie like a normal movie — storyboards, shot list, location scouts and things like that. Then the world shuts down, and we all have to go home. We immediately pivoted to virtual art department and virtual reality goggles where we were designing virtually. We all discovered Zoom and we all discovered how to collaborate, and then instead of storyboards we just went into previous animation. We had a year to basically prep and play and edit and figure out these incredibly complicated action sequences. I think that that’s what people will see in the movie, which I think is one of the things that stand out is that some of the action sequences work is because in a way we had a lot more time to prep and all these incredibly talented people really adapted to the new reality, and we were able to do things differently.
So it’s a long answer to your question, but it’s basically been a long, long journey. I think in three years I will be able to tell you how I feel about it. I think now you can ask me about the movies from five years ago, and I’ll tell you from a perspective.
DEADLINE: So I can finally ask you about Shallows now, but Jungle Cruise I still can’t ask you about?
COLLET-SERRA: I think Jungle Cruise is a movie that is really dear to my heart. It was really a movie that I really felt connected to. As I said in the interviews back then, I mean those were the movies that I wanted to do as a kid, right? An adventure movie. I am not a comic book fan. I had never read comics as a kid, instead I watched movies like Indiana Jones and Back to the Future and Die Hard. I’m that kid, like a lot of other kids. I was in Spain and I knew of Superman and Batman, but it’s not something that was a dream of mine — to do an adventure movie. But then the technical challenge, it’s almost like Jaume the kid directed Jungle Cruise, in a way, and Jaume the adult did Black Adam in the most technically complex way. That was the thing, it was a very technically complex movie that only after doing 10 movies, you can sort of execute.
DEADLINE: That makes a good segue to my next question. This has been a passion project of Dwayne’s for 10-plus years it feels like. Obviously, he’s quite protective of the property. As you were going along on your shoot for Jungle Cruise, was he starting to bring up Black Adam?
DEADLINE: Were you guys talking about it? I’m curious how you actually got involved with this because he isn’t so lightly when it comes to his directors, so it’s a great honor when he does tap you?
COLLET-SERRA: I mean it was towards the end of Jungle Cruise. I would hear it sort of in the background, like they would be working on what the angle was of the script and the story for a long time. So until they were satisfied with the story they wanted to tell, they didn’t bring me in. You know what I’m saying? I mean, that’s like finally when there was a script that they were ready to share then they gave it to me and they asked me what I thought. I basically said, “I think this has a lot of potential, but I do need to read every comic book every written about Black Adam?” It’s almost like I read the script first and then I needed to learn about [the character], and then obviously I did. In the same way that I didn’t know anything about sharks before I did The Shallows, or the movie that I’m doing now, which happens in the TSA of an airport. I didn’t know anything about TSA before. But in the process of doing the movie you learn everything about it, and that’s one of the reasons that I love my job.
In Black Adam, I had to absorb everything Black Adam and then bring my input into it. But there was a synergy between me and DJ during Jungle Cruise. When you’re in sync, you just feel it. I got to know him as a person, which I think it gives me the tools as a director to be able to bring out some aspects into the Black Adam world. As a director, you normally meet an actor or you go to have a coffee, lunch. You agree to work together, but you’re really meeting the person during the process. At the end of the day, you cannot separate the actor from the person, so you have to use the person as a tool as well.
So getting to know him really well, like I said before, they’re very connected, Jungle Cruise and Black Adam. I couldn’t have done one without the other. I think he saw the same thing in me. I think he saw that even though I was doing a movie in the jungle with comedy and all the bright and colorful images, he knew of my style, my other previous work, more thriller-like, action, some horror, and felt like the tone of Black Adam needed to feel edgy. It needs to be in that space where it’s commercial but also it feels dangerous. That’s when I told him I feel like Black Adam could be like the Dirty Harry of superheroes. I mean, he’s been saying that in a lot of the interviews. That’s what I said because that’s my way of communicating because I know films. I communicate with comparisons with other movies. I’m like it would be cool if we were in that tone where the character is like that already in the comic books, but when you need to strike a tone in the movies it’s always good to see what you compare it to in other genres.
DEADLINE: What kind of films were inspiring the tone outside of Dirty Harry? Were you trying to get more non-comic stuff to kind of give the visual style and tone you wanted?
COLLET-SERRA: No. The visuals need to be respectful of the source, right? So the visuals are like, if I can provide frames that are equal to the comic book panels, I want to do that. That’s my goal. My goal is for the fans to see the movie that they had in their heads or a version of it. There is respectfulness to the creation of whoever created that. Now, genres have their own structure and they have their own tropes and things, so it’s good to kind of marry characters and comic books to genres. I mean it’s done all the time, right? So for me, it was that character. I mean it’s not only Dirty Harry. It’s like a lot of Clint Eastwood movies. It’s almost Fistful of Dollars or like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, where you have a mysterious man where you don’t know much about his background and suddenly he pops up into town and cleans the town from the bad guys, but then the law comes for him. It could happen in a Western. It could happen in the ’70s in a city where the system is broken and you have some guy who’s able to operate in the gray area and have his own morality and cross the lines that need to be crossed to protect the innocent, you know? So that’s sort of like the anti-hero.
So what we’re trying to do is an anti-hero movie, which is I think is what we’ve done. So, in the movie world, those movies have a structure, they have certain things, and we were trying to infuse our movie with elements like that, but at the same time it’s a comic book movie so it has to have also the element of the comic and all of that stuff in that world.
