Nick Hamm is a director that has a passion for telling stories, but it has to be the right one. He found that perfect fit in his newest film Driven. The story follows the life of Jim Hoffman (played by Jason Sudeikis), an informant for the FBI, who became friends with car inventor John DeLorean (Lee Pace), and was there when DeLorean wanted to make a cocaine deal. It may sound like a cliché at this point, but I had a fantastic time interviewing Nick Hamm. The director from Northern Ireland became very candid during our discussion, about his the time where his films were under the control of serial rapist Harvey Weinstein, the struggle to film Driven in Puerto Rico during hurricane Maria, and why he continues to make movies. Read my interview here:
AMG.COM: What if I told you that I thought that this was some of your best work yet?
NICK HAMM: I'll take that (laughs).
AMG.COM: Tell me how did this film, this script of Driven by Colin Bateman, land in your hands?
NICK HAMM: Well Colin and I, we have been taking this journey together. When we are in post production of one movie, we are discussing the next one. We had both been fascinated by DeLorean because we are both from Belfast. We were interested in how this strange American, became mixed up in this civil war, built a factory, destroyed it, went under, and then did a cocaine deal. Wow! How does that story come about? How do you go from Belfast, to grim reality rising in Belfast, and juxtapose that with the glamor of 1970's California with cocaine, girls, disco, and parties? That combination was too tempting to resist. We started to investigate it. Hollywood had tried to tell this story for years and had failed. We knew there were a few documentaries, but we were not interested in docs. We both find them quite boring, not interesting enough. We weren’t interested in the biopic structure, again that is quite tedious. As filmmakers you need to be careful with biopics. If you do it, you have to be truthful as a filmmaker. You can't invent a scene. Sure, you can come up with dialogue, but you can't actually invent an incident of somebody doing something that they never did. So that format was restricted creatively.
AMG.COM: Right and I think some people even find them repetitive at this point.
NICK HAMM: Well, one-hundred percent. Unless it is an incredible personality, if you're doing Gandhi or someone who walked on the moon. DeLorean didn't do any of that. He invented a dodgy sports car. He had a lifestyle that he managed to promote above anything else. He was hardly a genius. The catalyst for us was discovering this scumbag Jim Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis' character). He was a low-life character and when we found that he was who he is, it was something else. He's been an informant for the FBI since he was in his 20's, where he was hijacking Las Vegas casino's. Here he was, living in the same state of California as DeLorean, where he was working for the FBI and the cartels bringing drugs into the U.S. That was the catalyst, we started reading the trials, listening to tapes, reading all about it. Okay...let's put together the script.
AMG.COM: In 1992 you win the BAFTA Award for The Harmfulness of Tobacco, did winning that award change your viewpoint on filmmaking? Make it harder for you? Or add pressure?
NICK HAMM: Wow, that's going back. No, it was kind of weird. I had worked ten years straight in the theater, and then that was my first moment. I did a small little film, won that award, then I did some TV, and then I was basically owned by Harvey Weinstein for 5-6 years on a deal. Harvey was, as you know, he did all those early films with me, some of them were horrible, and some were good. He would buy them and make them, but a lot of us in that period, in the late-90's, a lot of the independent filmmakers all worked around and for him. He was the head of a revival for independent film presence in the UK. There were many years, where filmmakers were in that situation as it were, if that makes sense.
AMG.COM: Yeah it does, but for you is it like, “hey, I've won the BAFTA award, and maybe working with Harvey was frustrating because he's holding onto your films...”
NICK HAMM: Sorry to cut your question off, but I don't think anyone that wins any award says, “okay, I'm done.” Right? You've spoken with a lot of filmmakers, very talented filmmakers, and there is not one of them that doesn’t feel that they need to go again. You have to keep going. You go as long as you can and as long as you're interesting. You don't retire in this business. They retire you. The phone just won't ring and you can't get money either. That's what happens. You stay humble, you keep telling your stories, and you keep going.
AMG.COM: Gathering this cast together, specifically Jason Sudekis and Lee Pace, did you have them test for you? Or did you know who you wanted in these two roles?
NICK HAMM: With Hoffman (Sudeikis), he's such a scummy character and you needed somebody in that role who could play a weasel. Someone with a grin and a look, someone who can be endearing. Jason has real form in playing characters who are a bit fucked up, to be honest, but he always does it with a kind of glint in his eye. He makes you laugh. So in that sense, I wanted someone who had a humanity, a bit of wit, because his saving grace is the relationship with his wife (Judy Greer). He's doing it to get money for his family. That is the only saving trait for that character.
