The Wall: Aaron Taylor-Johnson On Being The Focus Of Doug Liman’s Military Thriller

– by Edward Douglas

Actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson has played his fair share of superheroes from the title character in Kick-Ass to Quicksilver in Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Age of Ultron, but in Doug Liman’s The Wall, he gets to play a real superhero; Sergeant Allen Isaac, a soldier in Iraq trapped behind the title wall and pinned down by a sniper. Said sniper finds a way to tap into Isaac’s earpiece, and he begins to play mind games with the young soldier while trying to find out more about his life, and his past.

It’s a fantastic role for Taylor-Johnson with Liman’s camera trained on him for much of the film, creating the same kind of tension Liman brought to his earlier films, Edge of Tomorrow and The Bourne Identity.    

LRM got on the phone with Taylor-Johnson from the L.A. junket last week:

LRM: I spoke with Doug and he said you were very aggressive about playing the role, so why was it important for you to play the role? Was there a connection to the material or character?

Aaron Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, I responded to the material instantly. I thought it an incredible script, but it was the concept of being able to shoot on a low budget 14 days, one location, one main character, and the idea that it was going to be Doug Liman taking me on that journey was what was most intriguing. I think he’s a great filmmaker, and I thought this was an interesting challenge, and an experiment really, at most. Yeah, when he says aggressively, I pursued him like a stalker, basically. (laughs) 

LRM: Hey, whatever it takes to make it happen.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson: No, I read it, and then I phoned up straight away and said I wanted to sit down with Doug, and they said, “Sure, he does Skype,” and I said, “I won’t do that. To make this movie, you need a connection.” If he doesn’t connect with me, or I don’t connect with him, it’s going to be near impossible, and I said I needed to do it one on one, and they said, “Well, he’s in New York editing American Made,” and I live in L.A. and I said, “That’s okay. Does he have a lunch break? Just 30 minutes? See if you can get me 30 minutes tomorrow.” They called up and said, “Alright, he’s available tomorrow. What are you going to do?” and I said, “I’m getting on a f*cking flight right now.” I got a red eye, flew over and arrived next morning. Doug had no idea. I went in and met Doug and told him how much I loved the f*ckin’ script and everything, and had a passion for it. It was supposed to be 30 minutes. I think it rolled into maybe 3 or 4 hours, and it came to the point where I hadn’t had a lunch or eaten at all, so I said,  “You know what Doug? I gotta get back on a plane and go back to L.A.,” and he said, “What do you mean?” and I said, “I flew in this morning, I fly back out.” Then he came out to L.A. doing a bit of casting and I came to cast and read for it, and yeah, I fought for it, man. I fought for it big-time, because I really wanted to work with him, and I really wanted to take the challenge and see what it would feel like and experience it.

LRM: It’s funny. You gave away how many days the shoot was, because I asked Doug and he wouldn’t tell me. He said it was a grueling shoot because you were really out in the desert, so what was it like to be out there, mainly you, Doug and whomever was talking to you on the earpiece.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson: Well, most of the time, it was Doug talking to me. Sometimes the earpiece wouldn’t necessarily work, but it would be Doug now and again, and sometimes it would just be me in my own head. I guess, yeah, it was a very tight, intimate crew. It felt like a proper family affair, kind of project where we all pitched in and helped one another, and it was a very collaborative process. It felt like proper guerrilla filmmaking, like how any small independent movie would be. Hands on the ground, running, and yeah, Doug was incredible. He’s one of the most naturally instinctive directors. He improvises with the environment. He literally was on his hands and knees rolling around in the dirt, trying to do what this character was doing, and going, “If I can do it, then it’s too easy. We need to do this or try that or this doesn’t feel like we’re pushing the boundaries too much.” We’d push each other, and challenge each other. It was great. It was very hands on, and we had a fantastic time.

LRM: You’ve played a soldier before, so did you do any kind of special training and did you do more for this one to be a skilled sniper?

Aaron Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, yeah. Really, this was the only time that I’ve ever been able to get a real sense of the military. I played roles before, but this was great. I actually went to sniper school, one of the top sniper schools in the country, which is at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, and I spent four days on the base with the guys there, who were actually trained to become new snipers doing their course. We were shooting out on a range, and one of the furthest shots we had was 1,364 kilometers, which is almost a mile out.  I had a great time, but I really spent that time honing in with them, and we had a great consultant, Nick Irving, “The Reaper”--he’s incredible. He was there every day on set, so yeah, technically and the realism and authenticity of what this character goes through, and what he does when he’s in those circumstances, have all been tested and they’re all fire-proof in terms of the things that they would do. The practicality of everything is pretty on-point, which is great. Doug fought for that, and so did I. 

LRM: I think Doug mentioned that he had some soldiers consulting on how you and John Cena’s character would talk to each other in real life.  I assume you did those scenes early in the shoot, those scenes with John? 

Aaron Taylor-Johnson:  Yeah, yeah, we shot that stuff first. Just the banter? Yeah, that banter just came from being around the real lads, the real guys. You sit and chew tobacco and spit. These guys, their relatives and close friends, they’ve died, killed and seen horrific things. They have to deal with very dark situations, and in that, they have the most optimistic...their way of dealing with the dark, with their light, is with humor. They have a great sense of humor and timing. They’re like the best stand-up comedians, they are. They’re just quick-witted and have a really great take on...when sh*t gets serious and dark, they bat it off with humor, and it’s a mechanism to deal with when they’re in the midst of everything. It’s remarkable. We wanted to capture that kind of essence, and try to deal with that. 

LRM: Do you have any idea what you want to do next? Have you been taking a break in order to figure out what you want to do next?

Aaron Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, taking a break. Actually, my wife and I are working on something we want to get off the ground by the end of the year, but nothing else is on the pipeline that’s going to come out that I’ve shot since, so it’s probably going to be a bit quiet for a while, probably for at least a year.

LRM: Great talking to you again and congratulations on the Golden Globe. That was a great role in a great movie, so I’m glad it got some recognition. 

Aaron Taylor-Johnson: Thanks, man, I appreciate that.

The Wall is now playing nationwide.

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Related: The Wall Director Doug Liman


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