On the set of Untouchable, now wrapping up at Aston's Sun Center Studios, crews are dismantling sets, and stars Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston are playfully dismantling each other.
“I think what we have in common is a huge fan base. And we both do stand-up,” says a facetious Cranston, doing his best Breaking Bad deadpan, to Hart’s amusement.
“I let Kevin open for me. I appreciate that you get the audience warmed up for me. Usually they’re tittering. Not quite laughing, but they’re in a good mood.”
So are most of the folks on the set of Untouchable, adapted from the French movie The Intouchables, an international hit in 2012, about a wealthy paraplegic (now played by Cranston) and his friendship with the streetwise guy (Hart) who becomes his caregiver.
The production is in its final days of shooting, and most of the key cast members (including Nicole Kidman and Julianna Margulies) have already finished their work.
The scenes that Hart and Cranston shot last week -- their characters have an emotional falling-out -- are among the film’s most dramatic; Untouchable calls upon Hart to do his most serious on-screen work to date.
“It’s a challenge,” Hart admits. “But it’s so much easier because of the person Bryan is. The acting chemistry is there, but, as you can see, when the cameras are not rolling, the personality is there. You are around good energy, and you get good results.”
Producer Jason Blumenthal, who’s watched every scene, predicts audiences will be blown away by Hart’s work when the movie (tentatively slated for a holiday release by the Weinstein Co.) opens later this year.
Blumenthal has also been busy talking to Pennsylvania state legislators. Dozens paraded through the massive Sun Center Studios complex during the final days of filming, part of an effort by filmmakers to showcase the facility, which would be used more often if the state expanded tax breaks for movie productions like this one.
Blumenthal, for instance, is also producing the sequel to Denzel Washington’s hit The Equalizer.
“When I got to know this facility, and saw how amazing it is, and how good the crews are, the first thing I did was call the studio and said I want to shoot it here,” he says about The Equalizer follow-up. The numbers, though, didn’t work. Complex formulas factoring in labor costs and tax incentives make Philadelphia a tough sell, he says.
Productions can opt for the cheaper labor in cities like Pittsburgh (Blumenthal made Jake Gyllenhaal's boxing drama Southpaw there), he says, or the more favorable tax treatment offered in states like Massachusetts.
“Massachusetts has six or seven movies going at any given time, because of the tax credits available there,” he says. Pennsylvania offers some breaks, but they are capped at levels that can put Philadelphia at a disadvantage, especially for bigger movies. (Untouchable is a modestly budgeted film by Hollywood standards).
Blumenthal knows tax breaks for Hollywood movies can be a tough sell in states strapped for revenue, where many industries want favors.
“I know that if you give tax breaks to what is perceived as Hollywood, you then have the clothing industry saying, 'We want a rebate,' and then the pharmaceutical industry will say, 'We want a rebate,' and on and on,” he says. But he stressed that the money doesn’t go to Hollywood: “It’s going to the people who are working here.”
And he doesn’t see the advantage of having a facility like the Sun Center, with its cavernous sound stages, sitting idle. The complex has been used to film M. Night Shyamalan's hit Split (2016), Rocky sequel Creed (2015), and the Will Smith-Shyamalan flop After Earth (2013). For the modest investment of tax incentives, he says, the state gets immediate payoff.
Blumenthal says the Untouchable production has employed upward of 200 people, constructing the intricate sets, and supporting the day-to-day process of filming.
“We’re here for three months, and we’ll probably spend 30, 40 million in the state,” he says. “In two weeks, this is all going to be empty, and, to me, that’s just insane."