Vicky Jewson’s ‘Close’ Proves Females Are Making the Action Genre an Equal Playing Field

Inspired by J.K. Rowling’s former female bodyguard, Netflix’s new thriller “Close” works like a throwback to a more rugged, stripped form of action filmmaking. The story is as simple as an airport paperback. Noomi Rapace plays Sam, a professional bodyguard who is called in to Morocco to protect the heiress to a major mining company, Zoe (Sophie Nélisse). Zoe is that spoiled, bitter rich kid we’re used to seeing in the movies, provoking contempt from her stepmother (Indira Varma), who is angry to discover that her late husband has left Zoe all the money. At first Zoe doesn’t take to Sam, seeing her as stiff and distant. When kidnappers raid the luxurious compound where Zoe is being kept, Sam manages to escape with the heiress. Forced to get along, the two women must evade roaming armed thugs while attempting to figure out who wants Zoe dead.

Director Vicky Jewson and writer Rupert Whitaker found inspiration for their script in the exploits of real-life bodyguard Jacquie Davis, although Sam is a fictional creation. Noomi Rapace is well cast in the role, bringing the quiet edge she did so well in the original Swedish “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” films and subsequent American thrillers like “Prometheus.” The plot itself moves swiftly, with few layers. It’s all about the tension of trying to get away from pursuers and trading blows when necessary.

Jewson recently sat down with Entertainment Voice to share about the making of “Close.”

How did the project originate?

I kind of sought it out. I was looking for women in the real world who had careers or lifestyles that would be fresh and authentic for the action genre. I came across an article in The Telegraph about female bodyguards called ‘Women in Grey,’ it was all about Jacqui Davis. So I contacted her and asked if she would be interested in meeting and she said yes. We met up and I got this incredible insight into her life. So I just knew this was the kind of movie I wanted to make and write.

What was the most challenging part about making this film feel real? Because we’ve seen this kind of character before in movies, but you seem to be going for a more stripped down, gritty portrayal.

I always set out with the goal to bring something fresh to the genre of women in action in that I wanted to capture that authentic, raw reality of what it would be like for a woman in these situations. That’s why it was important to find a real person to be inspired by and jump the story off from. I wanted to play that idea out that if you punch someone they bleed. I always referenced the scene in ‘True Romance’ between Patricia Arquette and James Gandolfini when she’s fighting for her life in that bathroom. We always engage with that scene because there’s a lot of tension and suspense. She fails a few times but prevails and fights from a very emotional place. And those were key things I wanted to bring to this film that I felt would give it something fresh and haven’t necessarily seen before.

One nice thing about this film is that it’s directed by a woman, it stars Noomi Rapace and there’s also Indira Varma and Sophie Nélisse, so it’s a strong showcasing of female talent. You all prove that the girls can kick just as much butt as the dudes when they make this kind of movie.

I think we’re still at the very beginning of it but there’s definitely been a shift since when we started putting ‘Close’ together, which was about four years ago. It’s definitely moved. I was told while trying to get the financing together things like, ‘oh it’s particularly difficult because it’s female-led action and there’s not really a market for that.’ Some people would even say, ‘you’ll make your life less difficult if you make it with men. You’ll get financed much faster.’ But in that time frame there’s been this movement and also a lot of female-led drama movies that have been very successful commercially. So people can’t really have those opinions anymore, which is brilliant. I mean it was always bizarre that they had them anyway because we could talk about ‘Aliens,’ there’ve always been lots of movies that have worked well with strong female leads, even ‘Terminator 2.’ But I feel there’s been a definite shift. When we start our next film, which will also star a strong woman, I hope it will be easier.

Could you share a little about working with this cast? Noomi is of course the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and has always done interesting work.

It was a wonderful experience. I completely and utterly clicked with Noomi from the moment we met. We shared the same vision for the film, we both wanted this haunted, multi-layered character. We wanted her to drive the action. I was already a huge fan of her work. She has this emotional honesty that she brings to what she does because she commits so fully and so heavily in the character. I termed it ‘Noomi power’ on set because she will never stop, she’ll just keep giving. Sometimes I felt I had to protect her because I was afraid she would get exhausted as we finished the film. But we both trusted each other. When we found Sophie there was this wonderful chemistry with Noomi that really worked. With Sophie we needed someone who could play a person that is kind of unlikeable, and some of the actors we talked to were afraid of that. But Sophie knew how to do it, with a little bit of humor. The three of us were a firm, close team.

What is the most difficult about shooting action? This is a very physical movie.

To me it was time, because we had a very fast schedule. For me it was about trying to get the coverage I needed. I feel with action you really need the coverage to build that story visually onscreen and in the edit have choices. It was a constant chasing against the clock to get all the coverage I needed. These action scenes are quite claustrophobic and shot in difficult environments like the police van, it’s a small space and in the desert it’s incredibly hot.

This is a Netflix movie and they are getting so much notice for starting to change the game. What was the experience like making this film with them?

It was a wonderful experience because one thing they do exceptionally well is build relationships. We have a very close relationship with the whole team involved. You can text on a Sunday. They were completely supportive during the making of the film, they let me edit and let me have a voice and trusted me. They have a great confidence in their ability to do outreach to their audience. As a filmmaker you want people to see your movie and it’s exciting to have such a wide audience and that it can be put out there in the world.

As a woman filmmaker, what would you say to those aspiring female directors thinking of taking the plunge into the industry?

I can only speak from my experience and I’ve only been able to persevere. I would say just to not give up. No matter how many times it feels impossible just believe it can be done.

Close” premieres Jan. 18 on Netflix.