DEADLINE: For decades now, going back to Scorpion King, we’ve always known Dwayne as the good guy, the hero. He’s rarely seen as a villain. I always found it fascinating that he essentially wanted to be a bad guy for his first comic book movie, or at least an adversary to people like Superman and other DC comic book characters. I was wondering, when you were talking about this character, how were you challenging each other on how to bring out this performance of where he’s toeing the line between good guy and bad guy?
COLLET-SERRA: He enjoys it. He’s a very generous actor. He’s a very generous person and he’s an amazing human being — the people that know him know that. He’s also a very generous actor in the sense like in Jungle Cruise, a lot of the jokes are on him. He will do anything for the movie. At the same time, he is the star of the movie and he has to fill those shoes and those expectations where he comes in and saves the day. Now, for me and for him, it was fun that for the first time in his career his character was the problem in the movie. Everybody is reacting to him. His appearance in this place is what creates all the disturbance. Everybody’s talking about him, so that means that he doesn’t need to say much.
You know, I think he found that comforting. There’s a very cool, introspective side of him. So I think he enjoyed just reacting and talking less and having people talk about the character and him being the problem and just not having to fulfill those responsibilities and being different than any other movie he’s ever done. That was definitely in this space that we were playing.
DEADLINE: Over your career, you’ve basically boarded films where it’s just the film. There’s no real franchise aspirations when you board the project. Was there a challenge at all from a storyboarding and developing the story approach because of saving something for the next film down the road? Was that something that came up and became something you had to overcome or was it strictly really just this film and they’ll worry about if there’s sequels after the fact?
COLLET-SERRA: I mean any movie, Jungle Cruise or Black Adam that are potential franchises or connected with other movies, you still approach it with the idea, “Let’s do a good movie first and worry about that later.” I think that I have nothing to complain about. I was given more characters than most movies get not just the one superhero. Those are iconic, legendary characters that have thousands of pages written about them. I mean, having Pierce [Brosnan] in the Doctor Fate role and then having the younger sort of generation come right behind that with Cyclone [Quintessa Swindell], Atom Smasher [Noah Centineo] and Hawkman [Aldis Hodge] and kind of play that dynamic of the seasoned superhero with the newbies and how would that play. It was just a fun dynamic to create. So not a lot of movies get to do that and do it also without the pressure of having to have all these very serious characters. We could have fun with them.
So I had enough on my plate to worry about, and I was happy with what basically the slice of the universe that I was given. With all these other elements the possibilities are endless, especially in the fight sequences and the action pieces. Half of the fun is figuring out who can defeat who and how. That’s a dream come true for a 10-year-old and for me. It’s the same thing, you know?
DEADLINE: Your next film coming up is Carry On, which return to your roots a little bit with the grounded kind of action thriller. Was it kind of important to you for that next film to do something that really didn’t have visual effects and was more character-driven thrills that you were used to in the start of your career?
COLLET-SERRA: Yeah. But it’s just because I really like those movies. I really like the thrillers, and just because I’m sort of going back to something that feels familiar, my goal is to do it in a completely different way that I’ve never done before. So I feel like there’s an evolution in my style, and as I go towards these big movies with visual effects there’s also a need to do things that are more grounded. If you can look at some of my thrillers, not my early ones but maybe…
DEADLINE: Like Unknown?
COLLET-SERRA: Yeah, or Run All Night, if you go back and rewatch those films, they had some visual effects in there almost for no reason. It was like me as a director trying to learn about it and being interested in like, wow, all these cool possibilities with a virtual camera and all this cool technology. That’s kind of that curiosity and that craving playing in that sandbox has led me to these movies, which I love and I want to continue doing. But there is something also to now kind of going handheld and just going into just a more grounded space and play in that sandbox for a little bit.
I’ve done five movies back to back to back, so I cannot stop. You know, I love my job. I mean I’m living the dream, right? I mean I always wanted to be a director, and I’m directing. For me, it’s like what’s next and then what’s next and what’s next? Why stop?
DEADLINE: Have you thought about returning to horror at all since that was what helped launch your career with movies like House of Wax or Orphan?
COLLET-SERRA: Sure, yeah.
DEADLINE: Maybe a serial killer movie with DJ? That would be kind of cool.
COLLET-SERRA: That’s great. For sure. I love all genres. I feel like I think my space is in the action and with visual effects and some thrillers.
DEADLINE: Maybe not a romantic comedy or musical in your future?
COLLET-SERRA: I mean musicals are highly technical and cool and interesting, so for sure. I definitely want to explore everything. I mean, that’s a dream for any director — to touch all genres and do a little bit of everything. Every time we do a movie we get to live in that world, right. So when I was a kid and I was watching a movie I loved it because it brought me into that world for two hours. Well, now, I get to live in that world for a few years. So, that’s amazing for me.
DEADLINE: You mentioned your kids. Has having kids and seeing stuff through their eyes changed how you see things as a director? You’ve done the family action film. You now have that comic book film that kids are going to and dress as Black Adam for Halloween, hopefully. Did those types of things help when you’re directing now and choosing projects?
COLLET-SERRA: It’s starting to because my kids were very young when I did Jungle Cruise. Now they’re 5 and 4 and they are starting to speak and have personalities. I think when you see the world through their eyes a little bit you just get more hopeful. I think all of the hard work that any person goes through in life or whatever ends up like at some point giving you maybe not so optimistic view but when they look at everything with such bright eyes and full of possibilities you kind of start believing again and just doing movies that are more positive. One of the things, I haven’t been in horror probably lately because I really enjoy doing movies that are in the PG-13 arena. It would need to be a really strong script for me to do an R-rated movie at this point.
I just feel like I want movies that anybody and everybody can enjoy.