Film & TV

Interview: Film Director Jonathon Hensleigh

Glam catches up with director Jonathon Hensleigh to talk about his latest movie The Ice Road, which stars Liam Neeson.

Glam recently caught up with American screenwriter and director Jonathan Hensleigh about his latest film The Ice Road, to be released in cinemas on the 12th of August 2021.

For those unfamiliar with the film, it is an action-thriller in which a small team of dissidents go on a rescue mission to save a group of trapped miners in a collapsed mine, in far northern Canada. The team is chosen as they are highly skilled in traversing the incredible dangers of frozen ice roads, however the team soon finds that this is not their only threat.

Hensleigh had been keen to make a film with a similar feel to French film The Wages of Fear after watching this film in his youth. In addition, he had long been inspired by Of Mice and Men. The Ice Road is a culmination of both these inspirations. Given that he watched The Wages of Fear 48 years ago, the first question I asked was why he finally got started.

Despite the inspiration in the back of his mind for decades, he hadn’t been sure how to translate it into his own. Then, one day when watching the difficulties of ice road travel in Ice Road Truckers, he had an ‘aha’ moment. In other words, a backdrop with extreme danger for his screenplay.

Q. Did it take you ten years to make?

(It has been ten years since Hensleigh last directed a film)

No and yes. It did culminate slowly over ten years however I am a bit of an entrepreneur and actually the break from Hollywood was due to me forming liquor company Smoke Wagon Bourbon The truck features in the film.

Q. How did you get the film started?

I was motivated to produce a new screenplay and together with the support and encouragement from producer Bart Rosenblatt to get back into Hollywood (the two worked together in Kill the Irishman) we made it happen. Sought finance and created the screenplay.

Q. Did you have any actors in mind for the film when writing the screenplay?

I am happy with the actors in the film, and it was fantastic to have Liam Neeson as Mike, as he fits the bill perfectly with many of his past roles as a working-class man in an action film. However, for the role of Gurty, from the start I had in mind Marcus Thomas. It was important for me to have the audience see a really good portrayal of living with asphasia. Having a lesser-known actor ensured people didn’t watch it for the actor, and know they were acting. I had worked with Marcus Thomas previously and knew he would be capable.

Q. Why not someone with asphasia then?

We tried really hard. This was my first choice. I spent a lot of time with asphasia groups however in the end the asphasia peak body could not find someone that was a professional actor or even a former actor. It was logistically impossible.

Q. Given that the brother’s relationship was a key part of the ‘heart’ of the film, do you think they worked well together?

They really did. In some of the more emotional brotherly scenes, Neeson did some ad lib, and I ran with it. Part of him being drawn to the character of Mike was the relationship of brothers – as protectors and competitors – and of course, the emotions behind brotherly disagreements!

Q. Were any other parts of the script adjusted while shooting? In particular because of the wind-chill factor, and the below zero temperatures?

Not really. All of us were prepared for the extreme conditions however the brutality of the cold was beyond all our expectations. Nevertheless, Neeson persisted in going in the water in the scene with Gurty, at minus 25 degrees.  The team at Winnipeg were an amazing support for us.

Q. Was the cold the biggest challenge?

It was one of the big challenges we faced. The other two was filming during covid, and our budget.

Q. Are you satisfied with the film, considering it was so long in the making?

I am happy with the film however the audience response has been equally uplifting. (It was number one on the Netflix charts for weeks). As it has been shown on Netflix already, I read the reviews which included some wide-ranging questions. Much of the feedback indicated that Neeson and Thomas both look like, and display the bond of brothers really well, and this relationship was a core ingredient of the film.

If you are up for an excellent action-thriller with assured good actors and emotional depth, The Ice Road is a Hensleigh film worth the wait. Ninety eight percent of the film uses real background, and yes, this includes all the background passing through the windows and windshield when driving the big trucks. To see such ingenuity in action in a climate that makes our winter look calm, The Ice Road is best to watch on the big screen.

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