With Lee (Pace), he has that effortless, 50's movie star charm. Lee can sit on the butt of a car with a martini, a cigarette, James Bond-like and look cool as hell. Most of us look like idiots if we do that, Lee can do it really well. I think there is a level at which he was born to play that part. He's 6 ft. 4, 6 ft. 5, like DeLorean. He's chiseled and handsome like DeLorean, and he just became that person. As he becomes older as an actor, Lee becomes more and more textured, more interesting.
AMG.COM: Let's talk about this situation you had to deal with shooting in Puerto Rico. You are in the middle of shooting and then the hurricane hits, destroying everything. You're locations, backdrops, so would you say this was the toughest shoot you ever had to work on?
NICK HAMM: You mean outside of working with Harvey Weinstein? Ha!
AMG.COM: Ha, yeah besides that.
NICK HAMM: I don't know what's worse a hurricane or Harvey? I think in many respects you are going back into a disaster zone, where the infrastructure is destroyed. There's no cash, no power, there's no water. Everything was run on generators, but what was important for us, what was really important, was that all of us were evacuated, taken off the island before the hurricane hit, mid shooting. We were there for a week or so, we had great material, but we were concerned if we should go back. Would we be taking resources from the people there? It was all of our local crew that said, you have got to come back, you've got to help us. You have 3-400 people on for paychecks, you need to pay them. That was their money and that money would go to their families, and help other families. For us, going back was a real example of Hollywood giving back to a community. Creating something from that community. It's a business that is narcissistic and self-interested enough, but when it does good things it doesn’t get enough praise. This is an actual example of how a film can help a local community get back on its feet. That's an example of Hollywood doing good.
AMG.COM: Well I also think it is a community that film critics or others forget that there are a lot of people, hard working crew members, costume design, set design, all of them working hard and putting a great effort into all movies that get made, no matter what you thought of Driven.
NICK HAMM: The movie business in Puerto Rico would have gone under for nine months to a year if we didn't continue.
AMG.COM: Did you ever drive a DeLorean car? Or is your only memory like mine in seeing it in the Back to the Future movies?
NICK HAMM: Yes, I have driven the car. My opinion of the man, however, has always been evolving, and is still today. Sometimes I hear too much and some of the stuff I just could not put in for legal reasons. It also would not have fit into the story I was telling. I think in many respects, I'm not there to judge DeLorean. That's not my job. I'm not going to say he was this or that. I am there to put an aspect of him, a version of him, on the screen. It's not a documentary. That format for his situation would be boring. It would just repeat facts. I think there is a story there to tell about DeLorean, but it wasn't the one that I was interested in telling. I was interested in this slice of history, this moment in time, this bit about the drug deal. That is what fascinated me. Why would he commit commercial and personal suicide?
AMG.COM: Lets talk about the themes of this movie or the messaging about greed. Is this a cautionary tale? A story of rising and falling? Or did you hope that humorous side would come out as well?
NICK HAMM: I wanted it to be humorous. I didn't want the audience to be hit over the head with a mallet. I don't like it when there is too much emotion. I don't need emotion from my actors to display it. I need that emotion to be felt underneath, the audience will see it. They are sophisticated and clever. So the smallest thing is enough to allow the audience in. I was making a piece of entertainment, but wanted to make a buddy movie, with two incredibly dysfunctional men.
AMG.COM: Nick, lastly can you tell me what some of your inspirations, directors, or other films that have inspired you in making Driven?
NICK HAMM: I think as I get older I am finding a groove. When you are young as a filmmaker, you try different genres. I did a movie called The Hole, which was a horror film. I loved working in that genre for a while, but then I didn't have the willingness to explore it in the way that real talented people in that area are. It just wasn't me really. I've found I like to surf a line comedically, between humor, strange, and the absolutely real. I'm in the groove at the moment, finding material that allows a comic sense to exist without being too large. You find your own style as you grow, finding out what you're good at. For me, I am defined by everything I have seen. From the mid-70's, The Deer Hunter, 16-years old, sitting in the cinema and watching that film. I was blown away. Then going back all the way to watching Danny Boyle's Trainspotting. You're spectrum of work and the people around you is what makes you, from theater, movies, to TV. Right now I am working on a new Netflix show White Lines, and that is molding me more. I say you are a product of your own environment.
DRIVEN IS IN THEATERS NOW & AVAILABLE ON-DEMAND!