Making of Medicine Man

JOHN McTiernan is in Wyoming, talking via telephone to journalists in Kuala Lumpur about the shooting of Medicine Man, his most recent film. The 40-year-old director is describing the conditions his crew and cast worked under in the rainforests of Catemaco, Mexico. Leading man Sean Connery, he recalls, was disturbed by the heat and the isolation. "Personally, I enjoyed it. It's not very often that one gets time outside and still make a living out of it. The last time I did that was when I was 12 years old and mowing lawns," he jokes. Of course, McTiernan had more valid reasons for helming this project, hailed as "one of the first international green movies". Having earned a reputation as an action-oriented director after his consecutive success with Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October, he felt the desire to try something "different" and "lighter". So, he found himself in the jungles orchestrating a romance between his leading actors instead of choreographing action shots. McTiernan denies consciously carving a niche for himself as an action man. In fact, he claims to be doing the opposite even though he admits there is likely to always be "some aspect of action" in his films. "I am trying to make each movie a bit different, not out of consideration for what the audience thinks or what niche I fit into so much as wanting to keep myself interested and challenged so my work can progress. "I usually get involved for a simple reason like "would I like to go and see the movie or not?'. I don't like to see movies I've already seen. I don't want to work on a movie that I've already seen. "I'm trying to stay out of niches that other people carve for me," he states firmly. Medicine Man is set in a South American rainforest. The romantic comedy charts the efforts of two bickering scientists, played by Connery and Lorraine Bracco (who eventually fall in love) who race against time to reproduce a cure for cancer which the former has discovered just as development is creeping into the jungle. The film, which boasts exciting scenes shot among the rainforest canopy, hints strongly at the toll deforestation will take on jungle inhabitants and more far-reaching, on mankind. "The message in the movie was very important to me. Very much so," McTiernan reveals. Later, commenting on what he claims to be a misleading article by a major American movie magazine, McTiernan says it was unfortunate that it chose to do an expose on the troubles during production rather than pay attention to the issues which the movie may have raised. "It wasn't like the movie was going to make $125 million and people were going to walk away with Academy Awards from it. The one thing it might have done was to make a number of million people in the world more aware of a problem we all have to face eventually, or pay the consequences for." Nevertheless, McTiernan is uncomplaining about his work on the film and lists Connery's "remarkable" performance as one of the elements he's happiest with, particularly since the Scottish actor had "never really sort of done a romantic comedy part". This native of New York, who wrote his first screenplay Nomads (which he directed in 1986) while he was writing and directing television commercials, made Predator in 1987. This was followed by Die Hard a year later, and The Hunt For Red October in 1990. Described as "very involved in finding locations" by production designer John Reinhart, McTiernan spent three months scouting areas in Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela and Malaysia, but settled for Mexico. Among his reasons was Mexico's proximity to his home base, California. "Obviously, the ideal was to go right into the Amazon but most of the areas had huge health difficulties and we took caution from the experience of a couple of film companies that worked there just before us." Fifty-seven Brazillian Indians were hired to play the Poca Nu tribe which Connery's Dr Campbell lived with during his research. Taking the advice of John Boorman who wrote about the filming of Emerald Forest in the Brazillian rainforest, McTiernan chose to use tribal Indians who had moved to the cities over those who were still living in the jungles. "The point (of the book) was, if you take a movie company out to a group of tribal Indians, they will be forever changed by the experience of meeting a movie crew. It is, after all, only a movie and there are some moral limits." Although he speaks freely about the production, McTiernan is more reserved when asked about his future projects. "I don't want to be coy about them, but I started a project called Robin Hood about four years ago... "I've just learnt my lesson and don't talk about my projects until I've already started it and nobody else can get there first." Later, when asked if he preferred the experience of making Medicine Man over his action films, the director hinted that he was writing a script for 1993 and that his next two projects were likely to be an action film and an art piece, respectively. "I live in Wyoming and there's a piece like I'd like to shoot up here, kind of like the old Wild West." Another inkling of things to come: McTiernan says he is talking with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the star of Predator, and Bruce Wilis (Die Hard) about separate projects. (Medicine Man opens over the Golden Communcations cinema circuit on Thursday.)

Author(s): By Elaine Lim
Copyright: NSTP
Published on: 28 April 1992
Publication: New Straits Times
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